Enchanting Power Of Place

Nice spring day.

Bright sun, powder-blue sky, refreshing cool air circulating in variable, gusty west winds, at times strong enough to sweep off your hat toward wet, flowing oblivion. All in all, a splendid day for a Connecticut River stroll, following shortnose-sturgeon experts and advocates Boyd Kynard and ubiquitous Karl Meyer.

So there we were, late-morning Saturday, perhaps 30 of us, mixed-gender, adult, cars parked a quarter- to half-mile north of the intended site called Rock Dam, Bernie stickers in view. The program began with a shared oral presentation by Meyer and Kynard. We then we hoofed it to the river’s eastern shore to view the surreal geological formation that looks like a stone dam built by an ancient giant of indigenous transformer tradition. The site has attracted fishermen for thousands of years. A sting of six or eight basalt outcroppings as big as small rooms extend east-west across the river to Smead Island, another deep-history site that is misidentified on contemporary maps as Ames Island, most likely a transcription error made long ago by a careless cartographer.

Meyer shared a little history as we walked: “Following the 1676 ‘Falls Fight’ of King Philip’s War, soldiers burned more than 100 wigwams on that island.”

We were at that moment on the paved road following the western bank of a long, narrow impoundment leading into Cabot Station. There, the 100-year-old power station draws canal water to produce electricity before spitting it back into the river below, some quarter-mile above Montague City Bridge. The problem, according to Myer and Kynard, is that the canal removes too much water from the river between Turners Falls dam and the station’s outflow, above which stands Rock Dam, where endangered shortnose sturgeon dating back to dinosaurs have annually spawned. Even worse, Cabot Station administers a lethal double-whammy of sorts, which not only removes too much water for sturgeon-spawning to occur but also releases an enticing outflow that lures anadromous fish to bloody murder and mayhem through meat-grinding turbines.

Experts claim this human burden to the river’s ecosystem is a reason — perhaps the reason — why far fewer American shad and Atlantic salmon make it above Turners Falls than in the days before the first dam was constructed during the final decade of the 18th century. As dams at that site have evolved between then and now, growing to the current gargantuan presence, a long, multi-component, bedrock waterfall and deeply incised flume capped by Burnham’s Rock off the Gill shore has been submerged and hidden. Obliterated and underwater is what’s left of a remarkable geological wonder described by 19th century Pioneer Valley professor/author Edward Hitchcock as New England’s most beautiful falls. Rock Dam, about a mile downstream, is similarly impressive and equally significant and alluring in Pioneer Valley deep history, the human part of which begins with our First People’s spiritual landscape.

The river was running high Saturday, not flooding but swollen and strong. Two fishermen anchored on the Smead Island side were casting Rapala’s and other lures from a small bass boat anchored just downstream from Rock Dam; they were working the western edge of a narrow, frothy channel flowing through a deep channel overflowing the inundated Rock Dam waterfall near the eastern shore. At lower summer flows, the same site displays a pretty constricted waterfall with a narrow eight- or 10-foot drop. On this day, with the rushing river sucked over the capstones on both sides of the buried fall, the sound of rapids was powerful and soothing, worth recording as a bedside sleep aid.

West Coast poet and environmentalist Gary Snyder, an articulate and outspoken advocate for intimate sense-of-place awareness, wrote something in his essay “The Place, The Region, And The Commons” that came to mind as we stood there absorbing the stimuli. Snyder writes of a Crow elder in the Seventies telling a group at a Bozeman, Mont., conference that, “If people stay somewhere long enough — even white people — the spirits will begin to speak to them. It’s the power of the spirits coming up from the land. The spirits and the old powers aren’t lost, they just need people to be around long enough and the spirits will begin to influence them.”

The spiritual aura of Rock Dam — that place, that day on New England’s largest river — was powerfully palpable as we watched and listened to the river surging through the small, inundated fall. Almost the entire flow of the river was passing through that tight, turbulent spot, creating below it a narrow superhighway for fish migrating upstream. Combine this special site with the Beaver Myth of the Pocumtuck Range and Sugarloaf, Native myths and legend associated with Mt. Toby and Mt. Warner, the high shelf caves of the two Sugarloafs, Pine Hill and many other archaeological treasure troves on both sides of the river between Northampton Meadows and Turners Falls, and the deep history is dynamic and enthralling indeed.

Those unfamiliar with this easily accessible, often-fished Franklin County landmark known as Rock Dam, just downstream from the infamous Turners Falls “Patch,” should do themselves a favor by visiting it, studying it and performing a little research to better understand it. Search for Native legends, oral traditions and the colonial record. Listen to the neighborhood tales, the drowning, the tragic accidents. Once you get a good grasp, revisit the site on a quiet day to just sit there, blend into the habitat, watch, listen, pull the scents through your nostrils. Feel the power. Allow it to transport you to a reflective, meditative state. It’s one of those places where ancient spirits lurk, begging recognition. Intercept them, embrace them and let their magic consume you.

It’s a special place … has been for longer than most can comprehend.

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KID’S STUFF: Two upcoming Saturdays, beginning this week, worth noting for young anglers wanting to participate in 11 a.m. Millers River Fishermen’s Association trout-stocking extravaganza’s for kids, who get to stock the fish, then wet their lines to catch the trout they’ve just released into the Millers River.
• The first kicks off this Saturday at the Orange Wastewater Treatment Plant on Route 2A.
• The second will occur on May 14 at Allen Rich Park, Main St., Athol, at the bridge spanning the Millers River there.

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SHAD COUNT: American shad are still trickling in at counting stations here and there in the Connecticut River basin but probably not yet in sufficient numbers to start chasing them with a fishing rod in hand. A fresh Wednesday-afternoon email from Connecticut River Coordinator Ken Sprankle arrived Wednesday afternoon, showing a total of 7,220 counted thus far in the valley, the mother lode (7,146) recorded at the Barrett Fish Lift on the Holyoke dam. Otherwise, we’re looking at 23 at the Mattabesset River in Connecticut and 51 at the DSI Dam on the Westfield River. Water temp at Holyoke was 51 degrees Fahrenheit, way low for productive fishing, which picks up dramatically once the river reaches the 60s, which stimulates the annual migratory run to peak levels.

The Shad, They Are A Runnin’

Subtle, wild purple violets cling to the green front and back lawn, awaiting their first spring mowing, while splashes of daffodil-yellow color the triangular common out front and along the low stone wall marking the western perimeter. Soon the large tulip magnolia in the slim, roadside east yard will burst into its full pink splendor, similar to that Full Pink Moon building with a most-soothing, faint silver light cast from the midnight sky.

Actually, Pink is just one of many indigenous names for April’s full moon. The color refers to the blooming wild ground phlox or pink moss, which sports one of spring’s first flowers. Other Algonquian names for the small pink moon that’ll fill up Friday night include the Sprouting Grass Moon, Egg Moon and Fish Moon, the last most appropriate for our the Connecticut River Valley, where the American shad run is off and running.

Yes, though not yet time to head for the river with a fishing rod, our most prevalent anadromous fish has indeed entered the river system and will soon be running like gangbusters, in numbers sufficient for productive recreational fishing. If this year’s spawning run is in keeping with the previous four, we’ll be looking at more than 416,000 shad passed by Barrett Fish Lift over Holyoke dam. The highest single-season runs of the aforementioned four-year string serve as bookends, with 490,431 in 2012 and 412,656 last year.

It’ll be interesting to see how the run is affected by our unusually light snow-cover from top to bottom of the 400-mile Connecticut River corridor, which begins in northernmost New Hampshire and ends at its outflow into Long Island Sound at Saybrook, Conn. Through Tuesday, with river temperatures finally creeping into the low 50s Fahrenheit along the lower main stem, a total of 556 shad had been counted in the river basin. The mother lode of those fish (536) were counted passing Holyoke. Elsewhere, 19 had been counted on Connecticut’s Mattabesset River and one other had passed the DTI Dam on the Westfield River in West Springfield. The first shad appeared on April 1, no fooling.

Other migratory species noted in the river on Wednesday’s emailed “2016 Connecticut River Basin Fishway Passage Count” included 93 alewife and one sea lamprey at Mattabesset, plus another lonely sea lamprey at DTI.

“With water temps edging above 50 in the lower river, Holyoke has started passing a consistently increasing number,” wrote Ken Sprankle, United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) Connecticut River Coordinator, who characterized the river flow as “very low” for this time of year, when the Connecticut is typically swollen with snow-melt runoff and/or rain.

The dry spring must be obvious to anyone who’s been out and about, watching dust stirred on each step through the meadow. The rain may yet come and temporarily delay our migratory fish runs from time to turbulent time until water temps rise to between 67 and 70 degrees. Then, typically early June, shad stop running upriver and establish stationary spawning lairs, where females deposit their eggs and males fertilize them. The fertilized eggs then hatch into mid-summer Connecticut River progeny that mature or are devoured by predators until late fall, when survivors head for the ocean to join adult schools and ultimately become members of future shad runs as 3- to 6-year-old adults. Most shad die after spawning.

Veteran shad anglers like late Easthampton Fishing Hall of Famer Bob Thibodo — a well-known local roofer whose vanity plate read “Shad King” — will tell you that the large, mature 5- and 6-year-old lunkers seem to be most available early. After that, anglers are more apt to catch 3- and 4-year-old fish, and some precocious 2-year-old males that trend smaller. Trophy shad weigh seven to 10 pounds, while, unless something’s changed in recent years, average size during the peak run is around 4½ pounds. Thibobo’s 1986 world record caught in Holyoke tipped the scales at 11 pounds, 4 ounces.

Fish recently lifted over Holyoke dam are at this time somewhere between there and Turners Falls, be they in the main stem or off sampling tributaries like the Deerfield River, smaller streams like the Mill and Sawmill rivers, or even the mouths of Sugarloaf and Clapp brooks when the outflow is strong enough to attract them.

Soon these upstream travelers will gain access to the upper river above Turners Falls, where the power-station fish-passageways are set to open by the weekend. The end of the road has always been Bellows Falls, Vt., first as the site of an impassable natural “Great Falls,” and now a manmade power and flood-control dam.

Since fish passageways were constructed and annual fish-counts began in 1967, the mean annual numbers to pass the various obstacles along the way look like this, according to USFW figures: Rainbow Dam (Farmington River, Conn.) 491, DTI/Westfield 3,251, Holyoke dam 309,119, Turners Falls dam, 14,773, and Vernon, Vt. dam, 7,264.

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The four-week, 24-day Massachusetts spring wild turkey hunting season opens Monday and closes on May 21, and hunters are as optimistic as optimistic can be following a mild winter of high temperatures, low mortality and plentiful wild and nutritious feed, especially acorns, which were available on the snowless forest floor of sunny slopes most of the winter. The result should be some mighty healthy monster gobblers in the 20- to 23-pound class.

Plus, longbeards should indeed be sporting long, full beards dangling from their breasts, again due to a lack of deep snow in much of the county. Deep snow and the muddy spring mess that follows tends to rot long beards that drag on the ground at times, but that was pretty-much a non-factor this past winter.

So expect a bountiful season with many trophy birds. Yes, it could be one of those years, minus some yet-to-be-discovered virus or plague that could rain on the parade. Expect another record.

Snake Tales From A Surveyor

An old surveyor and longtime reader of this space stopped by Saturday afternoon to shoot the breeze. A bit of a character, he’s always welcome.

He started right in on the Red Sox, especially Panda Bear, whom he calls “Fatso,” then said he’s more interested in the Patriots’ draft and even had the date memorized. Not bad for an octogenarian closing in a 90.

Then came the subject he most wanted to address.

“What the hell is wrong with those people wanting to stock rattlesnakes at the Quabbin? Do they need their heads examined?”

“Well, you’re not alone in that opinion,” was the response. “Truthfully, though, it probably won’t change things much. No one will likely ever know the difference.”
“That may be true, but it still makes no sense to me.”

Mind you, we’re talking about a man who has legitimate reasons for his feelings about poisonous snakes. In 40-some years as a land surveyor on jobs from northern Maine to Maryland, he had some close calls over the years. And he didn’t hesitate a millisecond to engage in eager conversation about his encounters with dangerous snakes as a member of crews cutting line with machetes, pounding hubs into the ground and running traverse and cross-section detail through mountainous wilderness plots spanning the Northeast from the early 1950s into the ’80s.

A South Deerfield native, he had heard childhood tales of poisonous snakes and where they lurked but had managed to avoid confrontation during a foot-free childhood that included many a trek up the two Sugarloafs. No, never a rattlesnake or copperhead sighting from his boyhood adventures. Not a one. Just cautionary adult tales planted in his consciousness to assure that he was always alert when exploring the hills and dales.

That all changed as an adult, when he went to work as a land surveyor, working on projects like the MassPike between Westfield to Russell, where snake-infested Mt. Tekoa loomed large to the north, or Lane’s Quarry along the West Springfield/Westfield border, and especially during extended work in the early 1960s laying out peripherals related to Camp David, the famous presidential retreat built 62 miles northwest of the White House in the 1930s and situated in the snake-infested Catoctin Mountain Park in rural western Maryland.

“We had to wear special high boots when we worked there,” he said, “and sightings of poisonous snakes were not rare. In fact, I recall a laborer getting bitten not far from me and getting very sick.

Of course, he also remembers the time he was working somewhere in western Massachusetts — for the life of him, he can’t recall where — when a trusted crew-member he always called “Old Fred” intervened in a memorable incident.

“I was walking along through the woods with Old Fred behind me and I unknowingly walked right past a snake I didn’t see,” he said. “Well, Old Fred — he had a hunter’s eye in the woods — touched me on the shoulder and said, pointing down with the tip of his machete, ‘Hey, look what you just walked right past — copperhead!’

“Sure enough, right there, a foot away from the point of his machete was a three-foot snake in an aggressive pose. You’re more apt to get bitten by a copperhead, you know, because they don’t warn you with a rattle. Old Fred took care of the problem. With the flick of his wrist, he cut that snake’s head off right there within five feet of me.”

Another time, having laid out an underground mountain communications chamber outside of Clear Springs, Md., blasting crews were hollowing out the bed rock with dynamite when they disturbed a thickly populated nest of rattlesnakes, blowing many living, squirming, angry rattlers atop a large, flat, warm bedrock shelf. The fellas were used to dealing with such problems, and their methods speak to the reason why Eastern timber rattlers are now an endangered species in these parts, where they were likely for years attacked with similar lethal fury.

“They doused the stone surface with gasoline and set the ledge aflame,” he said, “killing them all.”

You don’t have to wonder whether rattlers uncovered during similar construction projects here in the Pioneer Valley and elsewhere in New England were likewise burned from existence. It was undoubtedly done here before the snakes became protected by law.

“When we told the story to the guy who owned the place where we ate every night, he didn’t seem surprised,” said the surveyor. “Apparently, it was common practice. Plus, he told us a story about a wildfire up there up on that mountain, when people could hear the rattlesnakes rattling as they fled down the hill toward water.”

Who knows whether that’s fact or fiction? You be the judge.

Back closer to home in the Pioneer Valley, our aged surveyor source said he didn’t recall seeing a rattler, per se, when working on the MassPike project “around that bridge at Woronoco,” but he did remember being warned often to be wary of rattlers, then in early autumn finding the shed skin of a large rattlesnake in a cement drainage trench along the edge of the interstate. It served as a visual reminder of the potential dangers lurking around any sunny, stony corner, and, of course, gave the fellas the heebie-jeebies every time a twig snapped across the back of their legs or a dead prostrate branch two or three inches thick lay across a path they were clearing through brush.

Then there was the time not far away, our source remembered, when a worker at the aforementioned Lane Quarry went into the brush to answer Mother Nature’s call, come running out terrified, grabbed a long, heavy stick and came back out with a limp four-foot rattlesnake dangling from the end of it.

“In the field, we were always on the lookout in rocky, upland terrain, plus around stone walls, which snakes seem to like,” he said, “especially down in Pennsylvania and Maryland. Stonewalls were always a concern down there, but I would guess you’d find snakes in stonewalls here, too, if you went looking.”

One other place our surveyor friend remembers for its poisonous snakes was his brother-in-law’s secluded, wooded estate in the middle Hudson Valley Town of Kingston, N.Y. There, he said, copperheads were not an uncommon sight in the woods and probably still aren’t, be it along the dirt roads or even around the house, where one of his brother-in-law’s Irish setters was once bitten. When his brother-in-law asked him if he’d survey the perimeter of his property some weekend to mark the corners, he promised to do so, “but only around wintertime when the snakes were hibernating.”

As indisputable as it is today that local rattler and copperhead populations have diminished over the past 50 years, the fact is that they were here and were not at all uncommon in the not-so-distant past. Now, given the fact that the Pioneer Valley is indeed warming with the rest of the planet, how long before the return of the vipers with or without MassWildlife’s proposed reintroduction initiative at the Quabbin Reservation?

Who knows? Maybe rattlers will find their way to Mt. Zion on their own.

Quabbin Rattlers, Crown Point Cat

If you thought that rattlesnake controversy snuggly coiled around Mt. Zion, a secluded Quabbin Reservation island targeted for future viper stocking, had slithered off to some deep, stony crevice called Devil’s Den, think again. The dustup is alive and well, with many opinions on both sides of the issue.

Illuminating that fact are two unexpected, rapid fire letters with different spins that recently arrived the old-fashioned way, by USPS snail mail. Why they came now was a bit of a mystery. Not like the subject has been broached here of late, but apparently this space is still associated with a topic capable of producing heebie-jeebies in ophidiophobes, not to mention just plain residents and outdoors enthusiasts.

The first letter, sent by George L. Payzant of Turners Falls, arrived late last week. Enclosed was a Boston Globe Magazine article titled “Relax. Rattlesnakes Aren’t as Scary as You Think.” The piece was written by Ted Levin, author of the pending book “America’s Snake: The Rise and Fall of the Timber Rattlesnake,” scheduled for release in May. Levin’s article, and presumably his book, speaks to the rarity of the poisonous snakes and, even more so, people actually being bitten, never mind dying from rattlesnake bites.

The article basically works as a soothing assurance that MassWildlife’s plan to introduce endangered rattlesnakes to the isolated Quabbin island offers almost zero threat to residents of border towns and/or their abutters, not to mention faraway Pioneer Valley landscapes. Plus, according to Levin, there have been a grand total of two confirmed deaths from snakebites in Massachusetts, the last of which occurred in the 18th century.

Whether or not every record or death by snakebite found its way to Commonwealth town records over the past 400 years, it’s a safe bet that, given the paucity of official records, mortality was rare indeed. And that’s going back to colonial times, when New England rattlers were not uncommon, especially in the southern reaches. Plus, whether people know it or not, and no matter what wildlife officials say, there are already rattlesnakes living among us here in Franklin County and into Quabbin country. Woodsmen know what type of terrain to avoid, particularly talus slopes and high, stony, sunny habitats facing south and west, and are thus able to sidestep potential conflict.

It’s true that the rattlesnake population in these parts has diminished dramatically over the past hundred years due mostly to habitat destruction, highway deaths and wanton destruction of the creatures by folks who encounter and fear them. Although such lethal action is now illegal and punishable by a stiff fine or worse under strict endangered-species laws, you have to suspect that random rattlesnakes are killed upon discovery in places too close for comfort to backyard gardens or sun-drenched woodpiles.

Which brings us to the second letter that found its way here by mail, arriving on The Recorder sports desk over the weekend. The paste-on return address on the upper left-hand corner of the small white envelope read, “Robin L. Bestler” of Shelburne Falls.

Unlike author Levin, Mr. Bestler is obviously opposed to releasing potentially dangerous, poisonous vipers anywhere in the state, fearing the worst, which proponents adamantly claim is unlikely to happen. Yes, he begs to differ, which is more than acceptable in a free country where diverse opinion is said to be welcome. However, to make his case by comparison, Bestler cites the Burmese-Python problems in Florida’s tropical swamps. There, after years of pet owners buying these snakes and other large foreign jungle boa constrictors that grow quite large, become difficult to feed and contain, are thus released, and can grow to more than 20 feet in length, by which time they are capable of eating — gulp — wetland deer. It has become a serious Florida problem that promises only to get worse. Not only that, but the problem may start expanding into the Carolinas and north as the global climate continues to rise.

“I’d like to suggest that those in charge (of the rattlesnake re-introduction) research what’s happening with Burmese Pythons in Florida,” Bestler wrote. “Clearly the pythons are an invasive species that should not have been introduced there. Perhaps it is also true that unless rattlesnakes find their own way back here, they qualify as an invasive species as well.”

While Mr. Bestler’s opinion is understandable and likely shared by many snake-reintroduction foes, comparing native Timber Rattlers to exotic foreign imports like the large jungle snakes sold at mall pet stores near you doesn’t work. “Invasive species” are non-native plants, fish, wildlife and insects introduced into a place where they have no natural history. New England rattlesnakes do not fit that definition. They are native reptiles that have slithered to near extinction, remain here in much smaller numbers and will likely remain and rise in population as our climate continues to warm from worldwide overuse of fossil fuels.

Invasive, non-native species introduced to new habitats can indeed have dire effects on ecosystems. Rattlesnakes, not so. They already live here and lived here harmoniously in Northeastern habitats long before colonial Europeans emigrated to this continent.

Dangerous vipers? Yes, perhaps.

Invasive? Not quite.

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On another note, a couple of emails, one anonymous, arrived last week after trail-camera video of what appears to be a mountain lion, cougar, puma or catamount showed up in upper New York State, near Crown Point on Lake Champlain, and went Facebook viral.

The first email alert, the one from a known, identifiable source, came this way from South Deerfield native and former Recorder scribe Lou Hmieleski, executive editor of the Civil Service Employees Association in Albany, N.Y. Aware that this space had been in the forefront of publicizing New England cougar sightings, he sent it along with a note saying: “What do you think of this? Looks like New York (Dept. of Environmental Conservation) is taking this seriously.”

The online press release from the “Adirondack Almanack” drew about 100 comments — some of which suggested that, because the animal pictured is difficult to size without anything to compare it to, what appears to be a cougar and definitely is a cat walking through a sandy habitat is most likely a large, long-tailed, tawney house cat.”

Hmmmmm? Haven’t we head that assessment before?

Although not impossible, it appears unlikely. For those interested is assessing the film, keyword search “Crown Point cougar” and take a gander for yourself. If so inclined, you can even add to the growing list of comments.

Trout-Stocking, Turkeys And A Little Clarification

It’s spring, signs everywhere.

Trout-stocking trucks from the Connecticut Valley and Western Wildlife districts are rolling through Recorder country, depositing fresh, lively, colorful brookies, browns and rainbows from Pioneer Valley hatcheries at Montague, Sunderland, Palmer and Belchertown. No word on this week’s schedule, but ponds like Cranberry in Sunderland and Puffers in North Amherst have already been visited by Valley District trucks at least once thus far. Meanwhile, the Western District has thrown caution to the wind and stocked the upper Deerfield River from Florida to Buckland for Mohawk Trail anglers.

The upper Deerfield usually gets stocked before the lower because, once a fish is placed in the lower river below Station No. 2, just above Bardwell’s Ferry connecting Conway and Shelburne, there’s nothing to stop them from being washed into the Connecticut River and out of play for Deerfield River anglers. Of course, that’s the bad news. The good news is that many trout seeking refuge from spring high-water events also find their way into popular fishing tributaries like the Bear and South Rivers and Dragon and Hawks brooks, where they can thrive and offer wooded pursuits for hip-booted stream fishermen or, then again, find their way back into the Deerfield once the water settles down.

So, don’t assume that spring flooding always removes stocked trout from the lower Deerfield. That’s a myth. Once acclimated, stocked trout can find refuge and remain available in the river system throughout the fishing season by moving in and out of the better tributaries. And don’t think you can just forget about these fish even if thy do wind up in the Connecticut, where they never stay long. Those fish stay in play by finding their way into tributaries, some of them small “unstocked” brooks feeding the Connecticut, such as boyhood South Deerfield streams like Clapp and Sugarloaf brooks, longtime secret little gems to which big trout can find their way. Particularly enticing for anglers are the wide, deeply-incised outflows, which dig back into riverside terrain from the Connecticut riverbank.

Expect stocking crews to stick to their longtime pattern of hitting the lakes and ponds first, soon after ice-out, then the smaller upland brooks, and finally the larger streams, such as Fall and Sawmill rivers, and major rivers like the Deerfield, Millers, Green and North. The spring-stocking schedule always ends Memorial Day Weekend, after which hatchery managers assess their inventory for the potential of one additional bonus stocking of surplus trout, which sometimes includes brood-stock lunkers for the grand finale.

Meanwhile, on the wild turkey front, our state game bird of the first Plymouth Colony Thanksgiving feast many centuries ago had a splendid mild winter with lots of food on the ground for the taking due to minimal snow-cover and plentiful hard and soft fall mast crops. A credentialed hilltown spotter reported just Tuesday that large flocks of turkeys congregated and stayed in the hardwoods over the winter, taking a mix of bountiful nuts and berries from the forest floor. This natural, nutritious food kept the birds healthy, and the shallow snow eliminated the threat of deep, powdery snow mortality that occurs when the big birds fly down and get mired. Either that or, knowing what awaits them in the deep, fluffy snow, wise old birds of both sexes have been known to remain in the roost too long, weakening quickly in the cold due to lack of food, and perish. There should have been none of that this winter, and spring hunters will be the beneficiaries, with many big, mature toms in full strut for the taking by veteran hunters who know what they’re doing.

It seems that anthropologist/archaeologist Dr. Peter A. Thomas received undeserved credit here last week for work performed at what was referred to as WMECO/West Springfield. Thomas said he had no knowledge of any such project and definitely had no hand in it if it was conducted. This space was told long ago by a trusted source that, thankfully, Dr. Thomas had led an archaeological salvage project at a deep-history construction site facing obliteration around the old 17th-century Pynchon Plantation of Agawam. Well, last week’s mention here was the first Thomas had heard of that supposed salvage project. Oh well. It would have been easy to double-checked with him before publishing it as one of his Pioneer Valley accomplishments. Dr. Thomas needs no embellishments for an already impressive list of accomplishments.

Roger “Hezekiah” Ward of Buckland chimed in last week on the Quabbin rattlesnake-stocking controversy:
“I have seen snakes traverse water at speeds probably faster than they could travel on land. If I was the one who had to make the decision about the Quabbin island, I would say no in the interest of public safety.”
Not through, he then offered this little tidbit:
“Some time ago, around Nov. 1, 1966, I took the forest-fire power wagon from Mohawk State Forest to a fire in the town of Leverett, where we fought a fire on a mountain that was called Rattlesnake something or other. I can’t remember the exact name but believe it was listed as Rattlesnake something on the topo maps as well. Later, when talking with Leverett natives, everybody was familiar with the rattlesnake name. Perhaps there’s an old-timer who could help you, but if LEVERETT IS ANYTHING LIKE BUCKLAND, old-time natives are an endangered species.”
Well, Heze, no need for an old-timer on this one. I’d bet my Sweet 16 side-by-side you’re referring to Rattlesnake Gutter, an area of Leverett passed through by the Sawmill River and Rattlesnake Gutter Road.

A New Salmon Twist To Stir The Imagination

Call it a new twist to a crusty old topic: history of Connecticut River Atlantic salmon … approached from a roundabout route.

It starts noontime Friday in South Deerfield, high, bright sun illuminating a large, round, wooden kitchen table and lending warmth to the conversation. Two of us were seated comfortably, discussing new thoughts about ancient trails while looking out diagonally across North Main Street at the closed St. James Roman Catholic Church and its glittering gilt dome, not a half-mile down the road from the Bloody Brook Monument. How appropriate, as we tried to connect the dots from information gathered in Historic Deerfield’s recently acquired Hoyt journals, which devote a lot of space detailing early 19th-century South Deerfield, the path walked by colonial soldiers known as the “Flower of Essex” killed that fateful day of Sept. 18, 1675, and the location of their graves and maybe even those of the Indians who died.

Who better to engage in such discussion about 17th-century trails and pathways than anthropologist/archaeologist Dr. Peter A. Thomas — dean of Pioneer Valley contact-period scholars with deep knowledge about Pioneer Valley founders like father-and-son entrepreneurs William and John Pynchon and trusted underlings Joseph Parsons and David Wilton. All four men were prominent indeed in opening our valley’s first wilderness settlements while attempting to monopolize the fur trade from the natal Pynchon depot of Agawam, which became Springfield?

Having scoured the primary records for decades to hone the public record’s sharpest interpretations, Dr. Thomas — author of the highly respected and often footnoted “In the Maelstrom of Change: The Indian River Trade and Cultural Process in the Middle Connecticut Valley, 1635-65,” his 1990 UMass doctoral dissertation — may understand the early players and their motives better than anyone. But also peerless is his vast knowledge of the so-called “River Indians” with whom our earliest English merchants and their agents cut deals to control the lucrative, untapped Connecticut Valley fur trade. Among Thomas’ archaeological excavations are important sites like Riverside/Gill, Fort Hill/Hinsdale, N.H., Wills Hill/Montague and the WMECO Site in West Springfield — all treasure troves of indigenous Pioneer Valley prehistory.

What a stroke of good fortune for local historians that family responsibilities pulled Thomas temporarily back to his boyhood home right in the midst of the ongoing National Parks Service Battlefield Protection Program grant given to Montague, where a research team is now focused on reconstructing the famous Falls Fight of May 19, 1676, a turning point in King Philip’s War. The study promises to apply for and receive additional future grants that could reconstruct not only the Falls Fight but the entire Connecticut Valley campaign, beginning in August 1675 and continuing until briefly after the Falls Fight led by infamous Capt. William Turner. A better human resource than Thomas at a more opportune time could not have been delivered from heaven’s golden gates.

It was during a brief pause in our Friday discussion aimed at retracing the most-traveled 17th-century trail between Hatfield and Deerfield that Thomas — the archaeologist who discovered archaeological remains of shad, bullhead and other fish, but not salmon, while overseeing three 1970s Riverside digs — abruptly changed the subject to something that has appeared many times in this space over the past 25 years.

“Oh, before I forget,” he interjected, “I wanted to tell you that I was reading what you wrote about Catherine Carlson’s dissertation citing the absence of salmon remains at dozens of New England archaeological sites known to be used for pre-contact fishing and had a thought you may want to ponder. Suppose salmon were sacred to Indians, and for that reason they did not bury their remains but instead threw them back into the water. I’m not saying it happened, just throwing it out there as a possibility, because had they thrown the remains back into the water, archaeological evidence would be rare.”

Thomas was comfortable with the speculation because he was familiar with similar Northeastern indigenous practices regarding disposal of beaver bones as well as a spiritual practice of propping in trees the skulls of sacred black bears killed for food and hides commonly used as blankets in winter wigwams. It could have been that the bones of Atlantic salmon were treated with similar respect and dignity in New England prehistory.

So, there you have it. Chalk it up as a little more food for thought pertaining to a question that may never be satisfactorily answered. Thomas’ hypothesis can’t be ignored or dismissed when trying to solve the mystery of why salmon remains are nearly nonexistent at known prehistoric indigenous New England fishing sites. We know salmon were here during colonial times and remained here until after the first Connecticut River dams were constructed (at South Hadley Falls, then Turners Falls) just prior to the turn of the 19th century. It is also clear they existed here before that.

Anadromous-fisheries historians have estimated annual Connecticut River Basin salmon runs of up to 50,000, possibly even more during the best years of the Little Ice Age (1500-1850), when they were a tasty bonus among netfuls of American shad pulled ashore for riverside filleting and processing chores on sun- and wind-splashed drying racks. If so, where are the bones? Where are the scales? They’re mysteries that may never be solved.

Still, it never hurts to ponder such questions, offer potential answers and float additional ideas.

Thomas did just that on Friday to set the wheels of curiosity spinning.

Deer-Discussion Leftovers

Think of them as tasty leftovers from a recent meandering phone conversation with state Deer Project Leader David Stainbrook about the 2015 preliminary deer harvest. Nothing big. Just a few interesting observations about deer behavior gleaned and stored for future reference after delving into a peripheral discussion about a Penn State deer-collaring research project Stainbrook led a grad student.

An indelible lesson learned was that even when researchers knew deer were very near, the stoic hoofed critters were nearly invisible and impossible to find bedded in brushy undergrowth. Although Stainbrook didn’t attempt to quantify what percentage stayed put and what percentage fled, or the buck-to-doe ratio of those that stayed, he came away from his project amazed once again by the uncanny ability of deer to blend into their habitat, not to mention their bold nerve to ride out close encounters by remaining still and smartly alert while allowing human intruders to pass by. Just a long honed survival skill.

Stainbrook said some bucks were gone well before anyone could get close, but they quickly returned to the vacated area anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours later. The rest hung tight, hidden, and let the researchers pass right by.

“Deer blend in so well when still; they were amazingly tough to see, even when we knew they were right there with big black collars on their neck,” Stainbrook said in a discussion spinning off local hunters’ perception that our local deer herd is shrinking, contrary to MassWildlife claims. “It did not appear to be based on individual deer — e.g., skittish deer versus deer that stay put — but rather on other factors like weather conditions. It depended on how noisy we were and how well they could sneak out unheard and unseen, but also how close we got to them, and how noisy we were.

“One interesting thing I learned by investigating bedding sites from some of the mature bucks was that they selected sites that were nearly impossible to sneak up on without them seeing or smelling you. That is likely why they lived to adult age and why we hunters have such a tough time meeting up with mature bucks that show up on our trail cameras.”

So chalk up this tidbit of information as just a little food for thought for hunters who have likely walked right past many a wise, wary, confidently bedded trophy buck that chose to hide rather than run. More often than not, the strategy works in the deer’s favor, especially during coordinated drives involving many hunters working in unison with walkie-talkies.
Then again, how many times have you heard successful hunters tell their tales of shooting monster, wall-mounted bucks that they discovered curled up at the base of a gnarly hemlock tree in a damp, dark swamp during a windy, driving rainstorm, or, then again, standing motionless behind a clump of smallish trees that make them practically invisible.

It’s why experts implore deer hunters to move slowly, make little noise and always diligently scan the area through which you’re passing with optimal care and focus. Sometimes the only detectable clue of a deer’s presence is a slight flick of an ear or slow head movement. And even then, a hunter must be efficient to quickly shoulder a gun and hit his or her mark before the deer springs up and is, in a flash, gone.

Free-loving free swimmers

Remember when America screamed foul after “Al Jazeera America” broke the Peyton Manning Human Growth Hormone bombshell deemed unreliable because of the Arab source? Well, no one seems to be questioning the recent story from the same news service about three Atlantic salmon redds discovered last fall in Connecticut.

Hmmmm?

Imagine that.

Peyton Manning? No, no, no. Not a credible source. But endangered Atlantic salmon? Uhm? Well, OK, maybe we can accept it. Is that the thinking?

Anyway, here’s the story, which was not broken by the much-maligned and distrusted Arab source, but was indeed picked up by it after being previously reported elsewhere, particularly in Connecticut. And, yes, it was worth the ink. An interesting tale indeed, considering that just three years earlier the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service had given up on an ambitious 50-year program to re-establish a viable salmon sportfishing population in the Connecticut River and its tributaries, including many local streams popular among anglers. To name some, starting with the larger ones, we’re talking about the Chicopee, Westfield, Deerfield, Milllers, North and West rivers, all located between southern Vermont and Hampden County. But don’t neglect other smaller streams, such as Mill River in Northampton and Williamsburg, Sawmill River in Montague, Leverett and Shutesbury, and even Fall River, which flows into the Connecticut just below the Turners Falls dam. All of the aforementioned waters would have attracted migratory salmon back in the day before dams and industry and global warming, when it is estimated by optimists that as many as 50,000 salmon migrated upriver on a good year, say during the colonial period of the 17th and early 18th centuries.

So, yes, despite the discontinuation of an altruistic and expensive Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program that lasted from the Sixties through 2012, the salmon continue to dribble annually through our valley in small numbers. In fact, there hasn’t been a year since the program’s demise that an insignificant number of salmon (10 or less) have used available fish passageways to pass the Turners Falls dam and gain access to potential fall spawning grounds along the upper reaches of New England’s longest river.

Of course, there are also potentially viable breeding streams south of us in Connecticut, where salmon are known to have historically spawned. Two of the most likely are the Farmington and Salmon rivers, with their headwaters reaching back into the northwestern corner of the state. And, how about that, just this past fall, officials observed five adult salmon passing the fish passageway on the lower Farmington’s Rainbow Dam on their way to suitable upriver spawning grounds. When officials later went looking for these fish, they found three redds full of eggs that have since been promoted as the first of their kind on that river in more than 200 years, back to Revolutionary times.

It is likely that some of the salmon that have in recent years passed Turners Falls or swam up the Deerfield River before reaching the Powertown also built redds that ultimately held eggs and were not discovered. These hidden lairs were likely just not found or possibly were found by state and/or federal biologists who kept secret the location of such important nest sites in a wild environment. Because, remember, 10 percent of the salmon captured at various passage facilities along the river system were equipped with radio tags that allowed them to be tracked in their wild environs. The rest of the adult fish were held in captivity at the Cronin National Salmon Station in Sunderland, where they were nursed to optimal health for controlled, artificial spawning. These captives had their eggs and milt removed by station personnel and carefully packed for the trip north to White River National Hatchery in Bethel, Vt., where the reproductive materials were mixed to produce Connecticut River-strain progeny for future stocking into small nursery streams in the Connecticut River watershed. Many of those target streams were found right here in Franklin County.

Millions of the tiny, hatchery-raised immature fry and smolts were stocking into the river system in an attempt to produce migrants that would mature in local freshwater streams, travel to the Atlantic Ocean to grow to adulthood and return to their natal streams to spawn. The returnee numbers were disastrous, thus the program’s demise.

So now how about a little food for mischievous thought? Given what happened in Connecticut’s Farmington River last fall — and what likely will continue to occur as long as a few spring stragglers continue to return to the Connecticut River basin in subsequent springs — who’s to say we’re not going to have annual wild spawning? Not only that, but do you suppose that, had the restoration program decided from the start to allow most of the returning adults to do their own thing and spawn undisturbed, the program could have realized better success?

That’s a question to which we’ll probably never know the answer. But it’s always a possibility that a wild specimen of Atlantic salmon status could well reproduce much better in secluded river privacy than in a human-controlled environment where they’re being fed pharmaceuticals while contained in concrete tanks that feel more like prison than a Waldorf Astoria honeymoon suite.

Leftover Feedback

Time to clean out the desktop pile of gathered snail-mail and email printouts, all containing interesting comments from readers who reacted to topics covered here recently, particularly Quabbin rattlesnakes, which created quite a stir, plus analysis pertaining to the recent preliminary Massachusetts deer harvest.

It gets better. We’ll also take a look at comments from a man who, after reading about the rattlesnakes, wanted to report numerous highway moose sightings that have crossed his path while passing through Quabbin Country. Then, last but not least, comments from an amusing letter to the editor from “The Pied Piper of Quabbin,” who didn’t make it to print because of the unacceptable pseudonym. We’ll let that slide here.

All of the comments have from the start been worth sharing. Yet, till now, there’s been no way to work them into previous narratives. So, here we go with a plateful of feedback leftovers from four readers.

– – –

Let’s start with Kathy-Ann Becker of Wendell, acclaimed author of the 2013 novel “Silencing The Women: The Witch Trials of Mary Bliss Parsons,” the 17th-century Northampton wife of William Pynchon’s fur-trader extraordinaire Joseph Parsons, from whom we both descend.

Though we have in the past discussed our genealogical profiles, this latest string of emails pertained to an early Pioneer Valley rattlesnake incident she learned of while scouring primary records to glean helpful information for her novel.

She prefaced her little tidbit of 17th-century history folklore with, “Here is written testimony (misspellings unchanged) from the case of Mary Bliss Parsons that pertains to rattlesnakes,” dated Aug. 18, 1656, testified on oath before William Houlton and Thomas Bascum:

“George Alexander, Samuel Adams and Goody Webb testifieth that they were present when the ox of William Hannum was stung with the rattle snake and they did notice nothing but what might come to pass in an ordinary way that thy killed the rattle snake.”

Then, in further under-oath testimony before Elizur Holyoke, Hannum recalled, “… going to Windsor (Conn.) with my oxen and cart and about 4 mile from our town (Northampton) as I was going whether my ox hung out his tongue or whether he went to eat for it fell out that a wrattle snake bitt him on the tongue and there he died. These things doe sometimes run in my mind that I cannot have my mind from this (Parsons) Woman that if she be not right this way she may bee the cause of these things, though I desire to look at over the rulinge hand of God on all.”

Four miles south of Northampton would have placed this unfortunate 17th-century incident at a location known to this day as a rattlesnake lair — the area surrounding Mt. Tom.

– – –
Moving from vipers to large quadripeds — namely moose — this little gem from daily Orange-to-Springfield commuter Mark LaBier, to whom moose sightings along Route 202 have become common:
“I have been driving to Springfield for 20 years and have seen hundreds of moose, usually mothers and little ones. Today, traveling south through Pelham, there were two huge bulls, one in the left lane, one in the right lane, first time ever I was scared of hitting them. Is this normal?

Hmmmm? Not sure how to answer that question.

“Also, if there is any (future) talk of (mountain lions), I have seen one chasing a coyote in Orange right by the Mattawa exit, and I have seen so many different animals and birds of prey that it makes the drive awesome.”

– – –

Next up, responding to last week’s column about the preliminary 2015 deer harvest and unconfirmed suspicion by hunters that the deer population took a serious hit due to winter mortality last year. Questioned about that possibility last week, state Deer Project Leader David Stainbrook said MassWildlife looked into it but its investigation bore no fruit.

Well, get a load of this information from reader Jason MacLean, who wrote:

“I started hunting Zone 11 about three years ago, and once I finished graduate school started hunting more seriously. Scouting this past summer for the upcoming fall season, my buddy and I found 11 winter/coyote kills (it’s tough to tell the difference). My friend shot a deer this year during archery season and by the time he climbed down from his tree stand, a coyote was already chewing on the deer’s leg. Bold, huh?”

Yes. Bold indeed. Not surprising, though. Similar tales have been circulating for years among deer hunters beaten to mortally wounded deer by a coyote or coyotes.
MacLean wasn’t through. He also had this suggestion:

“We’re doing our best to hunt coyotes so more fawns survive to adulthood but we can hunt only Saturdays due to our work schedules,” he complained. “It would be awesome if MA was like RI, and coyote hunting was year round on private property with Sunday hunting permitted.”

Just a little food for thought.

– – –

Last but not least, back to snakes and The Pied Piper of Quabbin, who I hesitate to call a conspiracy theorist but can’t be far off.

Responding to the column titled “Rattler flap,” first mention here of MassWildlife’s proposal to stock endangered Timber Rattlers on a Quabbin island, the ole self-described Pied Piper harkens back to the 1930’s when, soon after wiping four rural towns from the face of the earth to supply clear, cold water for thirsty Boston, which had polluted its own, it was discovered that filling the large reservoir had sent rats scurrying to the uplands and out of harm’s way. To take care of this rat problem at farms and homes along the reservation’s periphery, the state apparently thought rattlesnakes would be a tidy solution. Well, according to The Pied Piper, the plan was indeed carried out under the assumption that the snakes would reduce the rat problem in a hurry then die off over winter, which didn’t go as planned.

According to The Piper, “Some of them … survived in pockets that are all (not coincidentally) adjacent to/near the Quabbin.”

But he wasn’t done yet. Uh-ah. He next decided to jump into the global-warming/climate-change debate as it relates to rattlesnakes and other wildlife.

“Now, if you make a scientifically based assumption that the climate of this area of New England, just like ‘global climate,’ is constantly cycling between warmer/cooler, and has been for all geologic time, you will realize that certain animal populations go up and down naturally, along with the temperature cycles and related factors, such as predator-prey cycles.

“Recently, MassWildlife declared a problem (extinction) and wants to solve it by introducing rattlesnakes to a Quabbin island to ‘protect and enhance endangered species in the name of conservation.’”

“Haha … back in the 1930s, they just wanted to get rid of rats. … Quite a commentary on how far societal ‘values’ have drifted from practical reality.

“I wonder if there are any rats on that Quabbin island — or anything else rattlers eat? And once the rattlers eat their fill, what’s next? Weekly speedboat CARE packages of snake food — at taxpayers’ expense?”

There’s more, but any idiot can see where it’s going.

Yes, that Quabbin-rattlers story is a tale that just keeps on giving. The folks who proposed it should have known it would get a little wild. It has. Not over yet.

Harvest Time

The preliminary 2015 Massachusetts deer harvest of 9,910, released late last week by MassWildlife, was mediocre compared to recent harvests but not surprising from a western Massachusetts perspective.

Gone are the days when Franklin County woods most favorable to deer hunting were patrolled annually by eastern Massachusetts visitors hunting where their chance of success was greatest. Who would have ever dreamed that just the opposite would occur a generation or two down the road? Yes, that’s right, western Mass. meat hunters are now traveling to the eastern half of the state to supply venison for their freezers, be it during archery, shotgun, primitive-firearm or all of the above seasons. Why? Very simple. With higher deer densities confined in smaller patches of woods, the EMass success rates are far higher. Not only that, but in some deer-management zones, hunters can obtain multiple antlerless deer permits, and bowhunters have the luxury of setting up on deer that live along the edge of residential neighborhoods and are thus more accustomed to and less wary of human scent.

What it all adds up to is EMass numbers like those released last week. Although preliminary, the 70/30-percent harvest breakdown moving from the eastern to western halves of the state doesn’t figure to change much when state Deer Project Leader David Stainbrook releases his final report in the coming days That’s just the way it is nowadays, and the way it has been for at least 20 years. And don’t expect the current formula to change anytime soon. Not when the deer-management team intentionally manipulates its most effective deer-management tool — antlerless permits — to encourage hunting pressure eastward. That way, they can reduce suburban highway carnage where deer populations are densest while simultaneously building WMass numbers by drawing away hunters. Another factor in favor of reducing EMass deer densities is Lyme Disease, which is carried by deer ticks that can create serious health risks. Yes indeed, people living in suburban deer country have arrived at the point by now where they’ve developed tick and Lyme Disease phobia. Particularly vulnerable are children playing outside, and that doesn’t even address expensive Lyme Disease issues pertaining to dogs and other household pets as well as some livestock, especially horses.

As for the preliminary numbers, the eight Deer Management Zones in the western half of the state (Zones 1 through 7, with Zone 4 split into north and south) produced a total of 2757 kills during the archery (920), shotgun (1,347) and primitive-firearm (490) seasons. That represents a meager 30 percent of the statewide kill. Western hunters produced 22 percent of the archery harvest, compared to 33 percent of the shotgun and 31 percent of the primitive-firearm harvests. The eastern half of the state (Zones 8 through 14) registered 6,950 kills, which represents 70 percent of the statewide tally.

A harvest in the five zones west of the Connecticut River (Zones 1-4N/S) was 1,829, while the three zones bordered by the eastern bank of the river (Zones 5 through 7) produced 1,131 kills.

The state’s top harvests came from Zones 11 (2,141), 10 (1,920), and 9 (883). Combined, those three represent half of the statewide kill. Zone 11 is located in southeastern Massachusetts, mostly Bristol and Plymouth counties, Zone 10 is located in northeastern Massachusetts, all of Essex and some of Middlesex and Norfolk counties, and Zone 9 ventures into Worcester, Middlesex and Norfolk counties. So, in a general sense, the majority of our deer are now being killed in an area bordered on the west by Worcester and Leominster, on the northeast by the North Shore and in the southeast by Fall River and Plymouth … not by any stretch traditional deer country unless you want to go back to colonial times.

Franklin County hunters bemoaned the abundant hard and soft mast that made it nearly impossible to pattern deer last fall. And even when the fellas did “get into deer,” they had to kill them on the spot or expect their prey to vanish into a plethora of adjacent feeding areas where they weren’t pressured. Once those deer found a place to hunker down and feed, they’d stay when hunter pressure didn’t follow. And even when hunters did discover their new hideouts, they’d easily find another out of harm’s way.

In recent years, Stainbrook’s deer-management team has been trying to reduce deer densities in eastern Zones 10 through 14, stabilize them in central Zones 7 through 9, and increase them in Zones 1 through 6. In 2010, when the western Zones 2 through 7 had estimated deer densities of 12 to 15 per square mile, the management team wanted to up levels to 15 to 18. Last year, Stainbrook decided “to make the goals a more realistic 12 to 18 deer per square mile,” with some areas obviously holding more than others.

“It’s tough to gauge deer population in a place like Zone 4 North when I’m getting conflicting calls telling me there are too many deer in one area while people nearby are asking where all their deer went,” Stainbrook said. “We’re working on increasing populations out there but are up against it in old- and medium-growth forest,” where deer populations stay flat at best. Deer numbers grow quicker in areas where responsible logging is regularly occurring, leaving in its wake thick hardwood-regeneration-phase plots rich in winter browse.

“You can’t beat browse like sugar-maple saplings that sprout up after someone’s maple orchard is thinned out,” Stainbrook said. “We encourage landowners to keep their woodlots healthy and vibrant through forest-management plans that promote wildlife and healthy ecosystems.”

Many local hunters groused this past season about winter-kill and coyote predation as two major factors leading to a perceived reduced deer herd from 2014. Well, Stainbrook paid heed and did explore that speculative assessment by encouraging MassWildlife’s Connecticut Valley Wildlife District staff to investigate any reported deer carcasses. The problem is that wildlife biologists found no evidence of high winter mortality by starvation or predation during the difficult winter of 2014-15.

Another factor contributing to local hunters’ lack of success during the most recent deer season can be attributed to an ever-shrinking hunter pool in Franklin County woods that were once inundated with enthusiastic hunters moving deer throughout the day and improving everyone’s chance of seeing and/or killing them. Now, during a warm snowless season like the most recent, an ever-diminishing hunter pool can really be up against it to fill deer tags in habitats chock full of acorns, apples, grapes and you name it.

Potentially, an entirely different, more favorable scenario will unfold for deer hunters next fall. At least that’s what the folks most frustrated this past year are hoping.

Fact is, you never know. That’s a challenge sportsmen welcome, and can come away victorious with due diligence.

– – –

Longtime North Orange reader Micheal Moore (no, not that Michael Moore) chimed in with an interesting local rattlesnake tidbit related to the mention here of a controversial MassWildlife proposal to stock Timber Rattlers on a secluded Quabbin Reservoir island.

Moore recalls “reading in your (news)paper or the Brattleboro Reformer about a forest fire in West Brattleboro in 1958 or 1959, when thousands of Timber Rattlesnakes poured out of the ledges and spooked firemen. At this time, they were pretty sure they’d eradicated them from most of Vermont, so everyone was shocked. The point I took from the incident was that even though the woods were apparently full of them, no one seemed to see them, was bitten by them or had their dogs bitten.

“You suspect firemen from southern Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire must have hunted, fished or hiked those woods, and some of them probably even lived in the woods. Still, never a reported snakebite. I’ve since tried to find the article to no avail. Otherwise I’d forward it, but I’m thinking you’re likely handier than me at news research, so it might be something you could come up with.”

So far, after cursory Internet searches using various keyword combinations, no further information on the reported Brattleboro wildfire snakes. If anyone has recollection or documentation, please do respond to the email address listed below.

Meanwhile, in conversation with Recorder administrative assistant Diane Poirier Tuesday afternoon about the possibility of uncovering an old Recorder clipping about the snake-infested Brattleboro inferno, she immediately recognized the eerie tale learned as a child from her mother, a Gill native.

“Oh yeah, I remember that story,” she said with a little shiver. “It used to give us the heebie-jeebies.”

Hmmmm?

Further research necessary. Hopefully, it’ll bear succulent, salubrious fruit.