Devil’s Dance

Here I sit, dry-docked, sparse snow waltzing through gray peaceful sky peering down. The dogs are disappointed, our daily walks temporarily on hold because of deep snow and a base too icy to get even a four-wheel drive with aggressive tires off-road to park.

I’ve heard more analysis than I can take about “Butler’s Pick” that brought another Super Bowl to New England. Live with it, haters, and focus on what matters — that MVP Tom Brady, harried throughout by a spirited pass rush that even he has wilted under in the past, scraped himself off the turf, stood tall and delivered tactical strikes under the perilous pressure of a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. To me, that was the story, one reminiscent of Ali’s greatest moments: first, when he rallied to stop Frazier down the stretch in the “Thrilla in Manila,” then when he took to the offensive after a masochistic rope-a-dope ploy that stunned the world and worked to perfection against bigger, younger, power-punching world champion George Foreman, a man packing as heavy a wallop as any boxer before or since, yet he could not break Muhammad’s will to win. Well, Brady stepped into that rarified realm in my mind with his fourth-quarter rally for the ages Sunday, joining the best of my lifetime: Bill Russell, Bobby Orr, Jim Brown and Sandy Koufax. Others were close, but challenged to select one man for one game in their sports, that’s my four.

Which, woe is me, brings us to an entirely different subject, one I revisited during idle time early Wednesday morning. The thought process began with the vivid image of a recent parlor fire popping, crackling and hissing, orange embers glowing, flames dancing up the back brick wall and out of sight through the wide Rumford fireplace’s throat. I was hosting accomplished, interesting overnight guests with whom I was eager to sit and chat, no matter where the convivial conversation rambled. The fireplace-cooked menu included savory New York Strip steaks, spicy fried peppers, onions, elephant garlic and mushrooms, and oven-baked Idaho russets. Waiting in the cool butler’s pantry off the dining room were two bottles of Chianti, six or eight local porters, and even a fancy decanter of Wild Turkey’s finest, holiday-issue Rare Breed, a smooth, potent, proven conversation elixir. It proved to be a good mix, just what the doctor ordered, and it just so happened we had a scientist with that academic title in the house.

My friends, both recreational hunters and anglers at various times in their lives, now hunt with shovels and trowels and five-gallon bucketsful of Mother Earth dumped and worked through quarter- and eighth-inch, wire-mesh screens standing on four, four-feet high legs. These homemade contraptions sift the fine soils through, leaving exposed long-buried clues of forgotten history, known today in the most sophisticated circles as “deep history” related to “deep ecology,” which we’ll return to later. Anyway, our relaxed discussion began with a meeting we had just attended, then spun toward my guests’ recent ventures and future endeavors before, out of the black night sky like a sudden bolt of lightning, came a quick transition to a new subject I was eager to explore. The question was: What is a newspaper outdoors column, and how far can it stray from the tired old hook-and-bullet yarns that raise the ire of no one except the occasional vegan, anti-hunter or gun-control advocate?

“When I think of great American outdoor writers,” offered the academic doc who spent much of his adult life in northern New England, “I can’t say Gadabout Gaddis or Bish Bishop come immediately to mind. No, in fact, I first think of Thoreau and Emerson and John Muir, later Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson, today Gary Snyder, Wendell Berry and Gary Nabhan. Even (former Boston Globe columnists) Monty Montgomery and Tony Chamberlain were a cut above because they ventured into nature issues, maybe pollution or global warming, that drew a wide audience of non-hunter/fishermen.”

Interesting indeed, and right in my wheelhouse. My scholarly pal had just praised thinkers who fit into the “deep-ecology/deep-history” genre — people spiritually closer to primitive hunter/gatherers, Native Americans and Far Eastern worldview than that of Occidentals, that is Christians who laid the foundation for destructive, capitalistic, corporate/industrial Western Civilization. One school views mankind as just one component of nature that’s no better or worse than plants and animals and insects and reptiles and rocks and rills and watersheds; the other views man as a superior being placed on earth to exploit nature for pleasure and profit. It was that Occidental perspective that by the 1960s had polluted our rivers, killed our Great Lakes and produced toxic air to breathe. Of course, there are still those who wish nothing had changed, that they could still for the sake of private gain work in an unregulated environment that destroys many precious resources we need to survive. Although I myself cannot get my head around that greedy, selfish school of thought, I suppose at the core of it is the belief that someone else will have to deal with it, and when they do, our advanced technology will allow us to unravel the mess. Good luck, dreamers.

That reminds me of a promotional morning email from, providing a list of books about Manchester, N.H.’s, Amoskeag Falls. Desiring to learn about the rich indigenous past of this prolific, ancient, native, Merrimack River fishing station, I found UMass anthropologist Dena Dincauze’s monograph on the Neville Site and ordered it online. But that book was virtually all I could find on the site’s deep history. Then came the Amazon email highlighting several sources detailing the proud industrial history of textile and paper mills that wiped out deep history in favor of “progress,” ultimately leaving a polluted mess of a grand New England river. It’s typical American history, which begins and ends with the glorious riches brought to these shores from Europe. Perhaps if the deep history was as strongly promoted by historians, the public would gobble it up with gusto, and comprehend that there is another, better worldview.

It’s time to face facts, fellas. This belief that we can conquer nature and be saved from our industrial sins by clever science and fuzzy math is a dance with the devil. Count me out. I just hope I’m gone when the music stops, musicians quivering on their bellies, gasping for oxygen that does not exist, the dancers following them to the floor like fallen timbers.

Yes, it’s true that Mother Nature is forgiving, but there is a limit to her patience. So when she gets fed up and goes “Beast Mode” — like maybe the Seahawks should have on the Sabbath past — it could get ugly indeed, with no one to blame but ourselves.

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