Death’s Door

It is with heavy heart that I sit today in this comfortable, cushioned seat, cranking out another column, a weekly chore performed for most of my waning 35-year Recorder career.

Many things, some I can’t get into but would love to, are distracting my focus, potentially threatening my health. But I’ll get through it. I’m a strong man, have been backed into many corners over the years and always come out to live another day. That won’t change. Though 60, I feel like I’m still at the top of my game; in fact, still peaking, boldly confident and bulletproof to insult, fear or intimidation. I’ll figure things out. Sometimes you must get creative, which has never been a problem for me. In fact, I’d rather be creative, regardless of frothy screams from the Penrick rabble. Who are they, anyway?

Most immobilizing to me today is son Rynie’s dire situation. Trapped at death’s door in Baystate-Springfield ICU since Sunday, he’s battling for his young life, losing to staph infection that contributed to the death of his older brother, my namesake, three years ago. Maybe he’ll survive it, probably not. Either way I must go on, continuing to place one foot in front of the other, moving forward for him and me. I am proud of the hospital bravery he’s displayed. His worst detractors couldn’t come close to matching it. After regaining his wits and finally breathing on his own Tuesday afternoon, he tearlessly informed my wife that he doesn’t expect to ever again see his apartment. I am proud of his courage in the face of death, a strain many of the so-called heroes with whom he’s tangled will call their own. No, they’re bullies, prefer to have it their way, with all factors heavily weighted in their favor.

Rynie and I have both been down this road before and would not wish it upon anyone, even those we hate and hold not a speck of respect for. Those folks are, to us, already dead, stagnant, smelly water oozing over a broken, mossy dams. I will get through this crisis, learn from it and move on, always trying to glean something new and positive from this special place I call home — where my DNA’s scattered in every crevice, reaching throughout the Connecticut Valley and its hills, into the New England coast and hinterlands, and far, far beyond.

Enough!  Gotta go.

Back to haunting private thoughts about the sad ordeal of son Rynie, my dear boy who has silently suffered for so long and will likely not see his 29th birthday next week. Mixed in, I guess, will be fleeting, fanciful ponderings about my next stop on the meandering trail: mine.

Dysfunction Junction

Yes, it was indeed April Fools Day, but no spoof. Finally, spring had sprung, and the cock cardinal sitting in the burning bush off the inset porch was announcing it to the neighborhood, his joyous morning melody brightening the clear, pleasant air before fading off into infinite clear-blue sky.

I celebrated the event by doubling my morning walk over March-brown, soggy splatter — oh, how the dogs loved it — and, before that, I even aired out the barn and house by opening doors and windows, an exhilarating first rite of spring, especially opening my home, which had absorbed a long, cold winter it needed to relieve itself of, the sooner the better. The forecast called for three beautiful days. Splendid! I was more than ready for it and would venture a guess that I wasn’t alone.

And wouldn’t you know it: speaking of harbingers of spring, there in my inbox sat an email announcing the first spring-trout-stocking round by MassWildlife’s Western District office, a notice that arrived a day after an online press-release from the agency’s Westborough Field Headquarters announcing statewide stocking was underway. Which, allow me to digress for a moment, reminds me how much I now enjoy the newfound freedom to write that word, underway, as one instead of two, thanks to high-ranking Associated Press windbags who recently met at some posh hotel to arbitrarily decide it was time to change the style from under way to underway. Trust me, within 20 years it’ll go back to two words. Who knows? Maybe I won’t live to see it, but it’s coming — as soon as the insecure Lourdes of style finally become so painfully inflated with air of self-importance that they’ll have to release the discomforting buildup with an explosive new and irrelevant style-change that stinks to the high heavens and makes absolutely no difference in the world of reading comprehension. But enough of that. No, not another millisecond of pointless and quite disrespectful digression. Onto something that matters, like, for instance, Lake Hitchcock’s ancient drainage some 14,000 years ago, a subject I cannot seem to shake as I travel our Pioneer Valley and analyze its bottomland contours, many of them soupy cattail marshes and alder swamps I’ve followed my flushing gun-dogs through in search of sporting game birds, maybe even waterfowl back in the days when lead-shot was still legal for both.

I must say I’m pleased how new information about an old, familiar place called home can radically change my perspective. Still mired in Pioneer Valley prehistory these days, my crosshairs are centered on the overlap Franklin-Hampshire delta between Mts. Sugarloaf and Toby on the north and Holyoke and Tom on the south. In between those ranges stands solitary Mt. Warner, named after a transplanted European family that arrived in the Connecticut Valley five centuries ago to become a thread in my genealogical quilt. Millennia before that immigrant family migrated upriver from Hartford to Hadley with the followers of Rev. Hooker’s Teacher Stone, that pointed peak standing across the river from The Bashin and the old Hatfield Oxbow stood as a small island protruding between the aforementioned neighboring ranges, which were also islands surrounded by the vast pro-glacial Lake Hitchcock extending some 200 miles south from St. Johnsbury, Vt., to Middletown, Conn. It was there, at a place now known as Rocky Hill, where a natural dam burst some 14,000 years ago, opening a fertile valley to human habitation. At least, that’s the conventional wisdom. Others believe a sparse population of pre-Clovis migrants had found their way here from warmer southern climates, arriving in the Northeast 1,000 years before Lake Hitchcock drained.

Evidence of pre-Paleo occupation has been found in the lower Hudson Valley at the Dutchess Quarry Caves (DQC) near Middletown, N.Y. Those caves would have overlooked pro-glacial Lake Albany, which was contemporaneous to and about 100 miles west of Lake Hitchcock in these parts. Archaeological research conducted there in the Sixties and Seventies by R.E. Funk, D.W. Steadman and others unearthed Cumberland points, Indian artifacts associated with the Southeast and never before or since found in the Northeast. For that matter, to this day not a single artifact of this style has ever been recovered from the Albany Lake bed. All of them came from the highlands looking down on the old lake.

Veteran Paleo researcher Dr. Richard M. Gramly, who goes by Mike, was a DQC participant and led a recent Connecticut Valley Paleo excavation on the southern skirt of Mt. Sugarloaf. There, calcine bone fragments dug from the sandy soil were carbon dated as 12,350 years old. Gramly says there’s no reason to doubt that bands of the same pre-Clovis people who left hints of their presence in southeastern New York were here in the Connecticut Valley, too, in limited numbers. Such a claim is difficult to float in this academically rich valley, though, due primarily of two formidable obstacles standing in the way of unraveling the mystery: 1.) pre-eminent retired UMass anthropologist/archaeologist Dr. Dena F. Dincauze and her minions championed the Clovis-first North American human-settlement theory and have not been open to alternative hypotheses, and 2.) the Pioneer Valley mountains and their hidden rock shelters, which may well hold pre-Clovis evidence, have been largely ignored by archaeologists because of strenuous labor associated with upland digs.

Gramly, a bundle of energy, intellectual curiosity and self-confidence, is not hesitant to speak frankly about what is wrong with archaeology and his pet peeve, cultural-resource management. In personal communication, Gramly wrote: “It is only via physically challenging efforts that pre-Clovis human presence in and around pro-glacial Lake Hitchcock will ever be laid bare. Academics working from the comforts of cushy armchairs will not produce the data you seek. One must sweat and risk pinched toes and fingers, or worse. The labors at the Dutchess Quarry Caves are in the best tradition of scientific archaeology and were carried out by real researchers who understand that ‘pure imagining’ or ‘hollow hypothesizing’ are inadequate. Musings must be followed by fieldwork.”

Not only that, but after fieldwork is completed, the findings should be published in a timely fashion to accelerate discovery through interactive research that brings many voices and opinions to the table. From what I’ve observed during what is approaching two year’s worth of aggressive information-gathering, cooperation among rival researchers is rare indeed. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that researchers with similar aims intentionally conceal important information from each other in the race to ultimately “own” ground-breaking discovery.

A case in point focuses on the Whately Oxbow, discovered and first written about by Dr. Marjorie Holland in the 1970s as a UMass graduate student. Her subsequent Smith College doctoral dissertation on the western Massachusetts oxbows, plus related papers co-written with Smith professor/mentor Dr. John Burk and published in scholarly journals, were likely the impetus for a paper on Paleo Lakes of the Connecticut Valley co-authored by UMass archaeologists Mary Lou Curran and Dincauze. Those are only the papers I am aware of on the subject. There are undoubtedly others I have no knowledge of, even though I do thoroughly study bibliographies and footnotes.

When I asked Holland a couple of months ago why the pollen dates associated with Whately were so vague in her oxbow papers, she explained that only the Northampton Oxbow had been pollen dated, and that sampling the other two “would be a great project for someone up there.” Then, when introduced by Gramly to more recent Paleo-site pollen studies conducted by independent former Yale researcher Dr. Lucinda McWeeney, I wondered aloud why she hadn’t visited Whately and Hatfield to gather samples that could be compared to other New England sites, including one in nearby Swanzey, N.H. It made no sense to me that communication was so poor among top researchers in the field.

It gets better, and far more twisted. During the recent reading of a fresh archaeological report focused on Kellogg Hill in Hatfield, I discovered, lo and behold, that McWeeney had indeed been in the area to analyze ancient vegetation surrounding the state-permitted UMass dig of an Indian village site. Why, when here, hadn’t she taken exploratory samples at the two nearby oxbows aching for answers? I wanted to email her and alert her to Gramly’s recent Sugarloaf dig, maybe even suggest that she might want to sample the Whately Oxbow as a related project, but I was afraid of stepping on toes, too many to mention in one breath. A day or two later, an excited Gramly phoned me to say he had been in contact with McWeeney, who had taken Whately Oxbow pollen samples that revealed dates of 9,300 and 8,600 before present (BP), which translates to a ballpark figure of 11,300 and 10,600 calendar years BP. Hmmmm? Why didn’t my Smith College source know of these dates? Had they been published anywhere? And even if they were not published, you’d think someone may have hit me with an email when a few weeks back I taunted Amherst’s Five-College Consortium to get it together for further research at the site? Then, late last week I learned that at least preliminary testing had been performed there and kept quiet. Can someone please explain how that kind of secrecy is in any way beneficial to science and discovery?

If the silence was broken and the voices were united in a public forum, I think we’d all be stunned at how fast this prehistoric Pioneer Valley puzzle would come together. In the meantime, just rumors and whispers that “insiders” are surreptitiously and quite privately working the hot spots in the dark of night, and selling important artifacts to faraway collectors who pay top dollar, removing their prizes from their homes and forever clouding local history.

It seems to me that there’s a lot of blame to go around, including the officials who scream the loudest in favor of secrecy to prevent looting. What they don’t tell you is that many of the very best archaeological pilferers have come straight from their classes and field schools before venturing off on their own.

It’s a fact.

Put that in your sumac-stemmed pipe and smoke it.

Cougar Leftovers

Though cold indeed, spring’s in the air, and judging from his morning song, the scarlet cock cardinal knows it.

Perhaps he too hears the brook rattling as it snakes through dirty, dwindling streamside ice shelves. Maybe he even realizes that my once-bloated woodshed is emptying, the end near, and my taxes are e-filed. Yes, for me and the cock cardinal, life is good, notwithstanding Spring Sports Supplement week, which always unleashes a furious scramble before the first “Play ball!” echoes off North Sugarloaf’s red sandstone cliffs so familiar to me as a boy.

So here I sit atop a cushion on this worn walnut seat, still spending most of my time delving deeper in local prehistory — reading, emailing, talking on the phone and in my daily rambles — all of it an information-gathering process in anticipation of the woods opening their arms for springtime exploration. I have planned a few enticing field trips I can’t wait to embark upon but must discipline myself to be patient, never easy but usually rewarding. After focusing for months on the valley, where Paleo people were drawn to early vegetation and critters that ate it, I want to find signs of pre-Paleo habitation in the uplands, from back in the day when the ancient Sugarloaf beaver myth was born, the original storytellers of oral history looking out from high above the shores of post-glacial Lake Hitchcock. But enough of that — just a little tease about things to come, plus an unnecessary reminder of where my passions lie.

This week I’m going to take the easy way out by revisiting a tired old subject addressed last week for the first time in a while. The topic is cougars; no, not them, the four-legged variety. I guess I have little choice at this point. What’s kind of biped version is out there for a 60-year-old man? Oooops. Better be careful before I offend someone thin-skinned; no shortage of such folks in these days of stifling political correctness.

What I’d like to discuss is all the peripheral stuff I disciplined myself to avoid last week, when focused on one specific cougar caper emanating from the north suburban Boston town of Winchester a month ago. Actually, I had displayed exemplary patience on that tale, too, disciplining myself to wait for the story to develop as I suspected it would after watching the hysterical, knee-jerk reaction on the nightly news, followed by a deluge of emails that arrived in my inbox to alert me to a subject readers knew would pique my interest. As expected, when the fellas from MassWildlife finally assessed photos of tracks — go figure — they ruled the prints canine. That’s when I decided to jump in. That way, I get to poke fun at them rather than the opposite: that is, them responding with their final word on my amateurish misidentification and media irresponsibility. Contrary to the opinion of my detractors, I do learn from mistakes, though, and understand the value of analytical patience. Sometimes you must wait for the final word, the delay typically rewarded.

The fact is that, as has so often been the case when it comes to the subject of cougars with four legs and long sloping tails, the eastern Massachusetts tale was the culmination of many cougar stories that crossed my path over the winter. Even more eerie and, um, I guess predictable judging from past experience, there had been a recent run of cougar stories leading up to last week’s piece. Yes, I just keep listening, storing the data and waiting to pounce. So here I sit, crouched low on all fours, wiggling my hind quarters, ready to spring.

As I recall, it all started in January when I heard from a Northfield woman who still had a plastic bagful of scat she believed had been deposited on the wooded riverside flats near where she came face to face with a cougar fleeing a freight train in August. After this close encounter — as I recall, west of the Connecticut River and north of Bennett Meadow — she had taken it upon herself to scour swampy terrain seeking indisputable proof of the sighting and, lo, found the scat, which she collected with her hand inside the Baggie, a chore all responsible dog owners know these days. Even though a female in-law worked for MassWildlife, she was reluctant to approach her for fear of being labeled loony. Instead she asked her brother what he’d do, and he told her to contact me, that I had written extensively about sightings like hers. When we finally hooked up, I encouraged her to send the sample to her inside contact, then let me know the results. That was back in January. Not a word since. I can’t say I doubted her sighting. She didn’t sound the least bit wacky to me.

It gets better. On the Saturday morning before last week’s piece about the Winchester cougar hit the street, I had arrived at my tax accountant’s South Deerfield office an hour early and decided to run a quick errand to the town dump, where I had some documents to exchange with a friend. On the way home, still time to kill, I took a quick diversion past the home of an old childhood friend to see if I could catch him. The yard screamed that he was there and I pulled in, knocked on the door and soon there he was, same mischievous smile he’s worn since the day I met him 55 years ago. The game wardens never liked this guy much, but that didn’t bother me. I have always been entertained by him. This visit was no exception. He was a wealth of information. He went from witnessing the Hall of Fame flight of a young Vermonter fleeing State Police after scaling a high chain-link fence bordering an Interstate that’s come to be known as “Heroin Highway,” to a busy run of Craigslist Corvette sales, to, yes indeed, you guessed it: Goshen cougars — the four-legged kind that love venison chops. My buddy’s frequented that northwestern Hampshire County town of late for romance, and claims cougars are the talk of the town, that many folks have seen them, the town buzzing in the public square, yet folks are not “reporting” them, per se.

“They did a lot of logging up there and the deer are thick,” my buddy told me. “I guess that’s why there are cougars. People are seeing them in their backyards. Some have photos. Rumor has it that they even found a deer carcass in a tree four or five years back. No lie. They say a cougar killed it and dragged it up into a tree. … Wild stuff.”

Which brings me back to last week’s tale of the Winchester cat. While talking to a familiar old source on these matters, one who’s hell-bent on substantiating Pioneer Valley cougars whenever and wherever sightings are reported, I was able to glean a little additional information. His outfit, Cougars of the Valley, presented a Friday-night Blandford lecture that drew an overflow crowd of better than 85, all of them talkative and thoroughly convinced there are cougars in their woods. My source claims the tracks photographed by Winchester police were sent to a panel of seven nationwide experts, including documentary film makers and wildlife officials who live in western cougar country, and all seven agreed the tracks are those of a large cat. Then, of course, MassWildlife experts viewed the snapshots and determined they were dog tracks, which still irks the police who shot the photos. Believe me: the people who call MassWildlife after backyard sightings are no more pleased with the responses they receive from wildlife biologists. In fact, I have spoken to many indignant witnesses who called me because they had been insulted by experts who implied they were either fools or liars.

In a lively telephone chat about this and that with my Cougar of the Valley source, a hospital administrator no less, I touched upon logging practices and ventured quite by chance into a controversial operation now underway in special hardwood forest familiar to me surrounding the Northampton reservoir in West Whately. The man hadn’t visited the site to observe what was occurring there, but he knew Massachusetts Forest Watch activist Chris Matera was the loudest critic, and that caught his attention. In his opinion, Matera is a credible watchdog driven only by a commitment to protecting forest ecosystems, so he holds nothing but respect for the man. In his humble opinion, when Matera starts screaming, those who want to protect forests ought to listen. I myself have followed Matera, spoken to him and folks who have worked with him, and I agree with my source that he has only honorable intentions.

“Two of his target areas were the state forests in Savoy and at October Mountain (in Lee),” my source recalled. “I saw both sites with my own eyes and must agree that loggers left a destructive, disgusting, clear-cut mess. That’s all I can tell you. Matera was concerned about irresponsible logging practices, and he was absolutely right. I was stunned when I observed what had been done there. It was bad, really bad.”

That discussion pulled me right back to Goshen, not far from Savoy, and I told him what my boyhood friend had told me about cougars there. He hadn’t heard anything recent, but chuckled and said, “Yeah, ask state officials about the deer found in the tree up there if you want to see them squirm. They investigated, went into full denial and still refuse to talk about it. I believe there was truth to the report. But trust me, you’re not going to find a anything on the record.”

Hey, you can’t make this stuff up. Maybe I shouldn’t report it. Maybe it’s not true. But I suppose it never hurts to chronicle a news-gathering process. I guess I’ll just keep putting one foot in front of the other and bumping into these random anecdotes, many interrelated, that keep the coals of discovery and inquiry glowing. Then coming at me are questions like this, from the Cougar of the Valley man, who on Wednesday inquired, “Do you suppose your source would talk to me about Goshen? I’d like to get up there to talk to people, look for tracks, maybe set up trail cameras. This is a good spring. By now, the snow’s usually gone, precisely at the time when cougars get active and start following deer to edge habitats. It’s a great time to find tracks if there’s snow.”

With that, I’m outta here, looking for tracks. Yeah, gotta go, eyes and ears wide open for wild little hinterland rumors and devilish backwoods spirits.

Denial Games

I can’t say whether the short introductory note topping an email sent my way this week was fueled by exuberance, defiance or relief. Does it really matter? So let’s just call enthusiastic cougar-researcher Ray Weber triumphant indeed, and leave it at that. OK?

“Well,” he wrote in a delayed, victorious response to a five-month-old email challenge I had issued after viewing inconclusive photos of a backyard cougar he’d sent me, “now we have it!”

Have what? Easy: My Oct. 3 demand for slam-dunk photos before I’d display them on the public square. I guess I’ve gotten fussy over many years of chronicling cougar sightings, especially local ones. Plus, I’ve formed a personal, informed opinion, seen it confirmed on the most unlikely of highways, and have now moved on to bigger and better.

Attached to Weber’s message, which included what now seems like an ancient early-October string of emails between us, were three Winchester Police Department photos in vivid, living color. The snapshots display a crisp, clear animal track in the snow — an imprint believed by everyone who studied it to be that of a cougar, mountain lion, puma, panther or whatever you choose to call the fabled, tawny, mysterious North American predator with a long, black-tipped tail and a spookiest of snarls. Well, that is everyone except the bureaucratic spin doctors of wildlife science, those card-carrying, gilt-plaque experts of their field who are paid by Massachusetts taxpayers to serve as final arbiters for such weighty matters. Their ruling was quite predictable and, even among public servants employed on the police force, annoying … if not outright insulting. Yes, the official MassWildlife assessment was that the tracks had been left by “a member of the Canidae family,” which, in laymen’s terms, means dog or coyote; not what eye witnesses want to hear.

Count Weber among the dismayed for what he perceived to be bold, intentional misinformation at best, and maybe even straight-out institutional dishonesty. He just couldn’t contain his disgust, personally inquiring of the official who made the ruling, “And what type of dog, may I ask, would leave such a track?”

The wildlife biologist, a big MassWildlife cheese, pensively paused before responding and said, “A sheep dog, maybe?”

This mandated denial of any cougar possibility came on the heels of a quite different conclusion from no less than seven nationwide cougar experts who viewed the photos and agreed with on-site police and game wardens alike that the tracks were consistent with those of mountain lions. Oh well, what else is new in the world of New England cougar sightings? Not much, I guess.

Truthfully, it was long ago apparent to me, having followed these sightings for decades, that wildlife officials will never admit any cougar sighting was real unless a dead one they can’t wiggle free from is found on the side of the road. To refresh your memory, that is precisely what, to their shrieking, gasping horror, occurred in the spring of 2011 on the Wilbur Cross Parkway in Milford, Conn., a southern Connecticut hamlet within a faint and fetid whiff of the Big Apple, where Pinstripes and corruption reign supreme. Even more disturbing to “the fellas” back then was the fact that this road-kill — not an escaped pet but a wild South Dakota “disperser” from the Black Hills — had met its fate within a month or so of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s well-publicized reclassification of Eastern Cougars from endangered to “extinct.” Of course, the messenger knew then that only the most astute observers of the nightly newscasts or even news editors themselves would understand a tidy little inconsistency with their announced reclassification. You see, the fact remains that all North American cougars living north, south, east and west belong to the same species, one that was long ago extirpated from the East but has for decades been finding its way back home from the Wild West. Already, there are viable reproductive populations established in Great Lakes country, if in fact they ever left that wet and wild region.

Now let’s think about this for a second or two. The trip from the Great Lakes to here through the Adirondack and Green Mountain ranges is by no means a difficult journey for a noble and elusive cougar, no matter what the biologists try to tell you. It’s funny. The Indians knew cougars were here, held them sacred, wore their teeth and claws as jewelry, and even took them to their graves, a sign of agility, power, forest prowess and ferocity. Now the pro-growth Chamber of Commerce types among us would have you believe both are extinct.

I must confess that I knew better than to immediately jump on this Middlesex County cougar tale, choosing instead to sit back and watch it “develop.” I learned of the story I suspected was due for radical institutional revision the day it made headlines following a credible Feb. 27 sighting in Winchester, located just northwest of Boston, bordered by Lexington west, Melrose east and Woburn north. My informant was a retired state cop who emailed me a link to the town police report with a quick introductory note that read, “Check out the police website. There is an article, dated today, about a sighting. The EPO’s responded and said the tracks ‘strongly resembled that of a mountain lion.’”

According to Weber, a Cougars of the Valley researcher who’s been tracking sightings in the Pioneer Valley, its hills and beyond for four hectic years — and who has spoken at length with police, game wardens and eye witnesses familiar with the case — perplexed Winchester Police Chief Ken Albertelli claims his department had handled some 30 cougar reports in a month before the spit hit the fan. The case finally blossomed when an elderly woman called the dispatcher to report a backyard confrontation between her and the big cat. According to Weber, the woman walked outside to catch the cat descending a backyard tree, tail-first, to the ground, where it turned, looked her square in the face from 50 feet away and ran off into the woods. In awe of what she had seen with her own eyes, the woman went immediately inside to phone police, panting, “Do lions live in Massachusetts?”

Police responded quickly to the scene and had no trouble following the cat’s fresh tracks in the snow, which they photographed for evidence. Many other tracks made by dogs and deer were scattered about the area, making it easy to differentiate between them and what they and game wardens strongly suspected to be cat tracks left by our continent’s largest wild feline.

“It was a big animal,” marveled Weber, who also traveled to the scene and estimated the weight at 120 pounds. “The cops’ boot prints hardly left a mark on the snow, and the cops were big men.”

Weber described the tracks as nearly four inches long, way too big for bobcat tracks, which rarely reach two inches in length.

Thus, Weber said, “Police are not buying the MassWildlife evaluation;” and, secretly, neither are the investigating game wardens who, rather than challenge their colleagues, have hit the mute button like all good public servants should.

Not surprisingly, since the day of the close encounter with the stunned lady, the previously ubiquitous Winchester cat has vanished like a woodland ghost, likely soon to reappear in a woodlot, pasture or thorny swamp near you. And when it finally does resurface someplace, unless it’s a bloody roadside mess, the fellas will surely deny its existence.

Weber called the tracks, “definitely the best thus far discovered in Massachusetts.” But what does that mean when the official press-release finding states “not good enough,” by now a transparent denial that has become irrelevant, a coffee-shop joke.

I really do believe that even the spokespeople issuing official denials these days know they’re — ummm? — not true. Don’t hold your breath waiting for them to admit it.

Whisperin’ Winds

Sights, sounds and smells: hourly stimuli awaiting a well-placed flick of the forefinger to set the pinwheel into a blurry gyre that can flitter off to enticing places, if you let it. If you don’t dare, well, you probably spent too much time in church or school, where free-thinking and free-play is discouraged, maybe even forbidden, if that’s possible. I guess you can either play the game or design your own. Count me among the latter.

What pulled me into this weird train of thought was a common gesture by my demonstrative 3-year-old Springer Spaniel, Chubby, who early this week stuck a familiar pose that brought me back to the previous week, and way, way beyond. His pathetic expressions for sympathy occurred in the yard after breakfast, when we were dry-docked by deep snow, my truck unable to scale roadside snowbanks and park out of harm’s way for our daily rambles. Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking: that that’s no excuse. Obviously, I could have walked my pets on leashes, with a colorful plastic bag dangling from my free hand, such a common sight these days. But, uh-uh, not my style. I’m cut from a different fabric, so to speak; born in a different day, prefer running unrestrained, and my dogs are no different.

Anyway, back to Chubby’s thought-provoking pose, the morning cool, gray and refreshing as we approached the metal gate leading down into Sunken Meadow. When I arrived at the barway and was passing through two sturdy wooden posts, gate ajar, I noticed Chubby standing broadside at the bottom of the double-rutted farm road. It was a familiar, statuesque and quite suggestive pose, ears perked and ready to race through thorny tangles. This day, he was looking for direction. The week before the identical stance begged, “Please, can we hop in the truck and go for a run today.” It hurts when the answer is no, but sometimes the elements dictate.

This week, the scene had shifted and I extended my right arm to the side, like tossing a stone underhand to the right. Chubby didn’t hesitate, was off in a flash, nose high, tail wiggling in glee as Lily sprinted past me to join him. That’s when I wandered off in thought, comparing Chubby’s inquisitive pose to my own plight for more information about Pioneer Valley prehistory. The information’s there. You just have to catch a scent in the wind, chase it, dig for it, sometimes even beg, because the people in control aren’t always cooperative, using one lame looting excuse after another to deny requests for reports, most refusals aimed at secrecy. Still I’ve somehow managed to navigate my way around the obstacles in a snowballing investigation that’s led from subject to subject with the help of books and papers and phone conversations, correspondence and personal visits. I’ve read archaeological reports, visited the sites they describe and scanned old newspapers looking for mention that’s rarely found. Then I ask questions, many of them, followed by many more, the probes connecting lines in an intricate, at times puzzling labyrinth through which experts are still finding their way, and often covering their tracks.

It’s a fact that you must understand ancient human behavior to comprehend the peopling of the Pioneer Valley, the settlement patterns and buried clues. But what I have recently discovered is that, more than that, you must understand the land, because plants and animals depend on it, and primitive humans depended on them to survive. The formula is not really that complex when you think of it. Glaciers melted and formed lakes that drained over time, leaving behind wet, fertile, meandering basins that attracted vegetation, which supported insects and reptiles, and drew foraging birds and beasts, which helped broadcast seeds and attract human predators who ate them. Soon Paleo man also learned to forage selected plants, such as cattails, ferns and water lilies, which, over time, they learned by trial and error could even have medicinal value, thus settlement along the edges of the bottomland swamps and oxbow lakes in green river valleys. As the climate warmed and accelerated drainage, new vegetation took root in the uplands, and foraging humans and beasts reached out to new habitats offering nuts and berries on the near horizon of old habitation sites.

Though I have always viewed ancient Pioneer Valley settlement patterns through a topographical and ecological prism, it was a December visit from a Smith College biology professor that sharpened my focus regarding a place of personal interest and family lore about which I harbor fascination. Aware that there had been a contact-period Indian village there and that many artifacts had been mined from both sides of the Connecticut River over the years — including the earliest colonial decades when my ancestors owned and farmed it — I didn’t know how long Native people had lived there, and had no clue it had been the site of a Paleo lake that drained into an Archaic and probably early Woodland oxbow. From the D-shaped interior parcel separated from the mainland by a 2½-mile river loop curling south from the base of Mt. Sugarloaf arose the name “Island” that I now believe to be of Native origin. Although this oxbow island had vanished long before my ancestors arrived, they likely heard Indians refer to their land as “The Island,” thus continued calling it that for many years, including generations later, by which time all concept of origin was lost. By the time of 18th- century colonial settlement, this rich chunk of fertile terrain had become a valuable agricultural resource that was and still is bordered on the west by what my kinfolk and neighbors called Hopewell Swamp. Only diligent historians and local folks with deep East Whately (or “Canterbury”) roots know that dense, crescent-shaped marsh as Hopewell today. Fewer still have ever heard of the flat, narrow terrace sandwiched between two others referred to as “The Island,” where today Frito-Lay potatoes grow on a long, thin tilled patch.

My focus these days centers on Mt. Sugarloaf and reaches out in a 15-mile radius pulling in  — starting in the south and circling west to north to east — the Northampton Meadows, Hampshire/Franklin’s western hills, Peskeomskut falls at Gill/Turners Falls, and the drainage corridor following Route 63 past Lake Pleasant and the Montague Plains to Cranberry Lake and North Leverett before emptying into the Long Plain (or Sunderland) Delta. There it swings all the way back to the ’Hamp Meadows, through Hadley /Hatfield farmland. This rich bottomland of the Lake Hitchcock drainage would have offered many lush marshes attractive to Paleo people living on the edge and hunting for caribou, waterfowl, fish and who knows what else. Truth be told, there’s still much to be learned, and the time is now, before the ancient footprints fade.

What’s interesting is that throughout my ongoing Pioneer Valley prehistory foray, it just so happens that there stood in the bookcase behind my library desk an important though somewhat dated book I had until two weeks ago neglected to revisit. Published in 1988 and purchased while I was exploring the history of Connecticut Valley Atlantic salmon, “Holocene Human Ecology in Northeastern North America,” edited by UMass-Amherst anthropologist George P. Nicholas, is a collection of scholarly papers, many by UMass scientists, about local/regional prehistory. Combined with the Marjorie Holland/John Burk papers on the WMass oxbows (1982), this collection sharpened my perspective on ecological settlement dynamics here and elsewhere in New England. Then, after phone conversation about the subject with archaeologist Mike Gramly, leader of the September Sugarloaf Site Paleo excavation, the man mailed me follow-up scholarship on the same subject; it’s titled, “Revising the Paleoindian Environmental Picture in Northeastern North America,” by Lucinda McWeeney, an independent, Yale-trained and formerly Yale-employed archaeobotanist at the top of her field.

Despite the importance of the Sugarloaf Site straddling the Deerfield/Whatley line — and the Massachusetts Historical Commission’s acknowledgment of its importance for 40 years running — it is totally ignored in the aforementioned reports above. I find this blackout curious if not troubling and can’t help but wonder why. When archaeologists are uncovering remains and reporting the importance of hazelnuts, water lilies and cattails in Paleo diets from surrounding regional sites, shouldn’t they be attempting to gather corroborating data from known Connecticut Valley sites like the one below Sugarloaf, possibly even Canada Hill in Greenfield or the Turners Falls Airport? Shouldn’t archaebotanists and biologists like McWeeney be begging for permission to take sediment core samples from “The Island” and its bordering Hopewell Swamp in Whately? Even Greenfield’s White Ash Swamp could be a revealing research site. And wouldn’t all this information be helpful in piecing together the bigger puzzle that’s begging to be solved?

It’s difficult to understand the archaeological delay or holding pattern present here in the upper Pioneer Valley, an obstructive secrecy that’s palpable indeed. Where’s the opposition? The public criticism? Isn’t this cutting-edge research that’s ripe for the picking by the Five-College community? Wouldn’t ground-breaking discoveries from such fieldwork become career-defining components of platinum scholarly legacies?

The perspective from King Philip’s Seat hidden high under a shelf on Sugarloaf’s southern point screams that the dysfunctional squabbling is all about politics and must stop for the sake of discovery. Why keep a lid on it? Why conceal information from public view for another second? It makes no sense.

From this perch, it feels like high time to pool resources in a cooperative effort, eliminate petty games and professional jealousies, join heads, and allow a fascinating tale to unfold. The ancient soul of our valley screams as its spirit whispers. Listen to the winds. If you can’t understand the words, they mean, “It’s time.”

Attic Treasure

Whew! This prehistory stuff is attacking like rogue waves, one after another — wild, powerful and quite exciting.

No, I’m not bellyaching. I won’t allow this stubborn winter that’s clinging with a white-knuckled grip to get me down as spring tiptoes in and I lug heavy armfuls of cordwood in from a disappearing woodshed mound, the trip frequency steadier than expected this time of year, when it should start to wane. What else can I do but continue filling the iron stove-side cradle that keeps the hungry, roaring pig fed, me pondering this and that while performing wood-related chores, sometimes muttering under my breath and hoping no one’s listening, always trying to connect the dots, make sense of it all.

Take, for instance, the beautiful maritime-Archaic artifact of beautiful, pale-olive stone, probably slate-like argillite, used to fashion a rare, fluted, ground-stone point purchased by a Vermont buddy at a recent estate sale. The 5,000-year-old, four-inch, semi-polished tool came from a northeast New Hampshire attic chest of drawers, where it had likely lain covered in cloth for decades, perhaps even more than a century, before finally coming to light at what is called a family “dead end” in auction jargon. The purchaser has studied stones for many moons, was intrigued by the banded mottling, thought it unusual enough to pursue and bought it. He then photographed it and e-mailed the images to me, aware by following me online that his latest find was right in my wheelhouse.

When friend Bud Driver stopped by to chat on Friday, I shared the fresh photos with him. He couldn’t contain his enthusiasm, marveling, “Wow! What a beautiful piece. I’d love to get my hands on that, take a closer look through an eyepiece or under a microscope. I can’t say I’m familiar with the base. I’ve never seen ears like that. You ought to send the photos to Bruce Bourque. He could probably identify it.”

I called the purchaser and told him I had a visitor who wanted to examine his artifact, asap. “Come on down,” he said without hesitation, and off we went a half-hour north. Once there, Driver, a longtime amateur archaeologist and collector, was delighted to discover that my friend not only owned a jeweler’s eyepiece but a microscope as well, both of which he put to good use for minute evaluation, which only got better the longer he studied the maker’s marks. Judging from the two edges of what he called a knife, he figured the man (or possibly woman) who carried it was a lefty, an opinion that blew the man who bought it away, made the visit even more rewarding.

A few days later, about 9 a.m. Monday, Driver phoned to say he was headed to a Greenfield appointment and hoped to stop by with some documents he wanted to share. Despite the mess delivered by my grandsons’ weekend visit, the dining room reluctantly cleared as a temporary gymnasium, I told him I’d be waiting and, sure enough, his gray Toyota pickup rolled up the driveway at 10:30, me just dressed out of the shower, my wife at the sink in her bathrobe. He had in his right hand many pieces of paper wrapped around a long white tube containing maps as we walked toward my study for copying duties and, well before crossing the threshold to my inner sanctum, the subject quickly jumped back to my buddy’s handsome Indian artifact. Driver was still raving about it, said it should be professionally photographed and sketched, maybe even cast and sent around for expert evaluation. He even suggested it may be significant enough to justify an illustrated article in the “Massachusetts Archaeological Society Bulletin,” the organization’s official publication. The piece was, in his humble opinion, that important; potentially one of a kind. Plus, the basal fluting with the flared ears had to be a clue to the place of origin. Where that place was he could only surmise, even though he had studied Northeastern maritime-Archaic culture.

Although I remained silent, it was right then and there that I decided to learn more about the photos I possessed. When Driver left, I immediately e-mailed them to Bourque, the respected Maine State Archaeologist and author of “Twelve Thousand Years: American Indians in Maine” (2001) and “The Swordfish Hunters: The History and Ecology of an Ancient American Sea People” (2012). Having bought (and read) Bourque’s latest book from his friend and fellow archaeologist Mike Gramly — leader of the September Sugarloaf Site Paleo dig along the Deerfield/Whately line — I recommended it to the man who bought the ground-stone point of this discussion. My friend promptly bought the book online and read it, familiarizing himself with the beautiful color photos of artifacts characteristic of Maine’s Red-Paint Culture. Then, when perusing the recent auction lots and stumbling upon the handsome ground-stone tool, he recognized it, piquing his interest. Bourque’s e-mail evaluation of the photos only enhanced my friend’s appreciation of his recent purchase. Praising it as, “by far, the nicest specimen I’ve ever seen,” (and few if any have seen more), Bourque, a Princeton native and Bates College professor explained: “These fluted-base, ground-stone points are seen occasionally in Maine west of the Kennebec (River), but so far none are from datable contexts. I’d guess they’re around 5000 years old, maybe older, probably not younger.”

It gets better. After speaking to Gramly early Wednesday morning, an excited Driver phoned to say his friend was eager to view the photos. “When I began to describe the base to him, he stopped me and described it to me,” Driver gasped. “He’s excited, and really wanted me to call you for the photos. He can’t contain his enthusiasm. He said he’s dug those points with own hands in New Hampshire.”

Well, at that point, with deadline looming large and my hourglass quickly draining, I knew I was playing with fire but jumped right into the raging conflagration. Hey, if I make a harmless little mistake, I can always correct it next week, right? I too am excited about this discovery and would like to get it “out there” sooner than later. Who knows what new information will arise? It’s not out of the realm of possibility that someone else has such an artifact tucked away or has seen an identical piece somewhere else. But I had to cross my fingers and hope Gramly would promptly respond. Finally at between noon and 1 Wednesday, my phone rang and it was Gramly, his infectious enthusiasm immediately driving the most pleasing pulsations down my right ear canal.

“Those photos you sent display a rather elegant example of a ground-stone point with a fluted base,” he gushed. “I’d call it a bayonet. In 1979, I unearthed a similar point, about four inches long, certainly resharpened, at the Molls Rock site near Lake Umbagog in extreme eastern New Hampshire. As I recall, we also found a tip of what might have been another point of this shape. I published pictures of the specimen in the little 1980 site report I wrote. It’s shown in Figure 3 of the essay ‘Molls Rock: A Multi-component Site in Northern New Hampshire’ (Man in the Northeast 24: 121-134).

“The absolute age of this variety of ground-stone point is yet unknown, and their exact cultural affiliations are likewise unknown,” he continued. “Certainly they belong to the Archaic Period. If I were to guess, I would have them fall within the period 3000-2000 B.C. Fluted, ground-stone points seem to be confined to interior New England.”

Bourque’s book would suggest a Red-Paint origin, though I don’t want to put words in his mouth. And with that, I gotta go, am outta time.

Who knows what next week will bring? I suppose after all these years I’m ready for just about anything. Hopefully, though, new information won’t come at me like this week’s 11th-hour tsunami did.

When you sit in a seat like mine, sometimes you just gotta take whatever, whenever, then let ’er rip and hope for the best.

Till next week, off I go.

Whims and Whispers

I really should know better than to read Henry Miller. The bad-boy American novelist disrupts a bunkered spot in my consciousness that likes to be roiled, stirred to a tumultuous boil, its riotous bubbles bursting violently through the surface into a belching, spitting, steaming, scalding mele. Yes, that’s what Henry Miller does to me, and I’m not ashamed to admit enjoying it. Here’s a man so outrageously honest that his novels were banned in this land until 1961, are still being burned on the village square, which suits me just fine, thank you. In fact, right up my alley. Just me, I guess, perhaps a tad weird; at the very least, unconventional.

My latest Miller journey began quite by accident, the innocent result of a midday whim that spurred me to my second winter trip to a place I visit regularly during fair-weather months. It was Friday afternoon and I was following a trusted pattern through the Montague Bookmill, where, book in hand and ready to check out, I took a quick, impulsive final swing through the “New Arrivals” table in “Literature” and spotted a familiar shiny black spine that read “Tropic of Capricorn.” It’s the middle volume of a naughty trilogy written in the 1930s and finally published to Woman’s Club howls and English Department squirms by Grove Press in 1961. I had already read the two bookends, “Tropic of Cancer” and “Black Spring,” and had nearly purchased “Capricorn” online many times. Finally, I went through with it. I had the book in my hand, a first edition, crisp and clean, like new, just a little inconspicuous and quite insignificant light brown stain across the page-tops. For $4.50, how could it not accompany me home?

My fondness for Miller is borne of having long ago met and observed from afar the first American with the courage to publish him. Pea-capped rabble-rouser James “Jimmy” Cooney and family were friends of friends in West Whately, and I had seen the radical publisher of an interesting pre-World War II literary journal named “The Phoenix” in action at May Day celebrations and other convivial affairs that left an indelible mark on a teenage boy, hormones dancing that hummingbird flitter that’s rare indeed as you grow old.

Actually, I really didn’t sit here today to write about Miller. He just kinda seized hold of me. But it’s not all Miller’s fault. No, perhaps I’m finally getting a little cranky with this winter that won’t quit, that and my own lingering procrastination toward annual income-tax-preparation chores I so loathe. I do have other stuff to write about, though, all of it related to subjects I’ve been focused on for weeks and months and years, topics about which I continue to receive interesting feedback worth answering and pursuing. The problem is that I finished that other Friday Bookmill purchase over the weekend — a book I stumbled upon about the public newspaper feud between 19th century paleontologists Othniel Charles Marsh of Yale and Edward Drinker Cope of Penn — so Miller is fresher. His angry riffs can literally consume me like spellbinding emotional pain, literally take my breath, at times sweeping me off like a roaring spring freshet and tumbling me out of control underwater, submerged deeply at the base of a foamy waterfall, struggling to find my way to a breath of damp, misty air. That’s what Miller does to me when he goes off on one of his tirades about New York City or American culture, and I guess that’s why Jimmy Cooney listened, and had the courage to publish the work of a gifted, perceptive American artist when no one else would touch him with asbestos mitts, or even take a whiff of his toxic fumes from afar. I’m not sure Miller has an equal on the American literary stage. Yes, there are more acclaimed and popular authors; many, in fact. But what does popularity mean other than the voice is sweet to consumers’ ears? Give me harsh reality, any day, and the courage to portray.

Miller can really send me to disorienting places I must navigate my way out of. It’s not unlike being lost in the woods in dense fog, a snowstorm or darkness, or maybe the time I got lost as a prepubescent boy at the New York World’s Fair and found my way out, or as a teen negotiated getting permanently separated from the two girls who accompanied me to Woodstock. To a lesser degree, it can even be compared to that twice-daily 89 minutes between 12:01 and 1:30 when, if relying on chimes of a tall clock on the hour and half-hour as I often do, you can lose your place with three consecutive single strikes. Unsure what time it is, it brings me to my feet to look at a clock more often than I want to admit. Yes, that’s what Miller can do to me, and I happen to like it, but not nearly as much as I enjoy his barbs at church and state, schools, proud enforcers, and mainstream mayhem. Henry Miller was truly an American original. In my mind, he “got it,” and like many before him, suffered the consequences.

But that’s enough on Miller. I’d hate to take it too far and get myself into trouble with the PTA. The man just unleashes something wild and quite liberating from deep within me that I very much enjoy setting free; always have, always will. Defiant, independent me: that’s all. And it’s too late to change now, or even want to.

I must say the Marsh-Cope feud really hit home for me after observing local competitive archaeologists criticize each other over the past year or two. Plus, reading of the cantankerous post-Civil War squabble over dinosaur bones uncovered out west only confirmed my suspicion that newspaper accounts of weird archaeological discoveries must be heavily scrutinized before accepted as fact. Two local researchers who are convinced that human giants and/or space aliens roamed our land and were erased from the record by scheming Smithsonian scientists have personally brought my attention to 140-year-old newspaper reports they say give the true stories before they were cleansed by conspiratorial government spinmeisters. My knee-jerk reaction to that claim was in both cases a friendly warning to beware of newspapers, which I have learned after decades of microfilm research can’t always be believed, especially back in the 18th and 19th centuries, when isolated, uninformed editors across the land were cherry-picking sensational “news” items written by scribes who had been told of something bizarre, taken it hook, line and sinker, and reported it verbatim or embellished as fact. Although I think my friendly warning fell on deaf ears, I feel more comfortable having said it now, after reading about rampant misidentifications and straight-out hoaxes that rose from the Marsh-Cope race to paleontology treasure.

It seems only a coincidence that Mr. Marsh shares his surname with one Dexter Marsh, a Montague native of local paleontological fame. Dexter Marsh, who moved to Greenfield in 1834 and worked as a janitor, made rare discoveries of local fossil dinosaur prints up and down the Connecticut River beginning in 1835, first while extracting sidewalk stone from a quarry near Turners Falls. His collection of prehistoric Franklin County footprints can still be viewed in worldwide museum collections. As for the two Marshes that descended from the same family that helped found Hartford, Conn., with Rev. Thomas Hooker, they were separated by a generation, one growing up in Montague, the other in New York. The men definitely would have known of each other but likely never met. Greenfield’s Marsh died in 1853, before Professor Marsh was teaching at Yale and collecting bones far and wide. The good professor did study Connecticut Valley fossils, though, was probably around Greenfield, and surely knew of his distant Marsh cousin.

Something else about these Marshes and the hubbub that seemed to follow them, Dexter Marsh, that uneducated Greenfield “amateur,” ultimately felt wronged by Greenfield physician James Deane and Amherst College geologist Dr. Edward Hitchcock, both of whom he claimed had stolen his fossil-discovery thunder. And, go figure, this type of jealousy still exists between amateur and professional historians and scientists today, and is now raging in the Connecticut Valley to loud denials. I have seen it with my own eyes, heard it with my own ears and recognize it for exactly what it is. Not only that, but I believe it’s detrimental to scholarship and discovery.

In the meantime, I continue to take phone calls, receive email and even an occasional personal letter like the one I opened from James Stuart Smith, the legendary Deerfield Academy football coach known by most as Jim Smith. Now there’s a coach I could have probably played for. His letter arrived from Buckland this week, telling how fabled Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne held utter disdain for folks who pronounced his first name “Nute.” Smith mentioned it in reference to something I had written about Norwegian Nobel laureate Knut Hamsun, who had been critical of disrespectful Americans for mispronouncing his first name as “Noot.” One other little item worth reporting by way of Coach Smith: Rockne called the Catholics he coached “Mackerel Snappers,” then became one himself after his greatest player, George Gipp, died of pneumonia. I’ll have to take Smith’s word for that.

Something else … fascinating correspondence came my way from a local woman intrigued by the Sugarloaf Paleo dig and wanting to lead me on a woodland exploration to some potential rock shelters and formations behind her home. It’s a vast upland area I know a little about but have not explored in years despite wanting to for the last year or so due to claims by archaeologist Mike Gramly. I’ll wait for the snow to melt and take a hike with spring in the air and corn snow underfoot through shady depressions.

But that’s gonna have to wait. First, I must finish Miller, get my checkbook and business records in order, and schedule a couple of annual accounting appointments. By then, hopefully, the sweet sap will be rising through the forest as I run the dogs over new, hilly terrain I last patrolled as an adolescent about the same time I was observing cantankerous Cooney. It’s a Pioneer Valley landmark where ancient footprints lie and mischievous woodland spirits lurk, peeking around giant shagbark hickories and whistling softly into gentle breezes only the perceptive can detect.

I’ll be looking and listening.

Twists and Turns

It wasn’t the oh-so familiar yet faded scene — a dark, dingy basement classroom in the bowels of UMass’ Bartlett Hall — that left an impression on me. No, no, no! It was the Coppertone man, a long, thin and tidy braid splitting his back between the scapulae.

The man’s name was Doug Harris, preservationist for ceremonial landscapes at the Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office in Wyoming, R.I.; he was in Amherst that cool, windy, spring day to introduce a movie to UMass anthropology undergrads. It was, coincidentally, the same film shown this past Saturday at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls. Titled “Great Falls: Discovery, Destruction and Preservation in a Massachusetts Town,” the documentary focuses on the infamous Turners Falls Airport dispute and chronicles the rich history and prehistory of Peskeomskut, the sacred falls and gathering place for native tribes drawn to the site each spring to savor bounteous anadromous fish runs up a hard, turbulent Connecticut River elbow.

Harris was setting the stage for the afternoon viewing by cautioning students they’d learn from archaeologists that our continent was peopled by ancient migrations over the land bridge connecting Alaska to Asia, and still others from South and Central America. “It’s true,” he stated in eloquent baritone, “but we welcomed them both.”

That statement I will never forget. And now, given what we’ve learned from recent DNA analysis of bones discovered in the grave of a 1-year-old Clovis boy buried 12,700 years ago in western Montana, it appears he knew what he was talking about. The Clovis Boy’s DNA profile eliminated the possibility of European genes, confirmed markers from Asia and South and Central America, and revealed genomes unique to Native American people unrelated to Inuit tribes of the north. What it all means to us here in the Pioneer Valley — where ongoing Paleo exploration led by archaeologist Mike Gramly is ripe, fresh and quite contagious — is at this time unclear. But the threadbare theory that Paleo man (and, of course, woman) vanished and was replaced by a newer breed of cat that appeared during the Archaic and Woodland eras, appears invalid, which makes perfect sense to a rank amateur believing in evolution as I do. To the scholars who loudly proclaimed that the Contact Period tribes encountered by the first European explorers had no genealogical link to Paleo people, I have from the start suspected a problem I first heard described by a Buckland hayseed named Hezekiah. He diagnosed this all-too-common flaw as “too much college and not enough grammar school.” What a hoot. Try that on for size. You gotta love it.

I first saw mention of Clovis Boy — called Anzick-1 — whose bones represent the lone human Paleo specimen ever discovered on this continent or the one south of us, in an Associated Press story last Thursday in The Recorder. From there, still intrigued after observing a fascinating, two-week, September Gramly dig at the base of Mt. Sugarloaf, I chased down the online “Nature” magazine article the news report had been gleaned from. I read it, called Gramly and asked him if it was possible that another human Paleo bone could be unearthed from the sandy plain below Sugarloaf. He called it unlikely “because I think these people’s burial site would have been elsewhere but nearby.” He even identified the location, which I choose not to here disclose for fear of random, amateur exploration and destruction of a potentially ground-breaking local site of worldwide importance. But I can say, knowing the terrain as I do, that his assessment makes perfect sense, and that the site itself has always glittered with mystery.

Howard Clark, the Nolumbeka Project anthropologist/historian who’s often maligned in the press as an Indian “activist,” was trained at San Francisco State University, where the peopling of North America was viewed through a 50,000-year or more window. So he was encouraged but not surprised by this recent finding that places people on this continent long before the Clovis Culture, which shows up as fluted points in an archaeological record across North America dating back 13,000 years.

“To be honest, given what I had learned on the West Coast, I was surprised to arrive here and discover that archaeologists believed it all started with the Clovis Culture,” he said. “That’s not what we were taught out west. Now, according to the Nature article, it’s clear to me that there were people in North and South America long before 13,000 years ago,” and even suggestive of a race that can truly be called Native American.

Where does he get his information? Look no further than the recent “Nature” piece titled “The Genome of a Late Pleistocene human from a Clovis burial site in western Montana,” which states: “Our data are compatible with the hypothesis that Anzick-1 belonged to a population directly ancestral to many contemporary Native Americans. Finally, we find evidence of a deep divergence in Native American populations that predates the Anzick-1 individual.”

News of this finding has gone viral. If you don’t believe it, check it out on the Internet. And you can take it to the bank that many respected researchers are now scrambling to make sense of it all and find a way to save face while retracting prior statements made with haughty self-assurance. It goes with the territory. I suppose that’s why the wisest sources always speak with a speck of uncertainty and a glint of humility.

The alternative can get embarrassing.

On a related matter teased to last week here, only a miniscule percentage of local stone was found among 25 pounds of chipped debitage collected from a biface-production yard at the 12,350-year-old Sugarloaf Site excavated by Gramly. The vast majority (96 percent) of the stone chips recovered were Normanskill chert from the Hudson Valley, while nearly all of the remaining four percent was felsite (some from Mt. Jasper in Berlin, N.H.). But Gramly says the sample size was far too small to make any assumptions just yet.

“You have to remember that I now believe the Sugarloaf Site could be the largest fluted-point habitation site in North America,” he said. “We have only sampled a small portion it. These Paleo caribou hunters loved their Normanskill chert, preferred it and were willing to travel for it, but this latest finding does show these people were also bringing in local lithic sources. My guess is that they used the local stone for specific tools. So we may yet get into loci where the percentage of local stone is significantly higher than where we’ve already studied.”

David “Bud” Driver, an amateur archaeologist from South Deerfield by way of the Northampton Meadows, was the man who researched and ultimately led UMass archaeologists to an ancient quarry of Mt. Tom stone he named Rocheen Dalby Chert after his mother-in-law. The site had previously been identified as an ancient lithic source earlier during the 20th century by well-known amateur archaeologist Walter S. Rodimon (1885-1972), also of Northampton. But perhaps the man who led Rodimon to the quarry overlooking Northampton’s picturesque Oxbow from the south and west was noted Springfield historian Harry Andrew Wright, who studied early Pioneer Valley Indian deeds and place names. In this line of research, Wright came across the earliest mention of the name Mt. Tom on a 1662 deed from Joseph Parsons to Aaron Cook (my ninth great-grandfather), nine years after Northampton was purchased from Indians. He explains in his Sept. 1939 paper titled “Some Vagaries in Connecticut Valley Indian Place Names,” (The New England Quarterly) why he suspects an Indian origin for the name Mt. Tom, opining: “The mountain is composed of trap rock, the material from which the Indians frequently made their tomahawks. The Connecticut Indians called this rock tomhegnompsk (“tomahawk rock”); and tomheganomset, the south boundary of Sequasson’s territory on the west side of the Connecticut River, meant “at the tomahawk rock.” Although Wright could not prove this interesting discovery was related to the mountain’s name, he believed it more likely than folklore claiming it was named in honor of pioneer Rowland Thomas, an early and prominent Springfield resident.

Driver and UConn lithics scholar Barbara Calogero collaborated in 2007 on their “Rodimon’s Mt. Tom Quarry Site” report for the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC), then wrote an article, “Mount Tom Cherts and Assocoiated Lithics, Connecticut Valley, Massachusetts” in the spring 2009 issue of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society “Bulletin.” The definitive MHC report on file was authored in April 2006 by UMass anthropologist Michael T. Mulholland and four of his students. Driver first explored the site before the year 2000, even bringing with him an expert knapper to sample the workability of the local stone; he found it difficult to chip but marveled at the fine edge he could produce by grinding and honing, which speaks to Gramly’s earlier comment about the local stone’s potential use for specialized tools, perhaps knives or scrapers.

“I can only say it’s a good thing Bud found that source and pursued it, because had he not, we’d be puzzled by what we found at Sugarloaf,” said an appreciative Gramly, who’s totally committed to interpreting the site before disappearing to Cautantowwit’s House in the land of the setting sun.

Don’t bet against this energetic, enthusiastic man of science. This story just keeps growing and getting better. There’s no end in sight.

Divine Intervention, plus

Cabin fever? Nope, not me.

It’s true the dead of winter is upon us, the temperatures frigid indeed. Yet for some reason, it doesn’t seem to matter this year, news swarming like black flies, the brittle carcasses piling up on chests of drawers, tables, chairs — you name the piece of furniture in rooms where I sit most, it’s likely holding a book or report or packet thereof. But let’s take a circuitous route to the serious matters. First, a playful little diversion focused on an occurrence that transpired quite spontaneously out by my cold, sunny carriage sheds Saturday, the clock ticking toward noon. With that behind us, I intend to hop back to those Cheapside Indian burials we touched upon last week, then return to the Sugarloaf Paleo site that’s still producing fresh, exciting archaeological data, and, well, who knows where else we’ll traipse off to? Though I have a desired path in mind, I do cherish the freedom to ramble, am more than willing to pay the consequences.

So, here we go. It’s Saturday morning and I’m relaxing in the west parlor, bright sun warming my lap and upper torso through the southern window as I read a book titled “On Overgrown Paths,” which I revisit on this whim or that. It’s written by Norwegian literary giant and Nobel laureate Knut Hamsun (1859-1952), called by many the father of 20th century literature. Well, he was considered that before occupying Germans used him as a propaganda tool with World War II turning sour, forever besmirching a fine man’s reputation. Published in 1949, when Hamsun was 90 and in post-war police custody, “On Overgrown Paths” is a brilliant apologia and defense, written in his trademark lyrical élan, prose that flitters from scene to scene in memory over a long life, darting from one thought to another like a chartreuse hummingbird dipping into sweet white blossoms of wild-rosebush tangles. I find it sad that it had to end in disgrace for Hamsun, victim of a devastating war he was too old to concern himself with or fight in. Then again, he didn’t fight in World War I, either, so maybe the man didn’t like wars or the governments that start them.

Anyway, back to that comfortable parlor La-Z-Boy next to the scalloped-top chest. By the time the beckoning sunlight finally jostled me outside to feed and walk the dogs, it was 10:30 a.m., pretty typical for me this time of year. When I arrived at my customary walking spot, I was pleased to see snowmobile trails passing through and around the site to make the walking easier. The dogs were happy, too, rocketing out of their crates under my truck’s cap, young Chubby sprinting out of sight down the packed trail following a narrow wood line along the escarpment edge, Lily close behind. Some dogs may suffer in the cold. Not mine. In fact, they appear invigorated by it, though annoyed by the snow that builds up between the pads of their feet. They often stop to sit or lie down on their bellies and remove the icy build-up by teeth and tongue, Lily always more bothered by it than Chub-Chub.

On the drive home, I realized I had neglected my fire-hydrant clean-up duties on the common, and decided it was as good a time as any to complete the obligation. I parked my truck in the yard, fired up the tractor to let it warm, released the dogs from their crates, and walked them to the backyard kennel, where I filled their water, removed their Tri-Tonics collars and took them inside, walking right past the purring green tractor. Returning to the sheds for a couple of quick snowblower swipes past the hydrant, I hopped on the tractor, opened up the throttle and drove down the driveway toward the common. Once there, of course, for some reason, the snowblower wouldn’t engage. After a few unsuccessful tries, I surrendered and drove back to the carriage-shed stoop, where I parked under cover in the sun for further investigation, suspecting something simple. Likely some wheel or part was frozen in place after the last storm, though everything inside the snowblower casing looked free and clear.

I went inside for a quick cup of coffee and, on my way back out, right outside the door, a gray SUV was parked in the driveway. Out of the vehicle popped two Jehovah’s Witnesses I recognized. They often stop to chat on Saturday mornings. I had missed them a few weeks back, and they left some reading material curled behind the doorknob. This time they caught me, so I exchanged the normal playful pleasantries and shared with them my mission. They were more than willing to help. In fact, one of them had just dealt with a similar problem at home. He solved his problem by splashing the blades and sprocket with hot water. I knew the other man was familiar with farm equipment and could likely also be helpful. They looked over the blades and sprocket and, like me, concluded that my problem was elsewhere. I sat on the machine, fired it up, and again tried unsuccessfully to power the blades in motion, after which one of the fellas — wearing dressy, forest-green, wide-wale corduroys — dropped to a knee on the paved carriage-shed floor to look at the undercarriage belts and wheels.

“The back belts are turning fine,” he reported, head tilted up from above the floor, “but the front ones aren’t engaging. Why don’t you try stepping on the brake?”

I pushed the brake down two or three times and, yup, sure enough, a small chunk of ice dropped with a thud to the pavement. I then pulled out the power switch and the snowblower blades turned like a charm. I grinned and attributed my good fortune to divine intervention. That tickled the boys’ funny bone before they launched into one of their spiels. Aware that I’m a reader with an interest in history, they had with them a little magazine, “The Watchtower,” with a lesson about World War I. Imagine that! The First World War, me not an hour ago focused on its Second cousin. Surreal.

“It says right here that World War I changed the world forever,” one of the boys informed me, pointing. “The Bible predicted it would happen as it did in 1914. The scriptures warned that heavenly war would break out between Jesus and Satan, that Satan would be expelled and bring to earth death and destruction.”

Again, the man had hit a harmonious chord.

“You’re preaching to the choir,” I answered. “I, too, believe World War I opened a sad nightmare of American internationalism we’re now living, spawning the military-industrial complex and opening the path to our current course of perpetual imperialistic war.”

What an ideal segue to Hamsun. I laughed and informed them they had done it again: hit upon yet another salient topic fresh in my mind. Yes, just that morning I had been reading a Norwegian novelist who was punished for supporting Germany during World War II. Because of this, the man has ever since been ignored by mainstream Western educators, who view him unfavorably. But I then took it a step further, telling them Hamsun was an avowed Anglophobe, who had for many years harbored deep distrust and resentment of imperialistic Great Britain. Not only that, but Hamsun had twice visited America and was annoyed by loud, chauvinistic boasts of American exceptionalism during his days as a Midwestern immigrant Swede called Noot. Well, No. 1, he wasn’t a Swede, and secondly, the K in Knut is pronounced in his native language, so he was offended by what he perceived as ignorant, disrespectful Americanization.

I took it a step further, explaining that Hamsun’s only sin was being famous and supporting the wartime loser. I don’t believe he knew of the Nazi atrocities, and never will accept that he did.

“Do you think everyone who supports the losing side of a war is a bad person?” I rhetorically asked.

“No!” snapped the man in wide-wale corduroys with no hesitation. “Our view is that in war there are no winners.”

Hmmmm? Why oh why do these “random” visits seem to arrive at my doorstep at such opportune times? Who puts these folks right in my grill when my mind is bubbling with thoughts about a subject they bring in their bag? Do my brain waves pull them in? Who knows? They’re questions I will likely never answer; at least not in this lifetime. Yet I don’t view it as coincidence. In my mind, such occurrences happen for a reason. What reason? I cannot say. But I embrace it.

So, with that behind us, let’s fly off to another place, free as bluebirds in thin air. Time to revisit last week’s column about ancient Indian Cheapside burials. First, I must correct some misinformation I released about a burial displayed in a wooden case for many years at Old Deerfield’s Memorial Hall Museum. Then off to that new discovery from the Sugarloaf Paleo site, then outta here, the snowblower bracing for a wet, heavy snowstorm.

A neighbor told me during a Friday phone conversation about a home visit paid by a longtime female friend. She wanted to discuss the Wilder-Whipple excavations of no fewer than 13 Cheapside Indian burials discovered during construction of a trolley-track spur in October 1916 behind today’s Franklin Regional Transit Authority garage off Deerfield Street in Greenfield. A lifelong Greenfield resident in her 60s, the woman wondered aloud how it was possible to have lived her entire life in Greenfield and never heard a peep about the Cheapside burials. That’s a good question with maybe an easy answer. For some reason, despite coverage of the Greenfield discoveries in the Springfield Union, I could not find a word about the scientific Wilder-Whipple investigation in either of the Greenfield newspapers of the day: the Gazette and Courier or Recorder. Why? Who knows? Either the papers were asleep at the wheel (very doubtful, given coverage by a Pioneer Valley competitor), or town officials deemed the discoveries better hushed. Perhaps the Greenfield papers did at some point report the discovery of those graves uncovered in the fall of 1916 and spring of 1917, but I could not find a word of it reported in a timely fashion, and all the dates are clearly recorded in Harris Hawthorne Wilder’s field notes and subsequent “American Anthropologist” magazine articles.

More recent are intriguing “rumors” about similar ancient Indian burials uncovered during 1974 Franklin County Technical School construction on the other side of the Connecticut River. Hints surfaced during a May 31, 2004 thread written by “Yank” on penrick.com, a local chat board that was buzzing with chatter surrounding controversial Mackin Sand Bank Indian burials. Yank was curious why such a fuss arose at the Mackin site, considering that 30 years earlier there had been no public outcry when Indian bones and artifacts were exposed during Tech School construction. The same correspondent also alluded to similar discoveries years earlier during Turners Falls Airport construction. I scanned Recorder Tech School archives from 1969-1976 and found not a word about Indian bones or artifacts. Did I miss something? Does anyone out there have a clipping they could share? Personal recollections from the construction site? If so, I’d love to see/hear it. The public record appears to be a void.

Regarding the Memorial Hall display case containing a Pocumtuck skeleton of a boy said by a local source to have come from the area of Walt’s Bakery/The Trading Post located below the Cheapside railroad trestle, well, no one seems to know for sure where that burial came from, or when. But it appears that is was discovered way before the 1960’s, as suggested here last week. What little I could learn of that skeleton indicated that it had come to Deerfield from Amherst College’s Pratt Museum and was returned to Indian representatives in 1993 for reburial with many other bones from the Deerfield collection. It appears likely that the skeleton in question could well have come from Cheapside, where Amherst College professor Ralph Wheaton Whipple did indeed assist Wilder and take at least one of the skeletons back to Amherst with him. Enough said. It’s old news, not worth chasing, bigger fish to fry.

Finally, in closing, that little Sugarloaf Paleo-site tease I promised. Scientific analysis of some of the lithics (stone artifacts) dug from the 12,350-year-old site along the Deerfield/Whately line reveal a Pioneer Valley source, adding a new twist to site interpretation. Scholars had previously believed that Paleo people who left traces in this valley came from elsewhere and were just passing through in pursuit of migrating caribou herds. We now know that some of the chert found at the site was quarried right here in the valley, at Mt. Tom of the Holyoke Range, which establishes early valley residence by Paleoindians. That’s all I have for now; that and a pile of little-known reports on Connecticut Valley chert sources — not only on Mt. Tom, but also across the river on Mt. Holyoke and farther north on the Pocumtuck Range, each with its own distinctive color. Who knows? Maybe tools made of this stuff will start turning up elsewhere. Wouldn’t that be wild?

Please allow me the opportunity to study the reports piled up in my possession before commenting further. But this is huge, and fresh as fresh can be. Reached Friday afternoon at his North Andover home, archaeologist Mike Gramly admitted he was scrambling to rewrite his report about the site he’s now twice excavated. Yes, it seems that all tool-making stone being used here in the valley more than 10,000 years before Christ was not mined faraway, as previously believed by the scholars. No sir. There was a source right here in the valley, and people were using it.

Gotta go.

See you next week.

Splashy Spin

Yeah, yeah, I know. We’ve all cleaned up from one storm, with another looming large, so the early-week slate’s been wiped clean, the stage reset so to speak. Yet still, sometimes a man who does what I do has to capture the moment, which for me occurred before the storm, on Tuesday morning, when, following a brilliant-white overnight dusting illuminated by bright morning sunlight, a cold lonely drop of snowmelt from the tip of a lofty oak limb hit my right cheek and set my cranial wheels awhirl, stirring my imagination like a hand-crank eggbeater, thoughts liberated like steam from a whistling teapot.

Yes, that innocent little drip of sun-inspired rain ticketed for the double-rutted farm road I was walking down into Sunken Meadow quite by chance struck me an inch from my nose, angled down toward my mouth, caught the edge of my mustache and disappeared into my gray goatee. My impulse was to blame that soft little impetus from the heavens on what occurred next. But that would be dishonest. I was carrying around much that needed review and introspection. So that tingling little jolt just set the process in motion as I put one foot in front of the other, watching Lily and Chubby, frisky as my frolicking thoughts, sprinting toward every new scent they intercepted, loving every second of the chase. Plus, it felt like spring, the calm before the storm — the trees dripping, snow blinding, us enjoying every second, three loyal walking pals.

An hour later, following a refreshing shower, my thoughts were still swirling and jumping and tumbling like dry, brittle leaves on a blustery fall day, and the riptide pulled me straight to a familiar station in the southwest corner of home, perhaps the most comfortable place in my world, which, by the way, seems to get only smaller as I continue to learn more about this place I’ve called home for most of my 60 years. Yes, yes, it’s true that I left briefly to explore other places. But I returned because this is my home and that of my father’s ancestors. I wanted to stay where their mischievous spirits lurk and guide me to forgotten haunts.

Back to that cool drop of wisdom that found my face that sunny Tuesday morning, I can’t say it was expected. No, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, I guess, as I sometimes am. And off I went into flittering, fluttering introspection I so welcome when it ignites, probing this and that, all of it relevant to scattered topics that are fresh — subjects like that ancient Whately Oxbow I wrote about last week and will revisit, pre-contact Cheapside burials unearthed in 1916 and 1917, an old Greenfield account book that surfaced locally, and an informational pubic meeting I attended Friday afternoon in South Deerfield about controversial Massachusetts House Bill No. 744. Those are the topics today, all of them honed to a fine sharp edge with the help of library archives and conversation about new discoveries with open-minded folks who are either traveling companions or met for the first time at the repositories. I’ve learned that if you converse with the right people, the path to the truth becomes much shorter and less cluttered. And I seem to have acquired a feel for finding the right people with proper perspectives, though admittedly not necessarily the most popular. Knee-jerk responses laced with conventional wisdom — most often a strong dose of bold, arrogant ignorance — always plays better in the public square. You can have it. I’d rather poke around the periphery. But what else is new?

With me these days, I guess it all starts and ends with local prehistory, so alluring and mysterious. Like I told the scholar during lunchtime conversation at a November Portland, Maine, archaeology conference: “I guess if you study the history of a place long enough, it’s inevitable that you’ll find your way to prehistory,” which is precisely where I’m at today. What most attracts me is the unknown, and there is much of that pertaining to the long-ago displaced Pocumtuck tribe of stout, proud River Indian stock, a valley kin network stitched with thread of the unknown and inaccessible. I suppose there are many reasons for this information blackout, but it mostly comes down to important people in high places with hidden agendas working hard to keep troublesome information under wraps to avoid potential pitfalls in the greed-propelled world of economic development. Some call it “pro-growth.” I call it cold business. But let’s come back to that. First something that dropped square onto my lap Monday morning, when an aging and ubiquitous local historian called to inform me that he had a Greenfield Meadows account book I may want to peruse. Even though I was focused on unrelated topics and prefer always to stay on task, I figured a brief little diversion into my historic neighborhood wouldn’t hurt. So I promptly drove to my source’s home and picked up the record book kept by farmer/surveyor Lathrop T. Smith during the 1830s and 1840s.

The information contained among the records in many ways chronicles life in the Upper Meadows I now call home, or any early 19th century New England farm community for that mater. The fella who owns it figured it would be meaningful to me, given that I live in an old tavern and farm formerly owned by Smith’s brother Elijah. I must say I found the Smith transactions informative — a quick peek into the life of a Greenfield farmer of that era trying to eke out a living by pasturing and butchering neighbors’ livestock, selling goods like cider, vinegar, apples and hides, hoeing vegetable gardens, selling boards, shingles and clapboards, and transporting this and that here and there. I wouldn’t say the book is worth a lot of money, but that’s irrelevant. Value isn’t always computed in dollars and cents. The value of Smith’s little, well-preserved account book is purely historical, and it really should be at the local historical society or a research library, where historians and genealogists can glean helpful information from it. I quickly read through it Monday, shared it briefly with a friend who’s lived in my neighborhood much longer than I, and returned it to its owner Tuesday morning, hoping to get a look at an old photo of the Greenfield Street Railway buildings and tracks that once sat off Deerfield Street. Bingo! He had what I was looking for. Why my interest in that old street railway terminal? Well, that’s coming.

Recently, during my ongoing research into local archaeological treasure buried from public view for decades, I stumbled upon a turn-of-the-20th-century scholar named Harris Hawthorne Wilder, who taught at Smith College and aggressively placed newspaper advertisements throughout New England seeking Native American burial sites to study. I first read his report on a 1905 excavation of a Connecticut River-side Indian cemetery located at a North Hadley site I knew well from pheasant hunting. Then, in a subsequent conversation, I learned that Wilder had also been in Greenfield many years ago on a similar Native burial-ground recovery mission along a newly constructed trolley spur extending from Cheapside Bridge to somewhere behind today’s Franklin Regional Transit Authority garage on Deerfield Street. Well, I have now read Wilder’s hand-written field reports from the site, viewed all the accompanying photos, sketches and newspaper accounts and, yes, he and his trusted associate, Amherst College professor Ralph Wheaton Whipple, did indeed visit Greenfield, where they unearthed the remains of no fewer than 13 Pocumtuck burials on a sandy Cheapside bluff we often pass without notice or knowledge. It is almost certain that many other burials went ignored or undetected during the adjacent Greenfield Sewage Treatment Plant construction in 1938-39, and quite possibly even more were inconspicuously destroyed during a recent expansion around 1994.

This new discovery reminds me of a visit paid last year by local history buff Neal Graves, a Bingville native who stopped at my home to tell of another Cheapside Indian burial, this a young boy discovered around 1969 along the base of the railroad trestle, where a cellar hole for Walt’s Bakery (formerly The Trading Post) was dug. Although I did promptly sit down for a cursory microfilm investigation that proved fruitless, that’s not to suggest news reports aren’t there somewhere. It’s just that those microfilm machines give me a throbbing headache, so I’d like to narrow the date down a bit before another search. Contacted Wednesday afternoon, Graves said the skeleton was on display for many years at Memorial Hall in Deerfield, but was returned to an Indian tribe for reburial. He remembers it lying on its side surrounded by dirt in a wooded, glass-topped display case. It makes you wonder how many other Cheapside burials were discovered and unreported over the years? My guess is many. Not only that, but how many undetected graves are still there? Also, likely many.

As for the Whately Oxbow, well, let’s begin with a little correction, then some additional information gleaned after deadline last week. The correction pertains to my description of the Hatfield Oxbow — a few miles south of Whately’s — which I claimed was shown intact on the earliest 18th century maps of Hatfield. Wrong! Yes, the old oxbow was easier to decipher back then, when maps showed two large, extended ponds along the western and northern borders of the ancient horseshoe. But the full oxbow loop had been disconnected from the Connecticut River before the first Hatfield settlers arrived in 1659. And, yes, as stated last week, the prehistoric Hatfield Oxbow is still occasionally filled by flooding and is not difficult to trace from a western overlook terrace.

The additional information about Whately’s oxbow came from Sophie (Wyszynski Sadoski) Collins, 90, whose father owned the old Elijah Sanderson farm now owned by the Chang family. Unfortunately, the old blue 1805 Sanderson homestead, which last housed immigrant farm laborers, was condemned last year and demolished in September, which didn’t sit right with Ms. Collins. “What a shame they let that building go,” she lamented. “It was a beautiful place when we lived there. I can’t believe they tore it down (before at least salvaging architectural components). The fireplace, open staircase and many other (architectural elements) were worth saving.”

The question I most wanted Collins to answer was if she ever recalled the raised terrace west of her home being referred to as “The Island,” as my ancestors had called it? I speculated last week that “The Island” designation must have come from Indian oral history, because they were the only people who knew the oxbow and interior island there. Although she herself did not know it by that name, her younger sister did, responding, “Yes, that pond out back in the woods where I used to skate was on “The Island.” She’s right. You can still see remnants of a pond where Hopewell Brook bubbles out of the swamp. According to Marjorie M. Holland — the Ole Miss biology professor who helped discover the Whately Oxbox in the 1970s, wrote her 1980 doctoral dissertation on the site, and still revisits it annually: “I know someone had an irrigation system drawing water out of that swamp when I began studying it. I’d guess that’s where the pond went.”

Finally, let’s end with House Bill No. 744, the proposed legislation that private archaeologists fear, if passed, will shut down future Pioneer Valley exploration by private companies on private land. Not so, according to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Peter Kocot, D-Northampton, who said it pertains only to public lands. Kocot explained that the bill, which has been in the works for about a decade, was spawned in conversation with his social friend Robert Paynter, a UMass archaeologist who felt strongly that more oversight of valley archaeology was necessary. During the two-hour Friday forum in my old grammar-school cafeteria, Kocot admitted to hearing in public testimony the State Archaeologist’s Office characterized as inaccessible, unresponsive and uncooperative, and he said he couldn’t understand how taxpayer-funded reports could be hidden from public scrutiny. He also expressed his own personal goal of facilitating a Cultural Resource Center constructed to display Indian artifacts and educate the public about the Connecticut Valley’s rich prehistoric Native past.

Stay tuned. It’ll be interesting to see where all this stuff goes. You can bet someone’s going to scream bloody murder about me shedding light on ancient Indian burials off Deerfield Street. That kind of information is seldom welcome in town halls.

To the victors go the spoils, and the right to record history, often misleading indeed.