Gonzo Nuts?

Here I sit, once again wondering where I’m headed, akin to taking an old path through new woods. Unafraid, I’m confident I’ll find my way back to the truck one way or another. So why not stretch my legs and see where they take me?

I know where I should be going. It’s the final week of the 17-day September bear season. I could be calling the checking stations like I always have, digging for local tales worth sharing. But, no, I’m not going there today. That “Fancy Dan” presidential candidate of ours, Mitt “The Twit” Romney, ruined everything as Bay State governor. It seems these republicans with a capital R have perfected ways to keep the press at bay ever since Nixon reappeared in 1968 and … horrors … won. So, even right here in the cradle of liberty, no more quick calls to state officials without permission from professional screeners.

When I try to sidestep the annoying policy by calling longtime sources that trust me after years of interaction, the answer never changes: “Sorry, Gary, you know the rules.” In other words, as much as they’d like to talk, they can’t until they get permission, which has always been granted upon request, but never instantaneously. First, of course, “official” clearance must arrive by email or phone. Mind you, we’re talking about freakin’ bear-harvest numbers here, not state secrets. But I don’t want to get too wound up. I may well be under surveillance from a “smart meter” on the side of my home or maybe a tiny camera on the telephone pole across the street. Not out of the question these days, no matter what the apologists tell you.

Isn’t it sad how government has brought the press to heel these days, reducing “news” to press-release journalism, where everyone gets the homogenized story on the same day, and newspapers must resign themselves to reporting “old news” the morning after readers have seen it on the boob tube? Oddly, the papers seem fine with it. That’s what I can’t understand. Maybe it protects editors and scribes from getting “scooped” by the competition, if there is any, so they accept it. Not me. I view it as suicide and refuse to play their silly game. I’d much rather write something unique, even if it must be about poking around with the dogs, marveling at nature’s harmony, which, sadly, our political system cannot duplicate. Aren’t politics irritating? In fact, it’s gotten to the point where it’s difficult to pay attention; so much misinformation and deception, pure rhetoric aimed at toothless bores in Walmart boots who chew and savor it, then spit it up like a floppy-eared bitch in a whelping pen. The difference is that the regurgitated food on the floor helps pups’ weaning process. There is no benefit to propaganda unless you’re the special-interest group bankrolling it. I often find myself wondering where it’ll all lead. I think we’ll soon find out. Other empires have declined and decayed. Why should we be any different? Greed kills. Virtue is dead, or at least comatose.

But let’s not get mired in politics. I want to revisit the beechnuts I’ve been watching all summer. They’re now ripe and quite delicious. I’ve been eating them daily and even shared one the other day with a hippie dude nursing Christmas trees down in my favorite meadow. I may be a gun-owner and hunter but I’d rather talk to a hipster any day than one of those guys wearing an NRA cap, mirrored aviator sunglasses and a Cabela’s T-shirt, proudly belching Fox-News claptrap. From a man who’s never tweeted or texted, all I can say is OMG. Wait. Didn’t I leave out a letter? No. Better not. This is a family paper.

Anyway, back to the hippie dude. He chewed my shiny white beechnut pearl and said, “Mmmmmmm. Nice. Tastes a little like an almond.” I had spotted and walked toward the young man out of curiosity. It was raining and his parked motorcycle was covered by a blue tarp near the gate. Never before had I seen the bike there. When I reached him with the tree dogs, Lily barking in an unthreatening manner, I remembered having a handful of the thorny nuts in my breast pocket. I dug one out, split it in two, popped the two nuts out of the husks and peeled off the shells and inner brown film covering the good one before handing it to him. The other shell contained only a withered brown sliver. Don’t ask me why. It’s above my pay grade. But I have found several like it in recent days when breaking fallen nuts open. Also, most of the shells lying free out of their husks on the ground were similarly empty, much like I’ve grown accustomed to finding over the years in my beech-grove meanders. Earlier this summer, I couldn’t pick a nut that wasn’t full of immature meat; now this. Hmmmm? Maybe someone out there knows why so many beechnuts become hollow soon after or just before hitting the ground. If so, please tell.

Later that night at work, my chamois shirt covering photos stacked in a basket on my desk, I remembered the nuts were still in the pocket. I grabbed the shirt, took out a nut and pried it open. The interior shell was still greenish and, sure enough, both nuts were good, one better than the other. I peeled them both clean, threw the trimmings into the wastebasket and handed the better nut to desk mate and local agronomist Jay Butynski, to me, the Big Boiczek. He sampled it, looked at me like I was crazy and nodded with satisfaction. I told him that, although labor-intensive, a quart jarful of the little pearls would be great to have on the counter for mixing with fruit in morning cereal. Then he really thought I was losing it, maybe even turning granola-cruncher. But, hey, the Indians used to grind beechnuts into flour for nutritious breads and gruel that kept them far healthier than the stuff you buy nowadays at Stop & Shop or Shop & Save or whatever. Myself, I’m provincial and proud of it. At least local families own Foster’s and Big Y. That’s where I go. Big boxes are to me what smallpox was to colonials: something to stay far away from. But what do big boxes have to do with beechnuts, anyway? OK. I get it. Just a quick diversion. Back to the task at hand, that of local news that’s recently crossed my wayward path.

Whispers of a power company’s villainous role in the Aug. 28 flood that ravaged Deerfield apparently haven’t quieted. In fact, they may be getting louder. I received an email from a photographer friend who’d been out of town and missed my last two columns. He wanted to know if I had heard or written anything about a potential lawsuit by Deerfield farmers who contend that the power company erred by failing to release water from their upriver reservoirs as a safety precaution before Tropical Storm Irene. A fly-fishing guide told him the landowners were angry and united. I called a friend who’d know and he had heard nothing but said he’d look into it. I never heard back from him but did get another email the next morning from a Deerfield resident I do not now. He said WMass Electric Co. linemen had told people the day of the flood that the Whitingham Dam had been breached and the gates were opened because officials feared a disastrous blowout. He also claimed that local legislators had been flooded with calls for a probe but not a one of them wanted to touch it. Hmmmmm? Go figure. Who knows if there’s anything to it? Just thought I’d pass along the rumor. My guess is that it won’t be “news” to some readers.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for now, likely more than enough for the weak-kneed and true blue. I hope I didn’t stir things up too much. It’s hard to say exactly what consumed me. Maybe it’s the magical beechnut protein, spiritual food for thought. If so, I may yet fill that quart jar on the counter with pearls of wisdom to sprinkle on my cereal and stir my imagination.

They’re pure, wild and delightful.

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