John Ramboz is a Defense Department machinist and a sportsman who grew up in Maryland and lives in Lake Linganore, a rural subdivision near New Market in Frederick County. His house is filled with children, friends, two cats and, one day recently, a friend's dog. Hanging on the walls are the kids' artwork, along with artworks of taxidermy -- a wild turkey in flight, a nine-point buck's head, a bobcat in mid-pounce, and fat-bellied channel catfish his daughter caught.
John Zisk is an equine veterinarian, originally from Connecticut, who lives across the street. His house was decorated by his wife, a chef who teaches at a French-style cooking school. There are gold tassels on the lamps, lacquer coasters on the coffee table and white couches with pillows arranged by size. The only animals are a pedigreed Airedale named Cosmo Cutup, a Chinese ink drawing of a horse and the image of a duck knitted into Zisk's sweater.
They are two neighbors with different tastes, from different backgrounds. But that's not uncommon in Frederick, where an influx of refugees from cities and crowded suburbs has eroded the county's rural character. The lifestyles of longtime residents and newcomers sometimes clash, as they did on a chilly Saturday in January when Zisk and Ramboz had a conversation over the carcass of a deer that Ramboz was skinning in his front yard.
Ramboz, 45, had the hide off and was sawing through the ribs when Zisk and his wife, Catherine Brawn, drove past "with an astonished look on their faces," Ramboz recalls. "I thought, 'Uh-oh.' "
Within minutes, Zisk was in Ramboz's front yard, snapping photos. Before calling the police, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Lake Linganore Homeowners Association, he shared his concerns with Ramboz. In an interview recently, Zisk summarized those concerns as: "Who in their right mind wants to come into their community and see a hillbilly mentality skinning deer? What does that do to property values? What does that do to the social atmosphere?"
Ramboz, a taciturn fellow, said he told Zisk that day: "Give me 10 minutes. I'm almost done, and we'll talk."
Then later he told Zisk, "Go home."
The DNR verified that Ramboz had a hunting license and told Zisk that his neighbor wasn't violating any laws by dressing a deer on his property. The police admired the catfish caught by Ramboz's daughter and told the girl not to worry, that her father wasn't going to jail. The homeowners association board decided last month that deer-skinning does not constitute "noxious, dangerous, unsightly" behavior, and so is not prohibited by the group's bylaws.
But Zisk isn't giving up.
"These types of people are community Neanderthals," he said. "And it's just a matter of time before they're flushed out."
Ramboz's response: "Hillbilly? That is hilarious."
Their dispute is a small example of the growing pains Frederick County has been feeling as its farm fields continue giving way to subdivisions.
Lake Linganore, a development of 3,000 homes, attracted John and Sharon Ramboz eight years ago. They arrived from rural Walkersville with their three children, drawn by the community's waterside setting.
Zisk, who declined to give his age but appears to be in his early forties, said he and his wife moved in about three years ago. The couple, who are childless, had lived in Ellicott City and, before that, in Clearwater, Fla., where Zisk worked as a racetrack veterinarian. Frederick County offered plenty of horses for Zisk's practice, relatively low housing prices and a chance to live near his brother, whose home is in Frederick.
Weekends often find John Ramboz -- a sturdy man who feels naked without a camouflage cap -- at a hunting cabin in Virginia. He is a skilled shot with gun and bow and a devoted fisherman, and most of the meat his family eats comes from animals he kills. During deer season, not many visitors leave the Ramboz home without a grocery bag full of venison steaks. The rest goes to poor families in their church and a local food bank.
Several years ago, Ramboz's next-door neighbor, Rich Cramer, helped Ramboz erect a 10-foot hoist for skinning deer. Ramboz, who guts his kill in the field, said he usually skins in the early morning or at dusk. Though the hoist is outside her window, "never once have I seen him clean a deer," said Cramer's wife, Chandra.
Other neighbors are less enthusiastic. "This is a common-sense thing . . . an aesthetic issue," said Doug Seligson. "I'm a fisherman, but I don't gut a 70-pound tuna in my driveway."
That day in January, Ramboz dressed two deer. He finished one before dawn. But by the time he got to the second, it was midafternoon, and Zisk and his wife were passing by on their way home from Costco.
Zisk said he has nothing against hunting. All he wanted, he said, was for Ramboz to move his deer-cleaning operation to the back yard. But Ramboz said the wooded area behind the house is too steeply sloped. "I'd rather do this in my back yard for my own privacy, but it's not realistic," he said. After the homeowners association said it had received complaints, Ramboz offered to build a fence around the deer hoist. But to be useful, it would have to exceed the association's height limit for fences.
Zisk said the problem with Ramboz is the first he has had with a neighbor. But Edward Mangene, who lives a few doors away and has a run-down van that he uses for work, said Zisk called police about the vehicle, reporting it as abandoned and saying it should be towed. Rich Cramer said of Zisk: "He's trying to impress his values and his beliefs on the community."
But it was the deer-skinning spat that galvanized the community. Before the homeowners association meeting last month, Zisk sent a petition to the board, with the signatures of four neighbors, asking the association to ban "rendering of wildlife on residential property." The Rambozes sent a counter-petition, with more than 30 names.
By asking for a ban, Zisk "took the cross hairs off me and put them on every sportsman in the community," Ramboz said. When the meeting was held Feb. 24, the small association meeting room was "packed with people in camo," Sharon Ramboz said, referring to the camouflage clothing that hunters wear.
Lake Linganore's covenants allow the association board to rule on whether an activity constitutes "noxious, dangerous, unsightly" behavior. The board ruled that game cleaning wasn't a violation and voted 4 to 1, with one abstention, not to take action against the practice. Local newspaper coverage of the association meeting generated letters from across the county, most supporting the Rambozes.
"They're a group of backslapping good old boys that fail to understand their role," Zisk said of the board. He said he won't run for a seat on the board because "I don't think they'd be able to handle my vision for the community."
Zisk wants Seligson, his next-door neighbor, to run for the board. But Seligson said he is too busy with work and two young children. "I don't want this to become a divisive issue for the neighborhood," Seligson said. "I'd like to get to some compromise."
John Ramboz still wonders what all the fuss is about. If he drove into a neighborhood and saw someone skinning a deer, he said, "I'd feel right at home."