Just One Of Them Days

Deadline looms.

It’s 1 p.m. Old Eli Terry just sounded a single-chime, his pendulum heartbeat loud and clear from a custom dining-room shelf midway up the south wall. It was almost as though the old fella wanted to warn me it’s getting late. Before long, it’ll be evening, time to build the Thursday sports pages.

I’m at the kitchen table on my laptop, back to the west wall, pleasant breeze filtering in through the south window to my right, books piled, disorderly printed reports strewn across the tabletop: Sheldon’s History of Deerfield, Thompson’s History of Greenfield, a transcription of Stephen Williams’ 18th-century notebook, my own random, handwritten and printed notes, some on a clipboard, others loose and scattered willy-nilly. Time to bear down and focus.

It has been one welcome delay after another this morning, which began a little late after “sleeping in” till 8:45, sleek, gray tiger Kiki purring by my side. Downstairs, I started with a cup of Kenyan coffee my wife had made before departing for work, and sat down in the southeast parlor to continue rereading Richard I. Melvoin’s 1989 book “New England Outpost: War and Society in Colonial Deerfield.” Maybe I’ll  gain new understanding of  an old topic that’s back in my grill, if it ever left.

I’m plowing through the stage-setting chapter to the fabled Feb. 29, 1704 attack on Deerfield when the phone rings. The caller-ID identifies paleontologist friend Mike Gramly. How can I resist? Maybe he’d even have an appropriate topic for today’s column? Well, not quite, even though maybe I could have gotten away with his subject, that is an ancient mastodon taken some 13,000 years ago by North American Clovis hunters in present-day Ohio. Interesting? Yes. But not for today.

Our meandering hour-plus conversation finds a circuitous route to the DEDIC paleo site on the Mount Sugarloaf apron, then the late Dena F. Dincauze and her UMass anthropology/archaeology/cultural-resource management team. Outside, I hear a friendly, familiar voice asking if he should enter by the inset porch accessing the dining room and parlor I’m sitting in. It’s retired Billy Wardwell coming to look at areas of the slate roof I want him to tidy up. Dressed in a tam o’shanter and knickers, he’s on his way to the Country Club or Greenfield for a round of vintage, wooden-shaft golf, at which in recent years he’s become quite efficient.

“Don’t hurry,” he says, standing in the dining room, referring to my telephone conversation, “I love looking around old houses.”

“Oh, great,” I respond, motioning to the staircase. “Don’t hesitate to take a spin around upstairs.”

Up he went. Soon, down came Kiki from off my bed. Sketched out, she headed straight to the open, screened porch door and meowed. Kiki doesn’t like strangers. Long story.

I let her out, wrap up my phone conversation, call dapper Wardie downstairs, exchange smiling pleasantries and go outside for a quick spin around the barn to the woodshed out back. We say hello to Lily and Chubby in their backyard kennel, tails wagging, and I show him the trouble spots, below which stand fallen slates propped up against the walls near where they slid off the roof. We double back to his truck parked in the driveway and I tell him I’d love to talk, “but I’ve really gotta feed and walk those dogs and get myself going. I’m behind. Have a lot yet to do.”

I wasn’t lying.

Dogs fed and porta-kenneled in the capped bed of my pickup, hatch open, we head for our daily walking place, where you never know what you may run into. Deer, moose, bears, turkeys, common mergansers, kingfishers, vicious woodchucks … you name it, we’ve seen it. Even wandering, chatty eccentrics walking the Green River every now and again. The one I most remember was a man in the water upstream from the riverside apple tree I pass daily. I was with grandson Arie, then 7 or 8, and the man was hard at work, doing something with rocks he was carrying to a little island hugging a riffle.
I grabbed Arie by the hand, said, “Let’s go meet that character,” and walked through the river toward the gray, bearded man, maybe 70, shoulder-length hair. We talked about Indians and government and Greenfield taxes before I wound it up and retreated back to my truck. I could sense Arie was a little unnerved by the man, who was quite a chatterbox. When we got far enough away from him and Arie dared to speak, he surprised me with his comment.

“Grampy,” he said. “That man sounded like a bull-shitter.”

“He was nice enough,” I remarked. “Wouldn’t hurt a soul.”

“Yeah, but he sure had a lot of bull shit.”

That he did. Though keeping his distance in the shallow, refreshing river, the kid had him pegged. I was impressed. What most surprised me was his proper usage of a word I had no idea was part of his childhood vocabulary. Although I wouldn’t be ashamed to admit it if he did, the kid didn’t learn that description from me. Boy Scout’s honor, though I’m no Boy Scout.

But, back to my Wednesday morning complicated by one entertaining distraction after another, and my belated trip with the dogs to the fields we walk daily. … There at the greenhouse where I always park was a familiar black pickup with New York plates. The owner was nearby, tidying up around the spot from which he had that morning removed his camper. Retired and living in the Adirondacks about 45 minutes north and west of Lake George — God’s country — he’s coming home to farm, hunting for a place to settle near but not in Greenfield. Smart man. Greenfield’s dead … and expensive to homeowners. Still, Franklin County is a beautiful place to live, and the Greenfield Meadows is a great place to farm. Ask his dad. He made a good go of it on the side for many fruitful years. Isn’t that the state of the economy for most here in Franklin County?

Anyway, the man says he may start with a small one-acre plot of hops and see what develops. He  wants to start with something small and inconspicuous. Hops sounds like a good idea if he can hook up with a local brewing company or two.

“You make beer?” I ask.

“No, but I drink plenty.”

“Fair enough.”

During our wandering conversation, interesting, too, I notice movement out of the corner of my dominant left eye. I turn. It’s the man’s octogenarian dad, still spry but walking with cane. He smiles and listens to the end of our conversation about what the Meadows would have looked like when boy hero Jonathan Wells retreated through it and away from angry Indians following the May 19, 1676 Falls Fight at Turners Falls. My friend told me that, as a boy, he had found many Indian artifacts in tilled Meadows fields, especially on a river terrace north of where we were standing, at a place he called Twarog’s. One prize discovery was a maize grinder uncovered right out in back of his homestead, not 200 yards from where we stood. It’s just one of many little clues uncovered by many folks over the years that the rich Greenfield Meadows — referred to in Deerfield’s earliest records as the Green River meadows or commons — were not forested when first “discovered” by English pioneers. No sir. It was almost certainly cleared Indian acreage burned annually or bi-annually to maintain a fertile Three-Sisters cropland of corn, beans and squash sprouting from the same circular mounds fertilized with guts and garbage from spring fishing.

As we conversed, the man’s father made a polite, subtle head motion toward home. We wrapped it up, exchanged friendly partings and split off in opposite directions — he likely to lunch, me to walk the dogs. Which reminds me: it’s that time of year when I always cut back a little on dog food to allow for all the healthy apples they devour daily down by where I met Arie’s peculiar river-rat storyteller. I let them crunch down six or eight daily and move on, oftentimes picking up a pocketful to hand-feed them along the way back to the truck.

We get to the truck, I load up the dogs and drive home. There, I take a quick shower, eat a bowl of cereal with yellow peaches cut into small pieces as I go through my email and, not two paragraphs into this spontaneous narrative from the soul, the phone rings. It’s my buddy Killer. We’ve been playing phone tag overnight and into the morning. I answer, tell him I must keep it short and jump back into the task at hand.

No sooner do I hang up than the phone again rings. It’s my wife. I answer, keep it short, exchange parting pleasantries. I’ll cook the spaghetti and warm her spicy homemade sauce later. Hey, maybe I’ll even chop up and stir in another hot pepper for a little supper surprise she doesn’t always welcome with a smile.

Then another call comes in from an old buddy who chases antiques. There’s a nice, clean Connecticut Valley chest on chest on the block that he thinks I should buy. “It’s right as rain, and would look great in your place,” he says. I’ve looked at it before. Even had the drawers out and inspected the backboards and underside of its straight bracket base. Though very nice, with nice detail, I haven’t bought that kind of period furniture in years. These days, it’s cheap. I guess I bought my stuff at a bad time. Oh well. You only go around once.

Phew! So now, here I sit, clock ticking down toward supper and work. Where does the time go? Maybe I can clean up this meandering mutter-fest between nighttime Recorder production chores.

I guess I’ll just chalk it up as one of them days, and let it pass. What can a man do? Stuff happens.

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