Take Heed of Looming Climate-Chaos Signs

It was a peculiar summer to say the least.

A harbinger? Who knows? Time will tell.

On a recent daybreak walk over the bridge spanning Hinsdale Brook behind my home, finally an audible flow. Ah! Sweet music. Hadn’t heard it for some time.

About a quarter mile up Green River Road, I stopped to listen for Punch Brook where it flows under Green River Road. Not so much as a muted trickle or muffled gurgle, not a slim glint of flow through dense green cover. Heavy overnight rain had produced no discernable effect.

Hmmm? Troubling. Many strong springs feed it.

The dawn silence and walking motion set my wheels astir. I started pondering what a summer drought like the one we just endured means to our threatened Eastern brook trout populations. At least, to what’s left of them. How many die under such stressful conditions? They need cold water. If their brooks are not connected to a large, deep impoundment for summer refuge, what are their options?

My shaded backyard brook is fed by prolific upland springs from the western hills of East Shelburne and East Colrain. It’s hard to imagine many trout surviving in that stream this summer. Where could they go? To the warm, shallow Green River? The larger, deeper Deerfield? The Connecticut? Well, maybe some could find a gushing spring-hole or deep, dark pool cold enough to ensure survival. But any way you cut it, their choices were few, mortality high.

Honestly, it’s been decades since I last explored the old brook-trout streams I knew as a boy – the ones where I learned to bait a hook and present the offering in a natural dead-drift to feeding trout. Those shaded, buggy mountain streams held reproductive populations of sparkling, speckled, steel-blue, five- to seven-inch native trout we called squaretails.

We’d fish early and return home with creelsful of fingerling trout, packed with streamside moss and ferns, for tasty breakfasts. Battered in a scrambled-egg/flour/breadcrumb mix, we’d fry the trout in sizzling bacon fat in a Griswold skillet. Homefries and eggs or pancakes were prepared on an adjacent cast-iron griddle. Now that’s an old New England breakfast for you – one I haven’t prepared since my boys were young.

Now the question is, how many of those dear mountain streams still hold brookies? Then, even more important, how many? Last I heard they were endangered by acid rain. That was at least 40 years ago. Now the planet is warming, the icecaps melting. Surely the peril hasn’t abated.

It was hard not to notice the brown lawns we all passed this summer in our fertile valley. They were the rule, not the exception. All I can say is that I have mowed lawns here for nearly 60 years and have never experienced anything like it. My mowing routine for more than a month was limited to a few passes along the edges and under shade trees. The rest of my lawn, cut high at just under four inches, was brown and noticeably crunchy underfoot, the soil underneath parched hard and displaying cracks on sunbaked openings. It was surreal. Right out of Woody Guthrie’s Dust Bowl.

One must wonder how long it’ll be before we’re living in terror of wildfires, without the security of fire insurance denied to homeowners in high-risk areas. Do you really think it can’t happen here? Don’t be so sure. Insurance companies don’t flourish by rolling the dice. Ask Californians, now victims of circumstance and unwilling canaries in the coal mine. We’re cooking the planet and practicing cash-crop forestry that robs the forests of large, old-growth carbon sequesters. To make matters worse, loggers leave behind messy tops that in dry conditions create tinderboxes on the forest floor. It’s a recipe for disaster – one that’s on display in flame and fury out west.

Don’t think it can’t happen here. The stage is set.

Yes, it’s true that Eastern forest dynamics are different than those out west. But how long can we count on that temporary reality as our climate gets hotter and drier and our snowfall diminishes? It’s not too early to start thinking about this stuff. In fact, many doomsayers with impressive academic credentials believe it’s already too late.

Equally frightening is a looming worldwide drinking-water crisis. Experts have for decades been warning us that water is going to become a scarce, valuable commodity worth fighting for. Those who doubt it and believe that, like climate change, it’s nothing but sensational hooey propagated by tree-hugging alarmists and Antifa ecoterrorists, should change their outlook. The day of reckoning is approaching and, for those willing to believe what they see, accelerating toward climate Armageddon.

Here in the Happy Valley, we take good drinking water for granted. Don’t be deceived by that comfort zone. Have you seen the massive Western reservoirs now reduced to puddles, exposing stolen cars and the skeletal remains of murder victims? How long before we’re facing annual summer water restrictions as our own reservoirs shrink and our population grows?

What’ll we do when there’s not enough water to go around? Drink “purified” water from the industrial and wastewater dump known as the Connecticut River? Yuck! Can you imagine? Reduced to that, we’d all die of horrible cancers.

If you want to know where we’re headed, take heed of the mournful blues being sung by our Eastern brook trout. The message is clear: there’s trouble on the horizon.

 

Beaver Stone, Billings Place

Under the microscope today is a peculiar carved stone and a forgotten colonial home that met the wrecking ball many years ago, both from Deerfield.

First, the stone. Round in form and about the size of a human hand, it surfaced recently in parched Fuller Swamp Brook, where it was picked up by a curious woman walking the Wapping field behind the old Samuel Childs Farm. News of the discovery came to me by Saturday-night phone call, breaking early-evening silence as I closed in on answers about the aforementioned historic South Deerfield home to which we’ll return.

Not recognizing the caller-ID name, I didn’t answer. But when the Smart TV revealed that a message had been left, I went right to it. Messages are usually a good sign.

The caller was Brent Pitcher, a fit, quiet man I know from the Nolumbeka Project, a local Native American advocacy group honoring Northeastern tribal heritage. He wanted to share digital photos of the interesting stone, texted to him by the discoverer. She was convinced it was the work of human hands, maybe Native American, depicting a beaver face with two buck teeth.

Having been immersed for the past two or three years in South Deerfield deed research that had more than once meandered through Wapping and the Bars, I knew there was an early placename “Beaver Dam” and a small stream named “Beaver Dam Brook” right there in the South Meadows, where the stone was found. So, of course, I was interested. Plus, how could I ignore a find that could be related to the deep-time Beaver Myth of Sugarloaf and the Pocumtuck Range? In my mind, this beaver stone could have had legs to interesting places.

My immediate reaction upon hanging up was, “Hmmm. Why does this stuff happen to me?”

Little did Pitcher know that I had spent much time in recent months reading about ancient, ritualistic, stone, bone, and ivory portable-art objects recovered from Paleoindian mastodon bone-fields. These talismans have been recently identified by archaeologist friend Dr. Richard Michael Gramly. Inspired by an initial discovery during an excavation he led in 2015 at Middletown, New York, Gramly and ancient-religion guru Dr. James B. Harrod have together examined and identified many previously unidentified primitive art objects stagnating in curated collections.

This year, Gramly published a groundbreaking compendium of essays, Human and Proboscidean Interactions in North America, to which Harrod made many important contributions. Much of their discussion focuses on North American portable zoomorphic art objects with deep connections, imagery and symbolism linking them to the Old-World Gravettian culture dating back 33,000 years, and ancient Eurasian and northeast Asian people who eventually crossed the Bering Strait to North America.

The first such portable-art specimen recognized in North America was a piece of ivory shaped like a mastodon in profile. Gramly noticed it when recording materials unearthed during his Bowser Road dig north and west of New York City.  He and Harrod then closely re-examined the curated Hiscock Collection at the Buffalo (New York) Museum of Science – a well-known assemblage of skeletal mastodon remains and artifacts – to confirm their suspicion that other examples would appear in existing collections. Then, yes, the Hiscock Collection did indeed contain previously unidentified portable art, some of it from the earliest sled burial known to man.

And get this: the Clovis sled runners were crafted from mastodon tusks, split lengthwise in half.

Since then, a fascinating, well-executed, zoomorphic sculpture of a mastodon in profile, carved in bone, has come to light in an Ohio museum collection. And the search goes on. Next stop is the Blue Licks Battlefield site in Kentucky, where an old collection of mastodon bones and who knows what else is awaiting examination. Gramly recently returned from his maiden voyage at Blue Licks, a two-week dig on land owned by a friend that bore intriguing fruit and promises to produce much, much more.

The minute Pitcher emailed me photos of the mystery beaver stone, I forwarded a frontal shot to Gramly. Who better to evaluate such a find? He studied the photo, and immediately said he doubted a Native American origin but would like to examine it in hand.

“I’ve never seen anything like it, which immediately raises doubt,” he said. “I’m not ready to say it’s Native American. It could be old. Maybe colonial. But it looks like white-guy work to me – an imaginative, even humorous characterization of a beaver.”

So, the jury’s still out. Stay tuned.

Now, let us return to the vexing historical snag I was trying to unravel when Pitcher’s phone call broke my investigative spell, exploring a long-ago demolished and now forgotten historic South Deerfield home. When the phone rang, I was hot on the trail of a demolition date for the North Main Street building that burned beyond repair when I was a kid. My memory of the building is vague at best. All I recall is a glum, unoccupied, boarded-up building across the street from the Karas and Manson homes and Yazwinski Farm. Nothing else.

I could easily follow the building’s history into the early 20th century, but was having difficulty tracking it in deeds after 1930 – documents that would offer names helpful for keyword searching newspaper archives. Many foreign families settled in South Deerfield between 1880 and 1920, and they held no connection to the village’s founding families, and little interest in the provenance of old homes they had purchased.

The house on which we’re focusing was built by Samuel Dwelley around 1770, maybe earlier, and was recognized in 19th-century South Deerfield as the Timothy and Charles W. Billings residence. Timothy Billings (1770-1860) was its second owner. He married Dwelley’s daughter, Amy, in 1795 and lived with his in-laws before buying the landed estate in 1801. When his oldest son Francis (1797-1861) came of age, he built south of his father. The ninth of Timothy and Amy’s 12 children, Charles W. Billings (1815-1901), stayed put, eventually inheriting his father and grandfather’s home, where he died.

I knew the old Dwelley/Billings place was still standing in 1930, and gone by 1970. But was it burned, or torn down? Hints, but no answers. The missing link was the name of the house’s final occupant – the search a tangled maze.

Finally, in an act of desperation, I posted a nighttime query on the “Deerfield Now” Facebook page, which gets a lot of traffic and can be a good resource for 20th-century memories. My post describing the building and inquiring what had become of it was launched after I had questioned two nonagenarian women who passed it in youth. Both remembered the building as the “Miller place,” and neither knew much about either the owner, John W. Miller, or anything about the building’s demise.

Bingo! The answer came within minutes. The first respondent was Paul Olszewski, four or five years younger than me, who grew up within view of the decaying historic homestead and “messaged” me. It burned, he said, was owned by the Legac family and eventually purchased by the abutting Hosley Brothers auto dealership.

Former selectman David Wolfram, with a long family history in the volunteer fire department, soon confirmed Olszewski’s information. The place, owned by the Legacs, burned, was boarded up, and eventually torn down. By the next morning, many others had chimed in, including some Legac family and friends.

Deeds and news accounts bore them out. The Legac family of four was dining in Florence at 6:15 p.m. on Thursday, February 20, 1964 when neighbor Albert “Babe” Manson noticed the fire from his home across the street. Manson immediately called the fire department and – according to Facebook respondent and his daughter, Diana Tardiff – raced across the street, kicking in the door to save the frantic family dog, Sambo.

The building’s interior was destroyed. The Legacs boarded up their home and vacated to New York. The town condemned the building as a public health hazard more than three years later, and on September 20, 1967 gave the owners 30 days to remove it or the town would do so at their expense. Less than a year later, on August 20, 1968, the vacant lot was sold to Hosley Brothers, Inc., which wanted more space for roadside display.

Although the fire, family fundraisers, and town wranglings over the building were covered by the newspaper, the stories were typically buried, and I could find not one solitary word about the historic significance of what would have been one of the village’s oldest standing buildings. No mention of Dwelley or Billings families, or what they had meant to South Deerfield.

No wonder so many historic South Deerfield buildings with charm, character, and important tales to tell have met the wrecking ball since – all in the name of progress. That, I find sad. Sad indeed.

 

1951 Plane Crash Shakes South Deerfield

It occurred two years before I was born: a Saturday-morning plane crash that exploded on impact in bucolic Mason, New Hampshire, instantly killing four prominent South Deerfield townsmen and shaking the village to its core.

The date was July 28, 1951, the time about 9:30 a.m., visibility poor in foggy rain.

The crash made the national news wires. Photos of the twisted wreckage appeared on the front page of newspapers throughout the land, especially in the Northeast. Today, it has faded from the collective memory, even in South Deerfield – except for a few 80- and 90-somethings like Patricia McNerney Kelleher, then a young woman living in town. She remembers it well.

“The town seemed to stand still,” she said. “We were numb.”

The victims, closer in age to my grandfather than my father, had departed for Boston from the Turners Falls Airport the previous afternoon in pilot Delmer M. Jewett, Jr.’s private, four-passenger, Ryan Navion, single-engine plane. Their destination was Fenway Park, for a Friday night Red Sox game vs. the Cleveland Indians, won by the visitors, 3-2, on a ninth-inning run.

Although they planned to return home that night, stormy weather moved in soon after Indians righthander Bob Lemmon closed out his complete-game win, and Jewett didn’t want chance night flight. He called home to report they’d spend the night in Boston and return in the morning. That’s the last anyone heard from them. About halfway home the pilot got disoriented in a cloud bank and crashed into a mix of trees and fields some 15 miles north of Fitchburg.

Accompanying Jewett, 43, who had owned the plane for about three years, was his 79-year-old father, Delmer, Sr., 52-year-old South Deerfield postmaster and former police chief Edward J. Redmond, and downtown pharmacist Hollis D. Billings, 50. The victims’ ages varied in breaking-news accounts, but are reported here according to birth dates published in obituaries.

The Jewetts owned what was known around town as the “Pickle Shop” – that is, D.M. Jewett Corporation and Oxford Pickle Works, the official name prominently displayed on the plane. The company was founded as Sugarloaf Pickles in 1896 by Delmer Sr.’s father, Alvord Austin Jewett (1838-1905), a decorated Civil War veteran buried in the Brookside Cemetery.

The Jewett family came to Bloody Brook, now South Deerfield, from Templeton in the mid-1780s, and by the turn of the 19th century had established a large “downtown” presence on both sides of the county road from Deerfield to Hatfield, now South Main Street. Patriarch Enoch Jewett (1739-1813) and his son Reuben first appear as Deerfield taxpayers in 1786, when development was burgeoning on the south end of town, between Elm Street and the Whately line.

By the 1850s, the Jewett family had split into branches from Reuben – one associated with the Pickle Shop, another with the first Mount Sugarloaf summit house and a large North Mill River farm. The summit-house family was headed by Dwight Jewett (1812-1909), and his son-in-law, Granville Wardwell, built the first Sugarloaf structure during the Civil War.

Delmer M. Jewett, Sr., was the semi-retired pickle company president at the time of the crash, and had lost his wife about a year earlier. He left a son Dana in South Deerfield, a daughter in Houston, Texas, and six grandchildren.

The pilot, Delmer, Jr., was the company vice president, manager, and treasurer. He left a wife and two daughters. Delmer, Jr., was born and raised in South Deerfield, where he had been a selectman and president of the Rotary Club before moving to Northfield, where he owned a large cucumber farm. He had been a licensed pilot for 10 years, and bought the plane in 1948 for travel to a sister pickle plant in Paris, Maine.

Hollis Billings, the pharmacist, was born in Northfield to a family with deep Connecticut Valley roots in Sunderland, Hatfield, Conway, and South Deerfield. He left a wife, son, and daughter – not to mention another gaping hole in the downtown business scene. Just four months before the crash that claimed his life, downtown South Deerfield had lost its centerpiece when the stately Bloody Brook Inn, diagonally across the common from the drugstore, was destroyed by fire.

The Redmond family was relatively new in town. World War I veteran Edward Redmond, born and educated in Westfield and previously a patrolman on the Palmer police force, came to town as the newly appointed police chief in 1928. In 1943, he left that job to become South Deerfield’s postmaster. A member of St. James Catholic Church, Redmond brought a large Irish family to town. He left a wife and six children, the two youngest of whom, son Richard and daughter Jane, are alive today.

“I remember that day like it happened yesterday,” said 83-year-old Richard Redmond. “I was only 12 when I lost my dad.”

As it played out, Redmond’s father and Billings were the victims of a simple twist of fate. They had accepted last-minute invitations to the Red Sox game after police chief James Rosenthal and auto dealer Guy Hosley, Sr., declined due to previous commitments.

The crash was witnessed by many Mason, New Hampshire residents who reported hearing the plane circling in distress before emerging from a 100-foot ceiling on a fatal downward trajectory that could not be corrected. Others heard a loud, distant explosion. A woman said she thought the plane was going to land on her home as it passed close overhead, shearing off treetops before crashing to earth and exploding.

The New Hampshire Aeronautics Commission attributed the tragedy to pilot error. An inexperienced instrument pilot, Jewett, Jr. got disoriented in a dense cloud bank, took a steep dive, and perished. No one was sure whether he had been aiming for the airport in Keene, New Hampshire or Turners Falls.

Friends who had flown with Jewett praised him as a careful and conscientious pilot, and his plane did have instrument-flying technology for blind flying without sight lines to the horizon. But his instrument-flying experience was limited and, without visual reference to the ground, he succumbed to the fates.

An experienced local pilot who today owns a small plane provided insight to me about the dangers of blind, instrument-flight through cloud banks, which he admitted avoiding at all costs. Faced with such perilous conditions, he said he opts to go around cloud banks, even if he must travel 100 miles out of his way.

“To get through cloud banks, you have to totally trust your instruments,” he said. “You don’t want to get disoriented and experience vertigo.”

He said he has been in the cockpit with sophisticated pilots who won’t even look out the windshield when navigating through cloud banks, focusing exclusively on the instrument panel. He compared it to trusting a compass to get out of the woods. The golden rule is to never to doubt a compass or instrument panel.

Jewett must have seen a favorable weather report before taking off that morning from Boston’s Logan International Airport. Investigators speculated that when he encountered the cloud bank, he incorrectly interpreted it as a small, localized patch and immediately got in over his head.

The pilot was identified by officials who went to the crash site. The other three victims were later identified by Francis Redmond and Dana Jewett, who traveled to the scene from South Deerfield.

Activity in South Deerfield came to a complete standstill for the funerals on Tuesday, July 31, 1951. Town offices, stores, and other businesses were closed to allow friends and neighbors to pay their final respects to four community leaders. The tragic victims were literally here today, gone tomorrow – leaving their grief-stricken Deerfield village in a state of shock.

Punch Brook

We meet as neighbors each morning, soon after subtle chips and chirps have burst into a joyous symphony of birdsong to greet the new day. By then I have strapped on my left-knee brace, and my robust, two-mile, daybreak ramble is underway.

Our paths cross about a quarter mile east and a hair north of my upper Greenfield Meadows home. There, as the neighborhood sleeps, she discretely trickles under Green River Road. Some passersby who cross her on their daily travels – even walkers – probably don’t even realize she’s there; she’s that inconspicuous, especially when hidden under seasonable foliage. Her name is Punch Brook.

With leafy undergrowth hiding her narrow, clogged channel from view for about half of the year, the only visible clue marking her presence is a sturdy, knee-high, five-post wooden fence tucked neatly under the cover of low branches on the south side of the road. There the road opens a thin break in the mature treeline that accompanies her through the modern Mary Potter/Plumtree Lane development, inauspiciously crossing Plumtree on the way to her confluence with the Hinsdale Brook some 1,700 feet downstream.

These two streams didn’t always connect. According to Greenfield historian Francis M. Thompson – whose insight was sharpened by deep family connections in Colrain and Greenfield Meadows – an 1843 flood surge dramatically changed the course of Hinsdale Brook and joined the two previously adjacent streams.

Before that violent act of nature, Hinsdale Brook took a sharp southward turn downstream from my home, traversing the upper Meadows. It pulled in Allen Brook along the way, and joined Green River just above today’s Greenfield swimming pool. The sudden torrent rising from the East Shelburne hills blew through the elbow at the sharp turn, cut a short new eastern path to Punch Brook, and claimed the smaller brook’s hollowed path to the Green River a short distance below today’s Brookside Animal Hospital on Plain Road.

In one fell swoop, that mid-19th-century event had united the two streams, shortening Punch Brook by nearly 1,000 feet and establishing a new Hinsdale Brook-Green River confluence just less than a mile upstream from the old one. In the process, a section of upper Meadows pasture between Colrain and Plain roads was deprived of a major water source for livestock.

David Allen’s Early Maps of Greenfield Massachusetts 1717-1918: With a Narrative History clearly displays the pre-flood streams, and topo maps still show the relict channel of the stream that existed before 1843.

Today, Punch Brook rises from an upland spring-hole basin along the East Colrain/East Shelburne line at Shearer Road and snakes its way to Hinsdale Brook, about two straight-line miles away. The original stream bed would have meandered maybe a total of three miles, making several twists and turns as it pulled in small, cold springs bubbling from the lower lips of the upland base, it curling north and east to the covered Pumping Station Bridge.

Thompson had the confluence of the Hinsdale and Punch brooks pegged as the likely first campsite of the captives marched away from Deerfield following the famous February 29, 1704 French and Indian attack on Old Deerfield, because an early metal broad-axe head was found nearby by a 19th-century farmer sometime after the brooks joined. Although that’s flimsy evidence, it could well be so. The site would have been right off the old Indian trail that led through the Meadows to an infamous Green River fording place, below today’s Pumping Station bridge.

That ancient Green River crossing was the site where captive Reverend John Williams’ wife, Eunice, weakened by recent childbirth and failing in frigid water, was dispatched by her Native captor with a coup de grâce from a tomahawk. A stone monument today marks the spot where her corpse was recovered.

From there, the ancient trail led through the uplands of Leyden and Guilford, Vermont to the Connecticut River near a crossing site later occupied by Fort Dummer.

Before the axe head was found, just west of today’s Plain Road, the site of the Deerfield captives’ first overnight encampment was believed to be a swamp about a mile south. Which swamp is anyone’s guess, forever open to debate. First, Deerfield historian George Sheldon’s 1895 History of Deerfield placed it “east of the old Nims house.” Then, nine years later, Thompson’s History of Greenfield placed it west of “the old Nims farm,” today known as Butynski farm.

The old Nims house stood on what is now the site of Anne Butynski’s yellow ranch, next to her family’s popular produce stand and barn on the west side of Colrain Road.

The question of which historian had the location right is irrelevant if the first campsite was, in fact, at the axe-head site a mile further up the trail. But, for the sake of argument, there are swamps on both sides of the old Nims place, and Thompson had good insight: his wife, Mary Nims, was born and raised on the farm, built by her grandfather Hull Nims and inherited by her father Lucius.

Sheldon, however, was also an insider with great local sources, tradition, and historical insight. The Deerfield historian’s favored swamp to the east seems to make more sense for a couple of reasons: it was directly attached to the well-known trail, and it was sheltered under a steep escarpment forming the raised western and southern perimeter of the Greenfield-pool floodplain, today located across from Harper’s Store. Such natural alcoves protected winter camps from harsh winds, and were thus sought for overnight refuge by Native travelers.

Returning to Punch Brook, in 1904 Thompson saluted it as “50 years ago, a splendid trout stream” whose clear waters were “alive with sparkling beauties” – that is, the native Eastern brook trout that populated local waters before sporting clubs imported brown and rainbow trout. Thompson reported that the brook’s fishing glories had faded in his day due to drainage ditches dug by farmers to lower the water table on level portions of land through which it flowed. Nonetheless, the stream still offered trout into the mid-20th century, and they likely still populate its upper and even overgrown lower reaches, where today it would be nearly impossible to drop a line without a tangle.

A septuagenarian neighbor and friend of mine, who owns his boyhood home on the south end of Green River Road in the upper Meadows, remembers catching a beautiful, foot-long brown trout from the stream less than 70 years ago. That fish had likely migrated to cold, shaded, summer refuge by swimming up Hinsdale Brook from the Green River. Such fish would have been there for anglers, especially during summer rainstorms that increased flow and activated feed in muddy-brown water, concealing them in their midstream feeding stations.

I am most familiar with Punch Brook’s upper reaches. I often hunted deer and turkeys up there, and thus know it better than the lower end closer to home. Recent inspection of its path through the upper Meadows revealed a narrow, loamy, barely discernable trickle of a stream obscured by a mix of tall, mature trees, including large, messy weeping willows and dense brush.

Although it appears to be nearly unfishable for much of the stretch between Green River Road and its Hinsdale Brook confluence, the little brook could still be fished through lush, marshy, private meadowland north of the road and up through the deep Smead Hill gorge to its upland headwaters. Likewise, the 250-yard run from the Hinsdale Brook confluence to Green River is easily fishable.

The state stocked Hinsdale Brook with trout before I moved to Greenfield 25 years ago. Although it is stocked no longer, Green River itself receives a heavy dose of big trout annually, and some of them do find their way into Hinsdale Brook. The stream’s upper Shelburne reaches, where it known as Fiske Mill Brook, also holds brookies, and even an occasional rainy-day brown.

In a recent conversation with another neighbor who’s lived her entire life across Hinsdale Brook from me, she seemed to know little about Punch Brook, and nothing at all about the 1843 flood that changed the course of Hinsdale Brook. As she pondered the topic on the side of the road, a spontaneous thought about Punch Brook suddenly came to her mind. She opined that its water must contain a special mineral because, though small, that little trickle of a spring brook never stops flowing, even on the coldest winter days.

Hmmmmm?

Fancy that, I thought, as my introspective wheels started spinning later that day.

Do you suppose the Pocumtuck warriors known to have accompanied French and Abenaki companions back to their old homeland for the 1704 attack knew the trail-crossing spring that never froze and thus targeted it for their first-night encampment? Though the answer will never be known, how could anyone doubt it?

 

Fawning Season

As seasons change, so, as we age, do our seasonal patterns and observations.

With hayfields chest high, pink weigela in full bloom, white mock-orange buds popping, strawberry scent sweetening humid air and the shad run trickling down, that reality smacked me upside the head on Memorial Day Weekend, when an unexpected daybreak encounter with a nesting doe unfolded in a finger of woods following Hinsdale Brook through my upper Greenfield Meadows neighborhood.

Headed south in gray light across the Plain Road bridge north of the old Polish Picnic grounds, I heard rustling movement to my left. I glanced up and immediately spotted a telltale white flash, followed by a ghost-like four-legged profile fleeing. A good-sized doe, she stopped and, angling away from me broadside, froze on a knoll less than 50 yards away, her head turned to face me.

“Whfooo!”

Her loud danger signal broke the morning silence. Soon she uttered another, then many more as I walked away. By the time I turned right onto Meadow Lane and walked out of earshot, she had sounded several emphatic warnings, uncharacteristic compared to many other recent deer encounters. Obviously, in my mind, she had fresh fawns nearby, perhaps birthed overnight, and was communicating with them.

Feeding or maybe returning from drinking brook water, she was communicating with her nest, not me. What I likely didn’t hear were low, guttural, burp-like sounds aimed at her nest. She was cautioning her nestlings to sit still. Potential danger at hand.

Had I searched for that nest, I think I could have found it. But why disturb a nest? Frankly, did I not know that the fawn or fawns welcomed to the world there would be up and running by the time this column hit the street, I wouldn’t have described their location. Birthing sites are to be protected, not publicized.

Simple deductive reasoning told me that doe was talking to her nest, not me. For months now, I have been bumping into daybreak deer who had not once previously been vocal. I had regularly encountered groups of three and five, and twice just one larger solitary deer I suspect was a buck. In all cases, they’d notice me approaching, freeze on high alert, and allow me to advance within 30 yards or so before retreating without a peep. Sometimes they’d just dip back into the woods, let me pass and, confident I was no threat, circle across the open hayfield some 50 to 100 yards behind me.

This most recent nesting doe had without doubt broken off from one of those groups I had been seeing. Her behavior was clearly that of a doe protecting her nest. Honestly, deer sightings had been conspicuously absent for a week or two and I knew they were establishing fawning nests. That time of year.

By August, does will reunite and I’ll start seeing pairs of them accompanied by their fawns. Most often there seems for some reason to be two adults and three fawns, sometimes just two fawns, rarely four in my experience. Fawn mortality may be a factor. Nature’s way. Some never make it out of their nest, others are eaten by predators or hit in the road or chopped to bits by first-cut hay mowers. It happens. An ugly scene that didn’t play out when fields were cut old-fashioned way, with scythes.

A few days after our first encounter, at the same early hour, that nesting doe and I met again from afar. Not 50 yards from where I had last seen her, there she was, head down, snuggled close to the wood line munching clover and rye. She raised her head, perked up her ears, and stared. Classic nesting doe behavior. Always alert. Never far from the nest unless, intentionally trying to distract danger away from it. Does perform that protective ritual, similar to broken-wing displays feigned by ground-nesting birds, to lure predators or human intruders away from their nests in playful, catch-me-if-you-can acts of deception.

Since moving from my hometown of South Deerfield to Greenfield 25 years ago, I have many times witnessed such acts performed to lead danger away from a nest. I can’t, however, claim to have always recognized the routine for what it was. Roaming the fields in the company of springer spaniel gun dogs, I just figured the deer were fleeing the dogs, and never gave it much additional thought.

The same held true for previous encounters dating back to childhood, with and without dogs. The deer would run and I’d watch them gracefully bound away without trying to analyze what was unfolding before my eyes. Now, walking alone without the distraction of rambunctious pets running wide quarters through fields and bordering woods, I typically get closer to wildlife, and can better understand dynamics.

Learning never ends for careful wildlife observers, whose perspective evolves over time. Whether you’re a wildlife biologist, a hunter, a photographer, or just a plain pedestrian naturalist, what begins as simple childhood curiosity and fascination can become insightful analysis aimed at predicting movement patterns. It is a strategy that dates back to the earliest hunter/gatherers. The goal is to be at the right place at the right time. It’s how earliest man fed and clothed himself, and today how bowhunters and wildlife photographers today fill their freezers and portfolios.

I’m sure I have not seen the last of this nesting doe who crossed my path. I had seen her before and will see her again, likely many times. I will not be able to distinguish her from others, though. I wonder if she dropped one fawn or two? Male or female? Mixed-gender twins, perhaps? Because I didn’t catch them out as a unit before they vacated their birthplace along the southern bank of Hinsdale Brook and northern perimeter of the old Polish Picnic grounds, I will never know the answer.

Nonetheless, I will see those deer many times before shotgun blasts echo from the ridges and snow covers the forest floor. I’ll bump into them on my walks, and pass them feeding along the road. I may even happen upon one of their nesting places next year. Such possibilities keep daybreak walks interesting and entice insightful observers to continue placing one foot in front of the other on their daily-exercise rounds.

Never boring. Beneficial, too.

 

Deerfield’s First Mill Site Lives On

I recently visited an old South Deerfield mill site I discovered some 60 years ago as a young lad trout-fishing on the Mill River.

The field trip with historian friend Peter Thomas ignited a research adventure, beginning at the dam and steep ravine below and ending at the expansive old farm today owned by the granddaughter of the man who took me on my first deer hunt in his woodland acreage.

Honestly, as a boy, I never gave much thought to the tidy stonework and streamside ruins of a collapsed wood-frame building that had deposited a decaying pile of revelatory rubble on a small platform of land at the head of a deep gorge. Large, rusty sprocket wheels told me it had been a mill. I left it at that.

What mattered most to me then was the site’s sporting, not historical, value. Frisky brook trout were always available in the deep, silty channel above the dam and, better still, in the splash pool below the 10-foot waterfall dropping over a tight dam-top constriction. I have always remembered the place as soul-soothing – the sound of the waterfall hitting bedrock calming, the steep, wooded downstream perspective peaceful indeed.

Before I was licensed to drive, my mother would drop me off mornings below the Mill River bridge at the intersection of Route 116 and Mathews Road. Equipped with spinning tackle, a bait can full of lively nightcrawlers, an aluminum-framed nylon net, and a wicker creel, I’d fish the pools and runs downstream a mile or so to a wooden farm-bridge in the middle of Settright’s back pasture.

There I’d drop a worm or two into the deep, silty pool below before walking up a short, steep escarpment to a small orchard, where I’d squeeze through barbed-wire fencing at the end of a dirt driveway. I’d walk to the back door, past where the ell met the carriage sheds, knock hard enough to be detected, and go inside to rotary-dial my mother for a ride home.

Back then, widow Nellie Settright was still going strong, approaching if not exceeding 90 and sharing her home with daughter Marge and son-in-law Bill Van Petersilge, a Marine World War II hero who had miraculously survived many perilous island landings on the Pacific theater. Old Nellie, the great-grandmother of current farm owner Carrie Chickering Sears, seemed ancient to me.

The Settright farm came into being not long before the Revolution, when Moses Nims (1718-1791) of Old Deerfield broke ground. Moses left it to son Elisha, who, not long before his death, sold it to his son Rufus in 1809. Seven months later, Rufus sold it to Erastus Clapp, a Pine Nook farmer who moved across town to South Mill River.

Precisely when the extant 18th-century Federal farmhouse was built is unclear. A Greenfield newspaper story about Mr. and Mrs. Francis Clapp’s surprise 40th-anniversary party held there on May 8, 1900 said the home was then 110 years old and had been in the Clapp family for 91 years. This would bring us back to 1790, which seems right. Or maybe that was the year the main block was built, transforming the smaller original dwelling into an ell, typical architectural evolution for historic valley farmhouses.

The Settright family came to Deerfield from Greenfield in the years leading up to the Civil War, buying a North Mill River farm on Dublin Plain before adding the south Mill River Clapp farm to its holdings in 1884. Although the northern farm was sold to Mathews Road and Stillwater Road developers in the 1960s, the family maintains ownership of the old Nims/Clapp farm.

Today the sign over the barn’s milk-room door reads “Indian Acres,” a name adopted in the mid-20th century because of the many Native American artifacts found in tillage east of Route 116.

Getting back to the upstream mill site where we began, though, my interest in it grew with my newfound genealogy and local-history interests, which blossomed after the 1989 death of my spinster great-aunt Gladys. My Grandfather Sanderson’s older sister, “Antie” was our family-history steward, carefully curating old records and photos. When she died weeks short of her 94th birthday under life tenancy in the home I owned, her dresser-drawer collection of family history data immediately captured my fascination.

I was soon led to George Sheldon’s History of Deerfield, where I found my waterfall fishing place identified on Page 269 as the town’s first mill site, dating back to no later than 1689. Amazing. That’s 15 years before the infamous 1704 Queen Anne’s War raid on Old Deerfield.

Sheldon believed, but could not prove, there was an on-site sawmill there in 1689 when the town contracted Hatfield millwright Capt. John Allis to build the town’s first grist mill on the stream, which rises in Conway and runs through Deerfield and Whately before entering the Connecticut River in Hatfield.

When Allis died in 1691, the town reached out to Northampton merchant/fur trader Joseph Parsons Sr. to complete the mill construction. Sheldon thinks the millstone on display in Memorial Hall’s front yard today was spun into action by late December 1692. By 1699, however, the mill had vanished, most likely destroyed by Native warriors.

By the time Deerfield hostilities had calmed down enough for the construction of a new grist mill, millwrights favored closer sites on the Deerfield and Green rivers, which doesn’t mean the Mill River site grew obsolete. To the contrary, Sheldon identified a Phelps sawmill standing there in his day, 200 years later.

That Sheldon assertion is supported by the November 2020 obituary of a man who bought the old mill site in 1971, soon building a home on the west bank and a bridge to it. The obit identifies the deceased’s property as the site of three sawmills, which is an understatement: Three different owners operated sawmills there during the last third of the 19th century alone.

Since learning of the 1692 Allis/Parsons corn mill, I had many times entered into historical discussion about the site, describing my memories of its layout, with a dam going across the stream to a pile of mill rubble on the opposite bank. Although an informed abutter I have known for many years told me the ruins disappeared long ago, I never bothered to investigate. Thus, I was not prepared for what I recently discovered.

After more than a half-century, I found that the stream and scene had changed dramatically. There was no dam, no waterfall, no deep channel above or pool below.

Hmmmm?

Could it be that after so many years, my memory was confusing the site with old mill sites on other trout streams from my fishing past? I wasn’t impossible, but I didn’t think so. Nonetheless, it remained a vexing issue.

Because the site is well-hidden from Route 116 travelers, I had never caught a glimpse of the home resting on a secluded terrace across the stream, or the bridge leading to it. Those features, for starters, stuck out most during my recent return. Then, upon closer inspection from the bridge, it was immediately obvious that much else had changed as well. I impulsively mentioned the perceived changes to Thomas but was not totally certain. Maybe I was misremembering.

Still perplexed a few days later, I finally placed a phone call to the aforementioned informed abutter. I knew he could set me straight. Yes, he confirmed, there once was a dam and narrow 10-foot waterfall, with a deep channel above and a splash-pool below. He too had caught many nice squaretails and rainy-day brownies above and below the dam.

“Don’t worry,” he assured me, “you’re right on point.”

He then elaborated, explaining that a flood washed out the dam, some stonework, and the first bridge built there. It wasn’t during Hurricanes Irene or Katrina. Before that. The first bridge was poorly designed, he said. It sat upon culverts that rested atop deep, unstable loam that had for centuries accumulated above the dam. The bridge itself was too low. Finally, floodwater overwhelmed it and blew out everything, including the old dam.

How about the rubble? Did he recall the wooden remains, the decaying roof truss and rusty sprocket wheels strewn on the opposite bank? No. That was before his time. His father would probably remember it.

Unfortunately, the man who built the home and bridge is dead and gone, thus unavailable for comment. Maybe the destructive flood swept away the mill rubble. Then again, maybe the deceased obit subject tidied it up before Mother Nature intervened.

Does it really matter? Probably not. Can’t we just say it disappeared and leave it at that.

So, there you have it – the tale of the old Allis/Parsons mill and a neighboring farm below. The Mill River runs through both. Today, the mill is gone but not forgotten. After 330 years, stable, stone, streamside remnants mark the spot, and the legend lives on.

 

Mourning Memories

My daily morning walk covers more than a mile, less than two. It begins by exiting the inset porch and crossing the front yard, passing a tall pink weigela and splitting a pair of tall Japanese maples to the triangular common on the crotch of Colrain and Green River roads that forms the southern tip of my property.

The neighborhood is sleeping as I walk toward Meadow Lane, where I take a left toward a looming sunrise and walk a couple hundred yards to a farm right-of-way between two nice, circa-1970, colonial-revival homes. There, I follow a nearly invisible double-rutted trail between tall, tidy residential fences and ornamental trees. The access allows manuring and harvesting of vast hayfields. Folks unfamiliar with the place probably pass the lane without notice.

Past the fences, I go left off the trail and, alone with my thoughts, follow the backyard perimeter of a couple of homes toward a small wood line. There, it’s not unusual to see a deer, especially this time of year when fresh, sweet, salubrious clover and rye stubble sprout. Never is it richer in nutrients than during that first spring growth, thus the higher price for “first-cut” hay.

On a recent morning, recrossing the common on my way home, I stopped to chat with a local farmer slowing for the stop sign in his white pickup. In the course of our brief, neighborly conversation, he told me about the deer he had just spotted grazing the field behind his barn. Sighting them through dim dawn light, he first feared his cattle were loose, then realized it was deer. Many of them. So many, in fact, that he took a count: 15, coming off an easy winter.

In this season of budding and mating, nesting and birthing, growth, renewal and blissful morning birdsong, thoughts of a solo, sentient walking man can romp and ramble to the most peculiar places. It’s difficult to predict where such ponderings will lead. I guess it depends on the elements – wind, rain, fog, or perhaps that first pink twinkle peeking through budding trees low on the eastern horizon, illuminating spring pastels to a soft glow.

Turkey gobbles from the ridge recently entered the mix as lustful mating toms assemble their springtime harems. This week marked the opening of the annual, four-week spring hunt, when hunters use an assortment of mouth and friction calls to mimic the sounds of eager hens and entice dominant gobblers to tightly choked shotguns. I’ve been there, done that. Enjoyed it while it lasted. Loved it, in fact. But how many turkeys must a man kill to be considered a good hunter?

If ever I am hungry and destitute, I know I can call in a turkey. That’s good enough for me. Hunting in my world is not competitive. It’s leisure activity. Though killing is a necessary component, to me it’s the most distasteful element of the game. One way around it, of course, is photography, with its benign type of shooting. That alternative satisfied my late Uncle Bob later in life. But it’s not for me. I don’t need it.

On a recent, clear morning, as light crept in, a tom sounded off from the ridge just before I hit Meadow Lane. By the time I reached the open meadow, I had heard two additional gobbles, then another as I circled back on the homestretch toward Meadow Lane. I can’t say why, but that garrulous gobbler spun my wheels into death and dying in the season of life and living. The die cast, I let it ramble as I put one foot in front of the other.

The chain of thought started with my late son Rynie, who had died eight years ago to the day, a day shy of his 29th birthday. Less than three years earlier, his 28-year-old brother had died a similar death, both confined to hospital beds and succumbing to dreaded post-operative infections. I didn’t dwell long on Rynie and Gary. Other deaths have entered my life recently. Isn’t it inevitable as we age? I must admit by now I am hardened to death.

Just in the past year my wife lost a brother and sister, both younger, as well as a slightly older brother-in-law. All of them died at home far too young – one of a hideous cancer fought with dreadful hospital poisons, the other two related to lives lived in the fast lane. Although it’s true that all three made choices that contributed to their demise, that’s life. Get over it. We’re all going to die someday.

Which reminds me, since the death of my sons, I have read the obits of at least four or five of their friends, all of them good kids who enjoyed many happy hours under my roof – blowing out my woofers with high-volume hip-hop and rap, and tearing my tweeters with ear-tickling newgrass and bluegrass selections from my CD collection. If you haven’t noticed, young overdose death before the age of 40 is now a national epidemic. Very sad. Heroin, fentanyl, and crack cocaine are the primary villains. Up and down these young people travel to tragic young demise.

All those thoughts were bouncing and whirling through my inner consciousness on that robust daybreak ramble through short, frosty grass and crisp air – touching on this topic and that like a hummingbird
feeding through morning glories. No, not mourning glories.

Although my inner ramblings began with my dead sons, their aunt and uncles, thoughts of them didn’t linger long. I quickly moved on to my late boyhood friend, Big Stosh, with whom in younger days I played ball, hunted, fished and caroused regularly. He was here today, gone tomorrow – discovered dead at home, likely a heart attack victim. Big Stosh and I had many good days on the Deerfield River and its surrounding hardwood ridges; that, and taking in the sights and sounds while riding on larks around secondary hilltown roads, preferably dirt.

I missed the Big Boy’s funeral, and would have offered my pallbearer services had I not been away at a national outdoor-writers convention. I regret that I couldn’t pay my last respects by lugging him to his grave. It wasn’t meant to be, I guess. Bad timing.

I also thought of friends Fast Eddie and Blue Sky, two men cut from similar, independent fabric. I loved both of them like brothers, warts and all, but have held off mentioning them in print. I suppose enough time has now elapsed to disclose that they both took their own lives. Their choice by different methods.
I hope no one will now object to me making such an acknowledgment in print.

So, there it is, my salute to friends who decided they had had enough. One suffered from multiple health problems that finally wore him down and out. The other had run afoul of the tax man. They chose not to stick around to pay the consequences. Churchgoers would call them cowards. I don’t go there. I’m not wired that way. Genuflecting to crucifixions, dropping to my knees to pray, and feeding the log-handled basket for salvation is for others. A believer I am not.

Looking back, that train of thought that briefly brought the dead to life in my imagination lasted maybe three or four minutes. It was all triggered by that rambunctious tom turkey establishing territory with throaty gobbles. As can happen to receptive beings when the conditions are right, my consciousness welcomed in wafting spirits riding soft, undetectable currents through still morning air. I enjoyed the brief visitations. Then, like the darkness, they disappeared.

I was back at home before the tall clock’s 6:30 gong sounded. I poured a hot cup of coffee, passed the dining-room woodstove into the parlor, maneuvered my power recliner to a comfortable position, propped up the headrest and opened a book about ancient Eurasian/Siberian rock art. Written by art-historian/anthropologist Esther Jacobson-Tepfer, it’s titled The Hunter, the Stag, and the Mother of Animals: Image, Monument, and Landscape in Ancient North Asia.

Now there’s a long-handled basket into which I willfully throw contributions – supporting beliefs grounded in the ancient hunter-gatherer realm condemned by “civilized” religions as pagan and ultimately reduced to ashes, some tied to a wooden stake surrounded by dry, brittle fagots.

Robed Inquisition monsters called it progress. Today it’s a hot mess.

Men, Mastodons and Maybe Even Sled Burials

Perhaps the best-kept secret in the world of late-Pleistocene archaeology today is the work of independent researcher Dr. Richard Michael Gramly of North Andover, a 75-year-old Harvard Ph.D. hopelessly mired in old ways learned from masters of their field during the late Sixties and Seventies.

What “Mike” Gramly does best is excavate and interpret sites. More importantly, he then promptly publishes his findings in the public domain. He identifies all of the above as lost arts in the field to which he has dedicated his life’s work.

With Gramly, there are no secrets, no dark-shadow whispers. He believes he was placed on this planet and educated by some of the best to make and share discoveries. That’s what separates him from the cultural-resource managers he criticizes for their secretive postures. Gramly does not share their fear that published work will pinpoint important sites and promote “looting” by collectors who hawk their goods in an active marketplace dominated by three-day-weekend shows and eBay.

Take a look someday at the Native American artifacts for sale in cyberspace. Many of Gramly’s scholarly friends routinely peruse these offerings and are upset to find well-known stone tools and weapons culled from important, deaccessioned museum collections for sale to the highest bidder.

But that’s a discussion for another day, one that has absolutely nothing to do with Gramly’s current passion. These days, he’s focused on North American human interactions with ancient proboscideans (mastodons and mammoths), a topic that’s captured worldwide attention from scholars probing the peopling of our planet.

What Gramly has uncovered right here in the Northeast and Great Lakes country is astounding, yet hidden in plain sight and unrecognized. He has put the hands of Clovis hunters all over curated remains of extinct mastodons believed to have died of “natural” causes. Experts have for decades believed that these early elephants died by getting trapped in mucky graves while seeking water during the Ice Age melt some 13,000 calendar years ago.

 

A Familiar Crew

Gramly’s current fascination began in 2014, when he caught wind of an auction that stirred his inquisitive juices. After a Middletown, New York farmer had exposed skeletal mastodon remains while digging a bog with a backhoe on his property, the in situ excavation rights were placed on the auction block. The resourceful Gramly decided to go for it, reaching out to a couple of friends who ponied up just under $25,000 for the winning bid. With it, they secured for Gramly exclusive rights to a site now known in archaeological circles as Bowser Road.

A few months later, in the fall of 2014, Gramly and a familiar crew, comprised mostly of members from the American Society for Amateur Archaeology he founded some 30 years ago, were on-site recovering the remarkably preserved bones of a 13,000-year-old beast.

It takes not only field experience but an open and creative mind as well to manage and accurately interpret what is unearthed at such a site. Gramly meets all the standards with aplomb. Plus, when he forms a new hypothesis that he knows traditional, knee-jerk professionals will challenge, he only grows more determined to prove his point.

The reason Paleolithic researchers have found it difficult to associate ancient proboscidean graveyards with human predation is that stone artifacts are rarely found at the sites. and even when a random stone tool or weapon does come to light, they cannot rule out the possibility that it’s an unrelated, coincidental drop. Thus, human hunting has been routinely doubted.

Gramly was never sure about such conclusions. Was it not a fool’s errand to attribute bone fields containing the remains of many mastodons to the stupidity of ancient beasts that needed water getting stuck in the mud while seeking it? For real? An intelligent animal that needed great volumes of water to survive, dying in the mud? Huh? It made little sense to Gramly.

Furthermore, Gramly couldn’t comprehend the narrow-minded view that absence of stone artifacts precluded human involvement. Did not ancient man also create bone, antler, and ivory tools, which appear in the archaeological record, and also wooden tools that do not? To Gramly, the mired-in-the-mud verdict bordered on preposterous. Old World hunters for millennia killed proboscideans with primitive tools. So, why would New World hunters be any different. After all, did they not come from the same bolt of cloth?

 

Reopening Cabinets

During the Bowser Road dig, Gramly’s curiosity was stirred by clustered broken rib bones to which he at first paid little attention. Bones lying in a marsh for 13,000 years do, after all, decompose and break over time. But then it occurred to him that there seemed to be too many, and none were intact. Upon closer inspection, he could see evidence that the rib bones had been worked, indicating to him that they were artifacts crafted by human hands. He then put on his thinking cap and came up with a theory related to hunter-gatherers paying ceremonial homage to their fallen prey.

Gramly was soon convinced that what he was dealing with were spear-throwers (atlatls) fashioned by Clovis hunters and ritually broken into many pieces during the butchering process. Old weapons were being had sacrificed in respect to the fallen beast whose fresh ribs could be fashioned into new replacements.

Then Gramly started finding evidence of larger bones that had been used for tool handles and shafts, and who knew what else? He was convinced that these bone artifacts explained the absence of stone tools in mastodon bone fields. How so? Because Clovis hunters were using other suitable or even superior materials from which to craft important tools, weapons, and other useful objects.

To support his argument, Gramly knew he must examine existing evidence in mastodon collections long ago recovered, unrecognized and curated in North American museums. He knew of more than 20 repositories nationwide, and suspected he’d discover other previously unidentified rib-bone atlatl relics among the collections.

His first stop was the Museum of Science in Buffalo, New York, which housed an extensive mastodon collection from the iconic Hiscock Site located along the shores of Lake Ontario in upstate New York. Having been a curator there in the 1980s, he knew both the collection and the site, where he had hands-on digging experience in a drained pond basin.

It didn’t take long for Gramly to strike gold in Buffalo, where he spent nearly a month examining a the vast, out-of-sight, out-of-mind collection stored in protective metal Lane cabinets. He was not surprised to find identical broken rib-bone atlatls, not to mention other interesting discoveries, including antler Y-sticks with effigy carvings, bone tools and objects, tooth ornaments and even a tooth tool, along with tusk ivory and, yes, human remains of two individuals that have to this day not been radiocarbon-dated.

Also in the mix, all within spitting distance of human remains, were the skeletal remains of a dog. Wow! Could it have been the grave of a Clovis hunter – maybe even a shaman killed on the hunt?

Gramly first thought the Y-sticks were the remains of a shaman’s headdress. Now he’s leaning more toward the top and bottom ends of a ceremonial staff. Yes, perhaps that of a shaman, but not necessarily so, and very difficult to positively decipher.

Another key discovery involved the ivory components of the Hiscock collection: some large, some medium, some small; some intact, others fragmentary. After examining several examples in the same couple of drawers, Gramly concluded that they had been collected from the same adjacent features. Then, on top of the cabinet, he discovered the largest example of them all, an ivory tusk too long to fit in a drawer.

This long object immediately captured his attention. He could see it had been worked, somehow cut in half lengthwise, a challenging task indeed with primitive Clovis cutting tools. Although another researcher had already loosely identified the object as some sort of digging tool, the more Gramly studied it, the more it screamed “sled runner” to him. Could he be dealing with a previously undetected Clovis sled burial, complete with a sacrificed sled dog to transport the corpse’s soul on a complicated journey through the Underworld to the Milky Way?

If so, it would be the world’s earliest sled burial on record, and perhaps the earliest evidence ever found of domesticated dogs being used as beast of burden. Not even in the Old World has such a burial dating back to Paleoindians been uncovered.

Then, among the bone assemblage Gramly found what he suspected to be crossbeams and other components of an ancient sled, again a cutting-edge discovery, one that he is now even more certain is accurate.

 

Around the World

The story gets better. This past autumn a friend of Gramly’s from Kentucky was visiting the Blue Licks Battlefield Museum only to find a mastodon tusk collected from the Ohio River-side site in 1897. Upon closer inspection he could see that, like the Hiscock ivory he had seen in photos, it had been cut in half lengthwise to create a flat surface – very likely another tusk sled runner, maybe associated with a Clovis burial.

Given the extreme difficulty and danger involved in bringing down large, powerful mastodons with primitive weapons, human mortality would have been no stranger to such Clovis kill sites.

Gramly traveled to the Kentucky museum and confirmed that, indeed, the Blue Licks specimen is another ivory sled runner crafted from mastodon tusk. Now that researchers know what to look for, future sled runners will almost certainly be discovered, perhaps even by Gramly reviewing additional curated mastodon remains.

Plus, there’s another important hat in the ring. Gramly long ago pulled in respected world-religion guru James B. Harrod, who jumped into the project when Gramly was examining the Hiscock collection. Never can there be enough trained eyes examining such collections, and the venerable Harrod did indeed identify portable stone rock art and make other valuable observations about materials in the Hiscock collection.

In the meantime, Harrod has also documented seven Old World sled burials from Siberia and East Asia and three others from the New World, all from the (current) Holocene epoch. The North American examples come from indigenous Inuit and Algonquian cultures in Newfoundland and Labrador as well as the upper Great Lakes.

Ancient customs and spiritual practices die hard. So, if people were burying hunters with their sleds and sled dogs 3,000 to 7,000 years ago, isn’t there reason to believe that the mortuary practice may have been carried down from a much earlier day? Anthropologists agree that a worldwide population of the world’s earliest hunter-gatherers shared remarkably similar cosmos that differ little from those of rare, indigenous jungle cultures that survive today in the threatened Amazonian rain forest and places like it.

Gramly put the world on notice about his exciting new paradigm last year by publishing Late Pleistocene proboscidean ivory artifacts from the Hiscock Site, N.Y., in the prestigious French journal L’Anthropologie. Wait until his new book expanding upon his hypothesis hits the street in the coming months. Yes, Gramly and Harrod are now finishing a work about North American human interaction with proboscideans that promises to rock to anthropological world. As the climate warms and the Arctic permafrost melts, this new book will open the gates for exciting new research.

Dr. Richard Michael Gramly should be proud of what has transpired since the Bowser Road auction, because this is now his baby. A confident archaeologist and unapologetic iconoclast, he has never feared swimming against the current and never will. In fact, he welcomes the challenge.

Bloody Brook’s Old Wright Place is Long Gone

I was on the road around 7:30 a.m. for an hour’s drive up Interstate 91 to Claremont, New Hampshire, a Connecticut River mill town south of Cornish and Windsor, Vermont – Mount Ascutney looming large on the northwestern horizon.

There I would for the first time meet Avis Dodge Rogers, a dignified 92-year-old bundle of historical curiosity and youthful South Deerfield memories, and maybe even a glint of girlish mischief in her light-blue Yankee eyes.

I know them, the eyes of my late father.

A wife, mother, and librarian who dabbled in local history and genealogy in her spare time, Ms. Rogers was born in 1929 to Charles Mason and Dora May (Clark) Dodge. Hers was a youth of cows and horses in the barn, chickens in the coop, and jumping up and down on the hay-wagon to compress loads for transit at her family’s 50-acre farm on the corner of North Main Street and Jackson Road, formerly the road to Whitmore’s Ferry.

When her grandfather lived there during the first half of the 20th century, the farm encompassed about 130 acres split by North Hillside Road, with 80 wooded acres extending all the way to Clapp’s Pond on the upland east side.

I know the acreage on both sides of the road. I often hunted there and knew Ms. Rogers’ father, Charlie Dodge, a well-known South Deerfield character and Oliver Smith Will elector who died in 1980. He was slightly younger than my grandfather, and I can’t imagine they didn’t know each other in passing. It was a small town in their day, and part of mine.

Ms. Rogers graduated Deerfield High School in 1947 and stuck around for a couple of years before marrying Albert H. Rogers, a friend of Deerfield veterinarian Charles Belford, and moving to Claremont, where he and a partner purchased Claremont Paper Mill. The couple remained there long enough to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary in 2019, two months before Mr. Rogers’ December death. He had been retired for 25 years, having sold his factory to Ashuelot Paper Company in 1994.

Avis weathered the loss and is still going strong, her memory, mobility, and communication skills remarkable.

I learned of Ms. Rogers last summer from a friend who bought her South Deerfield property about 20 years ago. He provided her phone number and encouraged me to contact her, promising I’d tap into a wealth of South Deerfield knowledge. I called promptly and have been picking her brain ever since, trying my best not to be a pest.

Always engaging and enthusiastic during our discussions, she had on many occasions encouraged me to visit. So, with winter fading into joyous spring – notwithstanding three inches of inconvenient snow that had fallen the previous day – the time was finally right.

I arrived at Ms. Rogers’ secluded, tidy ranch on a peaceful hill before 9 a.m. The gracious hostess was neatly yet comfortably dressed and ready to share information, with photos and records stacked on her dining-room table for the visit.

Tracing the Links

For me, the most pressing topic was the 18th-century gambrel-roofed dwelling that came with the farm bought by her family long ago. Not sure who bought it or precisely when, she knew it was either her grandfather or great-grandfather around the dawning of the 20th century.

The circa-1780 homestead that stood there at the time was identified by George Sheldon, author of the History of Deerfield (1895), as “the old Wright place.” By the time the Dodges bought it, the building was getting old and worn. “I don’t think people painted their homes as often back then,” she explained.

Ms. Rogers believes that in about 1905 her grandfather, Edward Mason Dodge, was faced with the decision of either replacing or repairing the deteriorating building and chose the latter. Why not? He was a carpenter, and likely had a hand in disassembling the old structure and building a new home that’s still standing there.

My primary interest was in the 18th-century building that was removed, a dwelling that would, if extant, be one of South Deerfield’s oldest. In fact, it was probably one of the first dozen or so homes built in Bloody Brook village.

My curiosity had been piqued over the winter after examining two circa-1900 photos of the old building – one from the Pioneer Valley Memorial Association’s Howes Brothers collection and another a lithographic, pre-1909 postcard. My interest only intensified after learning that the farmstead’s first occupant had been the Joseph Wright family, literally giving me skin in the game.

Although I knew that cooper Joseph Wright and his daughter Miriam Wright Arms were great-grandparents of mine, I knew little else about them, and had no idea where they lived. I knew much more about my Asahel Wright line through Deerfield’s Wapping village. More than likely, the two men were from the same bolt of early Springfield cloth.

There is good reason for my lack of knowledge about Joseph Wright, considered by Sheldon as a “late comer” to town. The Deerfield historian tells us he had resided in Ware and Hadley before arriving in Bloody Brook around 1779, the patriarch then nearing 60. It doesn’t help that Sheldon chose to introduce the “old Wright place” not in his Joseph Wright profile, but rather in that of a Baldwin family I had no previous impetus to examine. But Avis Dodge led me to the Baldwins, and they led me to Sheldon’s mention of the Wright place, which I was able to pinpoint.

Chasing the Goose

I then had ample reason to probe deeper into the Wrights and their farm, and was soon snagged in vexing complications created by what would turn out to be a misidentification on the aforementioned color postcard depicting an historic South Deerfield house. Chalk it up as a classic example illustrating how a published mistake can wreak havoc on a research mission.

This one set me off on a wild goose chase that was difficult to resolve. I found the vertical postcard of the antique, gambrel-roofed structure on eBay. Identified across the bottom left as the “Old Bartlett House in South Deerfield,” it sure looked like the same building my friend Peter Thomas had shown me on the black-and-white Howes Brothers photo with an elderly woman standing in front. Both photos showed the same front and side doors, same center chimney, same front and gable-side windows, and even what appeared to be the same mature trees standing between the home and the street.

Thomas was of the opinion, but not certain, that the photos depicted the same building – specifically the one removed by the Dodge family at the corner of North Main Street and Jackson Road.

I was immediately interested in the Howes Brothers photo for two reasons. First, maybe someone could identify the elderly woman standing in front. Second, the structure closely resembled a distinctive Deerfield homestead known in National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) records as the Locke/Fuller House at The Bars, now the home of octogenarian widow Mary Arms Marsh. The NRHP profile describes that home’s architectural style as unique among Deerfield structures. Although that may well have been the case when it was accepted as a Register building, it would not have been so before the old Dodge place, just three miles south, was demolished.

Despite having different chimneys – central in South Deerfield, dual at The Bars – the two contemporaneous buildings otherwise displayed remarkably similar, gambrel-roofed architecture styles, suggesting that master builder Jonas Locke, owner of The Bars place, could well have had a hand in both. Locke built his home around 1790 and would have known – and possibly even worked with – Joseph Wright’s oldest son Westwood Cook Wright, a joiner who was hired in 1787 to build a new Old Deerfield schoolhouse where Hall Tavern now stands.

Most confusing about the postcard showing what appeared to be the same decaying building as the Howes Brothers photo was seeing the Bartlett name attached. The 1858 Walling and 1971 Beers maps of South Deerfield both show “F. Bartlett” residing on the east side of North Main Street, about a quarter-mile south of the Wright-Baldwin-Dodge place.

Though my deed research has produced no evidence that the property on the corner of Jackson Road ever belonged to a Bartlett, there was a caveat: Avis Dodge Roger’s great-grandfather and great-uncle, Hawley brothers Mason and Alonzo Dodge, moved to South Deerfield in the mid-19th century and married Franklin Bartlett’s daughters.

Nonetheless, when shown the Howes photo, Ms. Rogers could not identify the elderly standing woman. She was certain the woman was not from her Jackson Road gene pool.

Hmmmm?

Perhaps the mystery could be solved in probate records, because by that point, I had still been unable to document a Dodge purchase of the Jackson Road property. My wheels were spinning. Could there have been two nearly identical homes – one belonging to a Bartlett, the other to a Baldwin – in the same North Main Street neighborhood? Was there a hidden Dodge-Baldwin connection that would appear in probate? Though if so, wouldn’t Ms. Rogers know of it?

One and the Same

Perplexed, I fired off a detailed email explaining my dilemma to Thomas, a sophisticated researcher and friend with whom I often share such snags. Maybe he would offer helpful suggestions.

Well, not quite – but he did take a short trip in cyberspace that ultimately solved my mystery. Using Google Street View, he went to the Dodge place now owned by Robert Decker, viewed it from the same perspective as the postcard, and noticed an identical barn in the background. Bingo! Same site, different homestead.

To illustrate the point, he took a screen shot and emailed it to me overnight while I slept. There to greet me in my inbox early the next morning, I realized that my first impression had been correct: the postcard depicted the old Wright-Baldwin-Dodge place.

In dim morning light, I reached for a notepad within reach on my desk. I remembered jotting down notes for future reference on a list of Franklin County Registry of Deeds plans. Noted was a 1968 plan mapping a couple of Dodge building lots to be sold on Jackson Road; on the face was a list of deeds I hadn’t cross-referenced with others I had reviewed.

The first one of these I opened documented a 1901 transfer of the Baldwin property to Edward Mason Dodge, through court-appointed estate administrator Pharcellus Bridges.

The transaction occurred about two years after the death of Joseph A. Baldwin, and two years before the death of his elderly widow and sole survivor, Mary Porter Baldwin.

Joseph A. was the third-generation Baldwin to own the farm. His grandfather John Baldwin was the first, buying the property and moving to Bloody Brook village from Connecticut in 1804. John’s son and Joseph’s father, Augustus Baldwin, was next, followed by Joseph, whose son James G. Baldwin lived next door and likely helped with the farm.

That elderly standing woman displayed in the Howes Brothers photo was widow Mary. Likely starting to fail in old age, the administration of her estate had been transferred to Bridges. She died in 1903 at 81.

So, there you have it – a splendid outcome to a chaotic, helter-skelter chase. Not only had I unraveled an annoying historical rats’ nest tangled in an unfortunate published transcription error but, in the process, I had uncovered a direct genealogical link to the place.

It had been the home of Joseph Wright, whose daughter Miriam in 1779 married my fourth great-grandfather, Eliphaz Arms. That couple had nine children, and lived on the same Bloody Brook Corner lot my widowed, 92-year-old mother calls home to this day.

Yes, a small world, that that of old Bloody Brook village.

Family Matter in Montagnais-Naskapi Land

My overstuffed December woodshed has been hollowed out by now, leaving a tall, thin reminder along the back edges that the happy sound of spring birdsong is near.

“Don’t let the frigid mornings fool you,” I have many times told myself in recent days, looking up at what’s left. “It’ll soon be over.”

That’s obvious, with daylight lengthening and the sun creeping higher in the southern sky. Before long the backyard brook will roar to the accompaniment of lusty daybreak gobbles from the nearby ridge as eager shad migrate up valley to their June spawning beds.

Keeping a good fire is a primitive skill. I pride myself in being a good firekeeper, tending the soapstone woodstove around the clock during the cold months. To me, there’s none better than wood heat. Nonetheless, I can’t say I don’t look forward to the last flame reduced to cold, powdery, dead ash.

Likewise, I can’t lie. No, I don’t eagerly await the sound of the fall dump truck dropping next year’s fuel supply in front of the woodshed door. Yeah, yeah, I know it’s good exercise for a battered old man trying to remain relevant. But still, it’s an annual chore that only masochists welcome. Why? Because it’s hard friggin work, no matter how you view it.

Plus, one must be cautious. Working a woodpile has been the final act for many an unfortunate man trying to do his part, and that includes a few personal friends.

But why fret it? I can think of many worse endings, some of which I have witnessed. There are worse ways to meet one’s maker than by experiencing a sudden onset of weakness or dizziness, a peculiar twinge in the chest, shortness of breath and a sweaty face-first swoon to the next kingdom. We should all be so fortunate. My sons weren’t. They died in hospitals – no place I want to exhale my final breath.

Sorry. Didn’t intentionally drift off to that place. Sometimes it just happens.

What’s nicest to me about spring’s approach is increasingly longer days and earlier daybreaks. Now that I’m retired, I rise daily to the first grey twinkle of morning light. Such early starts provide several uninterrupted hours of blissful silence. I can read, write, research or fire off emails seeking answers to vexing mysteries of the moment. It seems I’m always chasing for answers to something. It’s just another form of hunting and gathering – another primal chore, like fire-keeping, for which I’m wired.

A man on such a mission can accomplish a lot before the midday distractions of television, phone calls, and surprise visits, even those that are welcomed, not to mention unforeseen household problems that demand immediate attention. I savor early-morning stillness, in my world better than that of late night, when I may be tired but can usually rally for engrossing topics.

In recent days, my reading has taken me on an adventure to the north coast of Canada’s St. Lawrence Seaway. I was taken there by iconic, early-20th-century American anthropologist and University of Pennsylvania academic Frank Gouldsmith Speck (1881-1950). An expert in Eastern Algonquian and Iroquoian culture in northeastern North America, Speck preferred to study native people who were still practicing their old ways when governments and missionaries were committed to expunging them. The chic term activists today use for that cultural cleansing is “erasure.”

By reading Speck classics like Penobscot Man or Naskapi, about Eastern Algonquian people of the Northwoods, we get a glimpse into the lifeways of the indigenous Connecticut Valley people here before they were driven north and west by 17th– and early 18th-century colonizers lusting for their best land and forcing heartless diaspora upon them.

Even after native people here were forced onto reservations or fled to the hinterlands, the goal of their foreign oppressors was to erase their culture, religion, and language, a task instituted and enforced by uniformed officials of church and state.

By exploring the old ways by which Eastern Algonquians of the Northland were still living when he observed them, anthropologist Speck opens a window into the way of life of the indigenous people who lived here long ago.

Many years ago, I bought and read Penobscot Man: The Life History of a Forest Tribe in Maine (1940), and I still often pull it from my library as a fact-checking reference. The book focuses on Maine’s Eastern Abenaki Penobscot people, coastal cousins of the Western Abenaki of northern New Hampshire and Vermont, and also related by marriage and Eastern Algonquian custom to central Massachusetts’ Nipmucks and the native people from our neck of the woods referred to as the “Pocumtuck Confederation” by Deerfield historian George Sheldon.

My latest Speck read, Naskapi: The Savage Hunters of the Labrador Peninsula (1935), came to me by way of the University of Oklahoma Press’ annual Christmas sale. Because Naskapi were Eastern Algonquian, their cosmos was closely related to that of genetically and linguistically related people from our lower Connecticut Valley. We’re talking about shared customs like ceremonial hunting, butchering, and feasting of bears, fishing for and preparing salmon, trout and sturgeon, and even their nomadic seasonal hunter/gatherer travels and villages.

A peculiar new paradigm shift wants to designate as Abenaki the indigenous people native to this place. The Confederation that Sheldon described was comprised of Pocumtuck, Norwottuck, Waranoke, Agawam, and maybe even Nipmuck people, with longstanding marriage ties to the Abenaki and Pennacook to their north as well as the Mohicans who lived west to the Hudson River.

Not until very recent years has anyone tried to designate them as Abenaki. In fact, experts like Eastern Algonquian linguist extraordinaire Ives Goddard hold that based on language, they represented distinctive groups whose dialects would have bordered on unintelligible.

The current confusion may originate with a band of Abenakis known as Sokoki, who showed up to populate the area of present-day Vernon, Vermont and Northfield before 1640. They are believed by most experts to have come here from southern Maine to flee European plagues brought by sailing ships, though others hypothesize that the Sokoki were from the Wabenaki north.

Is this recent shift being used to buttress a thus-far-unsuccessful effort by Wabenakis from Champlain Country to gain federal recognition as a “tribe,” by linking Abenakis to Historic Deerfield? It’s a hot and divisive topic.

Nevertheless, the Native people who lived here and their cousins from the distant north may have eaten different diets, worn slightly different skins and furs, and built different dwellings dictated by climate, but at their spiritual and ritualistic core they were similar, and thus worthy of comparison.

Something else that caught my attention appeared in a bibliographic Speck footnote naming Life and Sport on the North Shore by Canadian naturalist N.A. Comeau as a source of information about Naskapi custom. Published in 1909 and reprinted in 1923 and 1954, the book is still in print.

What interested me most was the author’s surname Comeau, my maternal grandmother’s Acadian French family from Nova Scotia. When cursory online investigation found a direct link, as I suspected it would, I had skin in the game, always an added enticement.

My grandmother Adele Marie Comeau, was born and raised in Comeauville/Clare County/St. Mary’s Bay, Nova Scotia, at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy. Her people were fishermen, mariners, merchant marines, farmers, seamstresses, actors and who knows what else. She and the author were indeed from the same Bay of Fundy roots and neighborhood.

I’m confident that, had I discovered author N.A. Comeau before my grandmother died many years ago, she probably would have recognized him as kin. She was still a young girl living in Comeauville, N.S., when Life and Sport on the North Shore was published.

Napoléon-Alexandre Comeau (1848-1923) was the son of a Hudson Bay Company employee. As a result, he grew familiar with Native villages and customs, eventually living with native hunters in hunting and fishing camps. He was also fluent in five languages, three of them Native languages of the Northland, including Montagnais-Naskapi. French was his native tongue, and he learned English as a teen sent by his father to a school in Trois-Rivières, Quebec. His Comeauville grandfather had moved his family across to the Bay of Fundy’s western shore in Trois-Rivières during the final quarter of the 18th century.

The author Comeau bore witness to and participated in hunting and fishing customs that few white men capable of coherently writing about it have experienced. He knew the ins and out of setting ingenious snares and dead falls to capture furbearers as well as the trapping, spearing, cleaning, preparing and storing fish reserves.

What he wrote more than 100 years ago is still an important window into Naskapi culture, which, when reduced to the lowest denominator, is not much different than that of the Connecticut Valley’s Pocumtucks.

So, there you have it – another day, another log on the fire, another winter reading adventure – all to the faint trickle of sugarbush sap-lines dripping toward another glorious budding of spring.

It never gets old.

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