Harbingers Of Fall

Maybe I’m getting old and that’s why time flies as it does, but it’s hard to believe that summer has already faded to its stretch run.

Signs abound in the fields, the woods, the ornamental bushes gracing tidy country lawns.

The first hint for me that fall was near were my two Rose of Sharon bushes sporting purple flowers, which, by the way, my dog, Chubby, eats daily. He actually goes to the bush along my western perimeter, securely envelops a blossom between his jaws, pulls back in a tug-a-war stance, snaps it off and devours it like I would a blueberry muffin. He repeats the process as long as I allow. Soon, I presume, he’ll have eaten all the low ones and will have to leap for higher blossoms. I think it’s the only flower I’ve seen him eat, and I have no clue why but would guess there is a good reason. Maybe someone out there has the answer. All I know for sure is that animals have an uncanny ability to sense what’s worth eating for any variety of reasons, kind of like primitive man before the days of crops and herds, tribes and nation states.

Oh yes, the good old hunter/gatherer days that are in all of our backgrounds, though obscured by millennia of “progress” delivering us to supermarket shelves, roadside stands and powdered scrambled eggs.

Some heady old-ways devotees of a cerebral natural-history bent — beat poet Gary Snyder and agricultural ecologist Gary Paul Nabhan, to name two — believe humankind embarked on an unnatural path when it began drifting away from hunting and gathering. Yeah, yeah, I know, there are many good citizens committed to our modern ways who dismiss these people as crackpots, kooks and worse. But if you give them a chance and read or listen to them, they make a lot of sense in philosophical realms. And then you discover the likes of best-selling author Richard Louv, who brought a new term into the American lexicon in 2005 with his eye-opening, even frightening book titled “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder.” His point was that the modern American child, far removed from farm and field, woods and stream, no longer associates living plants and animals with what he or she finds on his or her plate. And that, my friends, is scary on many levels, because it’s out of touch with reality.

I must say that when I see those Rose of Sharon blossoms Chub-Chub finds so tasty, they remind me of looming firewood chores, that is, tossing seven cords of seasoned hardwood fuel into the woodshed attached to the pantry and kitchen at the rear of my home. It is a great luxury to have such a building in which to store wood because, once the snow flies, you don’t have to go outside to stock your stoveside cradle. But trust me, even though it’s good exercise for any man preparing to chase two energetic, crackerjack gun dogs through swamps for six weeks of bird-hunting, you never really look forward to it. It’s work with a capital W, yet so fulfilling once it’s all under cover in the bloated shed.

The problem with cordwood these days is the cost. When I moved to Greenfield 18 years ago, I was paying $85 for a seasoned cord, cut, split and delivered. Now you’re more apt to pay $300 if you don’t know someone, and $225 to $250 cords are becoming difficult indeed to find. And then, when you do find it, you have to hold your breath and pray it’s not a mix of soft hardwoods that produces low BTUs. What’s worth more, a $225 load of soft maple, poplar, ash and white birch, or a $300 load of black locust or two-year-seasoned oak? In the long run, I’d say you’re better off paying more for the latter, which produces far more heat. But be prepared to pony up $350 a cord this fall and winter for such superior wood.

Recently, there’s been a lot of beech wood being sold because the trees have a blistering disease that’s killing them, thus foresters are removing them from the woods. Having burned more of it the past two years than ever before, I would rate it a pretty good heating wood. Not as good as locust, oak, hickory, rock maple or black birch, but better than many others you’re apt to get in a load these days.

But, enough on firewood. Back to bird hunting, which always starts flowing through my consciousness as soon as I see the yellows and purples invade the roadside wetlands. Plus, right now, the staghorn sumac drupes, large and ripe, are sporting their finest, most salubrious deep blood-red. That sight is always to me a harbinger of my joyous fall bird-hunting season. I wish I knew how to use sumac as a medicine like the first North American people did. If you want to learn about it and other natural medicines available to all for free, along the side of the road, in the swamps or in the upland hardwood forests, get a copy of “American Indian Medicine” by Virgil J. Vogel. Published in 1970, it’s still in print for good reason — because it’s worth reading. The Indians used virtually all parts of the sumac tree for different remedies, employing the roots for one problem, the drupes for another, the bark and leaves for yet others. And all of them worked before the drug companies took over.

I knew a woman with five children who moved to Whately in the Sixties after a homesteading stint with Scott Nearing near Jamaica, Vt. This creative lady used sumac-drupe tea with remarkable success in treating childhood colds’ coughs and sniffles. It makes sense. Those sumac berries are loaded with Vitamin C. Yes, that’s right, the same stuff you buy as pharmacy tablets or ingest with your morning glass of orange juice.

Enough! Would be easy to wander off here. Not today. Maybe I’d be better served to start getting my hunting gear in order, my side-by-side oiled and polished with Butcher’s Wax. Plus, I’ve got a few household clean-up chores that must be tackled before those first cackles sound, the first shot fired, the first ringneck retrieved to the game bag at the back of my vest.

Oh, how I savor the fall chase in crisp, clear air backed by brilliant, inspirational fall color.

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