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On The Trail: Crying wolf

  • This is a large, gray, wild canid that many people have reported seeing in the North Hillside Road area of South Deerfield. Many believe it is a wolf. contributed photo/rod warnick

  • This is a winter photo of a frequently seen wild canid off North Hillside Road in South Deerfield, where residents are convinced it’s a wolf, not coyote. contributed photo/rod warnick

  • This typical Eastern coyote was caught on camera in the same North Hillside neighborhood of South Deerfield as the larger wild canid above. Notice this animal’s different ears and snout and slimmer profile than of the bigger, grayer animal above. contributed photo/rod warnick

  • This typical Eastern coyote was photographed off North Hillside in South Deerfield. Compare its thin profile and different snout and ears to the large, gray wild canid (left), which people in the same neighborhood believe to be a wolf. contributed photo/rod warnick


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

It’s midafternoon along North Hillside Road in South Deerfield. I’ve parked in a sunny barnyard cluttered with vehicles, tractors and equipment, am walking toward the small auto-body shop behind the barn. Body man Scott Kolakoski comes highly recommended by friends and family. My Tacoma’s front bumper needs to be replaced after getting crunched while parked at Home Depot.

I get to the southern half of twin overhead doors, both closed, and in my approach overhear Kolakoski’s telephone conversation inside, through a large, fresh break providing a jagged opening in the last of four horizontal, rectangular, head-high windows.

“Yeah,” I hear him say in a calm, emotionless voice, “they say I’ve got a wolf out back, but it’s not doing us any harm. In fact, since it’s been lurking in the neighborhood, our raccoon and woodchuck problems have disappeared. I have no problems with that.”

What a refreshing perspective from a man who raises beef cattle, probably has chickens and likely feeds several barnyard cats, all potential prey for wolves … if that’s what this often-seen neighborhood critter is. Obvious from his phone conversation was the opinion that there’s room for a little of everything in nature surrounding his home overlooking the forever wildlife-rich Turnip Yard of Deerfield lore.

Located in the northeastern corner of the Deerfield proprietors’ 1688 Long Hill Division, I’m not sure anyone can today precisely draw the boundaries of this place referred to in the early annals of Deerfield as the Turnip Yard. Having known of this interesting, historic South Deerfield plot for many years, and actually hunting much of it over the years, I was quite interested in and privy to recent research into the parcel by historian friend Pete Thomas. Retired, Thomas has spent months investigating the proprietors’ records that opened the gates for settlement of Bloody Brook (South Deerfield), Sawmill Plain, Mill River and the small neighborhood at the foot of Mount Sugarloaf, all of them blossoming from the Long Hill Division. The same can be said of Turnip Yard, which I have for years referenced in jest when speaking to old friend and colleague George Miller, whose family owns Magic Wings on the old yard’s western periphery.

“How’s everything out in the Turnip Yard?” is my consistent newsroom inquiry. He always responds with some light-hearted, smiling remark. Call it playful banter.

Now, were I to take a wild stab at establishing the boundaries of the forgotten Turnip Yard — where wolves would have absolutely, positively been a common sight historically — I’d begin at the North Hillside Road railroad crossing, follow the tracks south through the old Ripka Farm, and cross Jackson Road to Hillside Road. There, I’d follow Hillside east a short distance to the sharp left curve climbing the hill between the old Stange and Wolfram homes. At that point, I’d head north, following the marshy, meandering base of the hill back to the old Hillside Nursing Home.

The Turnip Yard acreage is basically rich, loamy cropland, with random wetlands and woods interspersed. Over the years in the woods and fields and marsh, hunters have taken many a deer, bear, turkey, pheasant, grouse and woodcock there. What you’re dealing with is a veritable wildlife sanctuary, where wild canids have roamed for much of a 350-year historic period touching five centuries. Which is not to say that the suspected wolf being observed by North Hillside residents is indeed a wolf. Maybe so. Maybe not. Perhaps just a large specimen of a coyote displaying dominant wolf genes, which all Eastern coyotes carry.

Frankly, this most-recent Kolakoski Farm report was not the first I had heard of this animal. Old friend Rod Warnick lives in a North Hillside home overlooking the Kolakoski spread, where he too has seen this animal, described as large and gray by he and the body-shop owner, both of whom have had several sightings. Warnick, who grew up as a Pennsylvania farm boy, suspected it was a wolf and was so convinced it was not a coyote that he even sent me photos back on July 20, the day before my truck got crunched in the Home Depot parking lot. In fact, he also mentioned the animal with photos attached in a fall email as well. So, it’s been on both men’s neighborhood radar for some time. Presumably many other neighborhood residents are also familiar with this large, distinctive wild canid.

The close-to-home sightings don’t seem to concern Warnick any more than they worry Kolakoski. No, Warnick’s simply observing the beast and several smaller coyotes with a naturalist’s interest. He’s not alone among local wildlife enthusiasts. Many folks are interested in the local rewilding of wolves. And, yes, a real, live, scientifically identified Eastern timber wolf was indeed shot and killed in Shelburne not all that many years ago. A sheep owner had lost sheep, seen a large canid he believed to be a wolf, reported it, was told he was mistaken. When he eventually shot it dead on his farm, state wildlife officials took the carcass, sent it off to a lab for testing and confirmed it to be a pure wolf. So, yes, it is possible that another is lurking, this one in the morning, flatland shadow of Pocumtuck Ridge?

You be the judge.

The Turnip Yard would have been a prime place to attract wolves back in its earliest days. In the mid 18th and early 19th century, the parcel served a dual purpose, providing fertile cropland for turnips as well as common land for residents’ sheep. Apparently, the sheep kept the fields manageable by grazing and also ate the turnip greens, which did the root-cellar crop no harm. Also, some surplus turnips were probably used for supplementary winter sheep fodder.

So there you have it: a little history lesson buttressed by fresh, new research and an impressive wild canid that’s getting bolder by the day.

I hope no one takes him out.

Oh yeah, a little addendum. One my way out of Kolakoski Farm, across the road in a pasture with sparse, random apple trees, no, not a wolf or coyote, but something else worth reporting. Feeding like barnyard fowl among pastured beefers were six or eight beautiful, mature, long-bearded wild-turkeys. I didn’t count them. There were more than five and less than 10. Not a one of them had a beard shorter than eight inches. No lie. A beautiful sight to behold. I have an idea my sister’s seen them in her Stage Road home’s yard not far above the sighting.

Chris Marsden was the cat’s meow, so to speak, at last weekend’s eighth annual Last-Cast Catfish Derby, founded and run “anywhere on the Connecticut River and its tributaries” by Greenfield Hallowell brothers Gary and Rick.

The derby began Friday evening and closed Sunday morning at 7 a.m. A total of 27 participants competed for three cash prizes totaling $215. Marsden’s 10-pound, 4-ounce winner captured the $125 first prize for the Turners Falls man, followed by my old friend Ed Brozo, from Bernardston, who took home 60 bucks for his 8-pound, 10-ounce channel cat. Third place went to Jason Kingsbury, from Erving, who scooped up a $30 reward for his cat weighing 8-8.

The $25 door prize donated by the Turners Falls Rod and Gun Club derby headquarters went to Montague’s Wayne Lacy.

The derby raised $275 for the United Way’s Big Brothers Big Sisters of Franklin County.

The Hallowells wanted to thank Rich Mascavage, owner of Pipione’s Sport Shop in Turners Falls, for selling tickets and donating $100 in support of the derby, which the organizers promise will continue next year.

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.