There’s still a little magic in every motorcycle ride to the country. When I was young, our family took automobile rides on many Sunday afternoons, and I always loved to watch the farms and forests roll by, imagining what it would be like to live where we passed. Sometimes my father stopped and talked with people we saw near the road.
On a recent motorcycle ride I stopped to watch a small herd of Holsteins in a roadside pasture. They were grazing slowly toward me, but once I dismounted and walked toward the fence, they turned and headed away. Their owner came out from the farmhouse across the street to say hello and ask about my interest in cows. He looked about my age, but he was smaller, more wiry.
“Pretty, aren’t they,” he offered.
“Yeah. The black and white patterns are interesting. Don’t know why,” I said.
“Maybe ‘cause everything else is green or brown.”
“Could be, Georgia sure is green out in the country, no doubt about it,” I paused. “My brother breeds dairy cows up in Vermont,” I said. “He works for a major breeding service, visits several farms everyday, and inseminates the cows that are fertile. It’s amazing how scientific and precise the work has become.”
“I used to use a service like that, but it got too expensive. My operation was bigger then. It doesn’t make sense for the few cows I keep now, so I breed them myself.”
I asked him why the cows turned away from me?
“Country girls are cautious,” he replied. “You’re a stranger.”
He asked about my motorcycle and where I lived. He mentioned he rode a Harley years ago and liked it. Then he had a couple of kids. Motorcycling seemed a little dangerous when he had kids to care for, so he sold his Harley.
Soon he invited me to his porch for some iced tea, where he had three or four chairs. We spent about half an hour together there, talking.
He told me about his experience as a farmer and I told some stories about being a forestry professor. He grew up in Oglethorpe County, and I grew up near Buffalo, NY. He graduated from high school and went two years to college in agriculture, and I made a career of college. He worked in farming and forestry most of his adult life, and over the years he acquired almost 1,000 acres of farm and timberland. I owned a small tract of timberland once with other fellows, but now I did forestry on only the three acres around my house. He lived in Oglethorpe County his entire life, and I lived in a half-dozen different states.
Somewhere along the line we shook hands and exchanged names—John and Warren. We agreed that it was a little unusual for people to meet as we did. Life’s too fast, but in these later years, there is more time for some wayward activities. I asked if I could stop again sometime, and he said sure, anytime, adding that he would like to show me his forest.
I cranked the motorcycle and headed out, thinking about how different my life had been from John’s, yet how easy it was to meet him. I thought about my father and that I was older now than he was when we took those drives. Then I wondered about time and space in American life, and how three lives—my father’s, John’s, and mine—seem to yield some constant values well worth remembering.