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On The Trail

Twists of fate

Summer’s at the doorstep with my 60th birthday, late, great Mississippi John Hurt finger-picking and singing background blues as I sit here at my customary Wednesday station trying to come up with something. It won’t be difficult. I can feel it. But I really must discipline myself to stunt all those random thoughts flittering through my consciousness, perhaps the neighborhood too, as I moments ago sat drying off from a quick shower, hidden with a cup of strong black coffee behind dense, blooming mock-orange bushes along the sunny flagstone terrace.

The gray, soggy air has lifted and the windows and bulkhead are open, inviting dry, refreshing breezes inside to whisk stagnant dampness away to clear, sparkling-blue skies, clusters of white, billowy clouds floating by like ghostly cotton balls.

Is there a better time than the dawning of summer, when on my daily descent into Sunken Meadow I am greeted by that strong, uplifting scent of the sweet, wild white rose, so alluring and thought-provoking, the grayer and muggier the day, the stronger the aroma? For the past week, the overpowering scent has embraced me two steps through the open metal gate as I descend the double-rutted dirt road to the Green River’s edge. The pleasing scent bomb permeates the meadow as I skirt the brushy perimeter, dogs racing up and down Christmas-tree rows, in and out of narrow marshes, splashing through swollen beaver-pond overflows and across a thin purling channel that links them along the south end. Mother earth is happy and so are the dogs. Me, too, bowl of fresh native strawberries sweetening on the kitchen counter, a little maple syrup dribbled atop and mixed in, the bowl sealed tight with cling-wrap. My wife would tell me to refrigerate them. Not this week. She’s vacationing in Stowe, Vt. Can’t say I feel left out. I could have gone but am content at home. Plus dogs are unwelcome where she’s staying. Trust me, the berries won’t spoil. I intend to eat them.

Finally, a sign of spring fawns has appeared along my trodden path. First, a few days ago, I heard deer run away through the thick green tangle. Then, on Tuesday, I saw my first quarter-sized tracks, twins and their mom crossing where deer always cross, their tracks crisp in fine, damp silt deposited by that old hag Irene, who filled a small dip in the road where puddles used to form. Whenever I see tiny tracks like that, I think back to the ones I spotted years ago in adjacent highlands. I monitored those tiny hoof-prints for a few days before the field was hayed. Then, the day after the farmer scalped it brown, I was running the dogs and noticed Lily pawing and sniffing at something in the distance. When I whistled to her, she dropped her head to the ground, picked up her item of fascination and ran back to me with it. Sure enough, a little front leg from the elbow down, including a tiny little hoof that had left some of the prints I’d seen. No matter how careful farmers are to avoid killing newborn fawns during their first cut of hay, it’s unavoidable, as are many other forms of fawn mortality. Yet it appears that enough always survive to maintain a healthy herd.

The same can be said of many creatures hidden in the bucolic landscape. Every year I watch the bobolinks and many other field birds appear to build nests and lay eggs in waist-high hayfields only to be destroyed by humming, smoking, grinding farm equipment. Yet every year more birds and beasts return to those same fields to meet the same disruptive fates, so I must assume that in the end it all works itself out. Still, it makes you wonder what was the population of these creatures when there were no tractors or hay barns to fill? Who kept the populations in check then? How many is too many? How many is not enough? Sometimes it’s impossible to make sense of it all. Some just accept it as nature’s mysteries; others turn to churches and preachers for enlightenment. Count me among the former.

Which brings me to a hen turkey I’ve been watching in nature’s chapel since the beginning of May? Lily was the first to find her, then Chubby several times. I once even flushed that bird myself from close quarters when the dogs were off on other splashy, brush-busting nearby adventures. That bird’s flush some 10 feet away startled me like many a partridge has, then quickly disappeared through a small marshland gap. The last two times I saw that hen, Chubby flushed her from tall weeds and got right on top of her before she flushed, indicating to me that she was probably protecting a nest. After those two disruptions, I quickly called the dogs off in case little ones were near. Those potential conflicts sidestepped, I soon became concerned about the extended soaking rains of the past two weeks, knowing that saturated hatchlings would be wiped out by pneumonia brought on by the cold that had people burning wood stoves in June.

Well, truth be told, none of the above contributed to that hen’s demise — not me, my dogs or the farm equipment’s lethal blades. No, something else got her, probably a coyote or fox, fisher or bobcat or who knows what. All I know is that on Wednesday morning, not far from a spot where Chubby flushed that hen a week or two ago, he picked up the wing of a freshly killed adult turkey and came running proudly to me with it held high and firm in his mouth. Without coaxing, he just dropped it on the farm road, left it there and ran into the riverside woods hunting for a new fascination, obviously much more interested in that bird alive than dead. If that hen was with poults, they too have vanished, just a few more of nature’s many victims.

I’m not sure what the moral of the story is, or even if there is one. I guess just that there’s no telling how the end will come for any of us. We’re here today, gone tomorrow. Not a thing we can do about it.

Not only that but, it’s always possible to escape one form of violent death only to invite another that’s even worse.

That’s life.

q

Oooops! Sloppy, last-minute inclusion of anadromous-fish-migration numbers last week led me into a quick, inaccurate mention of the shortnose-sturgeon debate championed by local gadfly Karl Meyer, with whom I had toured the Turners Falls Canal the previous day. Contrary to information found here, there are no sturgeon in the canal. The issue is shad, which do indeed get into the canal and typically die there.

As for the endangered sturgeon, Meyer is fighting to mandate minimum flows through the main stem of the Connecticut River between the Turners Falls dam and the General Pierce Bridge connecting Bingville at Montague City. That way, the historic sturgeon spawning grounds below Rock Dam, just upstream from Cabot Station, would always hold enough water for spawning. Meyer claims that the canal draws down the water in the main stem, forcing sturgeon away from their preferred, historic spawning beds.

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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