Chewier Than Saltwater Taffy

We’re standing inside a reconstructed 400-year-old trading post along the south shore of Cape Cod Canal — impressive, exposed, hand-hewn oak beams overhead — talking to a wise, trim, attractive, copper-toned Native American woman guide.

Grandsons Jordie and Arie, 10 and nearly 7, are fiddling around with soft beaver and otter pelts, wampum jewelry and a fragrant, foot-long sassafras stick strewn atop a primitive sawbuck Pilgrim table, firing off one appropriate question after another. When they run out of follow-ups, I jump in and quickly venture into a rambling and quite promising deep-history chat with our warm brown-eyed guide who, just like that, quite innocently pulls me home from this new, faraway place named Aptucxet.

I think wife Joanne could sense the grandkids getting justifiably restless with subjects growing more complex by the second. She inconspicuously wandered off with the boys toward a tiny old railroad station where we had parked, providing a chance for me to continue an enlightening conversation that was dropping many fertile seeds capable a producing future succulent research-and-discovery fruit.

Tastefully reconstructed in the second quarter of the 20th century, Aptucxet was Plymouth Colony’s first trading post, established in 1627 in a Cape Cod location then known by its Indian name Manamet, now part of the Town of Bourne, formerly Sandwich, by Gov. William Bradford and a committee of fellow upstanding Mayflower Pilgrims. Within five years, two satellite outposts had been established in an early attempt to monopolize the New England fur trade. The second post was situated at a site Indians called Cushenoc (now Augusta, Maine), established in 1628 at the mouth of the Kennebec River, and the third was right here in the Connecticut Valley at the Indian place named Matianuk (or Matteneug), today Windsor, Conn., where Plymouth Colony Pilgrims built our valley’s first English outpost in 1633.

That Pilgrim migration to a Connecticut Valley rich in fertile land and commodities like furs, timber, fish, and you name it, was soon commandeered by competing English countrymen from Massachusetts Bay Colony, effectively pushing the Dutch and Pilgrims out. The Plymouth Pilgrims had opened the valley to English settlement, which was soon expanded by Massachusetts Bay Puritans led by Rev. Thomas Hooker, who founded Hartford, Conn., in 1636, when Puritan entrepreneur William Pynnchon was contemporaneously scurrying to establish an upriver fur-trading monopoly at Agawam (today Springfield). The rest is history, with settlement quickly running straight upriver to Nothampton, Hadley, Hatfield, Deerfield and Northfield.

Suspecting that I may share DNA with the merchants appointed to that first Aptucxet Trading Post, I asked our guide who they were and she was able only to identify them as two men appointed by Gov. Bradford, whom I sheepishly identified as a grandfather. Why the hesitation? Well, you never know what a Wampanoag will think of a Mayflower descendant after being run off sacred homeland by Pilgrims.
“Don’t worry,” I told her. “I’m on your side.” And the conversation continued in a congenial tone for several minutes before I went looking for my dear companions.

A few days later, I read the five-dollar, 30-page, 1934 monograph documenting what was known about the Aptucxet site following a couple of early archaeological excavations. Although the first clerks were not identified, I did discover that my gene pool plugged into not only Gov. Bradford but also into fellow Aptucxet committee members John Alden and William Howland, two more ancient grandfathers of mine. So, all tolled, as it turned out, my grandfathers comprised 3/8 of the original committee appointed to establish our Pilgrim fathers’ first trading post, the place where the value of wampum was discovered during interactions with Dutch traders.

It’s those kinds of discoveries that often make my world seem much smaller. But it doesn’t end there. No. While on the Cape, we stayed in a home on the Wing’s Neck section of Bourne, a long peninsula reaching deep into Buzzards Bay toward the western outflow of the Cape Cod Canal. On its tip, surrounded by water, is Wing Lighthouse. It just so happens that a branch of this same Cape Cod Wing family from the mid-Cape Town of Harwich moved to Conway in the third quarter of the 18th century, settling near the Cyrus Rice homestead, Conway’s first, which stood high atop the ridge behind Pekarski’s Sausage off Route 116 in Deerfield. That first Wing farm stood south of Rice on an old discontinued road that still winds through the forest, connecting Roaring Brook and Whately Glen roads. All that’s left at those historic sites are cellar holes, capped wells and stonewalls that help to mark the footprints of the different abandoned early old farms.

One of the Wing girls born on that upland terrace was Mehitable (1790-1879), who married (Dec. 16, 1816) Silas Sanderson (1790-1863), a Deacon Thomas Sanderson son who ran the 19th-century Sanderson mills at Whately Glen (then called Sanderson Glen) before turning it over the son Elon. Part of Mehitable’s wedding dowry was a pine, six-drawer, Queen Anne chest of drawers that likely came from her late mother’s estate and was handed down to family brides over many subsequent generations.

Today, we own that unique, handsome piece of Americana and local history. I call it the Sanderson wedding chest. The distinguishing feature is six prominent fishtail drops — a semi-rare maritime motif found on some formal, late 18th- and early 19th-century case furniture produced in New London County, Connecticut and Cape Cod. These large fishtails — two in front and two on each side — descend toward the floor from the tall chest’s straight bracket base. Someday, when the boys are ready, I’ll try to put it all into context for them, connecting that family chest with its distinctive fishtail embellishment to our Cape Cod trip and much, much more.

Although this future family-history narrative will probably not last as long as the old Indian tales that could go on for days around a warm winter fire, trust me, I won’t sell them short, either. Serious discussions like that can meander widely from one subject to the next, all related, and endure for many moons when the listeners are willing.

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Although not a record year, the 2016 spring turkey season was not bad a’tall. No, sir, it was right up there with the best of all time, breaking the 3,000 mark for only the second time in the hunt’s 36-year history, according to preliminary numbers released by MassWildlife.

This year’s preliminary figure of 3,054, which will likely only grow a tad by the time the final harvest summary is released later this year, was a mere 31 lower than the 2009 final record 3,085. A breakdown of the numbers shows 83 birds taken during the one-day youth hunt and 2,971 taken during the regular four-week season starting annually in the first week of May. This year’s season began on April 25 and ended on May 21. Adult males comprised two-thirds of the preliminary harvest.

State Turkey Project Leader Dave Scarpitti credited the big numbers to better than average 2015 brood production and consecutive moderate winters of 2014 and 2015, reducing winter mortality.
The 12-day fall season runs from Oct. 24 through Nov. 25.

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Early-antler feedback:  A few reader comments regarding my assertion two weeks ago in this space that deer-antler growth was about a month ahead of July’s Full Buck Moon, which got its name, according to the Farmer’s Almanac, because July is typically the month when buck’s antlers poke through their foreheads. This year, by the time that full summer moon lit the midnight sky, local deer antlers appeared to be fully formed, yet still in velvet.

My own casual assessment of this anomaly was that the premature antlers were the product of bountiful fall hard and soft mast crops, followed by an easy winter with little snow and plenty of available food in the woods to keep deer healthy, plus many, many, edible, spring-germinating red-oak acorns on the ground through May to supplement the spring diet of deer foraging along the edge of agricultural hayfields.

State Deer Project Leader David Stainbrook returned my telephone message with a message of his own indicating that he concurred deer antlers were early this year, likely due primarily to diet. He recommended reading through Mississippi State University’s  extensive online reports on deer-antler growth if looking for in-depth research and theory.

Meanwhile, a veteran local hunter and fisherman chimed in to say he had run across several bucks with antlers while fishing the lower Deerfield, the Connecticut and Sawmill rivers in June and early July.
“I have never seen so many deer in my spring travels,” he marveled, “and most of them are bucks. Must be they’re hanging around rivers because it’s so dry and they’re staying near water.”

A week later, the same source called to say he’d spoken to another devoted deer hunter who takes the pursuit serious, makes his daily rounds and has trail cameras liberally positioned throughout deer country in Greenfield, Shelburne and Colrain. The man told my buddy he had never seen so many bucks this time of year. Could it be because in other years he couldn’t differentiate between sexes because the bucks’ were not yet sporting antlers? Probably so. But that doesn’t diminish his observation.

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