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On The Trail: The season of plenty


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Looks like it’ll be a great year for raspberries. Blueberries, too, if my own are any indication.

That’s what I was telling the woman ringing up my morning purchase of lettuce, radishes, cukes, beet greens, zucchini and summer squash earlier this week. Oh, how I love the season of berries and vegetables and fruits, the good stuff for those who want to eat healthy.

Another customer who had just paid for his produce overheard me and joined in with a cautionary note about raspberries.

“Yeah, they’re good alright, if the birds don’t get ’em first.”

“Well, the birds do eat them,” I responded, “but there’s always enough to go around.”

He wasn’t satisfied. Wanted to know more.

“Where do you live?” he asked.

“Just up the road,” I answered, pointing north.

“Well, then maybe the bears will get them,” he chuckled.

“Could be,” I told home. “There are bears around, but I’ve never had problems with them.”

I then shared with the man a different development on the home front, where for the past couple of years I’ve had woodchucks living under my woodshed that extends into the crawl space under the western wing of my home. Woodchucks seem to have spring litters that show up in June. Last year my grandsons were tickled to watch six little ones feeding on backyard clover and grasses through the back dining-room window at various times of day. This year there are only five — cute little buggers at that. Various sizes and shades of brown.

Some say woodchucks raise hell with their vegetable and flower gardens, which is not a personal concern, even though my wife claims she did lose parsley to the little critters last year. Aaah, I guess I can live with that. Just stay away from my basil, please.

Back to the man I was speaking to at the counter (I never asked his name or gave mine), well, he wasn’t probing done yet.

“Woodchucks are good eatin’, you know,” he offered. “They eat grasses and plants and the meat is quite good. Most people probably don’t know that. My brother-in-law used to prepare woodchuck and I tasted it. You’d be surprised. It’s good.”

No, actually, I wouldn’t be surprised. In fact, I’ve sampled it at game suppers and have often seen ancient calcined (roasted) woodchuck bones listed among remains discovered in archaeological refuse pits around cooking hearths and village sites.

I guess I’d eat woodchuck if I fell on tough times, and am certain tender young ones, sauteed, would be tasty indeed. But for now, well, I think I’ll pass, enjoy their company and introduce them to the grandsons next time they visit.

I think the kids would find the concept of eating such a thing repulsive. They call that progress? Maybe so. Can’t be sure. Could it be that we’re headed in the wrong direction?

As expected, little to report on the anadromous fish-migration front.

As predicted last week, with Connecticut River temperatures in the 70s and the various spawning rituals underway, the annual spring run is over. Finished. A new cycle has begun.

Although it was a great year for shad, that only goes for the river basin as far as Turners Falls, where conservation and ecology take a backseat to power companies and power production. The power industry, no matter what it proclaims at power-point presentations or writes in rhetorical press releases, is no friend to American shad instinctively aimed for Bellows Falls, Vt., their deep-history terminus.

Indians knew the importance of the waterfalls between Bellows Falls and Walpole, N.H. They traveled there each spring to gather and process fish, and at some point many moons ago decorated the stone river outcroppings with petroglyphs that symbolize their fishing activities. Did the images have something to say about the end of the road for shad, and the valuable food source they provided indigenous people after a long, barren winter? Were there hints in the imagery saluting Atlantic salmon for overcoming powerful rapids to reach upriver spawning grounds? Probably the answer is yes and yes. All of the above.

In the meantime, listen to wise words of ubiquitous, pedal-powered, political gadfly Karl Meyer, a local activist whose attacks on greedy power companies never wane. He writes about what he calls the Turners Falls dead-reach, where anadromous fish — including his pet shortnose sturgeon — come to die. He’ll speak to you on the town common, the Post Office, in the market or on the radio about power companies using a public resource for private gain while failing to hold up their obligations to optimize fish passage at their dams.

OK, OK, It’s true that Holyoke dam’s fish lift is efficient, passing nearly 540,000 shad this year, second most all-time. But what reasonable excuse is there to justify the fact that most are unable to get past Turners Falls? There is none, other than the greed of bottom-line devotion. As our electric bills continue to rise, anadromous fish continue to languish in the Powertown backwash. It’s gotten to the point where they don’t even count the fish passing through Turners anymore. Why. Because the numbers are pathetic, the passage facilities pitifully inadequate.

Who’s there to defend the river and the fish in the dam-relicensing process currently underway? Fishermen and women who frequent the river for walleye, bass, shad and you name it between the Turners Falls dam and the Gen. Pierce Bridge aren’t typically activists or articulate public speakers capable of delivering an impassioned message at public hearings scheduled for citizen input. No. The only articulate voices are those from the commercial whitewater community, which screams for regulations favorable to strong flows that buoy their profits. But do these people give a hoot about anglers? Truth told, absolutely not, no matter what they say. What they want is river flows conducive to wild, splashy, photogenic rides through the rapids, not favorable fish migration or spawning unless their whitewater flows happen to be compatible.

In the end, it seems that commercial interests always win out, and fishermen and women are left to sweep up the windblown crumbs, which are not fulfilling.

Sad but true. If you don’t believe it, ask Karl Meyer. He’s real and he’s committed … that and ridiculed as irrelevant by the bloated, belching captains of industry.

Recorder sports editor Gary Sanderson is a senior-active member of the outdoor-writers associations of America and New England. Blog: www.tavernfare.com. Email: gsand53@outlook.com.