Circling the Bases

I can see the rain pouring down outside, hear it splashing off the flagstone terrace. I knew I should have thrown that whole cord of wood in this morning. Blame the wife, an easy, unjustified target.

Up just after 7, I made coffee, fed the fire, got dressed and immediately went to gather wood and fill the stove-side cradle. In the woodshed, fresh cord dumped outside right up to the open doorway, I, of course, started tossing it in and got carried away. After 20 minutes, I had three-quarters of the load heaped inside when I heard the kitchen door swing open, my wife walking toward me. She wanted me to take a break, didn’t want me working like that. No desire to argue, I stepped into the woodshed, squeezed through a narrow lane created by the woodpile, brushed off in front of the coal bin, walked into the shed, past the pantry and into the kitchen. There, I poured a big cup of the coffee, walked through the dining room and into the parlor to relax. The woodshed chore could wait, wouldn’t take long to finish, maybe 10 minutes. I just wanted it behind me before predicted afternoon showers. Then, sure enough — or is it of course? — walking the dogs an hour or so later, it started raining and I had to head home to cover that small outdoor woodpile with a cheap blue plastic tarp. Women! Those much-needed voices of caution and reason, agents of procrastination! No sense getting worked up, though. The wood didn’t get saturated, will be just fine.

What a difference a week makes. My wool vest is back out and handy, hanging over the back of a birdcage Windsor tucked under the east end of the long, cherry, dining-room harvest table. Not only that, I’m back to turning up my collar for walks. No, it sure didn’t take long for Monday’s brisk north winds to reintroduce March and erase that nice summer mirage we all enjoyed last week. The trees and bushes seemed to savor the hot weather, too, budding way earlier than normal. In fact, I’m sitting here in my study peering out the window at a green lawn getting greener by the second, and a bridal-wreath bush that’s budded at least three weeks early. We’ll see what happens. Usually I trust Mother Nature to process such anomalies. But you never know how the old witch will react to the careless sins of mankind. I’m referring, of course, to the Gulf spill and Fukushima, the effects of which are still circulating out of sight and mind, along the ocean floor, in the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink. Yeah, yeah, I know the “experts” hired to deliver good news to head-in-the-sand Pollyannas claim those catastrophes have passed with no lingering effects. I say, bull-twinkie. And, trust me, you don’t need a sophisticated researcher to uncover an entirely different, unvarnished evaluation from unbiased, independent scientists, the ones Fox-News harangues daily as hysterical alarmist loons. Just don’t try to decipher truth from the mainstream. Except for rare and welcome exceptions, the available “news” there is just too clouded in objectivity. But why belabor an old, unworthy issue? Back to the early spring, that sacred red rock I visit daily, trout stocking, turkey-season prospects, a music smidgen, a brief diversion back into the woodshed, and whatever else enters my mind’s eye. Just one of them days, I guess. Lots of stuff buzzing between my ears.

Sirum’s serviceman Deane Wonsey stopped by Tuesday to convert my John Deere lawn tractor back from snowblower to mower, and also to perform the annual spring service. The previous day had brought an impromptu visit from landscaper Andy Melnik, in the neighborhood, now come and gone from his annual power-sweeping chore. It seems everything except my trip to accountant Tom Scanlon has been early this year. And now even he’s in the rear-view, sort of; yeah, a month late, but still a good thing. Which doesn’t mean all news from the old tavern is rosy. Nope. I must travel only so far as the kitchen to find a credit-card bill from Bank of America lying on the countertop; insignificant damage, yes, but there nonetheless. Yup, we too are slaves to that behemoth predatory lender that seems to have its talons curled into everyone. Oh yeah, one more thing out of the murky gray skies before I get focused. I see Chick Underwood died. Too bad, but I guess a man can’t live forever; he was 91. I liked Chickie, even though he was an unapologetic Yankees fan. Still, the guy was an authentic, small-town American character, a fixture for generations around the local diamond, gridiron and hardcourt. His infectious, sometimes sinister laugh and playful banter will be missed. They don’t make ’em like they used to.

Traipsing even further askew, I must say I was happy to hear from faraway pen-pal Hannelore, that bright, accomplished German lady who from time to time checks in on a blithe whim from her homeland or Hawaii. A friend of a late friend, she has a way of just popping into my inbox, always providing thoughtful, well-written narratives on this or that, all relevant, often enticing. Multilingual, she loves to write and ponder, has found a willing correspondent and soul mate. Maybe someday we’ll meet. It wouldn’t surprise me. Then again, even if we don’t, she’s fun, even invigorating at times, her topics random, the answers often elusive, sumptuous food for thought. I devour such stuff with my face in the bowl and come away messy. As it turns out, we’re both quietly working on introspective stuff. A Knut Hamsun devotee, I learned long ago to admire the European mind, at least what little I know of it; and now this pulsating, breathing, articulate human being, a lady no less; even better, regardless of Christian society’s stern warning that males and females, made by nature for each other, must proceed with caution, be forever wary, particularly after repeating chapel vows. I don’t play that silly taboo game. It makes no sense. … Time to stop right here, though, for that quick trip back to the woodshed.

Oh, yes, the woodshed. Once you’ve had one that’s connected to the house and handy, could you ever go without? Not me, at least not as long as I’m burning wood for winter comfort. Having your wood supply close and covered near the stove is a grand luxury indeed. Just Tuesday my shed was empty, excluding the small stuff piled high for the fireplaces in a north-side cubby-hole created by the protruding “indoor” outhouse, also a grand luxury in its day. This last load from wood vendor Blue Sky is beautiful seasoned locust that will easily carry me through May. Yup, I know, another 225 bucks down the drain. But what can a man do? I suppose I could buy myself a chainsaw and splitter and humiliate myself begging for free fuel by offering to remove toppled trees from the side of the road. But when you look at it rationally, what do you really gain from such a demeaning chore? Isn’t your time and labor worth something, too? I guess it depends how you look at it. And what’s the alternative? No wood? Stove dampered too low? Gloves and a  wool cap in the winter reading parlor? I could live with that little step back in time, but my wife? Uh-uh. It’s OK. I like keeping a fire from October to May, awaking in the wee hours to feed it. I can’t understand those who let the fire die most nights, only to start anew the next morning due to pure laziness. But, hey, that’s just me. Maybe I’m weird or something.

Readers may have noticed how I stopped mentioning travelin’ music a couple of weeks ago. To be honest, I figured no one really cared. Then, just last week I bumped into an unknown  fella who, maybe sarcastically, wanted to know if I was still listening to bluegrass. Well, kinda, but I ain’t going there. All I’ll say is that if you like Dylan, you’ll love Tim O’Brien’s “Red on Blonde,” be it putting along a dusty dirt road, roaring down the thruway passing lane, or just relaxing by the fireplace in a cozy wing chair, lights dimmed, cordwood crackling, Rare Breed on the rocks, twist of lime, enhancing the mellow warmth. It can get deafeningly loud on winter nights like that, doors sealed tightly, Pres Speakers rattling your eardrums. Good old Pres, a softball buddy from days past. Older than me, he’s still chasing the dream, playing Over-30 and Vintage baseball with a rare, admirable passion. Good for him. It’s not for me. I’m done with it. But I must admit to happening upon an Over-30 game at Herlihy Park last summer and, out of curiosity, pulling over to watch an inning or two from an overlook. Although I don’t mean in any way to offend my buddy Pres, I found exactly what I expected, not a ballplayer among the sorry wannabes. I don’t know where the teams stood in the standings but would guess somewhere on the bulkhead stairs. This much I can tell you, though: my Deerfield Pony League team from the old Pioneer Teen League would have mercy-ruled either team. Paaaa-thetic. Why even bother? To prove you could have been a ballplayer when a Big Y bagboy? It reminds me of that classic Brando “On the Waterfront” line:”  “I could have been a contender.” I say, so what? Move on. Get over it.

Moving to turkey hunting, I admit that even though I haven’t participated the past couple of springs, I do think about it often; that and trout fishing, which I haven’t done in decades. Every day as I visit that Green River red rock and downstream pools, I study the water from an angler’s perspective, reading the runs, the pools, the eddies where trout lurk. Once you’ve fished seriously and understand the game, it never leaves you, that ability to read water, identify hatches, search for subtle movement in sunny lairs at riffles edge. Word has it they stocked the Deerfield last week and plan to return again this week. Ashfield Lake’s also on the list. I’m sure the Green will soon be fattened. The water is perfect. Which reminds me: I think my days of providing weekly stocking reports are over. Why? Because it’s all listed online, and several people I would not expect to be Internet friendly are frequent visitors to that MassWildlife website. Yes indeed, times change. You can’t fight it. I’m afraid it|doesn’t bode well for stubborn daily newspapers that refuse to adjust. Yeah, I know it’s true there are those who still don’t use computers or watch cable TV. But are those the readers newspapers should chase? Not in my mind. To me, it’s literally a dying market. Myself, I prefer to reach people who get their news by modern means and visit newspapers looking for something different, news or the delivery thereof that can’t be found on the nightly news, 24/7 cable or Google. In my opinion, newspapers that don’t deliver unique news ain’t long for this world. But, even though retirement is near, why stir that stinky cesspool? It’s pointless.

Ooops! There I go again. Can you believe it? I got distracted and didn’t follow through on my turkey-hunting ramble. Like I said, I have been thinking about turkeys lately, mostly the fact that they had a gift-wrapped winter with minimal, if any, mortality except predatory. January and February spotters complained they weren’t seeing winter flocks where they had grown accustomed to seeing them. Well, guess what? The big birds are back with a vengeance after a long, glorious winter of foraging secluded red-oak groves of their choosing for protein-rich acorns. There should be a lot of jakes and some beautiful boss gobblers out there for the picking around the first of May. And with little snow and no mud season, the dangling beards ought to be long, full and undamaged, rare trophies. The problem will be seeing birds in the forest and hearing distant gobbles. Hunters typically get a couple of weeks of open forest, with no leaves and open sight lanes. Not this year. The landscape is already looking very much like a normal opening day. By the first day, it’ll likely look like the last, visibility poor, bugs pesky. Oh, well, you gotta accept what nature puts on the platter. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even get out this year. Then again, maybe not. I don’t intend to push it, am unwilling to become a zombie just to shoot a turkey I don’t need. The day is fast approaching when I’ll be calling my own shots, won’t have to worry about schedules and routine. For that day, I am eager. Change doesn’t frighten me. In fact, I welcome it, find it inspiring and new.

Hey, how about that! It stopped raining. Time to tackle the what’s left of the woodpile. Then back inside to finish “The Democratic-Republican of Massachusetts” by Paul Goodman, difficult but informative. Next up: an Ambrose Bierce biography. I finished “Death in the Haymarket” last week. Everyone ought to read it now that they say we’re headed back to the robber-barren-and-wage-slave Gilded Age. Why does the bad stuff keep repeating itself? Maybe people are stupid.

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