Trigger Happy

Not complaining, just one of those weeks, I guess. Yes, one of those stretches when weird stuff requiring immediate attention comes at you like bugs at a hot muggy windshield.

It all started with irritating gun woes late last week. First, while pursuing a wild flush — it a long-tailed, vociferous ring-neck rooster whose landing I had marked — I was astonished to come up empty in a dense thicket and decided to expand the search over an old, tree-bordered fence line into a shin-high hayfield. I whistled for the dogs and Lily appeared first, poking out into the hayfield maybe 50 yards away and following the outer tree line at me. Maybe 20 yards away, she stopped, picked up her nose above her shoulders into a north wind and spun 90 degrees right. I knew she smelled that rooster, which I could not see, and — Bingo! — a low, loud flush burst from the short cover. The bird flew straightaway for a wet brown field t’other side of the brook. I shouldered my gun, found the bird, swung on it, squeezed the back trigger as it approaching 40 yards out and was greeted by an empty misfire click. Hmmmmm? Maybe I hadn’t pushed the safe all the way through. Although I didn’t get a chance to test my theory that day there, I did oil the safety at home, manipulating it back and forth until it was gliding smoothly.

Next day, I figured I’d give it a shot hunting with old pal Cooker in a twisted, tangled Hadley covert I had avoided because in consecutive years my dogs had been caught in traps there — first Chubby in a dry-set leg-hold, then Lily an evil wire-cable snare that lassoed her tightly around the waist. I still wear a scar where her panicked canine tooth brushed my forearm that day, and have since learned that the kind neighbor who helped me release her now carries heavy-duty clippers in case his dog ever finds such a devil’s loop.

Anyway, not long into the hunt, with Lily and Chubby jacked up by scent through young, thorn-laced alders and poplars, I heard the tell-tale “cuck, cuck, cuck, cuck, cuck” and soon saw a rooster clearing the young tree tops. I mounted, pointed, swung and squeezed the front trigger and again just a click, then silence as the bird escaped. Hmmmmm? I knew it wasn’t the safe, but something wasn’t right and I suspected the triggers. The wise old gunsmith who repaired the stock just before the season had warned me not to over-oil the triggers. With the stock removed, he found the hidden walnut tongue saturated with oil and cleaned it up before wrapping it in fiberglass tape and resetting it snuggly into the receiver.

“Try not to over-oil it,” he cautioned, and since that bit of fatherly advice I hadn’t placed so much as a drop into the trigger mechanism, not even after hunting in the rain and drying out the disassembled side-by-side on a table near the wood stove. I had a feeling it needed oil, though, and my suspicion was soon supported, if not confirmed, by another field test, perhaps a half-hour later, when Chubby flushed a hen from a small patch of woods. The bird burst out over the covert and flew right at me like a wind-aided missile. I calmly turned my back to it momentarily and waited for it to show up on the back side. Then, just as I found it going away, mounted and swung, it hooked a sharp left toward a high, deep swamp across the way. I adjusted to the sudden change of direction, caught up with it, swung and squeezed the front trigger, a sucker shot, but again just a clicking annoyance. Cooker, not 40 yards away, witnessed the whole thing and sounded amused.

“Again?” he smirked.

“Yup, again. I’ll deal with it when I get home. I don’t care what that guy told me. It needs oil.”

I went home, took the gun apart, cleaned and oiled the barrels, and went to town on the triggers, which required more pressure than I like. I pulled them forward, one at a time, put a couple of drops of my best clock and gun oil in the gaps and wiggled the triggers back and forth to work in the lubricant until they were moving free and easy. When we hunted the next day, I predicted to Cooker that my problem was solved and soon got ample opportunity to prove it. I don’t question that wise old gunsmith’s assessment of the interior mess he found. I’m sure that stock needed a good, thorough cleaning, and I will indeed always limit the oil my triggers receive. But remember, I’ve only owned that gun for about 25 years. Nearly 100 years old, it was cared for by others before me, so what the gun doctor found had accumulated over many years.

Enough of that, though. Chalk it up as a temporary issue, one that will not again happen. But, before I go, allow me to touch on two more problems that reared their ugly heads after the trigger trouble and are now behind me. First, Monday afternoon, I went to my 10-year-old desktop computer, tried to fire it up, and it responded by gurgling briefly and blinking silently at me. It’s dead. Now, if I can just recover the important data I didn’t back up and would hate to lose, I’m comfortable with late-son Rynie’s hand-me-down laptop. It took some getting used to, writing a column away from my desk, even though it was in the warm comfort of my favorite reading chair. I believe I can get used to La-Z-Boy column-writing in rapid fashion. So maybe I’ve purchased my last desktop. But let’s not get carried away. Call me undecided. Remember, you’re dealing with a man who doesn’t carry a cell phone, has never texted or tweeted, and fled from Facebook long, long ago for a variety of reasons. So, I’ll reserve judgment on the laptop/desktop question.

Finally, the last disruptive force to pass through the home front like a mischievous tavern ghost this week appeared right on the heels of that vexing computer problem. With temperatures plummeting below freezing, I tested my thermostat and discovered something was amiss with the furnace. I fiddled with the burner momentarily before calling serviceman Ed MacGray Tuesday morning and greeting him at my door three hours later. After replacing a nozzle and igniter, he was gone with a check and all is well.

So, with that, off I go, nourished dogs sitting patiently in the backyard kennel, standing and wagging enthusiastically every time they hear a sound out front.

They know my triggers are again igniting thunderous roars and are anxious to experience a few.

Blind Faith

He was out for an afternoon walk on a sunny fall Friday, I on my way home from hunting, a fun day behind two seasoned gun dogs through thick thorny cover.

I pulled over, stopped, slid down my passenger’s window and said hello, he having just crossed to the south side of a bridge. I have known the man for many years and share many of his Whately roots, but don’t ask me how the conversation began because I don’t recall. Eventually, though, I pulled down from over my visor a computer printout of Alvan Fisher’s 1821 oil painting of Mt. Sugarloaf to show him. I could see he was having difficulty deciphering the image and, to my astonishment, a few minutes into the conversation, he sheepishly inquired, “Please tell me who I’m talking to? I can’t see. The doctors say I’m legally blind, and I can’t recognize you. I was watching TV and seeing fine around noontime one day, then the next minute I could see nothing.”

When I identified myself, the conversation took on a warmer glow. At our core, we are Whately brothers separated by time and what some would call progress. To me, well, modern technology is not always a good thing. What you gain in time and convenience with all the new contraptions and gadgets, you lose tenfold in your knowledge and wisdom of the place you call home. I guess that’s what draws me to that thick swamp I was hunting, a bottomland tangle once owned, trod and worked by my ancestors. And I suppose that’s why, according to my aging octogenarian friend, “You’re about the only one who still consistently hunts that mess. Another hunter was telling me the other day that the state ought to do something about it.”

I sure hope not. Because if they transform that so-called “mess” into something similar to the popular Greenfield covert known as the Filter Beds by poisoning rosebush, scalping cover and maintaining brush-hogged lanes for hunters to walk, it’ll then be to me just another boring covert. Give me deep, wet and thorny any day, because I prefer a robust physical challenge, and so do my springers.

Honestly, I value every second spent speaking to elders like this man I met by chance that day, a wise, rooted native who farmed and hunted the land — a humble man who loves his place and enjoys imparting wisdom if you hit the right chord, which I often do.

Out of the clear blue sky, he changed the subject.

“Do you still hunt deer?” he asked.

I paused.

“Well, I guess so. My dilemma is this damn knee brace I’m wearing. It can get pretty ripe after daily walks and strenuous hunting seasons, and I feel at a disadvantage hunting prey guided through life by a superior nose.”

“Aaaghhhh,” he grunted in his soft, reserved Yankee way, “do you believe that? I never had problems hunting deer without all those new soaps and scents they’re selling. I’d just milk the cows, throw on my barn coat and head out. Never had much of a problem.”

So there. Call it Yankee logic or whatever you choose. Whatever it is, it ain’t far from the truth, and it’s coming from a man who’s killed scores of deer. All these scentless deodorants and scent-neutralizing body soaps and sprays and detergents are money-making gimmicks aimed at consumers, and hunters are buying the pitch, even cynics like myself. Not only that, but writers are field-testing free samples and singing high praise. Sometimes you need a wise old man to set you straight, and I must admit I got a helpful dose of reality on that fine Friday afternoon.

Our conversation moved from the lowland swamps and pastures to family matters, the land and the uplands up by the Whately Glen and beyond. I would venture a guess that no one knows the rocks, rills and ridges between North Street, Whately and Roaring Brook Road, Conway better than this sage gent. But remember, that terrain is in my blood and soul, too. We talked about the old Sanderson mills on the first rise, the size and depth of the pond there. When I told him Forbes Library once displayed a long-lost, late-19th-century painting of the site, he oozed how he’d love to see it, has never seen a picture.

“Do you know what kind of mill it was?” he asked.

“No, I’m not certain,” I responded, “but I think it was the sawmill, and the gristmill was across the road.”

“They say a drunken man drown in that pond,” he said, recounting a tale I would not for a second doubt. “I guess he was passing too close, tipped his carriage over and drown. At least that’s the story I was told.”

By then, the stately, colonial, center-chimney home on that first bluff looking east toward Sugarloaf was the home of my uncles, aunts and cousins. One of my prized possessions is a six-drawer wedding chest from the Glen, wearing on its back the hand-written names of all the brides who owned it. But my branch of the family left the site with the 1824 death of Deacon Thomas Sanderson, father of Alvan, the Ashfield minister and Williams College man who founded Sanderson Academy.

Mention of that tall chest spurred our conversation to the Whately Glen forest and landmarks within.

“The first bride’s name on that chest is Mehitable Wing,” I told my friend. “From Conway, I always wondered how she met husband Silas Sanderson. But then when I explored Conway’s first cellar hole, that of Cyrus Rice, I was able to put it together. Right there in the same neighborhood were two Wing farms, one of which was Mehitable’s home.”

“I betcha one of those cellar holes is on our property,” my friend said. “I could show it to you if you want. I don’t know how we acquired the land. My grandfather believed woodlots would always hold value.”

The man invited me to visit some day when I have time and he’ll take me to the site, plus show me some interesting stone bounds marking the Conway/Whately line. Also, he’d like to show me the bound where Conway, Whately and Deerfield meet, the stone marked with a C, a W and a D, and chiseled marks left every seven years during mandated town-border walks.

I’ll surely take him up on his offer to glean every ounce of wisdom he wants to share. Imagine that: being led by a blind man to ancient sites buried in the forest. The man’s eyesight may be failing, but his vision in that place is acute, way better than 20-20.

He knows the way.

 

Branching Out

Saturday morning, after 10, gray, damp, rain holding off, me reading, phone rings. My buddy Cooker’s calling from the field on his cell, hunting over young male springer spaniel, Gizmo.

“Hey, I’m hunting down by Duncan’s and, trust me, it’s your kinda covert. You ought to head down. You’ll like it. I’ve already killed a hen, flushed two roosters and have the place to myself. It’s three times the size of (your favorite covert), and thicker.”

Intending to hunt later, anyway, it was exactly the kind of impetus needed to rouse me from the La-Z-Boy, having already fed the dogs and endured their pathetic, expressive gestures toward the truck, like, “Pretty please, can we go hunting?” So, yeah, I was ready and so were the dogs.

I bookmarked the page I was reading in Gary Snyder’s book of essays, “The Practice of the Wild,” me focused on “Good, Wild, Sacred” — so powerful and dynamic that I was reading it for the second time in two days, and will assuredly return to it someday. Check it out online. This guy Snyder, best known as a West Coast poet, is on a higher plane than bestselling novelists like Cormac McCarthy or Barbara Kingsolver or even, in my humble opinion, heartlander Wendell Berry, himself a cut above. But why digress, back to the phone call from my buddy.

An added enticement to the wetland he was luring me to was the fact that many years ago I had lived in a then brand new condominium complex along its eastern perimeter, so I knew it held pheasants. I vividly recall seeing them scooting around like roadrunners in the parking lot back then. Plus, Cooker had encouraged me to the site before, but I had begged off — first, because there was no need to travel so far to find enjoyable hunting and, second, because I suspected the hunting pressure would be more than I was willing to travel for.

Call me spoiled if you will but, basically, if I don’t have a covert to myself, I don’t want to be there. Crowded coverts are too hectic, with too many hunters and gun dogs, many of them winded, out-of-control pests. The problem is that in this new era of focused stocking on state Wildlife Management Areas and neglecting the old private coverts I grew up hunting, it’s becoming more and more difficult to find what I consider a quality hunt, especially on Saturdays. So don’t expect me to pinpoint new finds to my liking. Forget that! Maybe I’m selfish, but I’m not looking for company. Pushed away from coverts I hunted regularly five years ago, I’ve been forced to find new ones that fit my tastes. And how did I go about finding them? By revisiting old private coverts I once hunted and upon returning discovered they still held birds and few hunters. Some of these spots are not directly stocked but eventually attract pheasants released into adjacent sites with inferior cover. Even farm-raised pheasants that survive the first few flushes and become acclimated to their new digs have a way of finding thick, wet, thorny cover loaded with seeds and berries to feed on.

Saturday, I arrived on the scene around noontime, and steady rain had begun falling maybe five miles west of my destination. It was not rain that would even tempt me to cancel a hunt, but did indeed require windshield wipers. Fact is I prefer gray, threatening skies and light rain for pheasant hunts, the low pressure driving the scent downward and creating optimal scenting conditions for hunting dogs. Although I would have preferred foggy 40s for temperature, hey, I wasn’t complaining, and I can’t say I was expecting much, either. I just figured I’d check out a new covert and give the dogs a robust, pleasing romp.

I met my friend at a home across the street from the expansive, alluring aquifer we were about to hunt, met the work-at-home, data-processing wife of his friend, sampled a couple of leftover bite-sized Halloween Milky Ways for energy and headed out. Cooker didn’t steer me wrong. After meeting him as a softball teammate in Northampton, we’ve hunted birds for nearly a quarter-century together, and he knows my covert preferences, namely punishing, thorny tangles that are cattail wet and thick with brush, bordered by mixed wetland forest of poplar, soft maple and alders that in places jut out into play as refuge fingers. Well, I must say it was all there and then some. Not only that but pheasants were flying for their lives, the dogs floppy ears flying up out of the brush. Better still, the only shots I heard were ours, and I never saw another hunter or even a hunter’s vehicle anywhere along the road on my way home through a densely populated suburban neighborhood that’s grown since I lived there.

Traveling a familiar road I often take as a shortcut, I checked out a couple of other farms with wetlands known to hold pheasants and never saw a trace of hunters anywhere. Of course, hunters and especially guns are not real popular in this particular town, so I wouldn’t expect a sea of orange and one sharp barrage of gunfire after another. Still, pheasants are not stocked in posted areas closed to hunting, and I know from trusted friends who wouldn’t steer me wrong that the farms I was passing are still stocked.

Hmmmmm? I guess I’ll have to do a little research, poke around a little more when I have time, and see what else develops. I’d call what I discovered on my maiden weekend voyage promising indeed, in a place I briefly called home, no less.

Yes, with coverts I’ve gravitated to for years now annoyingly overcrowded, I may well have found a hidden gem buried in, from a political perspective, the most unlikely of places.

Sometimes a man must branch out in search of something new.

 

Myth Mayhem

As the Beaver Moon builds in the midnight sky, I’ve been stuck on the ancient beaver myth, my meandering thoughts briefly disrupted by backyard leave-removal chores and a fresh cordwood load dumped out back Wednesday morning by Blue Sky, a good man who left a tidy mound in front of the sliding woodshed door. I do hope to get it in promptly and return to pheasant hunting.

Lily and Chubby, eager and capable gun dogs, have been displaying that familiar, palpable, pouting melancholia they wear when anxious and frustrated on idle pheasant-season days. They’ve grown accustomed to hunting daily, if only for an hour or two, and are quite disappointed when dry-docked. Me too. But I had to button down a few chores, including this one, just in case that predicted winter storm does add an interesting twist to Sunday’s Pats-Broncos tussle, not to mention my considerable yard work.

My refocus on the Mt. Sugarloaf beaver myth of ancient indigenous origin began last week during a spontaneous, post-hunt visit with a late friend’s wife and daughters. I had never before met the ladies, who reside and raise horses and goats on a picturesque knoll with as good a view as exists of the petrified beaver bludgeoned by Hobomock to rid the terrain of a threatening beast causing death and destruction in and around proglacial Lake Hitchock some 15,000 years ago. As the legend goes, Hobomock — a giant transformer of the ancient Eastern Algonquian spirit world, believed by some early historians to have been evil — killed this pesky beast by issuing one well-placed blow to the neck with a massive tree trunk, which sank the dead pest’s belly to the murky depths. When the lake drained to become what is today our Connecticut Valley, the beaver reappeared on the landscape as the distinctive Sugarloaf/Pocumtuck range: Mt. Sugarloaf the head, North Sugarloaf the shoulders and torso, and the long Pocumtuck ridge the tail. The deep notch between the two Sugarloafs, where I often explored as a boy, is the site of the fatal blow.

Which brings me to the riddle I’ve been tossing around during lively introspection since visiting with the three friendly ladies on that clear sunny day, to me too warm for brush-busting in heavy oil-cloth bibs. As we stood chatting, looking out at an eastern horizon dominated by the abrupt termination of Sugarloaf, I initiated beaver-myth discussion and the ladies knew the tale. I shared my personal conception of the beaver, an image formed over many years of observation from many western promontories on both sides of their property — yes, the same one described above with the long Pocumtuck Ridge as the tail. There have however been other interpretations published over the past 150 years, some identifying the beaver’s tail as the lower ridge between Eaglebrook School and the Deerfield River bank across from Cheapside. Still others extend the beaver’s tail all the way to Fall River, which enters the Connecticut just below the ancient falls first known as Peskeompskut, now hidden behind Turners Falls Dam. But if you’ve lived here all your life and patrolled the western hills, the lower slopes of which would have formed Lake Hitchcock shoreline, the head-body-tail profile is clearly defined. Placing the tail between Eaglebrook and Cheapside, gives the beaver an extra body component. The ladies agreed. Two of them descendants of Whately’s first master builder, the other the wife of a descendant, they knew the same beaver I did, and you couldn’t find a more defining view than theirs, which before the lake drained would have appeared to human eyes as two small islands and one long one, with Woolman Hill likely underwater.

Remember, as far as I can decipher, the beaver myth was first published in the mid to late 19th century by historians from deep-rooted Deerfield families, writers who obviously had learned of it as a fanciful local legend told around toasty winter fireplaces. The people who first learned of the indigenous myth were a rare breed indeed, that is people who could communicate with the contact-period Connecticut River Valley tribes. But really, how precise was their understanding, how accurate was their retelling, and wouldn’t the tale have become far less reliable after generations of oral tradition delivered through a Western Christian lens?

A similar oral-history conundrum involves a legend that circulated in Whately lore at least through the 19th century, beginning in the Parker family from which I descend. Sixth-great-granduncle Abraham Parker built the first home below Sugarloaf in the Canterbury section of then North Hatfield in 1749, migrating from Fort No. 4 in Charlestown, N.H., by way of Groton. Parker — who would have had a lot of exposure to Indians in a lifetime cut short by winter drowning in the Connecticut River below Sugarloaf (March 1757) — was probably the Caucasian originator of the witch tale that his family recited for many generations. He likely heard it from marauding Indians living in seclusion nearby and/or passing through his spread on sacred ground within the old Whately Oxbow. What became Hopewell Swamp is still today good hunting terrain that has been in continuous use by hunters for more than 12,000 years. I’ve told the tale before, but to refresh your memory, alongside a one-room schoolhouse that no longer exists somewhere near Chang Farm was an earthen depression said to have been left by a witch who leaped from Sugarloaf and disfigured the giant oak limb upon which she landed before hopping to the ground and disappearing into the spooky hole that could never be filled. Indians had witches, too, but they typically appeared as animals, for instance a bear or cougar or wolf. My guess is that the witch tale was born at that site long before colonists arrived, and the witch was probably over time Anglicized from animal to human by Christian interlopers who swindled Indians for the land.

Today, bears and maybe even cougars and wolves are back, the Indians have vanished, and old legends sprout new growth, some inaccurate if not malignant. Not only that, but a smaller beaver species is back wreaking havoc in the uplands and lowlands alike.

There’s more, much, much more. I’m currently assembling information for a spring Whately Oxbow program I agreed to present for the Whately and Hatfield historical societies. A complex subject, I hope I can meet the challenge.

To do so, I must remain open-minded and keep digging.

 

Weirdness

Weird: that’s how I’d characterize what’s been happening in my travels since we last met. Then, at other times, same-old, same-old, nothing at all peculiar. Oh well. That’s life.

The weirdness started on my ride home from work through The Meadows before midnight a week ago. In a field where I often see deer, yup, you guessed it, a set of shining eyes I suspected to be those of a deer and were indeed — a doe, ears at 45-degree upright alert, head high, lying in a shin-high hayfield. Honestly, I cannot remember ever seeing a perfectly healthy deer lying in a field on the side of the road like that, just chilling. I swung my lights partially in its direction to check for antlers but it had none, just lying there alone and quite comfortable, though alert to my approach. Its countenance suggested that it was just fine, but I did check the spot next morning to see if it was dead or dying, which was not the case. It had vanished.

What happened next is even more bizarre, playing itself out a few days later in the backyard alcove created by my north-pointing woodshed and barn, joined on the south by the carriage shed’s back wall. It was Sunday morning when my wife first alerted me that she was hearing some strange gnawing or pounding at the house outside the west bathroom. She wasn’t sure but thought maybe a squirrel or raccoon was in the upper unfinished shed area above the carriage sheds and extending over the long, narrow west parlor, historically the third stall of the carriage shed, housing an overstuffed tool shed and workshop I’ve only seen in photos. Before the carriage shed and scale house were built to attach the home to the barn, there would have been an exterior staircase along the west wall of the wing, leading up into the ballroom’s fiddler’s box from the north. Anyway, enough of the history lesson, back to the noise that was concerning my wife.

Around noontime Sunday, I went in to pour a fresh cup of coffee following my daily meadow romp with the dogs and heard something banging away like a machine gun out back. I walked to the counter, looked through a corner French window and spotted a downy woodpecker hammering away at a white vertical corner board to which he had already done significant damage. Quick Google research identified the deep new additions to the board as roosting holes. Hmmmmm? The question was, why? No woodpecker had ever before done damage like that to a home I’ve lived in. Why then?

Well, further Internet investigation by my wife led to conversation that pulled the answer from my memory banks. She said such woodpecker behavior often occurs when a bird has lost a mate and drums on a building to call it back or attract a new mate. When she mentioned that, I recalled a day or two earlier finding a dead downy woodpecker on the ground under a set of four long, slender windows that act as a picture window looking out toward the backyard brook through the west parlor’s north wall. Many birds have hit that window over the years, including a pair of ruffed grouse I once wrote about salvaging for supper many years ago. Others birds have hit one of those windows as I’ve sat there reading or watching TV. Some survive, others don’t. Luck of the draw, I guess. That downy woodpecker was dead as a doornail. I picked it up by the feet and underhanded it into a large pine tree along my neighbor’s driveway. So that’s what my destructive feathered guest must have been searching for; either that or a suitable replacement. Thankfully, it seems to have given up on my yard and moved on. I kept chasing it away and haven’t seen it since Tuesday afternoon. Thank god. Before departing, the little critter was kind enough to leave me some deep-hole destruction by which to remember him.

Which reminds me … an hour or two after discovering that destructive little bugger banging away out back Sunday, and several times chasing it off, I was reading in my La-Z-Boy in the everyday front parlor when someone started knocking on the door leading from the inset porch into the dining room. I arose, looked out, and saw a man I didn’t recognize with a gray goatee. His name was Peter Tusinski. He had seen my truck in the yard and stopped to report a cougar sighting up close and personal a couple weeks ago on lower West Leyden Road in his hometown of Leyden. He isn’t the only person in Leyden who’s seen the mountain lion. He claims members of the Neipp family have also seen it.

Tusinski placed his hand about thigh high to describe the height of the cat, which he described as smaller than he’d expect but very muscular and powerful looking. He estimated it to have had a three or four foot body and a tail about the same length or a little longer. When the beast stepped out in front of his car, he stopped and they looked each other in the eye for several seconds before the cat went back into the woods he came from.

I have no reason to doubt the man’s sighting. It was withing 10 feet of him. And it’s not the first sighting reported to me from that vicinity. In fact, I’d call that part of Franklin County a hot spot, with many sightings reported on both sides of 10-Mile Bridge, which crosses the Green River from Leyden to Colrain below old Denison’s Mill. It’s wild country on the north end of a daunting gorge known to the earliest Colrain settlers as the Falltown Gore, which you could only travel through, not across.

Off I go, leg-weary and satisfied. Chubby and Lily burned me out this morning in a dense, thorny, punishing covert we all know well — always challenging and worth the effort.

 

Sweet 16

I returned from my daily walk with the dogs Tuesday morning, taunting firewood load piled on the lawn in front of the backyard woodshed, and was greeted by a long, narrow, triangular package leaning upright against the iron vice attached to the carriage-shed work bench by the side door. I knew what it was: a one-piece Tico Tool 12- and 16-guage shotgun cleaning rod I had ordered online. Nice! The final piece of the puzzle with upland bird-hunting season opening Saturday. No. Check that. One chore lingers. I still must buy an online hunting license in the comforts of home, where now a man can even check in some kills, as demonstrated during the record September bear season.

In the meantime, I must admit how ecstatic I am to have my old French Jean Breuil side-by-side, stamped with St. Etienne proofs, back in action. Early last season, with the dogs making game during a balmy hunt, I was in a hurry to get through a familiar hedgerow and tripped over a buried barbed-wire fence I have negotiated hundreds of times without disaster. Not that time. No, likely leg-weary from a day of brush-busting, I caught my left toe on the hidden wire I knew was there and went down face first. I broke the fall with bent elbows to hold my weapon up and out of black marshy soil, but the awkward landing created enough of a jolt to break the stock, which was requiring constant tightening. I heard it snap and knew I would be forced to retire my favorite shotgun, with two new cases of 16-guage shells on a shelf at home. Not like I had no options, with a newer, 12-guage Browning Citori over-and-under that gets the job done just fine ready to go in the gun safe. I just prefer hunting with the lighter, more stylish side-by-side that has been very good to me despite imperfections.

To be honest, I had written that gun off, was ready to store it away, maybe someday hang it on the wall for posterity. That was before I mentioned it to South Deerfield friend Bud Driver, who wanted to see it during a visit. He inspected it, smiled and was certain he had just the man to fix it. “Let me take it with me,” he begged. “My man’ll take care of it, no problem.” He wasn’t lying. In less than a month, I was at the Westhampton gunsmith’s shop to retrieve it and hand over 60 bucks for his services, the best 60 bucks I ever spent.

The invisible interior issue causing the instability which had forced me for some time to tighten a screw just about every time out was a broken screw that the gunsmith discovered upon removing the stock. He tooled a new screw in his machine shop, cleaned the interior wood, applied epoxy, wrapped the interior stock tight with fiberglass tape and sent me home with a sporting gun that’s in better shape than when I found it leaning against a Kittery Trading Post rack some 20 years ago. I remember being surprised at the time to find such a nice European side-by-side, and even searched out a store clerk to investigate. His answer didn’t surprise me. It hadn’t been there long. He’d put it out about an hour earlier. Right place, right time.

The 82-year-old Westhampton gunsmith descends from and carries the surname of famous West Springfield Shays’ Rebellion supporters. He trained as a teen at Smith & Wesson and stayed many years before going out on his own. These days, he makes historic replica guns for re-enactors of colonial 17th- and 18th- century wars. Not only that but he’s a collector of weapons from that early period of American history and recently sold a 17th-century cutlass purchased many years ago from a West Deerfield family that had found it somewhere near its Lower Road home. Historic Deerfield bought the sword recently after bringing in experts to authenticate what historians believe may have been lost during the French and Indian retreat from Deerfield following the famous 1704 attack.

What really piqued my interest was Driver’s speculation that it could have been the weapon of famed Hatfield frontiersman and Indian fighter “Brave Benjamin” Waite, veteran of the Falls Fight and rescuer of faraway English captives held for ransom in Canada. Waite, my eighth-great-grandfather, died in the Meadow Fight, unwisely pursuing the raiders as they fled the 1704 attack through Old Deerfield’s North Meadows. Though it will never be proven that the sword was indeed Waite’s, it could have been, and even if it wasn’t, they had probably been in the same neighborhood a few times. I would expect that Historic Deerfield will soon send out a press release about its recent acquisition, which has been in its possession a month or two.

Back briefly to my Jean Breuil double-barrel. Driver called me promptly after delivering it for repair and was quite enthused. He said the gunsmith raved about the weapon, called it a work of art made before World War II, which I knew. Then, when I later met the man at his shop, he repeated his effusive praise and showed me all the important barrel marks that told him this and that about the quality of the steel and the fact that it had been “nitro tested,” whatever that means.

“If it was mine, I’d probably retire it and hang it on a wall somewhere,” he said. “It’s a beautiful shotgun made for hunting small game.”

I don’t know what the man who owned the gun before me hunted with it, but I can say he took care of it, with thin, well-done repairs to the stock spliced in where it meets the receiver. I’ve put a ding or two in the outer barrels myself, and can’t say the interior barrels were ever perfect since I’ve owned it. But I can say that, despite shooting 2½-inch shells, it brings down pheasants, grouse and woodcock, even when you think you’re squeezing off a hopeless long shot or one obscured by dense branches. It’s choked improved/modified, and that back trigger has surprised me many times, something I don’t expect to change anytime soon. It’ll be a great gun to train my grandsons on, a slender antique with style, a gun that’s been loved, cared for and used, and will likely be used for many more years to come.

It is by no means a museum piece, just a fine old field gun that comes up quick and fits like it was made for me.

 

Hunters Moon

The equinox has passed and the Hunter’s Moon is big and bright. The time’s right to write about the new bear-harvest record.

But, no, even though I probably should begin with that tidbit, it happened in September and the press release arrived last week at deadline so, in my world, it’s old news by now. It appeared in my inbox late last Wednesday afternoon, my column nearly finished. I had run out of time, and there it has lingered, red-flagged for a week. My take is that most who care have by now heard or read of the first Bay State harvest exceeding 200 in this the world of texts and tweets and other forms of shallow electronic news that flashes, sparkles and sizzles but is weak on substance, detail and insight. Thus, I’ll start with something else and work my way back to a bear harvest that will only grow come November, when the less-popular, final three-week segment of the split season commences.

Let’s start with a few random thoughts and occurrences that have crossed my mind or path here and there, starting with a vision that keeps reappearing on my daily walks around the upper lip of Sunken Meadow, where the cornfield I wrote about last week is gone. Yes, it vanished overnight last week, leaving behind uncut stalks that escaped the chopper and now lie flat on the ground, still offering sumptuous surplus ears for the dogs to hunt and eagerly devour. Before I reach that field, after busting through a thin, thorny patch of woods between the two upper fields, for some strange reason I find myself looking at the western and northern horizons and imagining what it must have looked like 14,000 years ago, when the field I walk was underwater, the bank of pro-glacial Lake Hitchcock less than a mile west. I look at the western ridges, ravines and notches, and a distinctive, abrupt Leyden mount to the north and wonder what those features symbolized to the folks who worshipped sacred landscapes that kept them alive. Then I look east, down into Sunken Meadow on my right, a Green River floodplain, and visualize water in a swollen ancient river that was much wider and deeper than today’s, protruding off of it bulbous oxbows and bogs rich in foodstuffs. I don’t know why my mind goes there, but it does, often in fact, perhaps because I’ve read so much about it and understand what little is really known about those prehistoric times and their mysterious people. Oh, how my rambling imagination can wander off when I let the wheels spin free and easy.

Then there was the morning, Sunday or Monday, down in sheltered, peaceful Sunken Meadow, walking the final southern leg of my daily trek with the dogs, just past the spot where Chubby chased a doe and her little lamb right into my lap a month or so ago, more memorable sounds and sights. Having just passed a small cattail patch that juts out, I heard what sounded like someone in the swamp trying to fire up a chain saw or lawn mower. When I looked to investigate the sound, I was surprised to see an airborne blue heron flying toward the Green River, Chubby racing underneath in full chase mode. Interesting. In all my days, I had never heard that sound from a heron, likely the same bird I’ve been watching all summer, most often hunting a wet roadside hay field west of Colrain Road in frozen, statuesque silence.

The last time my grandsons were in town (they’re back this weekend), I pointed out the bird standing straight in the hayfield to 5-year-old Arie, who was curious indeed about a weird, unfamiliar prehistoric-looking creature. I told him that it was likely hunting frogs, snakes, mice, grasshoppers or all of the above, that it used its long, pointed beak as a spear and was given long legs to stand in shallow water and fish. Then I threw a little seed of wisdom at him, one I do hope will, with a little nurturing, germinate, sprout, climb to the heavens and bear succulent fruit. I explained that the bird’s was a good spear used for survival, unlike the spears used by armies to steal property and exploit resources. I don’t think he “got it,” but trust he will in time, after exposure to other teaching moments that pop up in our travels like friendly apparitions to help instill ethics and virtue. Then again, there will be those, maybe even uncles or cousins or school teachers or coaches, who differ with my interpretations and worldview. Yes, there will be those who tell the boy that the spears I view as immoral are justified because they make our lives better and obtain valuable natural resources for the good of our glorious republic. Praise the almighty Red, White and Blue. And while you’re at it, count me, and hopefully the ones I love, out of Mammon’s creed.

Enough!

I’d hate to stir that hornet’s nest I so enjoy jostling. The discussion reminds me of an old saying that seems to ring truer and truer as the corporate-news and messaging machines fine-tune their deceptions. It goes something like this: A lie can race around the world before the truth puts on its shoes. Maybe Mark Twain said it. Not sure. Does it matter? Fact is that it was true then, and is even truer now.

Now, quickly, back to that record bear harvest before I bump the electric fence at the bottom of the page. Preliminary numbers reveal a record 202 black bears were harvested by licensed hunters in central and western Massachusetts during the Sept. 2 through Sept. 20 season. The tally included 186 animals reported online (either by home Internet users or by staff at physical check stations), six registered in at check stations in the Western District, and 10 checked at Connecticut Valley Wildlife District stations. The previous record was 185, set in 2012 during September and November. Despite the new record, it’s at least 100 shy of the annual number needed to stabilize our burgeoning bear population. The problem is scanty hunting pressure, which even eternal optimists don’t predict to increase in the future. Sad but true, with hunting just another of many dying old-fashioned American traditions.

With that, I’m off — this welcome weekly chore again in the rearview, Hunter’s Moon big, bright and casting a devilish midnight hue.

 

Feeding, Reading

Raw and rainy, ripe for a soggy Wednesday walk, the backdrop bursting with flashy splashes of new fall color each day as drab, premature yellow maple leaves with dirty brown stains fall like feathers to the turf, never to attain their flame-orange splendor. I trust enough leaves will stay aloft to paint the sugarbush radiant orange and add brilliance to sunny landscapes.

Oh, how the dogs love rainy-day rambles, especially when I’m toting a shotgun, which ain’t far away, only a couple of weeks, in fact. Maybe I ought to purchase an online license. Can’t forget. I always used to buy a sporting license around New Year’s. Not anymore. Now I wait for fall to buy just a hunting license, which I may or may not use for deer. My deer-hunting dilemma surrounds the knee brace I must wear to trek the hardwood ridges. Four straps on the light brace made of a space-age alloy line up my worn, tattered, deformed joint to limit swelling and resulting pain. The problem is that the contraption carries body odor from daily use, a no-no when hunting alert animals sniffing the wind at all times. That said, wearing that brace the last time I went to my favorite stand two days before my older son’s death four years ago, twin bucks surprised me by trotting into the wind through noisy dry leaves right into my lap before I had time to shift my position and gun in their direction. There I sat, defeated and helpless, with two handsome antlered twins standing straight and alert nearly within spitting distance. So, true, stranger things have happened than deer presenting themselves to man wearing a sweat-soaked brace. But I like my chances better when scent-free or close to it, impossible wearing that brace necessitated by years of abuse sustained by stubbornly ignoring medical advice favoring conservative left-knee use. Hey, I was only given one left knee and plan to use it limber or lame, pain or no pain till my last day. Sorry.

Enough! What pulled me back to that memorable moment from my deer-hunting past, anyway? There are other things I want to touch upon before calling it a day — stuff like the Meadows moose, which has been spotted once that I know of by a man down the road from me; a deer-foraging shift that’s been quite obvious; and, hey, maybe a little bit about what I’m reading, the most recent of which appeared in my mailbox Tuesday and connected right into a couple of fresh reads vilifying Henry Ford, that poster boy of American industrialism, champion of capitalistic greed, friend of fascism, foe of organized labor and workers’ rights.

Regarding deer, well, they’re into acorns big time these days, leaving tell-tale crumbs everywhere along my crunchy path through waist-high, mellow-yellow timothy, its seed heads aching to explode onto fertile soil between a cornfield and thin woods lining an escarpment lip overlooking Green River floodplain. Yes, the deer have it good these days in the Greenfield Meadows flatlands, where last week I even found that a large moose print accompanying willy-nilly tracks of deer feeding under tall, broad oaks. In addition to the acorns underfoot, the four to six deer feeding there have sumptuous red and white clover, nutritious rye, and from the best I can tell, are devouring a little corn as well.

My first hint that the corn was ripe and ready came from Chubby, my 3-year-old male springer spaniel who began chomping down small ears last week. This week, I investigated further and found that something, presumably deer, was flattening single cornstalks to supplement their diet with an ear of corn here and there. When I discussed this development with a colleague and friend I call “Big Boiczyk” — whose family runs an adjacent produce farm and who will soon surrender his freedom to the holy institution of marriage — he suspected “coydogs,” not deer, an assessment I’m not sure I agree with. The “coydog” damage he described in his sweet corn did not match what I’m seeing in the thin silage cornfield I daily tour. He said coyotes rip down cornstalks and pull them out into the open to eat the cobs. The corn damage I’ve seen that Chubby has taken advantage of displays single rooted stalks lying flat in the field, not uprooted or lugged out of it. It looks like deer damage to me, perhaps coon, though minor, if not insignificant. When I catch Chub-Chub lying down to salvage a leftover cob, I tell him to “Give,” which he does, waiting patiently for me to husk and give it back. He likes that. Lily does, too. But I only take what raiders have left behind. It’s funny. Years back in that same agricultural strip, my dogs were pilfering cantaloupes. They’d roam the weedy field, pick a ripe, fragrant melon from its vine, run out into the hayfield carrying it high, lie down and eat and the whole damn thing, no waste. When I sheepishly apologized to the farmer one day in passing, he told me not to worry, he was too busy to pick them. In a week or two, he cleaned up what was left and everyone was happy.

Before I run out of space and depart, a quick reading recommendation for those of you still undecided about the controversial natural-gas pipeline they’re trying to run through our forests and across our rivers and streams, not to mention straight through Clarkdale Fruit Farm. Pick up the newest Rolling Stone magazine that arrived at my home Tuesday, comic Brit newsman John Oliver on the cover. In it you’ll find a long exposé about the infamous, diabolical, gazillionaire Koch brothers. Because of local connections I won’t mention, I must be careful what I say about the Kochs, but they have owned as many gas and oil pipelines as anyone, and you really ought to read about their negligent maintenance practices aimed at maximizing profit. Is Kinder Morgan any different? Who knows? But do we really want to find out? These folks are cut from the same greedy cloth as old Henry Ford — air, water, croplands and citizen-health be damned.

Could it be simple, random coincidence after more than a week of reading about Ford’s greed, and being just 20 pages from finishing Upton Sinclair’s “The Flivver King,” that into my mailbox was delivered this provocative Koch Brothers piece? No! I don’t believe it, have stopped accepting such developments as coincidence. I think this stuff happens for a reason.

If you hunt truth with an open mind, it can find you in many ways, yet there’s never enough, especially for the fools who arrogantly dismiss it with a smug weak-knee jerk.

 

Nut Job

The Harvest Moon has passed, wild asters smile and Henry Ford was a fascist. If you don’t believe it, look it up. It’s true.

I don’t know where that came from but must admit I’m under the gun. Off to a late start. Where does the time go?

I do have an excuse. Got tangled in titillating conversation with an overnight guest. Old friend. Retired, high-ranking military officer who must have inhaled old-tavern truth serum. Yes indeed, a spellbinding chat we had over morning coffee — stunning, in fact. Quite surprising were the views expressed. Not what you’d expect from a good Eagle Scout. But don’t forget that this proud soldier got a saturating whiff of humid Southeast Asian death and destruction way back when. So it’s all about combat perspective, I guess. Truthfully, I could spin off into pages of reflection from that intriguing three-hour conversation, but won’t. Not now anyway. Maybe I’ll return to the topic if space permits. We’ll see.

Let’s start with the easy stuff, like quick mention that the fall-trout-stocking trucks are rolling, then a quick recounting of an exhilarating Saturday hike through the highland hardwoods in the neighborhood of old Uncle Abel Dinsmore, another military man who, after serving with distinction and valor in two colonial wars, eventually saw the light and questioned his own infant government, ultimately taking up arms against it and receiving a home visit from Sam Adams himself, the American Revolution’s real father, way before drones and satellites and mechanical honey-bee surveillance devices made to eavesdrop and record conversation in private homes. My Saturday mission was a hard-mast hunt, assessment of available acorns and whatever other nuts I could find walking secluded rocky spines that bring me as close to heaven as I’ll likely ever get on two legs. What I found is what I expected, based on bottomland observation: a good crop of acorns, some hickories and, for some reason above my pay scale, not a freakin’ beechnut anywhere, at least not under the smooth silver-barks I examined.

What a difference a year makes. A year ago along virtually the same route — twice — there was some moose sign but not a hint of deer or bears, no sight or sound of a squirrel. This time, with nuts available, the deer and bears were back, along with moose roaming up from the swamps, all foragers crunching acorns and leaving behind tell-tale crumbs. The question is: what will be left by the time the shotgun deer season arrives? I have been witness to similar Septembers when the hunting prospects are promising indeed, then the deer vanish with the acorns by December, when they’re forced to find other food sources to carry them into winter. Unless the acorn crop is overwhelming, which I have also seen, it can be wiped out in a couple of months by deer, bear, moose, squirrels, turkeys and whatever else devours them as a rich protein source.

As for apples, well, although I didn’t go out of my way, what I saw from the road in small stands differed little from the lowland scene — scanty fruit in trees or on the ground, yet no apparent shortage of grapes and berries. It would appear to me from casual observation that bowhunters who like to hunt wild orchards should change strategy. Then again, as we all know, some hunters seem to always “find” apples in their trusted orchards, but we won’t go there in a family newspaper. It’s naughty stuff.

Speaking of taboo, why not traipse briefly back to the overnight visit from that old friend and Vietnam vet, some of which I can tie into an interesting Monday wildlife-related sighting followed by what I personally viewed as annoying intrusion into my otherwise peaceful Greenfield Meadows neighborhood later the same day.

The sighting was that of a big, deep, solitary moose track discovered along the edge of a cornfield littered with acorns, until recently, ignored for weeks by deer. I have seen a moose in that very field in recent years and figure if I spent a little more time searching, I could have found a few more hoof prints. Why bother? I can’t imagine that moose stuck around the Meadows long after the helicopter invasion we all endured midday Monday. When I first heard the choppers stuttering overhead, I tried to ignore them. They pass through annually this time of year looking for marijuana, and had been in the neighborhood once previously this year that I knew of. But this time they hung around for some time, were loud and disruptive, circling, hovering, making a racket. I thought perhaps they had found those three Afghani officers who went missing from Cape Cod. But I minded my own business and never left my reading chair, figuring I could inquire about the maneuver at work with a farmer colleague who lives down the road.

Although I couldn’t get much from my trusty source that night, the chatter really started to fly freely the next morning, when the neighborhood was abuzz. Word had it that it had been quite a paramilitary operation, with loud choppers, tinted-window SUVs and police swarming to recover four lousy pot plants from some poor soul’s backyard garden near GCC. The prevailing attitude was: “What a waste of taxpayers’ money.” When I called my wife to deliver the neighborhood scuttlebutt, she had witnessed the commotion Monday and figured there must have been a bad accident somewhere. So the fellas had a loud presence, one that apparently didn’t set right with private citizens trying to relax in the comfort of home.

Well, lo and behold, a chopper returned to my neighborhood Wednesday during the parlor discussion with my Vietnam-vet friend, and anyone familiar with Vietnam vets is probably aware that the sound of choppers can trigger bad reactions that can spin a man back into places you don’t want to go with him. Grounded, this vet didn’t get sucked back to the Mekong Delta, Khe Sahn or Da Nang. No, the sound just stirred conversation about America, politics, law enforcement, surveillance, you name it. The opinions uttered from this insider were shocking, unexpected and, to be honest, comforting to a man of my ilk. I do wish I could go into it, because the average Joe needs to know and likely will never catch a faint whiff. The people pulling the strings behind the scenes are clever indeed, deceptive spinmeisters skilled at creating demons and slogans, instilling fear and delivering messages aimed at obscuring reality. It’s a diabolical con game.

Ooops! Better skedaddle. Back to the fascist-Ford book, which is nothing new to me.

 

Animal Instinct

A strange, busy week it’s been, spiced by interesting visits, some physical, others mental, maybe even a tad esoteric.

We’ll begin with a light little deer caper anyone can get their head around — an unusual encounter that, due to its rarity, will not be soon forgotten — then see if there’s room for anything else. My wildlife encounter occurred on a splendid Monday morning, one of two such bright, crisp fall-like days bookending a gray Tuesday, the day of a visit by the man who’s been pursuing me for some time. Persistent, we finally connected for a couple of hours, he frustratingly attempting to push me into places I wouldn’t venture before — hail patience, perseverance and a dash of luck, not to mention dogged determination — he finally brought me to a place I agreed to go. Though circuitous, I think we arrived where he wanted to go, that is with me reciting a reading he may splice into a musical CD he’s recording with a theme of activism and protest. Whew! Was I happy to get that behind me. And here I sit in this familiar Wednesday station, trying to say what I have to say in one narrow column on one tidy newspaper page, seldom easy.

Monday morning, sunny, cool, the tall clock’s minute hand ticking toward 10:30 as I secure a brace to my balky left knee. I’ve been reading published correspondence (“Distant Neighbors”) between poet/writers and counterculture spokesmen Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder as my dogs await backyard breakfast followed by a daily meadow romp. The selected literary correspondence between these two brilliant American thinkers who view the world through different lenses with much common ground is gripping, at times even tingling, thus my La-Z-Boy “procrastination” by the sunny window, much to Lily and Chubby’s dismay. They’re eager to eat and tour enticing acreage without restraint. Well, I guess it’s always there if needed, but I’m a freedom and liberty man, not the law and order type.

When we finally arrive at upper hayfields, a dense mix of clover and timothy the dogs enjoy exploring, they run in ecstasy, searching for places where deer have eaten and left behind shiny black pellets that for some reason they eat and, when so inclined, roll in with carnal glee. Why they seek deer scat for dessert I’ll never know, but in my mind, they wouldn’t eat it if there was no nutritional value. Call it my faith in animal instinct and Mother Nature. I guess no one has ever instilled in the dogs the idea that scat is gross and filthy and disgusting. All they have is their nose and instinct, which pulls their heads to the turf. Who am I to question this?

We reach the back corner of a one-acre parcel known to the Nims family as Hideaway and the dogs are all jacked up by scent passing through thick, verdant clover bedding between Christmas trees. As we approach the thorny path through a slim treeline between meadows, Chubby, on a mission from Satan, disappears into the wooded escarpment lip overlooking a narrow swamp bordering Sunken Meadow. I never worry about Chubby, or Lily for that matter, running off, so I just let him do his thing as I walk my trodden trail. But this day, when I get through to the other field and can’t hear him rustling through the swamp below, I give a whistle — no sign — buzz his collar — not a glimpse — and whistle again before, last resort, sending a low-level shock, which soon brings him back winded from an aggressive chase.

“Hmmmm?” I ponder. “Turkeys?”

We continue on, reach a gate, walk the gradient into Sunken Meadow and, on a whim, I choose the opposite direction we typically walk around the perimeter, just a spontaneous little change of pace. We pass the barren riverside apple tree and follow the swamp toward a beaver pond when Chub-Chub breaks through the brush into the mucky tangles, a typical move to which I pay no attention until I get some 100 yards away and realize there’s no sign of him. I call, figuring he’s near, then whistle, then call again in a louder voice, but still no Chubby. Thinking, “Uh-oh, maybe he’s picked up where he left off on that previous chase,” I buzz him — no sign — whistle without results and give him another electric tickle that soon produces a flash of white headed my way. I first think it’s Chubby but am surprised to see a fawn hightailing to a collision course with me. The little creature runs up to within 20 feet of me and 10 feet of Lily, standing with a friendly wag, and the little deer stops, stares briefly and flees. I hear something approaching, glance right, and here comes the mom, bright white flag bobbing, Chubby in playful pursuit, giving that pathetic yip I often hear when his mom goes inside their dog house and won’t let him in. He wanted to play, would have undoubtedly licked that deer affectionately had she permitted.

The small doe finally turns and takes a playful run at Chubby, who circles playfully away as the deer switches direction and takes three or four bounds right at Lily and me. She freezes and looks me in the face, probably looking for her fawn, but seemingly without fear of us, displaying the countenance of a pet approaching for affection. I speak to her in a soothing voice, saying, “It’s OK, Baby, we won’t hurt you.” She flexes her ears forward, cocks her head this way and that, as though trying to understand my words, before Chubby arrives and she flees down the trail left by her little skipper.

What a sight to behold, a moment in nature that sticks with you. Those deer and others that live there know me, my truck, my dogs, my voice and whistle, and typically skirt us year around without incident. This day was different. We must have caught them out feeding late in the clover and Chubby just couldn’t resist chasing hot scent. I was the beneficiary.

Ooops! That’s it. No time to delve deeper into Berry/Snyder or the musician’s home visit. But let me leave you with this poignant exchange from Wednesday morning:

Stirring in bed and ready to rise as my wife passed on her way to an early medical appointment, she stopped briefly to say, “Honey, can you imagine that four years ago today we were at the auction.”

That’s code for the night 28-year-old son Gary was stricken with an aortic dissection that required surgery he did not survive. More recently, just this past April, younger brother Rynie suffered the same fate, dying a day before his 29th birthday. So, yes, it’s been a difficult time for us, last week’s column hitting the street on the first anniversary of Rynie’s surgery.

“That happened on Sept. 17?” I responded, speaking of Gary’s dissection. What I really wanted to say was, “Please, Joey, give it up. Danger lurks when you look in the rearview and take your eyes off the road ahead.” I believe that and try to live it.

But that’s enough. Back to Berry and Snyder, a Heartland Christian and a San Francisco Buddhist in heady discussions, me soaking it up in the comforts of a brown La-Z-Boy by a bright, sunny window that locks me into the present, hoping for better days ahead.