Razin’ Cane

It’s weird how wandering thoughts are triggered.

With me, often they’re launched by the senses, this time scent, a soft, alluring sea-borne aroma, fishy and salty, that we all know. Some would wrinkle the bridge of their nose, say “eeeyuew” and run like frightened hare. Not me. It’s just harmless body odor, have smelt much worse, especially in preseason, double-session football lockers, a stench only the battered and broken could cuddle.

This rambling, risqué train of thought got freewheeling one morning over the long holiday weekend — hot and sticky by 9, flapping front-yard flag pointing east — and has lingered ever since. It seems to waft in and out of my consciousness like wispy patches of daybreak fog roaming through a ridgetop nut grove; floating through places malignant and benign, some appropriate for a family paper, some not. We’ll focus on the latter, hopefully. Then again, who knows where the devilish dare to delve. So fasten your seatbelt and buckle your chinstrap, Martha, because you’re riding with a bad boy; where he’s headed always difficult to predict with certainty. One place we’ll definitely visit, passing straight through the heart of the densest marsh, is the so-called Mackin site, where the powers that be are determined to build a Walmart and dismiss all foes as wingnuts and phonies.

Anyway, last Friday, getting itchy to take my daily romp with the dogs after two peaceful hours of early-morning reading, I sprang from my La-Z-Boy and walked out to the inset porch to retrieve my olive swim trunks, a white Hawley Common T-shirt with red lettering, and a black, feather-light, space-age aluminum knee brace, all dangling either off the open bulkhead door or an adjacent mock-orange bush, sprouts racing away in the tropical heat. Items collected, I returned inside, temporarily hung the brace over a birdcage-Windsor’s riser, slipped on the shorts and shirt, sat in a burgundy leather wing chair, put on my black peds and reached for the brace, which with one quick whiff in moist air reminded me of why I seldom hunt deer anymore. The problem is that strenuous activity like hunting necessitates wearing that brace, which realigns my deformed, displaced, arthritic joint and helps limit pain and inflammation caused by exercise; and the effective contraption carries way too much odor to justify wearing it when trying to outfox a wary animal with a superior sense of scent. Like I said, I don’t run from that scent. Deer do. Thus my reluctance to hunt wearing that brace, which presents two undesirable options: 1.) announcing my presence by strapping it on or, 2.) irritating my battered left knee to a stiff, swollen, inflamed mess by leaving it home.

Of course, I would be remiss not to admit what unfolded one of the last times I ventured up to my favorite stand near home wearing one of many ripe braces I’ve owned. How could I forget? It occurred two days before my 28-year-old namesake son’s death in a Burlington, Vt., hospital. Yes, slightly after 4 p.m. I was sitting against a large red pine when young twin bucks sporting small antlers trotted right at me from the downwind side and got to within 10 and 15 before deciphering something wasn’t right. They proceeded to stand motionless for what seemed like an eternity before spinning 180 degrees and bounding off, one after the other.

Wow! One more classic case of deafening woodland silence abruptly shattered by the sound of rustling leaves and the stunning discovery that deer are approaching quickly from the direction you hoped they wouldn’t come. Pinned down and unable to move, you can’t breathe, blink or budge without being detected, forget shouldering your gun. It gets better. I had ventured into that stand on a mid-afternoon whim, unplanned and totally unprepared. In fact, just that morning, opening day, me on vacation but preoccupied with thoughts of my son’s dreadful ordeal in a gloomy intensive-care unit three hours north, I had showered with Dial soap of all things, another absolute no-no for serious deer hunters. But I decided to go up there anyway, if for no other reason than to shake my melancholy spell, inhale some cool, refreshing air, and watch darkness blanket the hilltop behind the house. As so often seems to occur following impulsive decisions like that, not long after kicking out my spot and settling into that strategically placed, proven stand, here they come, not yet in sight, sounding at first like squirrels scampering through brittle russet leaves on the forest floor. I slowly pivoted my head left a bit and, yes indeed, shockingly, two bucks, 3- and 5-point brothers in the 125-pound class, trotting straight at me, soon standing right in my lap. Check that. Actually, my shotgun was there, pointing away from the deer. So there I sat, deer in my kitchen, cooked. Still, though, not what I’d call a bad trip. And, no, wiseguy, not that kind of trip, either.

Wanting to share my tale once returned to the comforts of home, I called a brother-in-law who takes deer hunting more seriously than I do. His flippant remark was that maybe he ought to trash his scentless soap and start washing with Dial during deer season. But, truth be told, it had nothing to do with soap. We’ve all heard that worn, right-place, right-time mantra all hunters have used in discussion. Well, I lived it that day, literally everything working against me, and there they were: twin bucks, the 3-pointer nearly within spitting distance, his 5-point brother not far behind. I suppose the moral of the story is that you’ll never put venison in your freezer sitting home. In the woods, there’s always a chance, even when you throw caution, not to mention Dial and a smelly knee brace, to the wind.

But this adventure doesn’t stop here. In fact, that’s only the prelude, the brace a pungent symbol of defiance I have wrapped around my chronic knee for nearly 40 years now. Yeah, I’m broken but not beaten, limping yet limber, rough and ready. So let me limp down another lane, one that’s sure to unleash  a mix of ire and praise. No problem. My kind of tale.

For some reason, that subtle, forbidden, salty-sweet scent rising in the dining room from brace to nostrils liberated an intoxicating stimulant that stirred my imaginative juices and ricocheted me off in many directions, the common thread a sad, worn realization that conventional wisdom is seldom worth the salt it piddles; that some fruit even in a commercial orchard rots on the vine, falls to the ground and is devoured before it can leave so much as a seed to sprout. Liberals try to prevent such “waste,” conservatives say the victim deserved its fate, and me, well, I say neither, just admit that there can be different outcomes from the same origin. That’s life. Deal with it and move forward, glancing only briefly in a rearview, which, yes,  can be depressing indeed. Fruit even from the finest trees can rot, while the worst trees can produce a most perfect solitary specimen among a crop of ugly, mangled rejects. I don’t try to salvage the decaying drops from the orchard floor or destroy the rare mutant prodigy borne to a ship of fools. I take the good with the bad and keep moving, hoping to pick up nuggets of wisdom in my waffle treads as I put one foot in front of the other. To me most precious is the plum that by miraculous cross-pollination or some other weird, unexplainable phenomenon appears on a dying tree of pitifully poor apples and shines brightly in the first ray of morning sun. It’s that rare fruit I savor, hoping a turkey will devour it and by chance drop its seed in a fertile spot. The problem is that trees like that are often toppled and burned by law-and-order societies.

Huh? How did we get there? What do those random, fleeting thoughts have to do with smelly knee braces and the Mackin site of Walmart fame? Just you wait and see.

That stalled, controversial commercial development may yet get waylaid by strong, eternal spirits that reside there in Greenfield’s northeast corner, ghosts that established their foothold long before such a town existed or Europeans laid eyes on the site. A case has been made, not convincingly I might add, by the “pro-growth” crowd that so-called local sprawlbuster Al Norman maliciously liberated that determined Native spirit, not to mention planted bones on-site to reject big-box greed. But it isn’t true, despite the fact that Indian activists fighting to preserve ancient burial grounds overlooking a sacred waterfall on New England’s greatest river have indeed become coincidental Norman allies. Norman and the Indians are fighting on different fronts: Norman’s philosophical and economic, the Indians’ spiritual and cultural. I have spoken to many of the Indian representatives in recent months and not a one has ever mentioned a word about Norman or Walmart. That’s right: zero. And when I have mentioned either, they stop me and say they’re not interested, it’s an entirely different issue. I believe them after extensive research and investigation.

What’s interesting from a personal perspective is that I myself sat within arm’s length of the reporter who covered the Walmart story during the most contentious, vicious years of dispute and never paid any attention to the sacred-burial-site distraction despite being for many years sympathetic to Indian causes. Perhaps there is a spiritual impetus for my pro-Indian predisposition, considering that I as a teen awoke each morning peering down the foot of my rock-maple bed at the tip of the Bloody Brook Monument marking the site of rare Indian victory over foreign invaders. The reason I initially ignored the Indian dynamic in the Walmart dispute was that by the time those activists entered the fray, I was already firmly opposed to development there on economic and environmental terms. First, I viewed as ridiculous the notion that Walmart was a cure-all to Greenfield’s economic woes. I thought the politicians supporting the development as a solution were short-sighted and unimaginative, and felt that the rabble-rousing blogger bellowing the pro-Walmart flames was toxic, intentionally igniting a culture war between haves and have-nots. The chump rhetoric oozing from that online inferno was nothing new, had been in ubiquitous use for decades by professional Walmart spinmeisters employed to defeat opposition and siphon billions from all points of the compass to the Walton empire in the sunny South. But that’s only half of the story. My first source of opposition to the proposed site sat firmly on environmental concerns — the fact that it sat atop a major aquifer which probably should have been deemed off-limits during the 1960s Route 2 bypass survey. Someday when drinking water is scarce, hindsight probes will likely question the wisdom of ever compromising that White Ash Swamp resource field. And if anyone digs deep, rarer and rarer in these days of texts, Tweets and twerps, then they’ll likely discover that the decision-makers way back when ignored key facts and demonized foes as loons, goons and deceitful obstructors.

As for the prehistoric indigenous burial ground bordering the site known as Wissatinnewag, overlooking the ruined sacred Connecticut River waterfall known as Peskeomskut, well, let’s put on our thinking cap — you know, the pointed one with a small, yellow crescent moon painted on the front that’s standing on the seat of that tall, three-legged stool in a classroom’s back corner.

Let’s suppose folks in faraway Athens were clamoring for a Super-Walmart shopping plaza to provide cheap merchandise for the huddled Greek masses. Would developers propose leveling the Acropolis or Parthenon ruins or Socrates’ graveyard to build it? Would they obliterate ancient history for a gourmet cheese-dawg eatery? Not likely, because Greeks can follow roots straight back to those ancient, pre-Christ ruins, which cannot be said here. No, here the government and its archaeological lapdogs prefer to start North American history with the arrival of European sailing fleets beginning in 1492. In the name of progress, these folks would rather forget the Paleo and Archaic civilizations and disconnect them from the Woodland tribes present to greet those ships, in many cases ensuring the survival of the disembarked, disoriented settlers. And now, when the descendants of our historic River Tribes return home to protect important ancient burial grounds on sacred sites their people were ruthlessly driven from, they are ridiculed and rhetorically dismissed as phonies and frauds.

Perhaps Greenfield does need a Walmart. If so, maybe it ought to be incorporated into a creative downtown urban-renewal project that razes or renovates existing properties with little or no historic value in long-range plans. They did it for elderly housing at the old Millers Falls Tool site, then again at GTD. Why not a similar type of initiative at a downtown site in need of rehabilitation? Maybe they could even squeeze it into that thriving commercial zone in the southwest corner of town? But no, not Greenfield, the so-called conservative rebel, Deerfield’s little sister that grew up with a serious identity crisis, a wart on her cheek and chip on her shoulder; and now the town’s faced with a challenging new demographic that’s turned the place upside down since I was a boy skating Bloody Brook and sitting in King Philip’s Seat fantasizing I was an Indian standing watch. It seems Greenfield would rather bulldoze a spot saturated with Indian history, not to mention destroy a once-viable and potentially salvageable wetland and aquifer. I think even late Deerfield historian George Sheldon, no friend of Indians, would be on the side of preservation in this tiresome debate. But that we’ll never know. Sheldon’s dead, just like the loudest voices in this Walmart fiasco will be when the ugly outcome can be analyzed by historians 50 years from now. Of course, I guess it all depends on who records the history, right? It’s nothing new.

If you need a reminder of what can happen to discount department stores, take a look at the old Rockdale building in Turners Falls. If I was working for the stop-Walmart campaign, I’d propose taking vibrant photos of that morose eyesore and ride it like a chestnut steed as a threatening harbinger. I vaguely recall Rockdale but remember well when Railroad Salvage took over and ran those tacky TV ads with hucksters Ruby Vine and Choo-Choo barking folks into their booth for cheap junk salvaged from railroad wrecks. Now they’re gone with their money bags, and their building’s caving in. Go figure. Oh my! Take a ride to the Powertown and take a look at that pathetic blight if you doubt me. It’s right out of post-WWII Germany, minus the craters. Is that what we want sitting vacant on the once-proud White Ash Swamp in 2050? Is that what we’ll get when the slave-labor merchandise and cheesiest of all tube steaks fade into the western horizon? You have to wonder. Either that or dig your head deep into the Barton Cove sand full of Indian artifacts and chirp in on the radioactive community chat boards and social media.

Which brings me back to that troublesome left knee of mine, another joint in need of reconstruction or replacement, not to mention the place where I strap that smelly brace which ignited this wayward ramble. Last year I scheduled an appointment with a Springfield orthopedic surgeon who ordered routine X-rays before I entered his office. It had been 10 years since my last appointment at another practice, which had informed me that I was a shoo-in for knee-replacement surgery, not the “50,000-mile flush-out” I was requesting. So let’s just say I was surprised and relieved by a new more hopeful diagnosis. The young doctor with a great reputation entered the room, X-rays resting on his wall viewing window, and immediately flipped the light switch to illuminate the film. He studied one shot after another, made a few soft moans, turned to me with a wry grin and said, “Yup, we don’t see many like this. On a scale of one to 10, that’s a 10 all right. Congratulations! How are you getting around?”

When I told him my anterior-cruciate ligament has been severed and floating freely since June 1976, and that since then I had played dozens of hardball and hundreds of softball games, thrown in seven cords of wood annually, taken care of a large yard, and hunted aggressively behind two athletic bird dogs daily during the six-week season, he grinned again, shook his head a little and said, “Well, I’m not going to recommend a knee-replacement at this time because you’re too active. In my opinion, you’d burn out an artificial knee in five years or less, not the desired outcome.”

Instead he scribbled out a script for my new, improved brace that now smells like a dear old flame on a good day, a filthy men’s locker room on a bad one, and encouraged me to keep doing exactly what I’ve been doing until I can no longer continue. Then it would be time for re-evaluation. So, regardless of what other doctors have told me, I don’t see a knee-replacement in the near future, hopefully ever. Depends how long I live. I’ll just cross my fingers, keep plugging until I can’t take it any longer and make adjustments from there … which brings to memory a trip last summer to Fort Ticonderoga. Accompanied by my wife and grandson Jordi, we were there for a history lesson and what turned out to be a long, meandering and entertaining Revolutionary War re-enactment. The fool I am, I decided not to bring along my brace but did have my chestnut crook cane in tow, just in case, and, oh, did that cane come in handy.

My salient memory from that long, rambunctious day was this woman — older then me and standing along a rope barrier with her husband on the way up a steep hill — who addressed me by saying with a little grunt-chuckle, “Excuse me, Sir, it may be none of my business but why do you carry that cane? We’ve been watching you for the past hour and, from what we’ve seen, there’s no one in the field who can keep up to you.”

Sweating and a bit out of breath, I made eye contact with a devilish twinkle, cracked a wry grin and said, “Can you not detect my limp?”

“Yes, of course, but my husband remarked that it doesn’t seem to slow you down any.”

“Well, Ma-am,” I responded. “It comes down to mind over matter. Then again, my good friends would probably roll their eyes, laugh and tell you, ‘No brain, no pain.’ But I’ll admit I probably should have worn my brace.”

She flashed me a warm smile, her husband, too. I guess they believed me, sort of got the flavor, if you know what I mean.

Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.
Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Mad Meg theme designed by BrokenCrust for WordPress © | Top