From his hilltop by the Capital Beltway the other day, the last dairy farmer in Prince George's County surveyed the skylines of metropolitan Washington.
There in the panorama before Thomas Woodrow Wilson, 71, were Crystal City, Rosslyn, White Oak and Silver Spring, the Washington Monument and the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Looming to east nearby was the Capital Centre, and to the northeast, Landover Mall. In the foreground was the rest of Wilson's 300-acre farm, which has been in his family since the 17th century. Located southwest of the juncture of Brightseat and Sheriff roads, it is one of only a handful of farms left inside the Capital Beltway.
Now surrounded by housing projects, superhighways and other trappings of civilization, the farm is an island of open space.
"There used to be good rabbit hunting here," Wilson said. "It was our main meat in the fall."
Wilson does not want to surrender to development, the common fate of most suburban farms and what he says is the aim of his two brothers, who own two-thirds of the property.
Wilson, who wants to keep the property intact for his eight children, hopes to buy them out.
In the meantime, he concedes that dairy farming is "getting to be too much for me by myself," and he's selling his milk herd to the government as part of a federal program to reduce production and keep milk prices from falling.
But he's not giving up cattle -- or farming. He says he plans to buy more beef cattle "to take care of the pastures."
"I'm satisfied walking around on these hills," he says of the property. "There's enough room for me."
Says his daughter, Mary Wilson Hendley, "He never leaves the farm . . . . He hasn't been to Washington in 20 years."
First called "Baltimore Manor" in the time of Wilson's ancestors the Calverts, the proprietors of the crown colony of Maryland, the property was part of an early land grant now shrunken in size. It is home to nearly 100 head of cattle, 25 hens, three dogs and several members of the Wilson clan.
The British are said to have marched through here during the War of 1812, burning the Wilson homestead. Before the enemy arrived, however, the Wilson gold was buried to keep it from British hands, according to family lore.
The farm produced tobacco, the traditional Southern Maryland crop, until 1928, when Wilson's father switched to dairy cows. Today 50 acres are left in woods and 100 are given over to pasture, with the rest planted in corn, spring oats and alfalfa to feed the herd of 49 beef and 49 dairy cattle.
Tom Wilson starts milking at 6:30 every morning to get his milk ready for the farmers cooperative that sells it to the Safeway supermarket chain. Occasionally, a University of Maryland veterinary student comes to help him with the chores.
"Fresh milk, that's one thing we don't run out of around here," said Wilson's son, Thomas Woodrow (Woody) Wilson Jr., 30.
The farm adjoins Palmer Park, a blue-collar neighborhood that is best known as the boyhood home of boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard.
Here on the urban frontier, there's a Metrobus stop at the entrance to the Wilson farm, and Wilson says the occasional clashes of urban and farm culture are almost inevitable.
Once a black Angus beef steer wandered off the farm into Palmer Park, and then couldn't be budged. "What a disaster," Wilson's daughter recalled. "It wouldn't come; it wouldn't go. We had to drag it home with a tractor."
At the Wilson farm, disputes with neighbors go back further than the 20th century, for marking a corner of the property is what has long been known as the "troublesome stone," a spot where neighbors once argued over boundary lines.
Today, there is border friction between farmer Wilson and residents of nearby garden apartments over littering, and worse.
Broken bottles on his property tear up at least one $500 tractor tire a year, Wilson said, and family members say they have been shot at with BB guns while working in the field.
Encroachment is another problem, Wilson said. As if to demonstrate the point, while Wilson was talking to a reporter he spied trouble: a trespasser on a dirt bike, zipping happily through the alfalfa fields.
"Boy, he's digging it up good," the farmer said angrily. "These two-wheelers tear the ground up. They'll dig a couple of inches of dirt and start the erosion bad."
Wilson climbed into the cab of the tractor and headed toward the offending biker, who was ranging far afield near the Capitol View garden apartments.
The youth stopped and Wilson pinned the bike under the front of his tractor. Hendley ran from the scene to call the police and get her brother.
The biker, told he was trespassing, said he lived on nearby Sheriff Road. Wilson let him take his motor bike and go. Wilson tramped across his litter-strewn field to address a group of bystanders in an apartment parking lot.
"This is no way to live," the farmer told them.
"I know how it is," said one bystander, Joseph Savoy, 26, nodding in agreement.
Hendley and her brother Woody rode up on a three-wheel all-terrain vehicle, shotgun in hand, but by then tempers had cooled.
A police officer who was dispatched to the scene told Wilson's son that they should hold the intruder next time.
"I'm glad you were here today, to see what progress is," Wilson said to his visitor, and he reflected, "The old and the new. I still like the old. This progress is a killer."
Wilson said he doesn't mind an occasional walker, authorized or not, on his property, "but you have to draw a line or they take a mile." A few days after the dirt bike incident, he said he had had no further problems.
"I think moving up on him with that tractor worked," he said. "I bluffed that kid good."