Photographer friend Erik Hoffner, whose eclectic interests intersect mine in several areas related to nature, worldview and politics, chimed in from the wilds of Ashfield this week speculating that, judging from what he’s seen thus far around home, there’s a bumper-crop of acorns this year.
Although I haven’t toured my favorite high ridges, where freeborn spirits whisper in primitive tongues I cannot understand near geological wonders of our little world, I tend to agree with my friend. On the bottomland terrain I daily tour with my dogs, not only acorns but butternuts as well seem to be plentiful. So now I guess I have impetus to soon find a partner who wants to take a hike to a special place with me, maybe tote a camera up to the balanced rock and beyond, where the distant hardwood ridges are chock full of oak, hickory and beech groves to ramble and conduct a hard-mast assessment along the way. Maybe I’ll even try to find that rare, large, high-altitude, seven-trunked shagbark hickory tree I found a few years back and neglected to snap a photo. It’s not far above an expansive hickory grove to the south, the largest of its type that I know of, where many years ago I sent a bear hunter I barely knew through a mutual pal. I showed him the spot and, go figure, on his first day in the woods, the man from somewhere in the eastern half of the state came away happy indeed, driving home with a handsome 285-pound afternoon bruin shot through the chest with a Winchester .308 while leaning his back against one of many massive outcroppings of ledge complementing the soft, passive-gray, shaggy-barked woods on a gentle, sun-splashed southern slope within earshot of rural dirt-road traffic. I imagine a hunter’s chances would be far better in that spot today, with the bear population likely three times or more what it was back then, in the 1980s.
That’s about all I have on bears, which will in a couple of weeks be fair game to hunters during the annual three-week September season that always begins the day after Labor Day. The hard mast may lure the beasts into the deep woods this year instead of lurking around silage cornfields, but the agricultural enticements are always worth investigating because food is easy for the taking there, and farmers rarely deny hunters who help eliminate pests that create crop damage and harvesting issues.
Better late than never dept.: Some fresh news to mix with old from the catfish-derby circuit, which seems to have cooled since the Channel Cat himself, old buddy Donald Partyka of Chicopee, passed on to the happy hunting grounds likely known to men of his ilk as Cautantowwit-ski’s House in the land of the setting sun.
So, let’s start with the old news first, that of the 34th annual Holyoke Post 351 derby Partyka founded, promoted with all his affable energy for decades, and proudly boasted of it as the granddaddy of all catfish derbies. This year’s edition was held in July and winner Geoffrey Croteau of Chicopee came in with quite a fish that tipped the scales at 14 pounds, 6 ounces before being released back into the Connecticut River to swim another day. Runner-up Nick Yelle of Gardner came in with a 13-pounder, followed by third-place finisher John James, who, from parts unknown, also caught a 13-pounder weighed after Yelle’s.
Fresher is the news that arrived on my desk this week, courtesy of Greenfield’s Gary Hallowell, who along with his brother founded and ran last weekend’s fifth-annual “Last-Cast Catfish Derby.” Like Partyka’s granddaddy of them all, the local derby is held “anywhere on the Connecitcut River and its tributaries.” This competition is annually headquarters at the Turners Falls Rod & Gun Club on the southern shore of Bartons Cove.
James Lund of Greenfield was the top dog with an 11.75-pound catfish, followed by A.J. Sackett from Gardner (10.33), James Miller of Greenfield (7.03), Cooper Southworth Purdy of Montague (6.98), and Patrick Woods of Northfield (5.66).
Chiming in: Although it’s too early to start running victory laps and bouncing victorious cartwheels on the town common just yet, men of my ilk who love the woods and favor conservation and preservation find comforting the negative response to the proposed natural-gas pipeline targeted for Franklin County. Don’t let your guard down, fellas, because the folks in favor of the project are still lying in the grass waiting to strike in favor of this controversial pipeline. Trust me, they’ll soon be out in force, crowing in the public square about the jobs this project could deliver — good-paying jobs at that — not to mention ready access to cheaper natural gas for business and industry alike. They’ll likely call it a win/win economically, using threadbare arguments as inevitable as November frost. Although support is building momentum behind the scenes, I suspect the pro-growth crowd has a steep hill to climb on this one, no matter who takes the lead in crafting a sales job. From this white-oak perch just west of Bill and Camille’s in Shelburne, it seems to me that proponents are baying up the wrong tree. Just one rooted man’s opinion.