Go where the wild geese go
The best part of a trip to Boston is the drive back to Greenfield. Not that Boston lacks charm and attraction. It’s a fine place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s Boston, or any other of our supersize cities, if you were born a country-man, you quickly tire in the face of overwhelming urban sights and sounds, you can’t wait to leave them behind in your rush back to God’s country.
Frankie Lane popularized a song with the words, “I must go where the wild geese go.” Few of us have ever seen where the wild goose goes. Wherever that place is, wherever wedges point in the direction in the night when the honking of airborne geese comes back to us terrestrial listeners, that’s where our compulsions drive us when we’ve had enough of the city.
Every boy used to read Jack London’s “Call of the Wild.” It was the Yukon Territory he celebrated in his book, a country so far off and remote that, like Shangri La, it was practically impossible to get to.
It was half a lifetime before I understood that “Call” was appealing because it was a reflection of the national urge in all of us to get away from a cloying humanity. Once surfeited on the crowd, we find our Yukon Territory in any place where there are trees and fields and hills where we can get out of sight of our nearest neighbor.
When you are next in Boston, stand still at any intersection and watch the people. For the most part, they hustle along with heads down, intent on business at hand. There is the “Maddening Crowd” moving along in an urban rhythm that appears to take no “Hello!” to any passing person.
Three hours west of this rush there is a dilapidated cabin slowly falling apart in the damp of a sunless spot where trees have grown up bigger than the cabin-maker ever thought they could. There you can sit on the porch to your heart’s content. Now, on account of the trees, there’s no road in, nor any road out. The only sound is the sweet-sad sound of wind in pine branches. The only creature you might lay eyes on would be a deer ghosting silently through the columns of tree trunks.
What would be his reaction if in one instant you could transport a Boston apartment dweller to this primitive, nearly original woods setting, so different from his brick-and-mortar metropolis? Would the crust of the city be so thick on him that he’d fail to realize he’d been carried to where the wild goose goes? Or, would that crust be shed so fast he’d know he’d found the source of the “Call of the Wild?”
Take a look Friday afternoons at Routes 2 and Interstate 91 and you’ll see our urban brothers and sisters answering the call. By the thousands they invade Vermont and New Hampshire, no doubt trusting that the patina of city life will be removed as each mile carries them closer to nature’s bosom. Left and right of the main arteries they spread out as they near their weekend retreats. Car lights go out as house lights go on. Excepting those who drive far north after weekday work, most are snug in rural havens by mid-evening. We hope they have found what they came for.
Our tender sentiments were once abused by a man who seemed to have it all in his close association with Mother Nature. He was a dairyman who worked his White Mountain farm. I was just a growing boy when I commented about the beauty of the place, the outlook of his house and barn upon the Presidential range. “Sonny,” he said, “I’m so busy pulling cows’ tits that I never have time to look up.”
That man owned a prosperous milk business and was rich in his Coos County township. By any standard, however, he was blind and poor. That Yankee cow milker made plenty of money, but failed to take advantage of his place.
Thoreau complained that he was out of sorts with himself when he found he’d been in the woods an hour without being in the woods. What he meant, of course, was that his feet were at peace, but his head was not.
Boston is good for a day, not longer. Leaving Boston we drive through Belmont and Arlington, bedroom communities for the big city. Not until we round the Concord circle and drive west toward home does the press of the eastern half of the state begin to be relieved. Traffic lets up, hills appear on the horizon, Mount Wachusett stands out, the air is cleaner, peace is practically tangible.
Now the wild goose may set down only as far away as our Connecticut River and the Quabbin reservoir. For us Franklin County people, that’s right in our backyard. We should appreciate it.
In semi-retirement after 58 years of writing for The Recorder, Paul Seamans of Gill will continue Said & Done on a regular monthly basis. Some of his columns will have been previously published.