I remember well the wry grin worn by last week’s new crescent moon slouching east and facing west in the southern sky. I now know that sly, waxing sliver of amber energy building toward next week’s full Snow-Moon climax brought with it winter fury … and local suspense.

It’s true old witch Mother Nature spared us the deep, swirling, drifting snows our neighbors to the east grappled with. But she did deliver squeaky winter cold, which appears to be here to stay awhile. Should we be surprised? Heck no. What should we expect from a February moon? Beach blankets and suntan lotion? So, suck it up, Buttercup. Before you know it Valentine’s Day will be here, to me the first harbinger of spring euphoria and songbird glee.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch — cracked ribs slowly mending following a sudden, traumatic fall three weeks ago on treacherous backyard ice, the pain now temporarily flared by winter chores — here I sit, pondering just where this week’s ride will take us once I spin my wheels a whirl to stir material from the murky depths and fill this space I’ve filled for nearly 35 years. Yes, 35 years. A long time. More than a lifetime for departed sons Gary and Rynie. Me? I remember when I thought 35 was old, then just about perfect, now young. That’s life. I’m not complaining. Just trudging along, one foot in front of the other till the road peters out. Maybe, just maybe, someone else will pick up my trail, a path less traveled but more revealing, one that’s fertile, will likely disappear quickly if it goes to seed.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, of course I’ve heard that hilltown rumor, which is another type of storm altogether. A wild tale it is that’s rollicking from coffee shop to greasy spoon to tavern to city square. Yes sir, it’s spreading fast. I heard it last week … a hilltop barnyard off a dirt road, an injured horse, tattered and bloody, a dead, stomped-upon wildcat nearby. I poked around, got a surname, Googled this and that, came up with a cell phone and called it.

“Who did you say you are?” asked the cautious lady who answered last Thursday afternoon in Florida and is not due home until April.

When I told her who I was and tried with deft touch to build trust and gather guarded information, she confirmed everything I had heard, sort of, and what a farmer down the road later heard from a horse-owning, hay-buying member of the town crew who had heard the rumor at a breakfast stop. But the lady in Florida who owned the assaulted horse and had spoken to the person who discovered the alarming scene at her unoccupied family hilltown farm the morning of Jan. 14 wouldn’t go into further detail. Apparently she was receiving mixed signals from town authorities she had dealt with. She was getting weird vibes, I guess. At least, that was my sense, without her putting it in those precise terms.

“Believe me,” she informed me in a less-defensive, congenial tone, “I’d talk to you if I was home, because if what I think happened did happen, then I don’t think it should be a secret. I think people should know, especially neighbors with animals or kids. But I’m far away, don’t really know what to make of it all from here, and don’t want anyone angry with me.”

She asked me not to question her town police, and I honored that request. I thought about contacting the game wardens’ regional office in Northampton but knew I would first need clearance from the mandatory third-party screen established to prevent spontaneous communication between the press and state agencies. First, members of the media need prior approval, which would not likely be granted for such a hush-hush affair, at least not until after the public-relations people issue a press release with the proper spin. The third-party screening agency was instituted to prevent such off-the-cuff responses to sensitive press inquiries. That way, stories can be shaped just right for public consumption.

Wednesday, I was dying to call longtime MassWildlife sources who trust me and spoke freely for many years before the mandatory screening initiative went into effect. But that was impossible because all state offices were closed due to the snowstorm. Plus, I knew in my heart that even the folks who trust me and have over the years enjoyed free-flowing conversation wouldn’t talk about such a potentially controversial subject without permission.

So here I sit, knowing much more than I’m saying and growing more and more suspicious on many levels related to actions I’ve taken since learning of the tale and trying to glean more. I’m stuck in a holding pattern for now, hoping maybe this little tease will generate more information fresh from the rumor mill. Supposedly there are color photos that have circulated, and the cat carcass was quickly carted off by law enforcement for examination.

I’ve played this game for a long time now and have a hunch this little spark could ignite a fire storm of fascinating reports. Be patient. What I’m talking about is far from secret. Having grown up in a small local town, I know how fast word travels in places like where this incident unfolded.

And with that, I’m out of here — alert, anxious and optimistic. I couldn’t resist the temptation to throw it out there and see what happens. Trust me, this one’s a beauty. The best I’ve heard in a long time.

A humdinger.


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