Sowing Seeds

Lots of stuff and little space, nothing new, more like a weekly dilemma; that is, how to touch all the bases without busting allotted space, getting carried away, so to speak. Well, with snow falling, the press running an hour early and local activities canceled, why worry? There’s space to fill.

To begin with, grandson Jordi is in town for the week and I must say I’m thoroughly enjoying his bright-eyed companionship. So, I’ll give you a bit of that and a little more on our ongoing turkey discussion, something on fishing, particularly trout stocking but also shad and salmon, plus a quick mention of Buddhism and another brief diversion into traveling music.

Let’s begin with fish, the salient question being: Exactly what impact will our mild winter have on the Connecticut Valley stocking schedule, not to mention the timing of our anadromous fish runs, spurred annually by water temperature and flow. Well, Valley District Fisheries Manager Dave Basler confirms that indeed he intends to start trout-stocking next week. So there you have it. Could a better sign that spring’s sprung appear on the horizon, despite the snow that began falling after noontime Wednesday? As for our wild, migratory fish, it seems likely that Connecticut River water temps will be running a little high this spring, new snow notwithstanding, thus perhaps an early run, unless my knee-jerk logic is sadly twisted. Always a possibility, I suppose. A chance I take. We’ll see.

On the music front, yes, I’m still enjoying bluegrass in my travels but I also dug out Townes Van Zandt from that black, faux-leather sleeve strapped to my visor — turkey and partridge tail feathers poking out of a slot to add the wild effect. I’m enjoying Van Zandt’s introspective lyrics, not to mention the all-star acoustic session musicians backing him up on “The Nashville Sessions,” for my money, his best album. A Texas singer-songwriter, Van Zandt is in a class with Dylan as an artist but lesser known. A talented and troubled man, he was tortured by inner demons, chief among them depression, which comes through loud and clear in his lyrics, haunting stuff like:

If I had a nickel I’d find and game.
If I won a dollar I’d make it rain.
If it rained an ocean I’d drink it dry,
and lay me down dissatisfied.

That’s a thought-provoking verse from “Rex’s Blues” that has always touched me, gets my wheels spinnin’ in a philosophical manner. I guess we’ve all been there. Not a pretty place to linger. It’s manageable when unusual and brief, but Van Zandt, dead for 15 years now, lived it, couldn’t shake it while battling substance-abuse demons that deepened his melancholia and contributed to his untimely demise at 52. He was among our best poets but likely never reached his pinnacle.

Which segues nicely into Buddhism, of all things, a subject that really grabbed me while reading the latest “Orion,” a literary magazine focused on nature/culture/place and published every other month, the likes of Wendell Berry and Barbara Kingsolver among the contributors. The latest issue (March/April) is jammed with great, highly recommended stuff, including a little short story by Mark Slouka titled “Russian Mammoths.” Sloutka opens by explaining that Buddhists separate their lives into quadrants, the last of which is “enlightenment.” I guess what hit me square on the chin first was an old friend’s opinion that I was a closet Buddhist because of my fascination with moons and waters, citing particularly the way I often compare flowing waters to the ebbs and flows of life itself. To be perfectly honest, at the time I knew nothing about Buddhism other than its Far-Eastern origin, but I did find that long-ago comment from a friend alluring, a real wheel-spinner I have not forgotten. I remember thinking back then that maybe there was something to reincarnation theories. Perhaps in my past life I was Buddhist. Or, then again, maybe Buddhism just came to me like the sweet scent of a flowering Memorial Day lilac bush in the early-morning fog. Could it be that there’s a little Buddhist in all of us, or at least in those of us with Pantheist tendencies? When I read Slouka’s lead about the final enlightenment stage of Buddhism, I realized I’m living it, wondered for the umpteenth time where it’ll take me in the future. I hope to continue living this introspective stage of life for decades, reading, reflecting and relating intricate pieces of life experience into a final perspective. I find it exciting, something to live for, to share with those dear to me. But enough of that. Onto turkeys, a subject mentioned frequently here of late, another harbinger of spring on a snowy day.

The focus of my recent turkey dialogue has been the lack of sightings by travelers along local byways typically littered with birds of winter. Well, just a day after last week’s column hit the street — Bingo! — things changed. First the Conway observer who’s been bemoaning the scarcity of turkeys around his property for months sent me an email that arrived Friday at 6:17 p.m. and read: “They’re back. Not sure where they were, but there were about 80 in (my neighbor’s) field this afternoon. Not much for deer, though … yet.” Because I was working a rare Friday-night shift, I wasn’t home to receive that email but did, within an hour of its arrival at my home, receive a phone call at work about a sighting off Route 63 in North Amherst, near Cherry Hill Golf Course. A woman identifying herself as “The Hatfield Chick” called me from the Rendezvous because she had seen a large turkey flock earlier in the day and wanted to send me cell-phone photos. Hmmmm? I was confused by “The Hatfield Chick” moniker, immediately thinking of another lady I call “The Hatfield Filly.” But then it all came into focus and I placed her. She’s an acquaintance from the annual “Soup Party” I look forward to each February at my old South Deerfield home but missed this year due to a business engagement. Anyway, her photos show a longbeard fanned out in full display for what I at first believed to be a harem of lovely hens. Well, check that. Upon closer Photoshop inspection, they’re all males, some gobblers, some jakes, maybe 12 in all, but still in their winter mode. So, no, I guess our turkeys are not confused by this so-called winter of ours that finally reared its ugly head Wednesday.

In closing, back to grandson Jordi. I drove up to get him at 1 p.m. Friday in Randolph, Vt., and was stunned by the bare brown fields along the way, that and the total absence of cows anywhere on landscape once littered with them. Not anymore. In fact, never saw a cow anywhere. Isn’t it sad how New England dairies have vanished? As for snow, well, also basically nothing but postage-stamp patches here and there in shaded depressions until I got past Bethel on Route 89. Then, climbing into Vermont’s snow belt on the way to Randolph, consistent snow cover finally appeared on both sides of the road. But even there, very little, maybe an inch or two in the woods, a generous estimate. Likewise, on the faraway Green Mountains vista encompassing Sugarbush and Mad River Glen, there was snow but much less than you’d expect this time of year. Well, wouldn’t you know it! No sooner had I snuggled into the Randolph-McDonald’s parking lot under somber skies than a wet, sticky snow began to fall. The storm was short-lived for Jordi and me. By the time we hit I-91 in White River Junction, Vt., it was far in our rear-view. By mid-afternoon, we were parked in my Greenfield driveway. Jordi was pleased to learn on the drive that there would be a 1704 re-enactment the next day in Old Deerfield. His excitement pleased me. He needs joy in his life. No boy should experience the devastating loss he has endured at his tender age. The kid just turned 6 a couple of weeks ago, wasn’t even 5 when his father died. Now he has other vexing issues that are no fault of his own. I won’t even go there, but let’s just say life can be unfair. I will be there for the kid, and for younger brother Arie. I owe it to their dad, my late namesake son who died at 28.

I can’t say Saturday’s re-enactment compare favorably with the one we attended in June at The Fort at No. 4 in Charlestown, N.H., but it was still worth the trip. The weather was chilly, there were fewer re-enactors and no booming cannons, which are always a fascination for youngsters. Nonetheless, Jordi got plenty out of our Deerfield adventure, another important seed of discovery planted. He talked to costumed French, Indians and English colonists, made a partial candle by dipping a wick, dangling from a thin stick, into an iron pot of liquid wax hanging from an Indian House fireplace crane, and even got to handle New England, Oak Tree, Willow Tree and Pine Tree shillings, America’s first colonial coins, minted by none other than his 11th great-grandfather, proper 17th century Bostonian Robert Sanderson, called the father of American silversmiths. The discovery mission didn’t end there. On our way to the re-enactment perch overlooking the flood-ravaged Deerfield Academy athletic fields, we paid a visit to the Old Albany Road burial ground, Franklin County’s oldest, containing no less than 14 pairs of grandparents and many other ancient relatives. That little diversion I also viewed as an important seed planted, one that’ll sprout a sugar-maple sapling, not one of those sorry Norwegian maples dying along the roadside. Those foreign trees didn’t do any better here than our sugar maples did in Europe, proving one more time that some things are not meant to be.

I believe Jordi understood his deep-rooted attachment to Deerfield when, standing atop the mound capping the mass grave for 1704 victims, he flashed me a soft, humble smile. He “got it” when I explained to him that one of the fallen was “Brave Benjamin” Wait, another great-grandfather of his. A proud, experienced, hard-headed Indian fighter and former captive from Hatfield, Brave Ben foolishly fell in the Meadow Fight he should have known was a death sentence, pursuing triumphant French and Indian attackers escaping town with captives through the North Meadows. Today, I carry some of that innate stubbornness with me everywhere I go. I’m certain Jordi’s got a little bit, too. I guess we’ll have to work on it in the future.

Soon Jordi will be able to read and write and ponder life’s mysteries. I am anxious to help show him the way, be a sage guide during this, the final stage of my Buddhist existence. When fathering my own boys, I was in a far different space, still figuring out who I was and how I fit into the total picture. True, I planted valuable seeds in my boys, many of them sprouting suspicions of authority, never cool in the classroom. But I know in my heart and soul that the grandfatherly seeds I now can sow will produce a sweeter fruit. Who knows? Maybe even a tad less defiant.

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