On The Trail

Under the lens

You built your tower strong and tall,

can’t you see it’s got to fall someday?

Townes Van Zandt

Tower Song

Spring is the time of sprouts and seedlings, buds and leaves, floods and flowers, a season of growth and nest-building, the soggy, saturated season that stirs thought that I don’t entertain at other times of year.

Honestly, this tiptoe introspection only seems to get worse as I grow older and wiser. I’m not complaining. I welcome imaginative ramblings, new thoughts sprouting from old, old regenerating from new, no rhyme nor reason to it, just random thoughts piling one atop the other, some helpful, others not so, all securing a sturdy chestnut frame. I call it processing, what separates you and me from that whitetail standing statuesque, watching you approach from just inside the tree line, or the turkeys scattering into the trees with rambunctious, tail-wiggling Lily and Chub-Chub in hot pursuit. Yeah, those creatures can process, too. No doubt about it. But not like us, when we allow our minds to scamper off, try to capture fleeting, zigzagging memories, no fears, no rules or restrictions; just free, uninhibited play, the best kind, the mind a luxurious playground.

So here I sit in just such a liberated place following a lively walk with the dogs. After a few days off for innkeeping duties, which I enjoy when serving the right people, I and the four-legged kids snaked our way around familiar hayfield perimeters, down a slippery escarpment lane and across a narrow still-frozen beaver channel that I’ll soon have to skirt to stay dry along the edge of the lower riverside plain. Not today. The ice was still crossable in one spot, which, of course, the dogs went directly to without thinking. I guess it’s wild instinct, although they’d swim if they had to. I just watch and follow. They seem to have a sixth sense for such things, and I respect it. Actually, we help each other. I like to believe they respect my human sixth sense, which I employ for maneuvers they’re not as adept at. We use each other to our own advantages, are loyal friends and companions, no lies or deceit, no lust to blur our vision. I’ll probably outlive them both and will be sad when they go, yet always ready to greet another. Then someday one of my pets will outlive me. That’s life. We come and go, not a thing we can do about it, regardless of Sunday-chapel attendance.

My thoughts this morning were particularly ephemeral, flittering from one subject to another like a hummingbird dancing from rosebud to rosebud in the sweet, overgrown upland pasture. These graceful cranial gymnastics were sparked by a weekend visit, my own Friday-night visit to an educational presentation addressing a familiar topic, conversations here and there about Indians, local history, discontinued roads, cellar holes, old families and first loves gone bitter and distasteful. All talk. Nothing more. And talk is cheap, lies cheaper still. But we all do it, endure it, then vanish; win some, lose some. It often comes down in the end to luck of the draw, a simple roll of the dice, flip of a coin, some outcomes happy, others sad. The way it is.

I share these inner thoughts because I entertained all of them and many, many more on this walk I took after breakfast with the dogs on a gray, March morning; raw, not cold, actually refreshing once my heart got pumping with force I could see on my jacket. My mind wandered in and out of that old Asa Sanderson house in West Whately, the woods surrounding it, the reservoirs, the streams, the hidden roadside relics and foggy Indian mist, all of which I know well and probably knew even better before I even stumbled across them in this life. That house, those woods, those waters and others here in this place I call home are pulsing in my blood. I believe that and am convinced it was as much the lurking kindred spirits as the young seductress who called it home that lured me in. Call me crazy but I do believe deeply rooted diversions cannot be attributed to simple coincidence.

At the same time these thoughts entertained me, my mind also kept jumping back to that Susan Morse PowerPoint presentation on New England cougar re-emergence, and how what she had to say in so many ways mirrored a dynamic I’ve noticed between establishment authorities and credentialed, independent researchers relying on identical or at least similar degrees to study the same topics and arrive at different conclusions. I’ve watched this perplexing, at times counter-productive battle unfold between those routinely receiving government grants and independent researchers who, because they have unconventional or unpopular views, are dole-excluded. I observed this interesting game unfold first during a long Atlantic salmon-restoration debate lost by the authorities, then in what promises to be a similarly drawn-out cougar disagreement that will also be lost by government officials, and now in what appears to me at least to be veiled yet open warfare between professional and amateur archaeologists trying to piece together evidence left behind by the indigenous tribes we displaced from the Pioneer Valley four centuries ago. It’s difficult for me to get my head around this stuff, to be perfectly honest, because such infighting acts only as an obstacle, not a quick, cooperative path, to discovery. You’d think all parties would understand that the fastest route to the truth combines diverse ideas and opinion about the unknown in a giant blender, then pushes the on-button to mix it furiously and see what comes out. But, no, when egos enter the fray and someone has to be in charge, headstrong supervisors tend to narrow the focus to theirs and demand all others to agree, no delaying distractions, please. This my-way-or-the-highway approach is usually a path to invalid conclusions that become unsound official doctrine.

Which brings me back to Morse’s lecture, hosted by the Shelburne Grange at the First Congregational Church’s Fellowship Hall. The Power-Point program drew an overflow community crowd, which filled the parking lot and then some. They were all there, from town officials, firemen and police to farmers and merchants and restless toddlers, even a veteran, out-of-town veterinarian, all there to hear what Morse had to say. Trust me, her conclusions are not what state and federal wildlife officials want said. No sir, not by a long shot. Because what she said was that Western cougar “dispersers” have been spilling into the Northeast for decades, that cougars are definitely on the Northeastern comeback trail and, if it has not already happened in high, steep, stony and remote places, a reproductive population will soon establish itself right here in New England. This coming from a Vermonter and card-carrying wildlife biologist with the papers to prove she knows her subject. Morse has studied cougars and bobcats and lynxes and bears and coyotes and wolves from one end of this continent to the other — north, south, east and west — and she doesn’t hesitate to say that the big feline predators are on their way back after more than 100 years absence. Something crucial to her argument confirms a point you’ve read right here in the past and maybe questioned. That is that there is one and only one North American mountain lion which ranges from Ecuador to northern Canada. That means this business about reclassification of the “Eastern cougar” as extinct is a sorry joke, one written into federal policy by card-carrying doctors of wildlife who cash hefty establishment paychecks. Imagine that: no difference in mitochondrial DNA between the Western cougar, the Florida panther or what was known as the Eastern cougar. So put that in your pipe and smoke it, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service honchos, because the emperor is strolling through court square buck-naked.

Believe me, I know the “official position” on cougar re-emergence after being “warned off” the subject for parts of four decades by state and federal officials I respect and have maintained friendly, respectful relationships with despite ignoring their pleas for silence. The reason for my continuing coverage of the unpopular subject has always been simple: most of the people who have reported cougar sightings have been knowledgeable, credible, trustworthy sources — end of freakin’ story. I trusted these people and went with their tales as establishment officials cried “inappropriate” and “irresponsible.”

And now here we go down the same trail with the recent archaeological stuff I’ve been reviewing. I’ve read much, much more, listened to many credible sources, been sternly “warned off” and threatened to back off the subject. The result is that I find myself confused, amused and more determined than ever to find the truth, not what I’m told. Sorry. I don’t flee confusion or intimidation. I try to bring incendiary subjects like this into clear focus, and must say I seem to be getting there slowly but surely in my “spare time.” The people who’d most like to silence me must be happy I can’t devote all my time to this story, because it’s fascinating and will stir interest that spills into the marketplace. Trust me.

So, stay tuned and, in the meantime, ponder this little query: Why do you suppose it is that some experts with “nothing to hide” squirm so when clipped to the microscope’s stage?

Believe me, it ain’t rocket science.

Recorder sports editor Gary Sanderson is a longtime member of the outdoor-writers associations of America and New England. Blog: www.tavernfare.com. Email: gary@oldtavernfarm.com.

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