He's an economist and she's a lawyer and he's a canoeist and she's a sailor and he hunts and she hates it but they both fell in love with the same piece of ground.

It was more land than they were looking for and more money than they had thought they would ever dare, but their sons are grown and gone and taxes are killing them and so they took the plunge.

The parcel is "221 acres, more or less" of woodland bordered by a marshy arm of the Patuxent River in St. Marys County, Maryland. More or less by about 10 percent, pending resurvey of a questionable boundary, but the disputed area is not critical. It doesn't include the bald eagle nest tree, the hard-won cleared acres, the knoll that commands the river, or the overlook on the marsh.

A Colonial road, worn a dozen feet below ground level, runs two miles across the property to a landing where ocean-going ships once moored. The woods it transects are lovely, dark and so deep it's hard to believe that the land long was farmed in corn and tobacco. It was logged in the 1930s and again in the '50s, but there are plenty of mature oak, hickory and beech trees to feed deer and squirrels and wild turkeys and woodstoves. There aren't supposed to be any turkeys, but four were seen last spring. The property is so remote and hard to approach that a buzzard, one of the shyest and most distant of birds, is nesting at the edge of the main clearing.

Although the previous owner had a mortgage and qualified for the federal soil bank, nobody seemed to know the metes and bounds. The tax plat if off by a mile, and the last man who knew and worked the ground is too feeble now to walk it.

So on a fine sunny morning a surveyor was brought in. He laughed at the tax map and snorted at the most recent survey, 15 years old and done for an adjacent property owner. On the ground, unable to find any of the alleged posts and fence lines, he rolled his eyes and bit his tongue until at last an unquestionable marker was found. Give him one and he would find the rest, he said. It was plain that the surveyor counts anybody a fool who would walk into such a doubtful deal. It was just as obvious that he didn't know about deer and ducks and the faint green underwater cast of budding woods in the thin clear sun of spring.

"I surpose it sounds dumb," the new owner told him, "but one of the things I want to do in this life is own a big piece of ground and leave it better than I found it. Better for people to live on and better for animals to live on." The man looked at him blankly. "Play hell developing this," he said.

When the surveyor went crashing off in search of more corners a visitor lagged and wandered into the low boggy ground leading to the marsh. There were wood ducks nesting in hollow trees along a winding, spring-fed creek; drakes went dodging and peeping through the flooded timber as he struggled through the mud and briers. One nest hole was low enough to reach inside, and he was tempted to check for eggs but dit not, for fear of making the hen abandon the clutch.

Instead he sat on a nearby log, and a few minutes later was rewarded with a scolding from the drake.Beautiful as the duck was, he looked silly perched in a tree.

In Colonial times, before farming eroded the soil, the edge of the property was a low bluff with a series of coves deep enough to anchor in. Now, shaded by trees and hidden by brush, the silted-in coves are secret places carpeted with ferns and wildflowers.

From one of them at his approach a very pregnant young doe jumped up. Her half-shed winter coat and bloated sides gave her the look of a burro, but burdened as she was she bounded away with all the elastic grace of a yearling.

He circled wide upwind to let her go back to her lie-up. For some reason she circled downwind, which he had never known a deer to do; rounding a point from opposite sides, they met almost nose-to-muzzle. Both thoroughly rattled, the doe and man blundered into one another several times before the approach of the owner and the surveyor sent the doe skittering into the marsh.

"Well, what do you think?" the owner asked. "Is it a good piece of ground?"

"It's a good piece of ground."