Squirrel Pie

It’s October and the surreal blood moon has passed, signaling fall’s hunts and harvests.

But first, fishing, a harvest of sorts, and specifically trout fishing, which should improve dramatically on selected local waters this week and next.

Why, you ask?

Oh, that’s easy. The annual fall-stocking program is underway. So, no, those state trucks you’ve spotted lugging splashy silver tanks with their small rear motors purring aren’t out on joyrides or returning from the garage or transporting trout from one hatchery to another. They’re freshening up selected lakes, streams and ponds with fresh, foot-or-longer rainbow and brown trout from MassWildlife’s hatcheries at Montague, Sunderland, Belchertown and Sandwich.

A total of 74,100 fish — 66,100 rainbows and 8,000 browns — have been allotted for this round of statewide stocking, during which each of the five wildlife districts will divvy them up equally. Computed, that means they’ll all receive a total of 14,820 fish, including 13,220 rainbows and 1,600 browns.

The stocking crews always await the September/October transition before embarking on road trips. Prior to that, the streams are typically too low and too warm to risk stocking a cold-water species like trout. Plus, trout can have fatal issues when carted around in mobile metal tanks during hot summer temperatures.

By this time of year, trout fishing has typically dwindled down to a trickle, with only the diehards, most of them skilled anglers, still out on the streams, fly rod in hand, or trolling in boats on deep lakes, where trout retreat to the deepest, darkest, coldest depths to ride out warm summer water temperatures. That doesn’t mean you can’t take lake and pond trout on the surface during the height of summer, because you can if you fish early and late, understand the hatches and know the location of spring holes supplying fresh sources of cold, clear water. Even deep-water trolling can produce consistent results, but not the continuous action of spring ice-out fishing, which takes place when famished winter trout are feeding voraciously within 3 feet of the surface. Come summertime, the same fish lie deep and anglers must be more patient and knowledgeable to produce consistent success.

The same can be said of summer stream fishing, unless working rainstorms that quickly raise the water level and color the stream a silty brown as food from the ground, tree branches and bushes is washed in, drawing even the biggest, most secretive trout out from their deep secluded lairs — fortresses often located on river bends, protected by overhanging roots, large stones or ledge, fallen trees, undercut banks and/or all of the above at a single site.

Local rivers ticketed for stocking this week or next include the Deerfield from Florida to Deerfield, the Millers from Athol to Montague, and the Green from Colrain to Greenfield. As for lakes and ponds, look for action at old standbys like Lake Wyola in Shutesbury, Cranberry Pond in Sunderland and Lake Mattawa in Orange. For some reason, isolated Warwick seems to get the best of it with no fewer than four impoundments stocked: Moore’s, Forestry Camp and Sheomet ponds and Laurel Lake. For those who enjoy fishing North Amherst’s Puffers Pond — hint-hint — you may want to take a trip there, too.

There’s nothing like the cool weather and colorful backdrop of fall to make trout fishing enjoyable. So don’t be afraid to take advantage of fall stocking, even is you are more of a spring and early-summer devotee.

Grey squirrel season opened last week, and the three-week September bear season is behind us, ending Saturday. Don’t hold your breath waiting for harvest numbers. The spring turkey harvest has yet to be announced by MassWildlife. Coming soon is open season on woodcock (Wednesday) and ducks and geese (Central, Oct. 13, Berkshire, Oct. 12). Another important date to remember is Oct. 17, when the season opens for pheasant, ruffed grouse, cottontail rabbit, snowshoe hare, and coyote. The wild-turkey and archery-deer seasons commence on Oct. 19. Farther down the road is the second, three-week segment of black-bear season, which runs from Nov. 2 through Nov. 21.

Speaking of squirrel hunting, it seems to be a lost art these days, but was quite popular in days past. The favorite weapon locally seemed to be the old Stevens .22-.410 over/under. The top barrel was chambered for .22 caliber long rifle, the bottom took .410 gauge, providing the hunter options of discharging a pattern at running, jumping, airborne squirrels or pinpoint, open-sight accuracy for a stationary target standing on its hind legs eating on a limb. The trick was to sit quiet against a large tree or stonewall, settle and blend in, and wait for the squirrels to start rummaging around above and at ground level. Then, with activity rampant, start picking away to fill the game bag.

Squirrel pie was a New England favorite, with many lard-crusted homemade recipes. But cut-up, butter-sauteed squirrel pieces in an iron skillet worked well, too, often prepared with onions, peppers and garlic, then a little dab of apple cider at the end, just before reducing the heat to a simmer and covering. The hind quarters, loins and shoulders were all tasty and tender and worked well on a bed of rice with fresh-picked wild mushrooms on the side.

The hunt was ideal for sharpening the shooter’s eye for approaching big-game hunts. Plus squirrels got hunters into the oaks and hickory groves in September for early deer and/or bear scouting. These days, with turkeys back in the picture, it would work for scouting fall flocks as well.

Spurred Down Memory Lane

The fall equinox has passed, oaks are raining acorns that nick and knock and bang through the branches even on still days, and the tall, dignified pignut hickory I pass daily is balding fast, its round, green-husked nuts spread liberally underneath.

Apparently there’s critter trouble in my old stomping grounds around South Deerfield’s Bloody Brook Monument. Well, at least according to an email that arrived quite unexpectedly last week, a blast from the past in my inbox.

What a surprise. The message came from Sissy Boro, whose father long ago owned a pig farm on the acreage behind the east side of North Main Street, running all the way back to the base of North Sugarloaf and up the hill. I remember her dad and a hired hand once a week picking up our garbage left in a galvanized pail out along Pleasant Street for collection in their soiled, reeking truck. I also recall many pigs in the Boro barnyard as a young boy, before her father, Alec Boro, died suddenly and the pigs disappeared.

It was back on Boro’s hill where I learned to ski with Mike Manson, Tommy Stehalek and others, carrying equipment hundreds of yards through deep snow to pack hillside trails by walking uphill sideways in tight steps time after time with our skis on, great exercise indeed for young boys. Now and then we even tobogganed or slid on flying saucers on that slope, but preferred Gorey’s Hill out in back of Bucky Kuzdeba’s and Sonny Boron’s houses, behind the Cross Street/Eastern Avenue V. That was back in the Sixties, before the Kelleher Drive and Captain Lathrop developments, when there was nothing but open farmland and a few barns between Hillside Road and Graves Street, separated by perhaps a half-mile.

Yes, those were the days in South Deerfield, about the time Interstate 91 was coming through, splitting off Mill River — Billy Rotkiewicz holding court at his downtown drug-store greasy spoon, three barber shops, five family-run meat markets, massive Redmen’s Hall standing tall and wide where Deerfield Spirit Shoppe now sits. My father played basketball there, in the same big upstairs hall where June Lankowski taught ballroom dancing in my day.

As kids, we used to horse around on the vast acreage bordering the base of North Sugarloaf between Yazwinski’s Farm on North Main Street and Graves Street, patrolling the mountain all the way to Eastern Avenue and the notch beyond. We’d follow farm roads and power lines and jump spring brooks, ditches and fence-lines to gain access to Indian trails leading to the top of the ridge. Once there, we savored unsupervised silence as we peered down on our quaint village feeling like we were perched atop the world with no one to even suggest an uninspiring chore.

I had long ago lost track of Sissy Boro, a couple years younger than me, whose given name was Valarie. She was the younger sister of Steve, children of Lolly Boro. The mom eventually married widower neighbor Charlie Smead, who moved a few doors north into the Boro farmhouse when I was a kid.

My oh my, how times have changed. Can you imagine a garbage-fed pig farm and stinky pig pen right off North Main Street in South Deerfield these days? If you recall, much more recently, out on the western Sawmill Plain outskirts of town, condo-dwellers raised a helluva stink about Romanowski’s pig farm on Stillwater Road, in my day wide open cropland and pheasant-hunting territory surrounding the dump. Although I admit being young and not remembering every minute detail, my parents and others I’ve spoken to from their generation say there was never so much as a peep from anyone when Boro’s pungent pigs lived right in the center of town. Go figure. Times change, I guess. Not always for the better. Maybe old-timers were more tolerant, huh?

Even though the acreage between Hillside Road and Graves Street has been chopped up over the past half-century, there’s still a lot of open land back there between Kelleher Drive and Graves Street, and apparently Ms. Boro, who’s recently returned home after decades living in the sunny South, is still walking those same old farm roads I myself toured as a boy, carrying maybe a BB-gun in hand and a jackknife in my pocket. Problem is, she’s concerned about a new creature that now calls backyard home, could be a threat to her small terrier, and lurks far too close at night, sometimes even just before dark. Yes, the tracks scream that coyotes are patrolling far too close to home. Not only that, but she’s also haunted by their eerie nighttime sounds.

Well, at least that’s one sentiment, because, according to her email, she also finds it: “fascinating, because as a kid and teenager we never had coyotes, and being here for only a year and a half after living in the South for most of my adult life, I had no idea they were here now. At night, I sometimes hear them as early as 9 and as late as midnight to 1 a.m., and I can never tell how many there are because of the strange noises they make. Their yapping and yipping reminds me of space aliens or some other freaky sound.”

Welcome back to the Pioneer Valley, Sissy, home of the Eastern coyote.

What’s interesting to me is that this unexpected note arrived just weeks after I reviewed Edward R. Ricciuti’s book “Bears in the Backyard,” which, given my own personal close encounters with bears and coyotes, I judged a bit too alarmist about potential conflict between humans and large carnivores invading suburban neighborhoods. Now this, right in my old dooryard, where my parents have also encountered bold, cat-hunting coyotes up close and personal in their yard across the street from Boro’s.

Ms. Boro says she’s taking special precautions these days during daily walks with her 13-pound pooch, carrying a sturdy walking stick just in case coyotes come out of the brush to attack her pet. I guess that’s not a bad idea, because most of the backyard attacks Ricciuti chronicles occur when pet owners intervene during such an attack.

Still, I feel confident she’ll be OK on daytime walks, with or without a walking stick. On the other hand, it might not be wise to tie the dog untended to a backyard run overnight. Sounds like that could be asking for trouble.

Feedback & Feed

A little of this, a little of that is what I have this week — starting with email Japanese-Knotweed feedback from local hill and dale, then traipsing off to the bountiful apple crop my dogs are capitalizing on.

For any who missed it last week, I addressed non-native, invasive knotweed plants lining many of my favorite streams, including the close-to-home Green River, which I monitor on my daily rambles with the dogs around what I call Sunken Meadow. There, a couple of weeks ago, I was attracted to these two riverbank bushes I split every day when exiting the river I wade through in the summer when conditions permit. I never paid much attention to the dense, ubiquitous bamboo-like plants on both sides of the river at that sharp left turn until drawn recently by a loud chorus of buzzing emanating from them in full bloom. Unaware of the plant’s name, I soon, quite by accident, became informed by an emailer from the wilds of Conway, where the invasive plant lines a couple of my favorite old-time trout streams he thought I’d like to know about. It’s easy to identify this time of year, he wrote, because of its white flowers. Cursory Google research confirmed my suspicion that he was describing the very plant that had piqued my curiosity. I love it when things like that happen.

Anyway, it gets better. After the column hit the street, I received three quick hits from readers with knotweed tales to share. First, a longtime friend said he had often over the years found the stuff growing around cellar holes buried deep in the forest, which made sense, I told him, having read that it was introduced to North America as a residential ornamental bush. Then an old hunting buddy and devoted gatherer of wild foods chimed in that knotweed is prevalent up and down the Green River, especially down low between Green River Park and its confluence with the Deerfield River, where it lines both Deerfield banks around Old Deerfield’s North Meadows. Having read that it was wild and edible, my friend had picked, cleaned, steamed and sampled the young, asparagus-like spring sprouts but wasn’t impressed. Too sour for his taste. He said he’d rather focus on fiddleheads, which he finds much more palatable.

The third discussion was impromptu, coming quite by accident from Ashfield on the day my column hit the street. It just so happened that I had called a man at noontime to talk about detailed maps he’s producing of the bed and ancient glacial Lake Hitchcock, which for about four millennia submerged our Connecticut Valley from northern Vermont to southern Connecticut, filling up some 17,500 years ago and draining some 4,000 years later, around 13,500 years ago. Though the retired map-maker was away on errands, his wife answered and was eager to talk about knotweed. I had written about finding an online Pennsylvania farmer marketing knotweed honey, which she said her neighbor had just the previous day told her she had been producing, describing it as a dark, delicious September treat. Well, maybe so, but I’m not impressed. Call me provincial if you insist, but give me “native” wildflower honey any day, or maybe that produced from spring apple blossoms or clover. Come to think of it, those latter two imports also came long ago with the first sailing ships transporting a new breed to these North American shores. But that’s just me. Maybe I don’t know what I’m missing. The bees take advantage of what they’re given.

Which offers a handy segue into our next subject, apples, which are falling in heaps under trees just about everywhere in the county this year. My front-yard tree is loaded with the most beautiful deep-red, conical apples in creation. They’re ready to start dropping any day now, while four trees along my daily riverside walk are similarly overburdened with sweet green fruit. I’ve tasted it. Imperfect but very good. The dogs pick up and eat random apples from the first three trees we pass, which, like the one in my yard, are still bearing most of their fruit. On the other hand, there’s the large riverside tree that’s loaded with green apples that are now falling in buckets and fading to yellow both on the tree and the ground, yet more so on the ground, where the fruit softens as the yellow mellows before going brown and rotting.

Those apples have been dropping for a month now, first sporadically but now steadily, often two or three fall as I stand watching my dogs select from dozens on the ground whatever ones they want to eat. I still haven’t figured out why they select the ones they do, but the primary sense employed is smell. Both of them will often pass up five or six beauties before picking one up and crunching it down, stems, seeds and all.

It’s comical to watch the two dogs’ eating idiosyncrasies. Old mom, Lily, 11, is more thorough. Once she selects an apple, she sits calmly, chomps it in half and drops a quarter on the ground as she eats what’s left in her mouth. Then she picks up the dropped quarter and eats it before dropping her nose to grab the other half, chomping it in half and repeating the process till done. Son Chubby, 4, goes about the chore wastefully. A bit of a glutton, he sniffs around, selects an apple, crunches it in half and devours it as if in competition, often neglecting to eat the half he’s dropped on the ground. He typically ignores that chunk and moves on to find another whole one, most often again leaving half on the ground. Sometimes those surplus halves will be eaten in the same session by Lily. Other times, either Lily or Chubby will clean them up the next day. Seems to be no rhyme nor reason to it, especially relative to Chub-Chub, still a kid in the big picture. When he eats an entire apple, he usually does so lying down on his belly, head high as he chews and swallows.

Then there’s the other peculiar eating habit Chubby has displayed in recent days. I noticed last week that his normal touring pattern on the upper terrace of our daily walk had suddenly changed by running ahead at a place where he usually lingered behind with Lily. Usually, I’d have to call both dogs as I passed through a thin stand of trees between upper fields because they like to sniff around in the parcel known as Hideaway, where wild animals seem to leave a lot of scent. Last week, thinking the dogs were behind me, I gave them a whistle, buzzed their collars and, to my surprise, noticed Lily responding from the field I was headed to. There was no sign of Chub-Chub till I turned a gentle bend in the treeline and discovered him lying down eating something along the cornfield. It’s been repeated every day since and will likely continue until the corn is cut and chopped. What he’s doing is running ahead to the cornfield, picking fresh young ears of corn, opening the husk at the silk, and lustily devouring the ear inside, cob and all.

I guess the dogs learned to enjoy corn by eating our summer garbage cobs. Figuring it won’t hurt them any, I have allowed the dogs to eat our leftover cobs. No fool, Chubby’s now picking his own and eating the kernels, too. It’s not his maiden voyage. I first noticed him eating cow corn last year during a pheasant hunt, when, hungry during a strenuous hunt, he ran to a tall cornfield and actually sprung up onto his hind legs to rip off an ear and run a short distance to lie down and eat it before returning to remove another ear.

In my mind, all this natural food can’t be bad for my pets. It must be good for them, or they wouldn’t eat it. Plus it’s free, they look great and have a noticeable bounce to their steps — even old hag Lily, a sprite 77 in human age.

It’s clear to me that they’ll be locked and loaded for the approaching pheasant season. Which reminds me … time to buy a license hunting online.

Off I go.

Buzzing Bushes

When you’re born into a place, stay and have deep roots there, then explore it for more than a half-century and write about it from many perspectives over nearly 40 years in the public sphere, you’re bound to gather an insightful local corps of loyal readers who understand your focus and chime in as spotters and sources from time to time with helpful tips.

Enter Bill Gokey of Conway by way of Leverett, which is where I met him 35 years ago when purchasing a Cracker-Jack black Labrador retriever gun dog named Sugarloaf Saro Jane, my dear Sara. As a versatile, all-around family pet and gun dog, she is probably my best, though I’ve owned many gun dogs of royal pedigree, tireless spirit and stamina that could match or top her in the field alone.

That, however, is neither here nor there for this narrative. What I’m here to discuss today is a problematic non-native invasive plant called Japanese Knotweed, which, go figure, has actually been dumped into my lap twice over the past two weeks — first by an old South Deerfield buddy who runs the South Deerfield Water Dept. and wanted the date of a Wendell knotweed lecture, then Gokey, who intermittently stays in touch with this and that from the pastoral surroundings of his Bear River Horse Farm.

More interesting than the subject itself, I suppose, is the way Gokey’s email dovetailed snugly into a timely personal inquiry I had already entangled myself in by the time it arrived in my inbox Sunday afternoon. Yup — Bingo! — it was right on the mark. Helpful, too. Because, you see, beginning Friday and continuing for a couple of days after that, I was puzzled by tall, dense flowering bushes on a stony, sweeping turn along the Green River bank. My interest had first been piqued by a loud chorus of buzzing emanating from two of these broadleaf bushes I split on my daily exit route from a refreshing, splashy, daily quarter-mile upriver walk with springer spaniels Lily and Chubby.

Initially, I was focused on identifying the bees. Were they Mason or bumble bees, wild pollinators I had written about weeks ago? Commercial honey bees? Wild honey bees? Or all of the above?

Well, after close, extended, two-day observation, I am satisfied they were all honey bees, every last one of them. Whether wild or domestic, well, your guess is as good as mine. Is there a way to tell? I know of none, but let me add that in the hot noontime sun Tuesday these same bees were in great numbers taking something from the sand on the river’s edge along the west bank. What they were after in damp, barren sand is beyond me. But they were all over the place, and not so much in the white blossoms that had gone by and were dropping seeds that attracted coveys of mourning doves my dogs had a blast flushing and briefly chasing.

On the other hand, I was confronted by the riddle of how in the world to identify these plants. Where to start? I was stumped until Gokey took care of the problem with his email that read like this:

“I know you love stream and river fishing, but the Japanese Knotweed will probably soon make access to the water next to impossible. It’s very easy to recognize the weed right now by its white flowers, and there’s lots of it following the South River along Shelburne Road in Conway. Along Route 116 toward Ashfield is the same.”

Hmmmm? Imagine that. Maybe that’s what I was encountering along the Green River. It definitely had the white flowers. I immediately went to my laptop, Googled Japanese Knotweed pictures and knew I had it pegged. Then the written material I scanned told me all I had to know, including the fact that a Pennsylvania farmer was marketing knotweed honey on his website. Apparently, judging from what I’ve seen with my own deteriorating brown eyes, someone near me is also selling such honey, whether that someone knows it or not. Then again, if the honey bees working those tiny white knotweed flower clusters are wild, maybe I could follow one back to a hollowed out tree or stonewall and find a good batch of salubrious wild honey. I guess it can be done, but you’re talking to the wrong guy because I have never seen such a wild honey hive, just read about them.

Anyway, the online info I uncovered says invasive Japanese Knotweed is native to Japan but now exists throughout North America and much of Europe. Once established, it’s very difficult to eradicate, thus, my friend the water department dude’s interest in the lecture he could not attend due to a Utah wedding. Apparently there are two varieties: Japanese and Giant Knotweed, and both have the same damaging effect in rivers and streams. The invasive plants multiply and eliminate other plant life while clogging small waterways and increasing bank erosion. Obviously, the plant can be spread by flooding rivers, not to mention birds like the mourning doves I saw that spread the seeds over a wide span. There have to be other seed-eaters that broadcast the seeds far and wide.

Tell me, where will it all stop? Last week I’m bemoaning the importation of pet jungle snakes that have taken residence in Southern swamps. Now Japanese Knotweed obscuring my daily rambles. Call me provincial, but I prefer native plants and animals any day of the week. And that goes for trout, too. You can have the imported browns and rainbows. For me, I’ll take squaretails any day of the week: that is Eastern Brook Trout, our indiginous trout, a proud member of the char family.

And while we’re at it, hold the knotweed honey. Make mine clover or wildflower, excluding the Far Eastern intruder.


Could there be a better example of the kind of weather bear hunters dread during the September season than what greeted them for the opening two days this week? The season opened on Tuesday in hot, muggy weather, which lingered through Wednesday. Who wants to hunt in 90-degree weather, and who wants to drag a burly bear out of the woods in sweltering heat to quickly prepare it for the freezer? Unless you have a walk-in cooler available, as few hunters do, there is no time to spare in butchering a kill, not with overnight temps in the high 60s. Then there’s the tick factor in the woods, where there promises to be no shortage on summer days. For bear hunters’ sake, I do hope the temperature drops to provide more favorable conditions, but it looks like there’s no relief in sight, with three straight muggy days in the mid-70s and nights in the upper 60s forecast.

Foreign vipers, wild foods

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! But jungle snakes as well? Hmmm? We’ll see.

As the Sturgeon Moon wanes toward the fall equinox and the hard- and soft-mast crops mature, I’m still in my summer mode when the first quarter-mile of the last leg of my daily walk back to the truck brings me through the refreshing Green River, known to the Happy Valley’s first people as the Picomegan.

Wearing shorts and Keen sandals — my grandsons call theirs “water shoes” — which offer traction plus hard-rubber toe protection for my feet and theirs, plus polarized sunglasses that clear a window to the stream bed of free-flowing, stone-bed water, I can monitor minnows, crawfish and underwater gravel-cased caddis pupa as I walk my dogs. Before descending down into the water through a steep, narrow beaver trench, I allow the dogs to eat green-apple drops while I gather six or eight prime specimens to carry in my pocket and throw into deep water to initiate swimming retrieves and baths in one playful fell swoop. This fruit and the selected grasses and carrion they eat along the way supplement their dry dog food and provide added vitamins, nutrition and likely herbal medicine they seem to have a good handle on. Yes, and Chubby continues to eagerly run daily to the Rose of Sharon bush along my property’s western perimeter to eat as many reddish flowers as I allow, assuming they too have something good to offer or he wouldn’t eat them.

I must admit that a new disturbing thought crosses my mind lately during ankle- to knee-deep river rambles. I just can’t purge the image of 20-foot rock pythons I read about in Edward R. Ricciuti’s “Bears in the Backyard,” a book I reviewed last week about new potentially dangerous critters infiltrating suburban habitats. Ricciuti says the Florida swamps are now the home of these giants snakes from faraway jungles that are bought as pets and released into the wild when they get too big to feed and care for. Although such a snake could never survive our winters, thus no danger of them growing 10 additional feet after release as they do in Florida, someone could still release such a snake that’s at least 10 feet long into a local river to get rid of it, and I admit the thought enters my mind as we splash through the river. Ricciuti says that with the North American climate warming at an alarming rate, these huge snakes capable of killing Everglades alligators, panthers and deer, will eventually be capable of wintering over perhaps as far north as the mid-Atlantic states, and that has to be spooky indeed to outdoor enthusiasts as far north as Virginia.

So, tell me: Why does the government allow these huge constrictors into the country? They don’t belong in North America.

But let’s not digress. Back to the river rambles and a short revisit to assessment of fruits and berries and nuts along the way, all of which attract wildlife such as deer, bears, turkeys and many smaller critters that devour mast crops to nourish themselves for long, cold winters.

The appearance of that beech limb I wrote about falling to the ground for some reason last week has changed dramatically. A woman who sits next to me at work asked if I’d bring in some beechnuts for her to examine. So I picked a handful Sunday morning from that fallen branch. In a week, the leaves had gone from healthy green to dry, crinkly brown and the thorny husks had switched from olive to golden brown while spreading their wings to allow the two olive-colored shelled nuts, faded some and drier than a week ago, to fall free. I never investigated the meat inside until Monday afternoon in the office, and it had gone from wall-to-wall white to a narrow, shriveled-up tan sliver dwarfed inside the three-sided shell. The discovery explained why in my half-century travels the overwhelming number of beechnuts I’ve opened have been hollow. Clearly the edible white meat disappears fast by drying up once the nuts hit the ground. Apparently, enough fall in moist places where they can quickly take hold and germinate, because in beech groves I’ve visited for years there are few meaty nuts despite dense, immature, smooth-gray understory beech saplings. A forester told me last year or the year before that many of those upstart trees sprout not from nuts but off the roots of larger beeches.

It never ceases to amaze me how I can walk the same place daily for nearly two decades and continue to glean new information about plants and animals, woods and fields, swamps and rivers, the sky, and history deep and shallow from year to year. Not only that, but I’ve been studying this place I call home here in the upper Pioneer Valley for at least 55 years, and miraculously keep bumping into new, exciting discoveries weekly, if not daily or by the minute. I guess that’s what makes life worth living, especially if you’re curious and want to understand your place and that of your deep ancestry. Only fools believe they can ever know it all. Fact is, no one ever knows it all. Sadly, life isn’t long enough to get to that loftiest state of consciousness.

Responding to last week’s column assessing bottomland mast crops, after I had confessed I had not yet explored royal upland hardwood spines, an observant hilltown reader chimed in early this week with a detailed mast-crop report “from around 1,700 feet.”

“Up here, we have a limited acorn crop — much less than last year when there were so many that it was like walking on marbles through the oaks,” he wrote. “… While acorns are sparser, white ash trees are having a booming seed year. Just loaded.

“Although acorns are limited, there has been abundant food in the woods for bears, etc. this summer — starting with red elderberries, then lots of raspberries, chokecherries, apples, etc.” he continued. “It looks like there will be plenty of regular elderberries, too.

“Checking scat lets you see what bears (and fox and coyotes) are eating. One sample last week was loaded with apple chunks. … Some I saw this week had black-cherry pits in it.”

So there you have it — the state of natural feed from above and below — plus a little tease about big imported serpents capable of squeezing the life out of a full-grown man, not to mention many unprepared animals that cross their paths through the infiltrated wetlands.

Just the thought of it can be unnerving.

The Bear Situation

The Sturgeon Moon is building toward its Saturday climax in the deep midnight sky, with the smell of cow corn and bear season in the air. For the first time in recent memory this year, bear season will be extended 12 days by adding a third segment, that being a slugs-only hunting opportunity coinciding with shotgun deer season.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens. The first 17-day September bear season opens on Sept. 8 — as usual, the day after Labor Day. MassWildlife has for years been trying to encourage more hunters to participate in the bear hunt, which typically draws a thin, select fraternity. Yet last year, with the burgeoning bear population running wild and spilling east into suburbia, where it creates vexing management problems, hunters shattered the harvest record with 240 kills, the lion’s share taken in September and the rest during the 18-day November season, which never approaches the September numbers. Why? Because bears are easier to pattern in September, especially problem bears ravaging cornfields and orchards, where hunters can easily get permission to hunt and set up in an advantageous stand.

Plus, this year there appears to be food in the woods, another option for those who prefer that setting. Although I have not visited my favorite upland hardwood spines, royal as they are, I did extend my Wednesday walk to assess the bottomland hard-mast crop, including a couple of tall, broad red oaks near two large shagbark hickories, and would say there are more acorns this year than last and about the same number of hickory nuts. The acorns are just sprouting on the small oaks and still for the most part clinging tightly to branch-tips of mature trees, with a few nuts on the ground here and there, what I would call wind and rainstorm drops. I bit into a capless red-oak acorn along a cornfield and found it chock-full of moist, bitter white meat.

Meanwhile, my daily travels long ago told me it’s a great year for apples and a good year for berries, judging from those I can easily monitor without going out of my wayg. So, although most bears will likely be taken near easily accessible cornfields and orchards now that hounds and bait are illegal, fruit and nuts are available and hunters posted in dense hickory, beech and oak groves or around wild fruit and berries could find success. The butternut trees I pass daily are showing few if any nuts for some reason, after last year producing many. Hmmmm? No clue. Ask Mother Nature.

Buoyed by last year’s record kill of 240 — which topped the 2012 record of 185 — and hoping to create an upward harvest trend to meet their goal of hunters reducing the statewide bear population by at least 12 percent annually, the management team opened the shotgun deer season to bear hunting. That move has been clamored for over the years by hunters claiming killable bears were not an unusual sight from deer stands and thus they should be allowed to take them to help meet management objectives.

The best reason for adopting the new policy is related to hunter density, which is typically sparse during the September and November bear seasons. On the other hand, never are there more hunters patrolling bear country than during deer season. The only other high-density hunt that compares is the spring turkey season, when hunters’ ammo is bird shot, definitely not a bear-hunting load. As for buckshot during deer season, well, yes, it could kill bears shot through the right weapon within 50 yards. But not everyone owns such a weapon and state officials clearly don’t want to tempt the fates of irresponsible long shots with buckshot that would result in wounding bears that either suffer and survive or die without being retrieved.

The inaugural bear season during deer season should prove interesting if for no other reason than the novelty of it. Bears were in play during deer season early in my lifetime, definitely as recent as the 1950s. Perhaps this new measure will assure an annual harvest of at least 200 bears, which would be a step in the right direction. But that remains to be seen, and we’ll need more than one season to quantify the impact. More likely, the annual bear kill will exceed what it would be without open season for deer hunters, but still won’t reach the goal of 12 percent annually to stabilize our bear population. Factors such as snow-cover, weather and available wild foods will contribute to some deer seasons being better than others for bear hunting.

The dates of this year’s three bear seasons are: Sept. 8 through 26, Nov. 2 through 21, and Nov. 30 through Dec. 12.


An interesting little gift found its way to my daily path over the weekend when — for some undetermined reason I won’t waste time trying to decipher — the end of a three-armed beech branch snapped off and fell to the ground with the outer tips propped up against a tall, dense wild-rosebush border.

I looked up to see where it had broken off, then went to the branch to see if there was meat in the many visible nuts encased in small, thorny, olive husks. Experience tells me that by the time the nuts collect on the ground most are hollow and meatless, which was not the case on this fallen branch. I must have opened a dozen husks, broken open the thin, soft, three-sided shells inside and found every last one of them full of dense, cream-colored meat.

Frankly, the discovery surprised me, because I have been opening beechnuts for many years at diverse sites and typically find hollow nut shells, whether pried out of the husk or lying loose on the ground. So, yes, meat has been a rarity in my half-century experimentation project. Not so this time, which leads me to believe that the meat disappears over time.

I can’t say what broke that perfectly healthy 3-inch branch to the ground, but if it was squirrels, there must have been many eating simultaneously to stress the branch so. Then again, perhaps a turkey brood was perched up there eating and one too many decided to join the feast.

It’s a mystery. A bear wouldn’t have tempted fate out so far on a flimsy branch. No chance. They’re not stupid. Plus, even a cub would have known better than to venture out close to the point of the break. So, yeah, my guess is probably turkeys, though I must admit I’ve seen a grand total of one since spring down there on my daily rambles.

Cougar Comments

Cougars and catfish derbies, a book recently finished, and a troubling climate-change piece in last week’s Rolling Stone magazine. Hmmmm? Where to start?

OK, cougars. Yes, cougars, despite that recent call from a woman I’ve known for some time pleading that I cease and desist writing about them. She says she and others know of a pair, including a grayish colored female, and fears some 4-wheeler yahoos will soon shoot one dead. I don’t know what to think of such a claim, but I’m always willing to listen, toss it around internally, and “out there.”

So I did pay heed but issued no sincere pledges. Then, lo, I open up a review copy of Connecticut author Edward R. Ricciuti’s “Bears in the Backyard: Big Animals, Sprawling Suburbs, and the New Urban Jungle” and, sure enough, the first two chapters are about cougars, including “dispersers” spilling into the Northeast from the Wild West. And yes, Martha, that includes New England.

I won’t get into detail about Ricciuti’s book because I plan to review it in detail down the road. But this much I don’t hesitate to say: Ricciuti has drunk the Kool-Aid and is a believer that cougars are indeed in the process of reinhabiting the Northeast, where, in urban outskirts they could become a public health hazard as they already have in thickly settled parts of California.

As for the local take, well, I received a credible report from Rowe last week saying there had been a sighting there a couple of days earlier that sounded legit. The person who was telling his tale around town is apparently not interested in press exposure, because the woman who reached out to me and said she’d try to get me a phone number went deafeningly silent.

Meanwhile, a day or two after writing about cougars in this space a few weeks ago, the same narrative that drew the aforementioned unnamed woman’s plea drew an interesting email from hilltowner Skip Jepson, who responded from his iPhone. He claimed he’s “hunted, trapped and fished Buckland/Shelburne for 45 years and has seen two cougars. One crossed Route 2 at Wilcox Hollow, the other was on Ashfield Mountain on my way to ice-fishing at DAR.”

It gets better. His wife has also had a solo sighting “on the road to Shelburne Falls she traveled for 35 years as a teacher. Plus a friend of mine saw one cross at Wilcox Hollow. They’re up on the High Ledges, too.”
Yes indeed, the reports just keep arriving. In fact, they’ve been coming for five solid decades now, and I try to separate the wheat from the chaff. The result from the brick oven? A little, hard-crusted loaf of sumptuous bread, food for thought.

The latest Rolling Stone installment on climate change is disturbing indeed, based on a new collaborative report by NASA climate scientists James Hansen and Eric Rignot as well as other experts who agree that the globe is warming much faster than expected and has already created frightening developments along the West Coast and in the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific is warming at an alarming rate that’s softening mollusk shells and negatively impacting whales and many salmon species that could soon be only memories in a rich ecosystem called Puget Sound. Meanwhile, cars are burning in runaway wildfires crossing LA freeways, pavement is melting in India and floods of biblical proportions have occurred in Turkey, the latter two locales way out of sight, out of mind and easy to hide by those who wish to do so. With all this in mind, take a look at the nightly news maps displaying flames at the sites of all the fires ravaging western forests and rural developments alike, and you have to wonder how big-oil lobbyists and certain politicians beholden to the fossil-fuel industry can still vociferously deny global warming as a hoax. Talk about not being able to see the forest for the trees.

Oh yes, don’t want to forget the annual Connecticut River catfish derbies. First the one founded by the brothers Hallowell — Greefielders Gary and Rick — then a quick look at the granddaddy of them all, the 35th annual Holyoke Post 351 Catfish Derby, founded by the late, affable Don Partyka and taken over by the Hattens, daughter Lisa and son-in-law Mark.

Robert Bedaw of Whately won the Hallowells’ sixth-annual Last-Cast Derby, which attracted 29 anglers last weekend, headquartered at the Turners Falls Rod & Gun Clubhouse on Barton Cove. Bedaw’s channel cat tipped the scales at 15.51 pounds and brought him the $100 first prize. The rest of the top five (with weight and prize money in parenthesis) were: A.J. Sackett of Gardner (12.80, $50), Todd Sanford of Whately (12.52, $25), Miguel Delgado of Greenfield (10.69, $25) and James Lund of Greenfield. (8.44, no money). Pipione’s Sports Shop sponsored the event, which raised $200 for the local Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization.

I didn’t recognize any names among the winners from the Post 351 Derby, held July 17 through 19 “anywhere on the Connecticut River and its tributaries,” and their towns or residence were not noted. Nonetheless, the winner was Nate Taylor, whose 15-pound, 5-ounce cat brought him top prize of $300. The rest of the top five (with weight and winnings in parenthesis) were: Bruce Dufresne (13-3, $200), Mike Koske (13-1, $150), Victor Nieves (12-1, $125) and Jamie Kasulinous (12-0, $100).

Shelled Intruder

A gray, wet Tuesday morning, rain pelting down, backyard brook up a little and running muddy as the dogs crunch dry nuggets from rusty, cast-iron Wagner skillets on the concrete floor just inside the cook-shed stoop.

It’s looking more and more like this morning we’ll just walk the brook a short distance once they’re through eating, me taking special precautions, wearing my light green rubber Crocs with bald, slippery treads indeed underfoot. But then, as though ordered from the heavens, the rain lets up considerably and I figure, “Why not take a ride to the site of our daily rambles and give it a shot, see what develops?” At the very least, I surmise, we’ll get in a short walk, maybe even complete the whole loop if the foggy drizzle lingers long enough.

I load the animals into their Porta-Kennels and buckle down the capped bed of my Tacoma to drive perhaps a mile to our preferred site I’ve named Sunken Meadow. On the hayfield plain above, behind a greenhouse, I park, walk to the back of the vehicle, drop the tailgate, open the Porta-Kennel doors and watch as the dogs spring down enthusiastically and run off through knee-high red clover, heads up, noses on high alert in the damp, still, pungent air.

We make our way east to a slim treeline border capping a 20-foot escarpment overlooking the flood plain and hook a gentle right toward the locked aluminium gate barring the double-rutted lane down into another verdant flood plain, our Sunken Meadow. The quiet, enclosed little sanctuary is slowly transforming into its late summer mode with hints of purple and yellow along the edges, green apples littered about on the ground, a few premature fallen nuts here and there, likely windblown from oak, hickory and butternut trees standing proud sentry along the upper periphery.

At the base of the short ramp down into the Christmas-tree plot I notice Chubby, ears perked up alert, with palpable caution. There’s something on the ground eight or ten feet in front of him. As I approach, I recognize the object of Chub-Chub’s cautious curiosity as a small black-shelled turtle that’s smaller than a dessert plate and larger than a tea saucer. Standing over it and looking down as it retracts its head and neck into its shell, I’m wondering if it’s a Wood Turtle, a Painted Turtle or some other rarer species I’m not familiar with. Knowing it’s not large and definitely not a snapper, I have no fear of reaching reach down to turn it over for a look at its under-shell, which, if it’s a Wood Turtle, with be decorated with six or eight small black tabs the size of nickels along the outer rim. That, I learned that last year after snapping off a photo of a dead turtle killed by a tractor, incorrectly identifying it as a Painted Turtle and receiving several emails and a phone call from a friend to correct my misidentification. It was a Wood Turtle, not “endangered” but under “protected” status in the Bay State nonetheless.

As I reach down to briefly turn the critter over, I can detect a soft hiss emanating from the front compartment its head has retreated into. It’s not a Wood Turtle. The under-shell is a bland, faded orange with not a mark visible. There seemed to be some lines of color on its head and neck but, because it had unfortunately disappeared by the time I circled back to the site perhaps 20 minutes later, I had no opportunity to re-examine it more carefully. I remember no distinguishing colors or spots on its carapace, just a bland, domed, patterned shell, nothing flashy.

Clearly, the turtle was there to lay eggs in packed sandy soil. That was clear when I saw the half-dollar-sized hole under its tail end. I have passed several similar holes in recent weeks that look like something a rodent or snake would make. My guess now is that all of the holes have been made by turtles of various species, including Wood Turtles, though it seems a little late for egg-laying to me.

At work, I Googled “Massachusetts turtles” to see if I could from memory identify the critter I encountered by studying online photos, but I was unable to pin it down. The biggest problem was that I was unable to find a site showing the under shells of turtles displayed. That plus the fact that I hadn’t pestered the critter long enough to get a good read on any distinguishing characteristics or colors. So now, I have a mystery that’s bugging me a bit.

Hopefully, I’ll run into this critter again, or maybe there’s more than one down there laying eggs at this time, which, again, seems to me a little later than I’m used to seeing. That said, I do have vivid memories of discovering a nest of emerging snappers emerging from a sandbank overlooking a “crick” running along the back property line of my Uncle Bob’s suburban Twin Cities home outside Minneapolis in the early 1960s.

I think I’ll throw a camera in my pocket and stay alert in coming days for that same turtle or another like it, just in case.

Maybe it’s one of the state’s rare turtles biologists want reported when spotted.

That’s what I like about walking the wilds. There’s always opportunity to learn something new in a place you know well. For me, it’s what makes the world go round and awakens me each day with a positive, enthusiastic outlook.

Harbingers Of Fall

Maybe I’m getting old and that’s why time flies as it does, but it’s hard to believe that summer has already faded to its stretch run.

Signs abound in the fields, the woods, the ornamental bushes gracing tidy country lawns.

The first hint for me that fall was near were my two Rose of Sharon bushes sporting purple flowers, which, by the way, my dog, Chubby, eats daily. He actually goes to the bush along my western perimeter, securely envelops a blossom between his jaws, pulls back in a tug-a-war stance, snaps it off and devours it like I would a blueberry muffin. He repeats the process as long as I allow. Soon, I presume, he’ll have eaten all the low ones and will have to leap for higher blossoms. I think it’s the only flower I’ve seen him eat, and I have no clue why but would guess there is a good reason. Maybe someone out there has the answer. All I know for sure is that animals have an uncanny ability to sense what’s worth eating for any variety of reasons, kind of like primitive man before the days of crops and herds, tribes and nation states.

Oh yes, the good old hunter/gatherer days that are in all of our backgrounds, though obscured by millennia of “progress” delivering us to supermarket shelves, roadside stands and powdered scrambled eggs.

Some heady old-ways devotees of a cerebral natural-history bent — beat poet Gary Snyder and agricultural ecologist Gary Paul Nabhan, to name two — believe humankind embarked on an unnatural path when it began drifting away from hunting and gathering. Yeah, yeah, I know, there are many good citizens committed to our modern ways who dismiss these people as crackpots, kooks and worse. But if you give them a chance and read or listen to them, they make a lot of sense in philosophical realms. And then you discover the likes of best-selling author Richard Louv, who brought a new term into the American lexicon in 2005 with his eye-opening, even frightening book titled “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder.” His point was that the modern American child, far removed from farm and field, woods and stream, no longer associates living plants and animals with what he or she finds on his or her plate. And that, my friends, is scary on many levels, because it’s out of touch with reality.

I must say that when I see those Rose of Sharon blossoms Chub-Chub finds so tasty, they remind me of looming firewood chores, that is, tossing seven cords of seasoned hardwood fuel into the woodshed attached to the pantry and kitchen at the rear of my home. It is a great luxury to have such a building in which to store wood because, once the snow flies, you don’t have to go outside to stock your stoveside cradle. But trust me, even though it’s good exercise for any man preparing to chase two energetic, crackerjack gun dogs through swamps for six weeks of bird-hunting, you never really look forward to it. It’s work with a capital W, yet so fulfilling once it’s all under cover in the bloated shed.

The problem with cordwood these days is the cost. When I moved to Greenfield 18 years ago, I was paying $85 for a seasoned cord, cut, split and delivered. Now you’re more apt to pay $300 if you don’t know someone, and $225 to $250 cords are becoming difficult indeed to find. And then, when you do find it, you have to hold your breath and pray it’s not a mix of soft hardwoods that produces low BTUs. What’s worth more, a $225 load of soft maple, poplar, ash and white birch, or a $300 load of black locust or two-year-seasoned oak? In the long run, I’d say you’re better off paying more for the latter, which produces far more heat. But be prepared to pony up $350 a cord this fall and winter for such superior wood.

Recently, there’s been a lot of beech wood being sold because the trees have a blistering disease that’s killing them, thus foresters are removing them from the woods. Having burned more of it the past two years than ever before, I would rate it a pretty good heating wood. Not as good as locust, oak, hickory, rock maple or black birch, but better than many others you’re apt to get in a load these days.

But, enough on firewood. Back to bird hunting, which always starts flowing through my consciousness as soon as I see the yellows and purples invade the roadside wetlands. Plus, right now, the staghorn sumac drupes, large and ripe, are sporting their finest, most salubrious deep blood-red. That sight is always to me a harbinger of my joyous fall bird-hunting season. I wish I knew how to use sumac as a medicine like the first North American people did. If you want to learn about it and other natural medicines available to all for free, along the side of the road, in the swamps or in the upland hardwood forests, get a copy of “American Indian Medicine” by Virgil J. Vogel. Published in 1970, it’s still in print for good reason — because it’s worth reading. The Indians used virtually all parts of the sumac tree for different remedies, employing the roots for one problem, the drupes for another, the bark and leaves for yet others. And all of them worked before the drug companies took over.

I knew a woman with five children who moved to Whately in the Sixties after a homesteading stint with Scott Nearing near Jamaica, Vt. This creative lady used sumac-drupe tea with remarkable success in treating childhood colds’ coughs and sniffles. It makes sense. Those sumac berries are loaded with Vitamin C. Yes, that’s right, the same stuff you buy as pharmacy tablets or ingest with your morning glass of orange juice.

Enough! Would be easy to wander off here. Not today. Maybe I’d be better served to start getting my hunting gear in order, my side-by-side oiled and polished with Butcher’s Wax. Plus, I’ve got a few household clean-up chores that must be tackled before those first cackles sound, the first shot fired, the first ringneck retrieved to the game bag at the back of my vest.

Oh, how I savor the fall chase in crisp, clear air backed by brilliant, inspirational fall color.

Roadside Rambler

Two phone calls, a month apart, reporting separate sightings of a New England phantom, added perspective gleaned from a morning trip to my old stomping grounds, and here I sit, molding it into an outdoors tale for the sports page.

So let’s begin with the apparition, otherwise known as mountain lion or catamount or panther or puma or, heaven forbid, Eastern cougar — an agile, secretive and potentially dangerous beast that once roamed these parts as a top-of-the-food-chain North American predator, which has now, for the second time in four years, been declared extinct by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. This declaration comes despite claims of many card-carrying wildlife biologists with impeccable credentials that there never was a genetic difference between cougars in the East, West, North or South. That’s right. No subspecies. Just one big cat that grew larger in northern climes. So put that in your carved calumet bowl and smoke it. While you’re at it, pull that sacred tribal smoke deep into your lungs, hold your breath and savor the enlightenment that may invade your consciousness. It won’t harm you. The truth never does. In fact, it can be liberating. Well, of course, that is unless someone in power is determined to hide it, which, naturally, I am in no way suggesting here. Just something to keep in mind.

The freshest sighting is new indeed and came my way from old South Deerfield acquaintance Eddie Jablonski, known in town as far back as I remember as “Jabber.” A couple of years older than me, he lived as a boy across town off Sugarloaf Street, patrolling “The Desert,” barren sand drifts out by the old town dump between West Street and the East Whately line. He remembers well the days before residential development — Gromaki and King Philip avenues — and the Route 116 bypass changed the landscape forever by the early 1970s. Jabber also remembers great brook-trout fishing in lower Sugarloaf Brook between the Brookside Cemetery and Herlihy Park, and so do I, though not nearly as well as he and the Sadoski boys. Their backyards, it was a hike for me.

First word of Jabber’s cougar tale came my way Friday afternoon from work. Colleague Jay Butynski left a message on my home phone alerting me to a breathless message on my work phone asking for a call-back. The man had seen a real, live four-legged cougar at midday in North Hatfield and was anxious to speak to me. I finally reached him Monday afternoon, by which time his excitement had abated little. All he knew was what he, with his own eyes, saw trying to cross Depot Road through Bradstreet in broad daylight. He didn’t care what anyone thought or said.

On his way to Golonka’s Farm Stand on the North Hatfield/Whately line, Jabber was cutting across from River Road to Routes 5 & 10 when, just past the outflow of Cronin Hill Road on the left, four telephone poles down the road, he spotted what he first assumed was a deer. When it walked out into the road and presented a clear broadside view, he knew it was not. The musclebound cat briefly froze, turned its head toward Jabber’s oncoming vehicle, reversed direction and vanished in a jiffy into a tall, deep silage cornfield.

Jabber continued to the spot of the sighting, looked north into the cornfield, saw nothing and was so stunned that he turned around and went home. Forget the sweet corn. He had a story to tell, returning straight home to wife Patti, who wondered why he hadn’t snapped off a cell-phone photo?

“You know how that goes,” he quipped. “By the time you dig the phone out of your pocket, flip it open and prepare to take a shot, it would have been gone. I know what I saw. It was huge. The long tail, face and ears told me it was no deer. Definitely a cat. Big. Took up half the road. I was flabbergasted. I turned around to go home and call you. What a beautiful sight.”

OK. So that’s the eyewitness report delivered before 4 Monday afternoon, three days after the fact, yet still vivid. The plot thickened Tuesday morning when I was about to leave Grybko’s Garage after an oil change and a lively, meandering gabfest with Leonard Grybko, father and son, always good for a chat. As though predestined from above, lo, who walks through the door but North Hatfield’s own Bernie Smiarowski, who with his three brothers runs a vast River Road farm where I often buy spring asparagus. The Jablonski cougar sighting had occurred right in his neighborhood, and — go figure — it didn’t surprise the man one iota.

“Really?” he pondered. “I didn’t hear anything but sure would like to see one.”
“Why does the state deny they exist?” he continued. “I’ve heard other stories from credible sources. There’s one guy who not long ago claimed he saw a mountain lion down by the (Hatfield) sewage-treatment plant. Why would he lie? I believe him and think you would, too, if you heard his story.”

Which brings me to that first phone call, about a month back, from local historian/photographer Ed “Gizmo” Gregory, who’s collaborated with another local historian, Greenfield’s Peter S. Miller — yes that Peter S. Miller — on many photographic-history books of Franklin County towns. Well, Gizmo must have had an interest in Colrain’s Catamount Mountain because there he found himself during the last few days of June with hilltown historian Muriel Russell. Walking the wooded ridge-top lane in search of cellar holes and old mill-sites, Russell heard something, looked up, pointed and said, “Look at the deer running off,” and Gregory, camera slung around his neck, saw fleeing movement of a peculiar tawny beast.
“As I followed it’s movement, I knew we weren’t looking at a deer because it wasn’t bounding and showed no white flagging,” he told me on the phone during the first week of July. “I said to Muriel, ‘That’s no deer. It’s a cat.’ It was low to the ground and powerful, not a graceful deer bounding off. I know I can’t prove it, but it was a cat. It was tan and long, no bobcat.”

And, of all places, he saw it up on Catamount, which got its name from the big cats that lurked there in the early days of 18th-century Scots/Irish Coleraine settlement.

A ghost?


You be the judge.