News Snooze

Dog daze and cabin fever are afflictions on opposite sides of the calendar that infect a man like me. So here I sit suffering from the former, sweating profusely, thirsty, wellspring of hunting and fishing news dried up, little to write about before the first shots of autumn are fired. Nonetheless, I can usually dig something up to quench my thirst, not always connected to the sporting world, and not always appreciated by nuts-and-bolts sportsmen. But, to take a phrase from my late Nova Scotian grandmother — hardy Acadian French to the core: “C’est la vie.”

Yeah, I know I could be chasing down some useless bass-tournament standings, publishing doe-permit numbers everyone already knows, assessing turkey broods and deer herds in the fields around me, maybe even taking shots at the anti-hunting, anti-gun crowd loathed by so many reactionary sportsmen. But I’ll leave that to others who are content serving maybe 15 percent of the newspaper-reading public. How about the other 85 percent? Do they want to read about fishing derbies and the world according to the NRA? Doubtful indeed, especially here in the upper Happy Valley, god bless it. Here, folks seem more interested in re-establishing a Wolfe bounty and rejecting big-box development. But let us not digress … back to the subject at hand.

Last year at this time, you may recall, I was criticizing Tea Party thugs for carrying weapons to presidential appearances, then shared personal recollections from Woodstock ’69 and the Summer of Love. The e-mails came streaming in, a flood of them, about 10 to 1 in favor of eclectic subject matter, preferring writing to straight reporting. That is not to say there weren’t irate comments from the occupants of secluded tree stands high above hilltown oaks and apples. Feedback from the folks viewing the world from that lofty perspective went more like this: “What the —- are you doing glorifying hippies and criticizing gun owners in a hunting and fishing column? It’s wrong. Inappropriate.”

Oh well, if they say it, it must be so. Can’t satisfy everyone; learned that many years ago; reminiscent of advice from the journalistic mentor I most respected, one who left the newspaper business in his 40s to teach college and cast Molotov cocktails at cream-of-wheat AP news-writing style. “If all you make in this business is friends, then you’re not doing your job,” he bellowed after someone had “issues” with something I had written. Since then, I have always taken my lumps, dusted off and moved on, undeterred, aware that my unconventional ways are bound to stir ire among ardent conformists, conservatives and tiresome bores. Isn’t “conventional wisdom” often based on nothing resembling wisdom at all; more like ignorance, dreaded rule by the rabble that our founders feared most after watching in horror what unfolded before their very eyes in blood-gushing, 18th-century France. That was justice? Really? Thank heaven we’re all entitled to our opinions here in this cradle of liberty, valley of the happy.

Something else my long-lost mentor impressed upon me during conversation about education, credentials and what he looked for in an aspiring journalist: He said he always quickly weeded out the “high-achieving” students who tunnel-visioned their way to newsrooms. “I valued life experience over formal education,” he said. “Give me the dropout who went to war, suffered, returned home, drifted, found himself and took a job at a newspaper. That man knew what life was about, had lived it, seen things no sheltered straight-A student would ever see. He’d make a good reporter.”

I listened, took heed, will never see it any other way, regardless of how many honor rolls and Dean’s Lists the teacher’s pets of the world can cite among their academic accomplishments; which brings me to tales of the rare Frank L. Boyden-hired Deerfield Academy teachers who fit my mentor’s unconventional mold and still earn lavish praise. These men were adored by students at the elite New England prep school, but their likes will never again be hired there; not for a day, far too risky. Sadly, a new die has been cast, the student forever cheated, unable to meet unique, interesting characters with a wealth of knowledge to share, tidbits gleaned from seedy corridors off the main drag, then perhaps a good taste of literature. Very sad. A missing link. But, again, let us not digress … back to the great outdoors.

Two weeks ago, I was driving home on a still, sultry afternoon, traveling through a tunnel between two towering, fragrant cornfields. The strong, familiar aroma got me thinking that maybe bear season will be too late this year to limit significant cornfield damage. The fresh, sweet smell piercing my nostrils told me from instinct that the cow corn was ripe almost a month early; seemed to me a phenomenon more associated with late August/early September. The annual bear season opens on the Tuesday after Labor Day, too late this year, far too late. I almost addressed the subject when I first noticed it, but instead went off on Walmart, following an impromptu breakfast conversation with a veritable expert. Then, last week, I again considered the early-corn-and-bear-foraging subject before going off on a genealogical ramble through the wilds of Hawley; just couldn’t resist. So now, here I sit, revisiting the corn issue, ears still ripe and pungent. The bears must have gotten a whiff by now, found their way.

So, what to do?

Well, I suppose I could have called the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to get clearance and then speak to a MassWildlife expert, get his or her opinion about the impact early-corn maturation will have on bear season and crop damage. But why? What is there to gain? Do these people answering the phone in their air-conditioned Westborough offices know more than me, a man who has observed and written with attribution about this annual phenomenon for three solid decades here? Do I really need some canned response couched in uncertainty to protect a reputation? I think not. So I’ll just throw it out there and await the response from my agrarian neighbors, who will surely confirm my suspicion that bears are visiting cornfields early. Why? Quite simple: Bears gravitate to cornfields when ripe, and they ripened early this year. Duh! And to think I didn’t even need a gilt-framed master’s or doctorate to figure that out. Common sense was sufficient.

So, off I go, having once again dredged up something to fill this weekly space when the well was dry. I hope I haven’t offended anyone, especially my unnamed mentor who’s now old, seemed old when I met him. He warned us nearly 40 years ago — way before the Internet and iPhones and blogs and 24/7 cable news stations — that the future was bleak for newspapers. He thought editors and publishers should take a serious look at “New Journalism” — Rolling-Stone style, literary reportage he believed readers preferred — and toss aside their old, tired news style. That was in the early 1970s. The man was a visionary. He rejected the formulaic “Old News” model then. Readers are now following his lead.

Like the black bears foraging local cornfields these days, modern readers hunt for news that’s fresh and fragrant, with a dash of personality. It makes sense. Only the senile are drawn to swill-bucket stench when the sweetness of fruits, nuts, berries and maize fill the balmy air.

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