Bears, skunks and home


Published: 7/15/2019 9:39:29 PM

Now, I don’t generally say this kind of thing out loud to millennials because I don’t want to hurt their feelings, but I am secretly happy that I had the good fortune to be born in the era I was: after the world wars and with the modern comforts of indoor heat and outdoor wild animals.

And best of all, to live before this idea of robots, artificial intelligence and goodness knows what else they’ll come up with by the end of the week, gets any further out of hand. I’ve enjoyed living most of my life in an analogue world where I’ve had to use my head and a map to get from here to there, and am then happily challenged to remember the route back, on my own.

This month being the one-year anniversary of my having sold Elmer’s Store, I finally had the chance to be out of town just for languishing fun, and spent quite a time in New Orleans to see how it still felt. New Orleans used to be old in its ways — it was its own island of pre-modern living until Hurricane Katrina forced it to upgrade a few centuries. Being in that citified life now thrust me into a world of homesick for Western Massachusetts. Who would have thought?

And now I’m home, home, and cannot believe my good fortune to be here, back in the land of comfort and joy and it ain’t even Christmas. And not just any home; a home so analogue and technology-averse we don’t even have cell service in our little hilltown. Texting involves climbing up to the attic and holding the phone as high above your head as you can to see if you can catch any sort of radio wave passing by that might grab the message and stick it in its pocket to deliver later on down the road when it sees fit.

Last Sunday, 92-year-old Norm Nye was taking a nap on his back porch when he heard a noise, opened his eyes (he showed me how he opened them) and saw an (estimated) 300-pound black bear shuffling toward him.

“I said, ‘What are you doing here?’” said Norm, “And the bear, he turned around and went over to your house. I think he was originally headed to Jackie’s house, because she always keeps seeds in her bird feeder. I don’t do that, but he’d have had to trip over my feet if I hadn’t woken up. That’a sure surprised both of us.”

I didn’t notice the bear at my house. Norm said it was because I don’t keep food outside (so I won’t start). But the next day when I was driving down Buckland Road, I looked up and saw a bear climbing a tree, peeking around it at me, just like in a children’s book illustration. He was so cute I wanted to get out and coax him down so I could pet him, though I understand such an act is not recommended by locals around here who know that kind of thing.

Around the time Norm’s nap was getting bear-interrupted, my across-the-street neighbor Gloria and I were having a reconnecting conversation that consisted entirely of indicators and waving hands:

“I saw ... (hand wave) oh, you know ... with the curtains.”


“On Friday. She looked good.”

“Oh good. I wondered how she was doing. Have you seen .... (finger pointed) the lawyer’s wife lately?”

“Yes! He retired.”


“He did. But he’s very happy. They’re both doing well and are coming over on Tuesday for dinner.”

Wonderful! I saw ...” (waving up the street) “you know, with the cane, this morning, out for a walk. I had been worried, but was happy to see her out walking.”

In a small town, you don’t need to remember names. Occupations, familial relations and physical ailments will get you through an entire two-hour conversation if you’re paying attention and know how to interpret the hand signals.

Later that afternoon, Gloria telephoned me to say, “Skunk alert!”

A gorgeous, mohawk-striped fluffy skunk was poking around under her tree, threatening to saunter over to my yard. That same skunk had startled the bejesus out of me two nights earlier, when I walked home in the dark. He was backed up to a tree stump in my yard, and I think the stump got it when we suddenly saw each other and both jumped at the same time.

In this particular skunk visit, Gloria hopped on her tractor and drove slowly toward him, which got his attention and he hurried over to the Episcopal Church where he could get both religion and a little peace and quiet, far from us, out there scaring the white hair off his back every couple of days.

Oh my goodness, Ashfield.

Just this evening I’m sitting on my front step listening to the Ashfield Band practice. You don’t generally get a passive, live concert on your front stoop in the city. In fact, you haven’t gotten a life like this one anywhere since about 1967, when I was a little kid at my grandmother’s house in small-town Ohio. I thought this kind of life was relegated to memories and old TV shows, until I moved here.

Just because he knew I was writing about this lovely, prosaic summer, a silver fox just trotted through my front yard, unconcerned about anything beyond giving me something else to write about that fit right in. Between the songs I hear cows mooing, and then, to finish the evening out in fine nostalgic style, someone’s shooting mid-July fireworks off over by the lake.

Thank you all, for your participation in this perfect, Norman-Rockwell evening.

Last night I drove home, up the mountain from Amherst, where I’d gone to meet a friend for dinner. I slid the cast recording of Hamilton into the CD player, and listened to the metered history of the area as I drove past 18th- and 19th-century houses, fields and towns, under the clear sky and the moon, and I kept thinking, “Oh yes, indeed! How did I get so lucky to land here in this land, in this time?”

I still don’t know and I will never know. But here I am and the band plays on, just like it did a hundred years ago. In fact, some of the songs are the same ones that were popular a century ago. And they sound just as current here as they must have all the way back then.

Nan Parati lives and works in Ashfield, where she found home and community following Hurricane Katrina. She can be reached at

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