Faraway Feedback

It’s Wednesday morning, sunny and warm. I’m returning from a splendid riverside walk with the dogs when I spot the approach of a young fella I often pass and seldom speak to, he pushing a covered stroller eastward on Meadow Lane. Inflicted with ebullient, precocious spring fever, I slow to a stop, slide down my passenger window, say: “I hate to ruin this fine morning but, if you believe March is here, you’re wrong,” and flee like a mischievous woodland spirit, my home around the corner, column rewrite awaiting.

I get inside, slip off my re-soled Gokey boots, slip into Birkenstocks, go to the kitchen, pour myself a hot cup of Coffee Roasters Guatemalan Antigua, and head for my bright, sunlit study, books piled everywhere, space-heater purring softly. I intend to start with daily computer tune-up chores before putting the finishing touches on this weekly column, the first draft barfed out midday Monday.

I arrive at my desk and immediately notice my wife has left a little “reminder,” or maybe you’d call it a hint. The silver digital camera, black USB cord attached, stood out lying to the left of the keyboard on my cluttered desk. Unaware of the photos’ subject, I call my wife at work and end up downloading the entire batch into a My Pictures folder she had created, named “xmas 2013.”

With that unexpected chore behind me, my computer reminds me that automatic updates are ready to be installed. Hmmmm? Ok. I hit the install button, wait and — go figure — discover when it’s done that a reboot is necessary, forcing further delay. Restless, I remember, “Oh yeah, the oatmeal,” and rise, cutting a Cortland apple into small pieces and sliding them off the cutting board atop the oatmeal before adding almonds, walnuts and medium-amber maple syrup, placing the stainless-steel pan on the woodstove, and walking out back to snap a few pictures of the racing, rattling brook I’m writing about for the second straight week. By the time I return, the computer should be finished burping and gurgling and groaning and I’ll be more than ready to start adding dabs of color to my column sketch.

Walking to the backyard — beautiful day making things happen — sure enough, I spot my female neighbor walking from her barn across the street. A young nurse originally from Conway, we often talk in passing and Wednesday was as good a day as any for socializing. All bundled up and wearing a wool cap over her ears, I playfully ask when she’s gonna realize it’s a gorgeous day. She smiles and I add that, “It was days like this that used to get me in trouble as a young boy.” She responds with a grin, admits she doesn’t doubt me, and continues on her merry way.

Oh my! What a difference a week makes. Last week I’m writing about deep freezes and frozen pipes, this week spring fever. Isn’t it great how sudden winter warmth brings out the best in a stream, a meadow and a man, always bringing with it Satan’s lurking shadows, if you believe in that kinda stuff. On my morning walk with the dogs, all revved up by spring fever, my mind had wandered all the way back to Amherst 40 years ago, me hiking to campus harboring only honorable intentions on an inspiring, bright, sunny and unseasonably warm winter morning. Back then it took little to pull me into playful diversions that ultimately proved to be my undoing in the classroom and baseball diamond, even though I must admit I still believe that many of those little, spontaneous detours right past the classroom probably taught me more about the big picture than any pompous professor could have. Hey, I could be mistaken, but not in my mind; and here I sit, still going strong, curious and, yes, still defiant as ever.

But wait. There I go again, wandering away from where I want to go. Enough! No more unrequested stage props. No, we’re not here for aimless, rambling, stream-of-consciousness banter. I’m here to promptly correct an embarrassing mistake from last week. So why traipse off into spontaneous springtime fancy borne of unseasonable warmth, melting puddles, glare ice, corn snow and rollicking Springer Spaniels that couldn’t contain their glee racing along the roily Green River. Finally, the dense ice had broken, buckled and cleared, leaving behind a turbulent, silty, gray-green current bordered by shelves and random, triangular, streamside ice shards that looked like huge white tombstones pointing to the heavens. But, forget about that, back to last week’s annoying column error, one corrected by a most circuitous route; circuitous indeed.

God almighty, do I hate making careless mistakes in bold black print, particularly errors that qualify as sloppy or lazy, and this one did. But — horrors! — it gets much worse when you consider that the email “clarification” came at me from, of all places, Arizona. Yes, that’s right, from the Great Southwest. Hail, hail the World Wide Web, which can knock a man down a peg or two and keep him humble.

All I can say is that this cyberspace we’ve all become so enamored with can really keep a man on his toes. Mind-boggling. I identify in passing the source of my backyard brook as a muddy Patten Hill bog in the local newspaper and receive a rapid-fire email correcting me from the other side of the continent. I won’t soon forget it or, for that matter, the critic himself, one Russell Coombs, 73, a neighbor of sorts, likely even a half-assed cousin, whose family has for many generations owned an idyllic East Colrain farm on the second upland terrace above me, up by the historic Fort Morris Site. There, just north and south of that palisade French & Indian War fort, lie two of the major sources of my Hinsdale Brook. The other main branch flows out of East Shelburne along with four smaller spring streams and two similar little hilltown tinkles beginning in East Colrain.

What makes last week’s mistake most annoying is the fact that it was quite avoidable. Yes, right here in my face, atop stacked icons on my PC desktop, sits a tiny green map labeled “Terrain Navigator,” providing USGS topographical maps for every inch of Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire; not only that but the capability to zoom in and out, compute distance and elevation, and perform many other helpful tasks important to a man like me. The problem is that — despite the fact that I have never physically followed my brook back to its source and obviously was either careless or unfamiliar with Patten boundaries when viewing the map — somewhere along the line in 16 years residing at the head of the Greenfield Meadows, I had somehow arrived at the mistaken notion that my brook started on Shelburne’s high, wooded Patten Hill a few miles west. Let’s set the record straight: The closest any of the previously mentioned nine Hinsdale Brook tributaries above my home gets to Patten Hill is about 1.2 miles. That spring bubbles from a marsh just north and west of Reynolds Road in Shelburne. A few other feeders are in that same area, yet a bit farther away.

“The Patten District isn’t far,” chuckled Coombs, who, like me, learned to swim in a branch of Hinsdale Brook at old Camp Shelloy, located in Shelburne, a mile or two up Brook Road from my home. “It’s just over the next hill. The Patten District brooks all flow the other way, toward the Deerfield River.”

Oh yeah. One more thing before someone chimes in to correct me once again by identifying another tributary named Punch Brook that feeds my backyard stream from the East Shelburne/East Colrain hills: although true, that little trickler meets Hinsdale Brook a quarter-mile downstream from my home.

So now I do hope I’ve corrected that embarrassing little column error from last week. For the record: Hinsdale Brook does no such thing as “bubble from a muddy Patten District bog” as stated right here for all to see in black newsprint.

Close, but no cigar.

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