Springtime Capsule

Steamy and sticky it was for our Wednesday-morning walk, the dogs now kenneled and my brow still perspiring from the romp around Sunken Meadow, where we caught the sights, the sounds, the scents, the sweet smell of spring overwhelming, four interesting mushrooms, large and showy, sprouted along the fallen trunk of a chestnut oak. I just know those “shrooms” are edible, even paged through my Audubon Society reference book to check before frustration set in and forced a quick retreat. I’ll figure it out another time when I have more patience, no pressing tasks at hand.

Actually, I almost sat down Tuesday to get a jump on this familiar weekly chore but decided against it. I had just completed a power-reading session — stuff like Socrates’ trial, the religious climate of our colonial Connecticut Valley, then Joan Didion and, horrors, even psychedelic guru Timothy Leary again, dangerous indeed. Yup, he’s back in my gourd. How did I ever allow that to happen? Just curious, I guess, always curious. My downfall. My salvation.

But let’s not go there. It was those Didion essays that dissuaded me from sitting down a day early. I didn’t want to get carried away and start shooting from the hip at my usual targets, having just finished the woman’s critique of NYC culture, in general, in particular, the buzz surrounding that infamous 1989 Central Park rape and mugging of a woman jogger who captured national attention. Didion hasn’t changed much since I was introduced to her by late, great UMass professor Howard Ziff, who assigned several essays from “Slouching Toward Bethlehem.” She was then confrontational in a mellow, West Coast, at times humorous way, and still is. I picked up a recycled collection of her essays, “Vintage Didion,” Saturday afternoon at the Montague Bookmill, which I do enjoy visiting from time to time, when in the mood, typically on midafternoon whims toward the end of the week. The place draws an eclectic crowd, especially on sunny weekends. I went there looking for something by David Foster Wallace, preferably a book of essays, short stuff to read at my leisure. When my search failed, I settled for Didion, not a bad thing.

I almost bought “The Last Colonial Massacre,” about a bloodbath in the not too distant Guatemalan past. What intrigued me was the book’s dense index listing for former president Jorge Ubico, the father-in-law of my sister-in-law who married her high-school sweetheart, a long, lean Georgetown basketball player, then a Guatemalan man of royal pedigree. She still runs a mountain mission for orphaned children there, in a peaceful spot overlooking primeval rain forest. Widowed years ago, her former husband and his brother were long ago murdered on separate occasions in different countries by police. Quite a place, Central America. If you don’t believe me, read Didion. She captures the terror. My sister-in-law knows it well. Likely fearing for her safety, she solved the problem by marrying the banana republic’s retired Minister of Intelligence, 20 years her junior. Hey, whatever it takes, I guess. I may still buy that book. It’ll probably be there next time I visit. I have always wanted to know more about those Ubicos — who they were and what they stood for — but have been unable to pry much useful information loose from Judy. Maybe it’s “classified,” or maybe she just doesn’t know. I’ll get to the bottom of it. Trust me.

Enough Central American intrigue, though, back to Didion and her essay, “Sentimental Journeys.” An indictment of NYC, its cops, DAs, newspapers, politicians, talk shows, you name it, Hurricane Joan demolishes them all. But that’s just one essay. There are others, including one about the shallow Reagan White House, another about misunderstood Patty Hearst, then stuff on 9/11, the Clinton Inquisition, San Salvador, Miami’s Cuban-exile community, none of it cream of wheat, believe me, entertaining. I guess some news editors think people want a nice blend of tidy little tales and cutesy crap about positive subjects and heartwarming success stories. Not me. I want insightful writing with a venomous bite like Didion, who goes straight for the jugular while giggling at the absurdity of it all, infuriating absurdities no less. Stirred up, I resisted the temptation to sit down and start writing Tuesday but must confess the air still hasn’t cleared. Let’s just say the Didion influence lingers, is just sitting here suspended in a web of stuffy gray air that has left me and my brow damp from that half-hour walk.

Not much of interest to report down in the meadow, though, other than a quick follow-up on that hen turkey Chubby flushed for my grandson; also turtles, these painted, again nesting early, I suspect. One reason I own the type of dogs I do is that on country walks they sharpen my eyes, ears and nose, big time, alerting me to the presence of many critters I would otherwise miss. Chubby has flushed that hen turkey twice more from the same location since I last wrote about it, and he likely would have repeated the maneuver many more times had I not intentionally skirted what I suspect to be a nesting site. Why disturb it? That’s my thinking. But we did bump into that hen on the upper level Monday, when Chub-Chub, fired-up, didn’t hesitate to trail and flush her across the Green River. By now it’s just a silly little game for, as they say in Hatfield, “da-bode-uv-em,” which has a familiar ring to it, sorta like my old hometown of “Sow-deer-feel.”

As for the painted turtles, well, again, I would have never noticed them had it not been for the dogs, first Lily, then Chubby-Chub, different shelled creatures, large for painted turtles, about the same size, maybe 120 yards apart, concealed amid tangles of flood-deposited brush along the Green River. Seems a little early for egg-laying, so they must now be establishing nests. Last year, two or three weeks later than this, I ran into a big snapper in the same area, far away from water, and wondered in print if it wasn’t too early for nesting. A neighboring farmer chimed in to say he was accustomed to seeing turtles in his fields in mid- June, which made sense to me. The man would know, has crops to associate the occurrence of natural phenomena with. This year, everything is running three weeks ahead of schedule, bridal wreath blossoms ready to pop any day, so why should turtles be any different? I discovered them with my own two eyes and have since found them a few more times, right in the same location, would have never seen them had the dogs not approached them cautiously, heads high, scent pulling them in slowly. Apparently, instinct tells a dog to be careful around turtles; snakes, too, which I have noticed them approach in a similar shy manner, kinda like I used to slither toward 2 a.m. frat-house ladies sitting with inviting eyes at the bar. Yeah, right! Why even go there?

Speaking of which, the wetlands bordering where I daily walk are alive with the happy sounds of springtime birds, all sorts of them singing in dynamic harmony, living out their springtime fantasies while building nests and starting families, if you know what I mean. Don’t believe for a minute that those birds are true-blue lifetime mates. That’s a silly Christian myth, one to keep the rest of us in line. Just Wednesday morning I watched an angry cuckold chasing off some sneaky little devil. The scene had infidelity written all over it. My guess is that it’s nature’s way mixing the gene pool to assure healthy, hardy species. It created quite a commotion, though, laced with vicious fury. Who says it only happens in Hollywood?

You know, I think if I really wanted to shoot myself a spring gobbler, I could do so down there near that hen’s nest I’ve located. Maybe if grandson Jordi was in town I’d take him down there, if not to kill a bird, then just to sit there at first light and listen to the gobbles, watch the spellbinding mating ritual unfold. The kid would love it, and it makes sense that, with hens in the field, there are gobblers nearby. Given what I know from experience, I can’t imagine it would be difficult to make things happen, hunting, down there. But it’s just not that important to me, unless, of course, Jordi was with me. Then I might just deprive myself of sleep. Otherwise, forget it. Been there, done that. I have nothing to prove. Hunting is relaxation to me, not competition, and I don’t need the meat.

Anadromous fish are still migrating up the valley, albeit slowly, with Connecticut River water temperatures stalled by recent rain at 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The run picks up in intensity when the temps climb into the 60s. But, still, the river system has thus far attracted 100,000 American shad and 10 Atlantic salmon, not bad for this time of year. As for trout-stocking, well, I didn’t hear from the Western District this week but did get an email from Barb Bourque at the Valley District. On her list was the lower Deerfield River, the Millers River, Colrain’s North River, Lake Mattawa and Cranberry Pond.

Oh yeah, one more unusual item before I flee: an unusual request from dear old buddy “Pres,” who’s putting together a time capsule for the 16th birthday of his business associate’s newborn son, Tiago Bohl Von Kries. In 2028, the boy will open a package containing the signed copy of Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four,” a photo of Pres and his dog, a couple of signed baseballs and a copy of  a spring 2012 “Recorder” with a personal message from me in a column. Not my idea, Mr. Pres’. So, Kid, here it is:

Happy 16th birthday, Tiago, from an old, irascible scribe and longtime pal of Mr. Pres. We’ll probably never meet, son, but hopefully, unlike my good friend, you’ll know when to hang up your bat and glove.

Sorry, Mr. Pres, but you just had to know what you were getting yourself into when asking a favor of the devil’s disciple, always capable of a little spontaneous mischief.

By the way, not that it really maters, but, is it unprofessional, inappropriate to have a little fun in print? Oh well, too late now.

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