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On The Trail

On the Trail: Living proof

Observations. They jolt me, jostle me, spin my wheels awhirl, often propelling me off to the most unusual and unlikely places, real and imagined.

With devilish spring air tickling my lungs, there has been much visual impetus this past week as the sympathy cards, emails and phone calls keep pouring in after the tragic passing of son Ryan, at 28, too young to die. I’m in touch with the boy daily — be it applying the Old Spice deodorant stick he scoffed from me weeks back but now is back on the bathroom shelf from which he lifted it; storing away his music and movie collections; or finding a place for a random pole lamp or bedside night stand we found for his apartment along the way. Yes, now Rynie has been sadly relegated to the status of fifth-great-grandfather Deacon Thomas Sanderson of Whately, an 18th and 19th century tanner/cordwainer whose ghostly pine, six-drawer cobbler’s chestful of handmade tools graces the west wall of my kitchen, often stirring thoughts of who the man was and what he stood for while carving out a rich Pioneer Valley legacy.

But, returning to observations, let me begin with one that maybe I should ignore out of fear that some state wildlife Ph.D will take exception and threaten me for leaving the reservation and reporting something he or she would rather keep the lid on. Because, you see, what I saw noontime Friday with my own eyes during a sunny Connecticut River-side ride with a friend and neighbor was something you’re not supposed to see anymore. What we saw that day in a verdant, shin-high rye field fronting a field overtaken by wild roses were two adult pheasants, cock and hen, out for a midday courtship stroll through the bottomland meadow. By now the hen has likely built or is putting the finishing touches on her nest, which will soon be full of eggs that’ll hopefully escape nighttime thieves and hatch a brood of five or eight or maybe even a dozen chicks that neighbors will be pleased to monitor in their travels.

Imagine that! Just like the old days when, as a boy growing up in South Deerfield, two or three hens and their chicks would pass through our yard daily in June, picking at bugs and fresh clover near the peony beds and under the scabby cherry fruit tree that ultimately succumbed to those ugly, black, bulbous scabs. Those were the days when the state owned and operated pheasant farms in Wilbraham, Ayer, Sandwich and perhaps another location I don’t recall, raising the birds it stocked for an annual fall cocks-only hunting season that lasted into the early 1980s, at which time the powers that be decided it would be cheaper to close the farms, lift the ban on shooting hens and buy its birds outright from private vendors. They said the new system was incorporated because, due to development, the habitat could no longer support self-sustaining pockets of native-pheasant covert, which I doubted then and still doubt, though I must admit those two pheasants I saw Friday were a rare sight indeed. I do not recall the last time I saw a mated pair of spring pheasants. But that’s not because there isn’t enough Connecticut Valley habitat capable of supporting scattered wild reproduction. It’s because few today survive the put-and-take season, plus, with trapping outlawed and birds of prey protected, pheasants have more predators to deal with than they did when I was a boy.

When state-owned game farms raised their own birds for stocking, they would release surplus brood-stock hens in the summer and fall, and it didn’t take many survivors from the cocks-only fall season to find springtime mates and produce a significant population of supplemental “wild” birds contributing to the overall numbers available for hunting season. You can’t convince me that this is not still possible today in deep, dense coverts like Fuller’s Swamp or Hopewell Swamp or the old Hatfield Oxbow. But I won’t belabor the idea because it ain’t happening. The old days of hunting random, wild trophy birds with stunning adult plumage and long tail feathers has sadly become a put-and-take hunt of young birds that seldom last long when pitted against expert gun dogs and wing-shooters.

Enough of that. It’s a dead issue. But how about fiddleheads, which, distracted by the death of Rynie, I just couldn’t motivate myself to pick last week. Not that it’s news to devoted harvesters of the tender seasonal morsels, but my oh my how those ostrich ferns shoot up once the warm weather and rains arrive. A couple of weeks ago I checked a couple of patches I pass daily and they were still clinging tight to the ground and invisible from afar. Last week I knew they were ready, and now those same tight little clumps you look for are light-green, shin-high ferns sticking out like monuments among random fresh growth coloring on the marshy floor. Oh well, I have savored fresh local asparagus and will soon be cutting my rhubarb, so not all’s lost.

Other than that, not much happening worth mentioning, other than spring turkey season, trout stocking and anadromous fish migrating slowly up a cold, turbulent Connecticut River. If you haven’t bagged your spring gobbler yet, don’t fret, there’s still plenty of time. As for shad, well, yes, they’re trickling through Holyoke now, but the run should start accelerating with warm days and night predicted. Most of all, what is needed is bright, sunny days and warm nights. That’ll raise river temps into the 60s in no time and ignite a shad surge. Finally, regarding annual spring trout-stocking, there is nowhere that’s traditionally stocked that hasn’t by now received more than one stocking from Valley or Western District crews. So get out there if that’s what plugs you in.

As for me, well, fishing doesn’t cut it anymore. Been there, done that. So it’s back to hunting; not for turkeys, but rock shelters, ancient ceremonial waterfalls, Indian villages, indigenous paths and new “revisionist” twists published to wipe away tired old misconceptions forcefully perpetrated and protected by a legion of lame “historians” backed by patriotism, racism and closed-mindedness, not fact and honest, unbiased scholarship.

Enough said.

Off I go.

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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