Deborah Needleman,

Deborah Needleman,

A weeklong electronic journal.
Nov. 6 1997 3:30 AM

Deborah Needleman,

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       Being out here during the week at this time of the year feels like trespassing on real country life. This morning I got up to take my husband to the train that goes into New York City. He looked real nice, very put together. I had thrown on clothes that didn't match and my hair was still sticking up funny. Before heading out, I poured myself a big cup of coffee in one of those plastic commuter mugs, even though I wasn't going anywhere. As he looked down from the platform and I waved goodbye, I felt like even more of a mess than I was. I pictured myself standing there in a housecoat with a scarf covering my curlers. I was going back to an empty house in the middle of the week. I couldn't wait. On the way home, a bunch of hawks scattered from a deer carcass they had been eating as I drove by.
       Animals are the main thing that distinguishes us from the people who live here all the time. At dinner parties the dog-to-person ratio is often about 2-to-1. My husband, who is not what you would call a dog person, shoos them away, clearly disgusted by their hot, doggy breath and bad table manners. He thinks no one notices, but I think we are regarded a little suspiciously because we don't have any. Sandy, the gentleman farmer down the road, has the most. Once a year, his cows go away and come back packed in white wrappers for the freezer. He is the neighborhood eccentric and his animals, like him, are a little wild and unpredictable.
       The first time I saw a couple of his horses out for a stroll, I went out to try to collect them. When I couldn't, I phoned his mother, who lives across the street. "Thanks, dear," she said, unfazed. She clearly wasn't concerned. This summer, Sandy's cows escaped and surrounded our swimming pool. My husband, who has a long-standing fear of cows, mustered the sang-froid to go out and reason with them from a substantial distance. He worked on one cow he determined was the leader. When that cow finally agreed to move on, the others followed. Shortly afterward you could hear Sandy chasing them back down the road, shouting his now-familiar refrain: "Bad beef! Go on home, you bad beef!"
       I gave Sandy a ring today to ask for a truckload of manure for my garden. He thought he might be able to bring me some this weekend, if he had any left after supplying Arnold, who lives farther down the road. I wondered why Arnold seemed so high-priority. Later, when I was talking to my friend Grace, who works on Arnold's garden, she told me that Sandy's cows had been there too. They trekked through his garden before breaking down the fence around his clay tennis court, and trampling it. They are very bad beef.

Deborah Needleman is Slate's gardening columnist and an editor at large at House & Garden. She lives in New York City and Garrison, N.Y.