Windblown Tip From An Old Newshound

I crack open my left eye to the twinkle of dawn penetrating the east window behind my upstairs bed. Silence. Not so much as a bird-chirp.

I don’t linger in bed. An interesting book awaits me downstairs on the table next to my recliner. Mind fresh, day young, light low, quiet, there is no better time to read or write than early morning. At least, not in my world.

In semi-darkness, I lift my blue bathrobe from its overnight resting place on an old, wooden quilt rack near the door. I slip it over my shoulders, tie it around my waist, make the bed and step into the dark, narrow hallway – one door to the left, three to the right – pointing west toward the steep back stairs, where the wing joins the house’s main block.

On the other side of the closed staircase, a heavy, iron, squirrel doorstop holds the ballroom door open, gray light filtering through seven double-hung, 12-light windows, extending my view all the way to the wide back door leading into the carriage-shed attic. It’s about a 75-foot run down the hallway and through wing to the back ballroom door, where many years ago the angled back wall of a small, enclosed fiddler’s box drove sound over the heads of revelers in the vaulted-ceiling, spring-floor dancehall.

The long interior perspective is a beautiful way to start the day during the warm months, when air-conditioning is not needed and windows and doors can be left open to promote air flow. It speaks to the building’s spiritual antiquity.

At the base of the stairs – dining room left, taproom right – I turn left. My clothes are hanging on a birdcage Windsor chair at the tail of an old mahoganized-cherry harvest table, its drop leaves down. It’s always darker and cooler downstairs in the summer, and darker inside than out.

I take off my bathrobe, temporarily lay it across a burgundy leather wing chair, and dress before going into the kitchen to push on the coffee-maker. Then I backtrack through the dining room and narrow staircase base to the taproom and bathroom, where I hang my robe on the back of the door and tidy up at the sink for the new day.

In the west parlor, I flick on the TV to catch up on overnight scores and the latest Donald Trump outrage, and rise to pour a cup of coffee after hearing the machine gurgle its last breath. I don’t know what’s worse, that coffee-maker’s last gasp or the screeching rooster across the street.

Coffee in hand, I head for the study, walking through the dining room, the parlor, and a small, enclosed hallway behind the Federal fanlight front door. I want to quickly go through my email, and maybe glance at a few local and historical/genealogical Facebook sites I often peruse before opening that book awaiting me near the TV, which I’ll turn off.

In the study I notice two printed sheets of paper on the Oriental carpet, and another folded piece of white scribbled-upon notepad paper resting on the corner of a large gold couch to the left of my desk. Hmmmm? Overnight winds must have stirred things up through the open window behind my desk.

I pick up the two printout sheets on the floor and place them back on the pile they came from on my desk, then retrieve the folded notepad page that must have been buried underneath. It had been torn from one of those narrow reporter’s notebooks that fit in your pocket. Being a lefty, and thus needing to awkwardly curl my wrist to write on such pads, I never had much use for them, preferring something wider pinned to a clipboard. But that’s just me. Right-handers seem to prefer the pocket-sized variety.

I open the wrinkled scrap paper to inspect the scribblings and discover a note written in ink, and pencil jottings of web addresses, telephone numbers, and little reminders about this and that. I must have first used it as a bookmark to keep it handy, then removed it from the book and dropped it on my desk, soon to be forgotten.

The initial note probably dated back to 2018, my last year at the Greenfield Recorder. It was a news tip about winter moose mortality from a former newsroom colleague who’d retired from the Springfield Union News and picked up a part-time job at the Recorder. News-gathering was in the man’s blood. He just couldn’t stay away.

I must have originally saved the note as a reminder to further explore the topic, then added my own random jottings. But why, after recently retrieving the useless notes from the sofa, I didn’t drop them in the wastebasket, well, you tell me. Still to this day, it sits on my desk.

 

Now, fast-forward a few days, and the story gets intense. A few days later, about 7 p.m., the TV’s on and my wife and I are sitting in the parlor after supper. I’m looking through papers I’ve printed about Quantrill’s infamous Civil War attack on Lawrence, Kansas as she fiddles around with her smart phone, making the rounds through texts and email and Facebook and obits and whatever else tickles her fancy.

On a whim, I rise from my seat and move to the charging laptop on my desk. Sitting there checking email, Googling additional information to augment what I’ve just read or whatever, my wife calls out to me from her parlor chair.

“Hey, Honey, did you know Ralph Gordon died?”

Honestly, I didn’t even know she knew I knew the man.

“Nope,” I answer, “can’t say I did. When?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Recently.”

“Well, wait till you hear what I’m about the tell you,” I respond as I rise from my chair. “It borders on bizarre.”

Before I go any further, let me say that I didn’t really know Gordon all that well. I had met him in passing over the years on the street or at Greenfield High School football games I was covering when he was still working for Springfield Newspapers. By the time he came to the Recorder, circulation and revenues were in freefall, the hair-triggered circular firing squad had formed, insecure blame was being directed every which way, and, well, let’s just say the newsroom was toxic. No, definitely not the friendly, light-hearted place I had known for most of my tenure. Even folks coming in off the street with news tips were made to feel uncomfortable, like unwanted trespassers. No way to run a news-gathering operation.

Anyway – not to digress any further – that narrow, folded sheet of scribbled-upon notepad paper deposited by a rogue overnight wind onto the corner of my gold sofa had been penned by none other than the Ralph Gordon who had died. He wanted to share the alarming news report he had read about New England winter moose mortality caused by tick infestation and hair loss.

By now, most people have seen a story or two about this tick-borne moose plague causing much suffering and death. But back then it was fresh and Ralph, an old news hound, deemed it worth sharing with an outdoor columnist. Written in cursive, his tip was short and sweet, reading verbatim:

Gary

I thought you might be interested in some moose problems in Me., Vt., & N.H. & maybe Mass. – & other items I have earmarked.

Ralph

He must have attached an Associated Press clipping. I can’t recall. I will, however, never forget the message delivered by that rogue wind or some other spiritual power riding the dark night air to a peculiar resting place in plain sight. It was at least a 100-to-1 shot that any wind-blown piece of paper would land where Ralph’s note did. Not only that, but why did that devilish wind decide to disturb only three of many stacked sheets, the third of which was his note in bold, blue ink?

Surreal? Yes. Simple coincidence? No. I don’t buy it. I think it was meant to be – a sign that Ralph’s smirking, wind-blown spirit had passed through. He had left me another tip, his last, one hinting his passing.

Why do such things occur if not to remind us there’s a power out there that’s beyond our comprehension? It arrives in many ways from sundry sources, including dark night winds, rattling rivers, trickling springs, and somber morning mists wafting through thorny wetland tangles.

Some of us try to remain alert and receptive to such signs, inviting mysterious messages – always looking and listening, seeking clues and hidden hints. Others flock to the chapel to drop their weekly contribution into long-handled baskets in the name of their God, and only theirs.

Well, count me among the former, the lookers and listeners and humble interceptors of spiritual unknowns.

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