|At Loch Less Farm, Youll Find a Lot More
by Bo Sinnlich Illustrations by Kathleen Addario
My friend, Kathleen, and I paid a visit to Betty Knapp's Loch Less Farm yesterday. It was Kathleen's first time.
You don't follow a yellow-brick road to get there - instead there are signs with a sea monster along the route - but you certainly feel as if you've entered Oz when you arrive.
Up a steep hill you drive to park in the dirt lot, then down into the green valley of Loch Less-land. This is a world of color and movement and disarray: delightful chaos, Mother Nature getting jiggy. You are met, as is appropriate in mythical territory, by a guardian dog, an Akita bigger than my car and certainly sturdier. Probably the closest I will ever come to petting a bear is rubbing this big head and plush ears. Then the old graying grande dame beagle-lab mix comes woofing and wagging up the dusty lane, along with the crowing of roosters.
Plants cover every inch of space, some growing wild, the rest contained, to a degree, by assorted pots and six-packs. Plants lean to the left or droop to the right: vigorous ones, tired ones, vines, grasses, tomatoes, annuals, perennials - and weeds. Flowers hang in pots, lilies swim in water tanks and a giant cactus spills its stunning fuchsia blooms over a table and onto the ground. In the greenhouse, you must balance on planks to traverse.
Betty says she started out with about 20 pots that grew to 30, which grew to 300 and so on. This organic development is obvious in the layout, which meanders like a honeysuckle vine run amok. Winding muddy paths allow visitors to squeeze between the growth. Whirling, hopping, darting and waddling amongst all these are a cacophony of birds.
Betty, the earthy mother, moves constantly throughout, skin bronze as her fall chrysanthemums, smile-lines around bright eyes, covered in the earth she thrives on - and with a voice that can compete with any bird there.
We walk by the peacocks and - fffffffffffftttttttttt! - the male unfurls and rattles his feathered fan at us. He needs to get some attention because the female is ignoring him ("oh not the fan again, dear"). His shrieks are echoed in the distant woods, conjuring the feel of an old Tarzan movie. As we examine everything from coral-pink zinnias to delicate violet cleome, hens duck in and out under the plant tables and our feet, chased by amorous roosters. At the sidelines are a few more aloof roosters, one with facial feathers reminiscent of French poodle fur and another that tosses about his wild mane like Paderewski at his piano. Clucking, squawking and crowing fill the air.
Kathleen, though an avid animal lover, is getting a bit nervous.
Betty leads us to the grasses area down by the barn. Another rooster struts guarding the path, like a quarrelsome drunk on the dance floor.
"You first," Kathleen says.
I bravely step toward him. Betty is already disappearing around the bend. Fortunately, the bantam-weight is diverted by action elsewhere and we plunge ahead. As Betty is digging in the grasses to find the pampas Kathleen wants, yet more roosters hurl themselves onto an unsuspecting hen. She is knocked to the ground as they lurch atop her. Kathleen screams and is going to the rescue, her concern for an animal in trouble superseding her fear, when I point out this may be romance, not murder.
Betty's head pops up from the grasses briefly to mutter, "mmmmmmm, none of us would want to come back as a hen."
The feathered Lotharios flurry off, and the hen lays there dazed, then lopsidedly pulls herself up and stumbles off.
At that moment, three dark projectiles whiz by, making an odd noise that is a melange of beep and peep and click, not one after the other but combined. The UFOs touch down a moment and are identified as guinea hens. When still, which is evidently rare, they are humorous enough; in motion they have the energy of the Three Stooges. Round bodies, covered in a tiny geometric pattern of black and white, sit atop short legs. Red rubbery protrusions flop about the face as if their lips fell off and were glued back on wrong. They race about at lightning speed by land and air. There seems to be no destination or goal, but they are obviously worried about being late (the Loch Less version of Alice's white rabbit).
Whhhhooooooooosh by your head. Zzzzzzzzzzzzip, by your feet.
Blood-curdling wails from the barn make Kathleen jump, but I am absorbed by disentangling the plant of my desire from a mass of others. I am determined to have it, its leaves an exquisite color of rose with coral glaze: Rachel something or other (the label words are faded). As Kathleen peers around and I wrestle with my treasure, two creatures, possibly a breeding experiment gone awry, stroll by seemingly hand in hand. They might be ducks, though highly elongated ones that walk like humans, their darkly feathered bodies straight up vertical over their feet rather than horizontal out over them like your average duck. They disappear into the shade perennials and Kathleen, eyes big, says "What was that?" We howl with laughter, finally becoming part of the fracas.
Later, we imagine dressing these duck creatures up and photographing them like Man Ray's Weimaraners in tutus, a maid costume, as cowboys. We also imitate the guinea hens, hurtling around beep-peep-clicking. I haven't had so much silly fun since putting on shows with Debbie Sitar at age eight.
Filled to the brim with smells (from purple petunias to the skunk smell of the cleome) and sights and sounds, the feel of dog's ear and lamb's ear (the plant variety) lingering on our fingertips, we carry our trays, loaded with pretties, to Betty's truck for payment. I have coral bells and zinnias, the cleome and Rachel whatever, and Kathleen has her pampas grass. We bid farewell and climb out of the magic land to the Maryland roadside, passing manicured lawns and neatly plotted subdivisions, now seeming rather lifeless in comparison.
I can't tell you how many days when I have been blue or crabby that a trip to Betty's pumps life and joy back into me. It is a riotous vibrant free microcosm of life in a world becoming increasingly structured.
Find Loch Less Farm above Chesapeake Beach by traveling Route 260 to the nearly defunct Paris Oaks strip mall. At Horace Ward Road, immediately turn left. Turn right onto Pushaw Station Road. Faded Loch Lessie signs mark the way. Open roughly 8am to 8pm through summer: 410/257-7012.