The Key Factor

Isn’t it refreshing to discover that indeed an old dog can learn new tricks?

I rode just such an updraft earlier this week while reading with interest a fascinating R. Dale Guthrie book titled “The Nature of Paleolithic Art” — cutting-edge analysis of deep-history art forms, such as but not limited to cave drawings and decorative, symbolic carvings on bone and stone tools and weapons, all told through the insightful lens of a North American artist/naturalist/anthropologist/archaeologist.

The subject was a large-mammal rule of thumb I am quite familiar with and have often written about pertaining to species like deer or mountain lions growing larger in colder latitudes. I must admit I never studied the formula dynamics but was told and had read that the reason for this was related to a need for a larger body mass to survive harsher climates. It’s no secret among hunters that a trophy Pennsylvania whitetail buck sporting eight-point antlers typically weighs in the 120- to 160-pound range while similar deer in Maine tip the scales 100 pounds heavier. So it just made sense to me and raised no red flags when I was told that deer grew larger in climates where survival is more challenging.

Although I still factor in that assessment, Guthrie introduced a new twist relating to size of European deer in Spain and northern Scandinavia climates. Acknowledging that “underlying pressures for biogeographic variations are such things as climate, terrain, population density and diet,” he identified a botanical factor that’s more important in the production of larger bodied and antlered deer in northern than southern Europe, explaining:

“One explanation for this biogeographic size gradient is that plants mature rapidly and more or less at the same time in warm climates. This means that young vegetation, which has the highest levels of nutrients, is actually available for a shorter time in Spain than in Sweden. This may seem paradoxical at first, but the levels particularly of protein and other critical growth nutrients are highest in immature plants. Although there may be several fewer months in which green forage is available at high latitudes, if animals in those regions can find six to eight weeks worth of high-protein young plants, they can grow larger than southern counterparts who may have only three weeks of such high-nutrient foraging. Protein and other critical growth nutrients are key here – not simply caloric intake.”

So there you have it: the rest of the story, articulating the salient reason why big Maine whitetails average out much larger than large North Carolina bucks.

A thoughtful friend reaching back to my grade-school daze rescued an old, folded, wrinkled Greenfield map from a library Dumpster believing I’d be interested, and he presented it to me at work one night last week. I was tickled to get it, one of 1,900 copies printed in 1953 — 1,750 sold to the public — produced for Greenfield’s bicentennial celebration. That year also happens to be the year I was born in Greenfield, which gave the map personal meaning.

Anyway, the rolled map had lain on a cluttered, winter kitchen table for a couple of days when, on a cold, snowy-day whim, I thought, “Gee, I bet there’s nobody at Staple’s right about now. Maybe I ought to run down there to see what the rehabilitation options are.”

Well, my instinct was good — not a customer at the copy center, had the place to myself. My options were limited: lamination ($6) or laminated to a board ($21). I chose the second option and declined on the black-and-white PDF. Had the technology been capable of reproducing the red color elements, I would have gone for the PDF, too.

Well, I couldn’t believe the results: crisp, clean and sharp, no trace of a fold or wrinkle, preserved and protected for posterity.

There was just one little problem, though, one that’s oh so typical and annoying about local history and careless local historians. A line of red dashes identifies the route of Deerfield’s 1704 captives being led north on foot to Canada by their French and Indian captors. The problem was that the route depicted did not agree with Thompson’s History of Greenfield as to the site of the first overnight camp in the Meadows. Or did it?

I seemed to recall Thompson placing the campsite at the confluence of my backyard Hinsdale Brook with Punch Brook, perhaps 300 yards downstream. The map placed the first encampment a mile or so south of me, at the base of Greenfield Mountain behind Butynski Farm in the Lower Meadows.

Well, I went immediately to my library and dug out Thompson to refresh my memory. On Page 90, he writes, “Until recently, the place of their encampment upon the night of the fatal day has been supposed to be in the swamp just west of the old Nims (now Butynski) farm. But later the discovery of an ancient broad ax (believed to be a portion of the Deerfield plunder) at the former junction of Hinsdale and Punch brooks makes it seem more probable that the first camp was made about in the middle of the (Upper) Meadows of Greenfield.”


I guess whoever had final say on that 1953 map wasn’t buying the broad-ax hypothesis. I tend to agree. It’s weak.

Oh yeah, maybe now I can get back to that book I briefly mentioned last week about our extinct passenger pigeon, read with interest over my December vacation.

“The Passenger Pigeon,” by Erroll Fuller (Princeton University Press, 2015), tells a poignant, wasteful, gluttonous and maybe even horrifying tale Americans should be ashamed of. This handsomely illustrated book is worth the cost ($29.95) simply as a coffee-table display piece, fun to just page through for the many colorful artists’ renderings, including some by John James Audubon himself.

There has been a run of passenger pigeon volumes in recent years to commemorate the historic passing of Martha, our last passenger pigeon that died confined in a sorry cage in 1914. It was thus the 100th anniversary of her death last year.

Isn’t it interesting how European interlopers destroyed an asset utilized for millennia by North America’s first people as a valuable source of food and rich airborne fertilizer deposited on the Earth Mother by flocks so dense and deep that they were known to block a bright midday sun for hours. Wanton, irresponsible slaughter took care of that by the turn of the 20th century, when the proud native bird was relegated to zoos, cages and museum taxidermy … similar to the likes of full-feathered Sitting Bull traveling with Buffalo Bill or Barnum & Bailey or some other traveling freak show.

We all know the pathetic disclaimer plea: “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do;” and continue to do with a greedy Occidental grin.

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