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On The Trail

Indian pond

Where to start? That’s the problem today facing me. I know where I’m headed, just am not sure how to get there. Hmmmm? Bear with me. Plus due to a spring freshet of info overflow, I must run a rare outdoors notebook inside.

First, though, I probably ought to begin with what got me started on this week’s topic: the search for Bullhead Pond (written “Bull Head” in the reference I noticed in Lucy Cutler Kellogg’s History of Greenfield, 1900-1929). The small, spring-fed body of water was said by Greenfield historian Mary P. Wells Smith to be the home of Greenfield’s last Indian, presumably during the last decade of the 18th or first decade of the 19th century. This Pocumtuck must have loved his homeland dearly, because he didn’t flee with the rest of his people, who were long gone to Stockbridge, Schaghticoke, the Mohawk Valley or northern Lake Champlain by then. M.P.W. Smith lived in the Greenfield Meadows at today’s Menard Farm, and she obviously knew the pond, at the edge of which the last Indian’s wigwam stood, according to oral tradition that came to her by way of her father, who learned it from famed Deerfield Indian fighter Asa Childs. Ms. Smith located the pond in the “west part of the Meadows … near a fine spring,” which, living in the Meadows myself, gave me a pretty good idea of its placement. Not only that, I knew just who to query, in fact, had to travel no farther than my own work desk.

It’s funny how some things pull together so quickly, because it seems to me that on the very night I inquired about the pond and got a bemused look from the young fella I queried, his phone rang and his father was on the other end. Yes! The very man I had asked him to question. I figured his dad, about my age, would have an answer.

“Hey,” my buddy asked, “do you know of a Bullhead Pond.”

“Yeah, it’s out at the back corner by GCC. There was a pile of rocks nearby that we, as kids, called the Indian grave.”

Well, at that point, I thought I had it pegged, just about where, judging from the terrain, I surmised it would have sat. But then, within a week, my colleague’s uncle, his father’s older brother, came to town for Easter and confused matters some. When asked if he knew Bullhead Pond, he said, yes, it was the one where they used to skate over by Davenport’s, before it was chopped into a sliver of its former self by Interstate 91 construction.

Hmmmm? Possible, but judging from Ms. Smith’s western-Meadows description, it seems more likely that the pond she referred to was the one my colleague’s father had identified. Who knows? Maybe both ponds were called Bullhead at one time or another; or perhaps the name had gotten confused over the years. Then again, maybe the older brother, long removed from the area, just remembered wrong, always possible from a man who moved far away long ago and returns “home” infrequently.

Anyway, my friend and I toured his gorgeous, fertile acreage last week and eventually took a look at what is left of the Bullhead Pond his father pinpointed. Maybe someday I’ll go back there with the old man himself to see if that Indian grave is still there. But that’s for another day. On our first visit, we were looking for the pond site and didn’t need to hunt too hard for what I’d describe today as a spring hole. Young Springer Spaniel gun dog Chub-Chub was more than eager to explore that swampy hole, which has been compromised by GCC construction and drainage ditches. Chubby charged right in and soon had a nesting pair of vociferous mallards bursting into angry, circling flight. Jacked up, tail wagging furiously, Chubby and mom Lily popped into the open mowing heading north in pursuit. When they dead-ended in the far corner, both of them, frisky, penetrated the low cover of a sumac hump and soon out came a hen woodcock that flushed straight over our heads.

Yeah, I know “animal lovers” will get their hackles up, maybe even fire off critical letters to the editor objecting to our harassment of nesting wetland birds. Sorry, but I don’t buy it any more than I’m buying the Montague poop-scooper hysteria I’ve read about. Tell me, what has changed since I was a kid, anyway, dog poop or the unfortunate folks stepping in it? Those ducks and that woodcock the dogs disturbed the other day will be just fine, thank you. They weren’t bothered by us any more than they are by daily foxes, coyotes, bobcats, mink, otters or raccoons. So what’s the fuss?

But enough of that little diversion; back to Bullhead Pond and the rich, peaceful, bucolic Meadows I call home. Before arriving at what is left of that site known to the property owner as Bullhead Pond in the pretty southwest corner of his hayfield, we had toured the northern perimeter of an abutter’s property, where we saw a flock of about 35 feeding turkeys I was quite familiar with. Yes, I had been watching those birds for a month or more during my daily travels. The morning flock was feeding through secluded corn stubble along a brushy fence-row concealing them from the road of my address. By afternoon, I knew they’d be feeding in stubble t’other side the fence-row visible from the road, and even that was about to change as they entered their spring routine. Soon, I told my friend, they’d be breaking up into smaller groups, with six or eight at Sunken Meadow, six or eight on his property, some on his neighbor’s land, still others scattered along the ridge above. The three or four dominant boss gobblers I’d been watching strut for the ladies would soon have their spring harems assembled before getting abandoned in favor of spring nests and summer broods. Then I’ll be bumping into little families down by the river. By July, there’ll be hens and poults feeding on insects between the brushy Christmas-tree rows. Lily and Chubby will know they’re there, and they’ll search for them daily, often flushing them into trees on both sides of the Green River. No, I’m not harassing wildlife. At least that’s not the way I view it; just teaching my little feathered friends to escape canine pursuers.

Well, it didn’t take long for my prediction about winter-flock break-up to bear fruit. Just Monday morning while walking the dogs down the wooded escarpment into a flooded marsh bordering Sunken Meadow, I had just crossed an uprooted blow-down over swollen beaver overflow backed-up when Lily and Chubby-Chub “lit up” and sprinted in opposite directions chasing the same airborne scent. Chubby aggressively splashed through chest-high water, nose shoulder high and full of something enticing, likely the mallards or wood ducks we have flushed daily, I thought. But Lily, no, it was not ducks she was after. I could tell by the way she was running. Whatever it was (maybe a rabbit?), she was running straight, fast and wide, eventually breaking through the wetland into the Christmas trees and sprinting along the perimeter to a few apple trees in the southwest corner of the northern field. There, she stopped, sprinted back toward me, turned the corner at a sumac cluster, and ran right past Chubby to the southwest corner of the southern field, turning right and sprinting straight to the beaver dam. She ran halfway across the dam, retraced her steps into the field, splashed across a narrow channel and climbed a 12-foot oak knoll. When she reached the spine overlooking the beaver pond, she sprinted west before disappearing over the to the south slope facing the hidden pond. That’s when I caught a flash and, yup, a single turkey in flight through tall wetland oaks, Lily pursuing, it ascending and pulling away. The turkey maneuvered with aplomb through the skeletal tree trunks and across the Green River, perching in a tall, mottled, riverside buttonball. Lily chased the bird to the riverbank, located it in the tree across the swollen river and trotted back to me.

I was unable to identify that bird’s sex. Although it may have been a solitary hen searching for a nesting site, my guess is that it was an immature male, or jake, driven off by boss toms that had tolerated it in the winter flock. Jakes are now outcasts about to embark on a long, difficult yet “educational” process. Soon they’ll be men, but now they must watch from afar as their fathers and uncles strut their stuff for the lovely ladies. If instinct takes over and a jake venture too close or has the audacity to intercept a pretty lady strolling through the hardwoods, it’ll risk bruised and bloody consequences governed by the pecking order.

It sucks being an adolescent male, regardless of species or spirit. Then, before you can say lickety-split, you’re old and gray, not a freakin’ thing you can do about it.

Just the way it is and will forever be.

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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