IT MAY BE FRAUGHT with perils, but country life is very rarely dull.
"I went one whole winter thawing out my washing machine on the porch with a hair dryer every time I wanted to use it," says Beverley Fields, who was born in the suburbs of Dallas and spent a good deal of her youth around Washington.
Today she and her husband, who grew up in the Bronx and Long Island, cherish their life of country crises in Charles County.
Washington area residents choose country living for a variety of reasons. Some simply want a neutral corner from the fisticuffs of office politics and urban traffic. Others seek a tranquility that they feel is imperiled by wailing sirens and the spats of nearby neighbors.
The Fieldses and their two teen-age children, Lara and David, chose to nestle among southern Maryland's expansive fields of tobacco and corn for an even more undeniable reason: They love horses.
"I worked for awhile in Washington at the Pan Amer- ican Health Organization," says Beverley Fields, whose modest income from riding instructions pays for the care of the horses. "And I spent my summers working for the government during college. So I'm familiar with the rat race of the city -- and actually I fit into that life style pretty well, too . . .
"But if we moved into town, we would have to give up everything we have here. It's really one life style or the other."
The Fieldses' three-bedroom clapboard home sits on a small knoll overlooking 32 acres of former farmland. The original 1930s farm had been divided into four parcels not long before the Fieldses purchased the house six years ago. The plot included the original farmhouse, two barns, a couple of sheds and an open field that was converted into a training ground for the horses and student riders.
The house itself was a shambles. The Fieldses gutted the interior, expanded the sole bathroom, installed more closet and storage space, contracted for some built-in shelves and built a new kitchen. The hardwood floors throughout were sanded and varnished and, after a great deal of wear on Beverley Fields' hair dryer, the utility porch was finally enclosed.
Inside, heirlooms compose a kind of three-dimensional family album. Oil and watercolor landscapes by Beverley's grandfather line the walls. The decanter set that sits by the Duncan Phyfe- style couch was handcrafted at her great-great-grandfather's glass factory in England. And the oriental rugs were handed down by various grandparents.
Sitting at the hand-carved kitchen table, after a long drive through cramped and cluttered urban neighborhoods, ticky-tacky suburban developments and glaring rows of fast-food joints, a visitor agrees that the Fieldses and their horses share a good life.
Pete Fields was drawn to horses when he first moved to southern Maryland. He was fresh out of college and took a job at a naval installation. For fun he worked part-time at a stable. "Then it got to the point that working with horses wasn't just a hobby," he says. "They were a part of a way of living."
Today, they are such an integral part of his life that, rather than move, he tolerates a daily 80-mile commute to Gainesville, Va., where he works as an aerospace engineer. And though he has become more of a weekend rider, he is still dedicated to the grueling test of endurance riding. In competition, he rides distances from 25 to 100 miles in races that can take as long as 24 hours to complete.
When they were first married and lived near Waldorf, Beverley Fields commuted to the District every morning. But neither was happy that the commute took her away from the horses and their plans for a family.
"We eventually decided we would make horses a second profession," says Pete, "and that Beverley would be the principal architect of that."
Today they board six horses, and have four of their own. Beverley juggles about 20 students and she and Lara occasionally make time to compete in dressage events.
For the Fieldses, the therapeutic properties of country living seem to go beyond mere physical conditioning. The family's mental and emotional constitutions appear to have been strengthened by their tussles with the elements.
"It is occasionally not peaches and cream," says Pete. "When it's 10 degrees out and you've got to feed the horses, or when something is broken and needs to be fixed, you've got to do it, even though it's uncomfortable. But no, we wouldn't go back to the suburbs; we have to have elbow room."
"The things that happen to us just don't happen to people in the suburbs," says Beverley. "There are times when it's agony, but you have to laugh about it. It's really a wonderful life."