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On The Trail

On The Trail: Dire straits

It is with heavy heart that I sit in this comfortable, cushioned seat today, cranking out another column, a weekly chore performed for most of my waning 35-year Recorder career.

Many things, some I can’t get into but would love to, are distracting my focus, potentially threatening my health. But I’m a strong man, have been backed into many corners over the years and always come out to live another day. I don’t see that changing. Although 60, I feel like I’m still at the top of my game, boldly confident and peaking, unwilling to be ruled by fear or intimidation. That won’t change. Sometimes you just must get creative, which has never been a problem for me. In fact, I’d rather be creative, even over catcalls from the frothy rabble.

Most overwhelming on my mind today is son Rynie’s dire straits. Trapped in Baystate-Springfield’s ICU since Sunday, he’s fighting for his life, losing to a staph infection that contributed to the death of his older brother, my namesake, three years ago. Maybe he’ll survive it, probably not. Either way I must go on, continuing to place one foot in front of the other, moving forward for him and me. I am proud of his bravery. His worst detractors couldn’t come close to matching it. After regaining his wits and finally breathing on his own Tuesday afternoon, he tearlessly informed my wife that he doesn’t expect to ever again see his apartment. I am proud of his courage, a quality many of the so-called heroes he’s forever abhorred will never own.

We have both been down this road before and I would not wish it on anyone, even those I hate and hold not a speck of respect for. Those folks are already dead to me and him, stagnant water oozing the dam. I will get through this crisis, learn from it and move on, always trying to glean something new and positive from this place I call home, here where my DNA’s scattered in every crevice, reaching throughout the Connecticut Valley and its hills, into the New England hinterlands, and far, far beyond.

But enough of that — time for meat and potatoes.

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Lingering thoughts on the Winchester cougar tale recently featured in this space accompanied by color photos of paw prints taken by police officers and later ruled, much to their displeasure, as canine by state wildlife officials. Well, it seems that reader William Senseney, who himself claims to have seen two WMass cougars, agrees with the MassWildlife biologists. He viewed the photos, posted them on a Facebook site called “Animals Don’t Cover Their Tracks (ADCTT),” and created quite a clamor before concluding with many others that the Winchester tracks I published had been left by a dog, not a cat.

Senseney described ADCTT as an animal-track-identification group comprised of professional and amateur trackers, along with tracking instructors, and said: “Before I joined this group, I had encountered what I would now call the ‘feline-like dog track’ pictured with your column and labeled cougar.”

He went on top say he had twice seen western Massachusetts cougars with his own eyes before setting out to prove their existence by teaching himself to track them. Plus, he has built an extensive library containing three years worth of large, nail-less, cougarish tracks and castings. Yet, still, he falls for them on occasion and excitingly identifies them as mountain lion. Then he comes to his senses and realizes they are not cat tracks, but rather Bernese Mountain Dog, Great Dane or Malamute, to name three dog breeds that could leave them.

“I walk the woods with a specific goal in mind and I have learned that there are subtle differences in the dog and cat imprint,” he added. “I joined this group in order to learn the subtleties and to train my eye and wildlife skills to a more analytical and accurate level. This group is helping me to attain that. As far as the visual sightings go, maybe the real deal is what the witnesses saw. I hope so. But, it did not leave those particular tracks. The Facebook discussion explains why.”

Ray Weber, a “Cougar of the Valley” representative determined to substantiating mountain-lions sightings in the Connecticut Valley and beyond, isn’t buying it. He says seven nationwide experts viewed the same prints as the Facebook crowd, and all of them ruled they were definitely cat tracks.

“I can name the names of the people who viewed them if you like, but they must remain anonymous. They don’t want the press, or MassWildlife harassing them,” Weber wrote. “They are beyond reproach. The people on that (Facebook) page are trackers. Most of them have never seen a live cougar track. That’s why we sent the photos to people who live in cougar country. Plus, we also had a Harvard expert who got heat over his. He sent the photos to another guy in New York, who also agreed they’re tracks of a large cat.”

That’s all I got. You be the judge. I report, you decide.

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Trout-stocking is full speed ahead in MassWildlife’s Valley and Western districts, where, going by the Western District reports emailed to me for two weeks running, trucks are supplementing streams, rivers, lakes and ponds with fat, healthy brook, brown and rainbow trout.

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I got involved in a complex subject last week and couldn’t get to last Saturday’s sixth annual Conway Sportsmen’s Club’s training class for the annual Massachusetts Youth Turkey Hunt Program. Youths who were certified through the program will be eligible to hunt with a mentor on the special for-youths-only April 26 turkey hunt. Lead instructor Ronald Gleason of Greenfield claims he has now put more than 100 youths through this program.

All I can say is that I fondly remember learning to hunt turkeys from Joe Judd and others, and that calling turkeys is one of the most rewarding skills I ever learned — right up there with hitting a baseball, wing-shooting, flycasting tight loops into strong, adversarial winds, wiggling out of jams, and chasing frisky females who loved the game.

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Enough! Gotta go. Back to dwelling on the sad ordeal of son Rynie, my dear boy who has silently suffered for so many years; then perhaps off to fleeting thoughts about my next stop on this meandering trail: mine.

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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