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On The Trail

Last call

Tuesday morning. Gray and wet. Forecast: clear and cool later, a great time to go out back, get the dogs and break free for a robust hunt through a saturated bottomland swamp of my choice. My guess is that it’ll be t’other side the Connecticut River.

Lily and Chubby are restless. Chub-Chub was limping Monday and I left them both home to hunt over sister Sarah, who I sold locally last year. A lean, mean, leggy liver and white, her sleek, aristocratic profile in dominant bright white gives her a flashy presence in a tangled upland marsh. And as I observed her, compared her to her brother, no slouch in his own right, I even got a taste of a new hilltown covert I had heard about but never hunted. It’s my kind of place, quintessential New England landscape, the cover a little sparse but adequate, especially the orchard. I’ll stop right there, though, would hate to make the site easily identifiable.

As I stood looking south at peaks familiar to me from the opposite direction, it occurred to me how different perspectives can radically alter identical views. Me, well, I look at the mowings, the web-like sugar-bush tubing, distant peaks, thin treelines between fields, and I pray the scenery never changes, is somehow protected from dozers and dump trucks. The Mitt Romneys of the world? Well, totally different. They want to know the cost of 500 acres in such a pretty place. Then, with the figure fresh in mind, they quickly compute how many times they could double their investment with a cul-de-sac here, a culvert or stone-arch bridge there, stately, well-spaced McMansions with million-dollar views and tasteful, four-season landscaping scattered about the hillsides. I’m not saying my perspective is any better than theirs, just that I’m not wired like them. I guess I’m condemned to struggle from check to check, valuing preservation and conservation over investment and profit, education over capitalization. Just me, I guess. I must be dumb.

Which reminds me: This will be my last column of the year. My annual December vacation is a week away, always starting on Thanksgiving and going through Christmas. I once used the extended time off to chase deer and catch up on random chores around the house. Not anymore. Yeah, I still typically get my last couple cords of wood into the shed and do, when I feel like it, take my gun for a walk through sacred woods I cherish, exploring, comparing, reading sign, assessing the prospects. If I stumble into a good setup with plentiful sign, feel confident and ultimately put meat in the freezer, great! If not, well, that’s OK, too. I refuse to make an anxiety-ridden project of deer hunting, avoid putting any pressure on myself. I have nothing to prove. I’ll still be a man if I don’t shoot a deer. Sure, I like salubrious venison chops, and I love the anticipation, the optimism of hunting a fresh snow, walking quietly during a light rain, and truly enjoy melting into the habitat like a silent owl perched in a tall shagbark hickory, watching, listening, exploring each subtle sound and distant movement. But if I stand up just before dark, take three or four steps toward my truck and kick out an approaching deer, even an antlered buck, I won’t lose any sleep over it. No. I’ll just return home, air out my clothing on hangers in the open carriage shed, make a half-pot of coffee, fix something healthy to eat and settle in with a good book about Native Americans, old revolutionaries, the war of the sexes — ancient, timeless subjects I want to understand, apply to the present. Some people who exhaust themselves in solitary treestands night after night have no clue what makes a man like me tick. But that’s OK. Why worry about it? I’m cool with their priorities. They ought to respect mine.

In recent weeks I’ve come to know and like one of many fascinating artists tucked away in the Hampshire/Franklin hills late friend Bill Hubbard, dean of Pioneer Valley antique dealers, claimed were “honeycombed with important and interesting people.” This new friend, a loyal reader and, better still, a high-school dropout, is just such a man. You look at what he creates with his bare hands and imagination and think, “Wow, what talent! What does that say about the schools he rejected?” Yet now, with the economy sagging and money tight, he and many of his ilk are struggling to make ends meet. When I sit at my table and talk to him, on and on we go, various subjects, compatible in many areas. Then he’s gone, toting off an old mirrored sconce and a post lantern in need of repair. I wonder why it is that honest, humble souls must struggle while vulture capitalists thrive, live in whichever of their five palatial homes tickles their fancy at the moment, and squirrel away more cash than their greatest of grandchildren could ever spend by orchestrating and profiting from others’ demise. I guess it’s for the same reason people who can’t play, coach, can’t write, edit, can’t do, teach. Such folks are best at telling their bosses what they want to hear while perfecting the art of shameless self-promotion. It’s crazy-making and quite eschewed. We put our phonies and thieves on Chamber of Commerce pedestals and harangue our artists, our thinkers as weirdos. It’s nothing new. Just the way it is. The way it always has been, it seems, in Western civilization. Look at all the great people who have over the ages suffered at the hands of power and greed and injustice. Give me this sort any day to surround myself with in retirement, not clock-punching bores and yes men who beat their wives and kick their pets in the comforts of home, then sit in the front row for Sunday worship.

But enough of that. A flood of email feedback arrived last week to inform me that bowhunting’s been slow, acorns and apples scarce indeed. Interesting. I have not searched hard but have seen acorns around. Not so with apples, though, especially wild ones, which I agree are scarce. The prevailing wisdom says the rut is late because of unseasonably warm temperatures. I don’t know about that, either, suspect that temperature has little impact on the rut. The Rutting Moon? Now, that’s a factor I believe in. The second full moon after the Autumnal Equinox, the Rutting Moon appeared on Oct. 29, now long gone. In fact, the new moon appeared this week. Who knows? Maybe this Full Beaver Moon on Nov. 28 will do the trick. And do you know what that means? That bucks may be roaming and vulnerable when shotgun season opens on Nov. 26. Maybe it’ll be a good year to be in the right place at the right time while taking a break against a big red oak during woodland travels. If so, great! If not, well, I can live with that, too. Hunting is, to me, R&R, not work, definitely not competition.

So, unless something unforeseen slaps me upside the head while I’m resting, I’ll see you after Christmas. Can’t pretend I’m not anxiously anticipating calling my own shots for a month, a dress rehearsal of sorts for looming retirement, which ain’t far off. Trust me, I won’t be one of those guys who doesn’t know what to do with himself with formal work in the rearview. I have much to say that a family paper doesn’t want to print.

Soon, it’ll be no holds barred. I can’t wait.

Recorder sports editor Gary Sanderson is a longtime member of the outdoor-writers associations of America and New England. Read his blog at tavernfare.com; Email gary@oldtavernfarm.com.

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