Fever Pitch

Whew! A wild Wednesday morning indeed. No complaints. But the craziness kept on coming in the afternoon: the phone, a visit, all stacked atop a disorienting head cold.

Oh well, how can a man in my line of work complain when you don’t have to leave the house for nourishing column fodder? I guess it helps when you stumble onto a hot topic. Apparently, I’ve done that. Yes, it seems I’ve riled a hornets’ nest and it’s attacking like a swarm of white-faced assassins with bad attitude.

That’s OK. “Bring it on,” is all I can say. “Bring it freakin’ on!”

But, first, a little confession. I admit to arriving at this familiar walnut chair with selfish intent, purring space-heater exhaling warmth on the back of my neck. The plan was to write about the preliminary Massachusetts deer-harvest numbers minus blackpowder season and leave it at that. I figured it would be fast and easy, then back to other stuff that’s recently seized me with an enraged-lumberjack grip. The MassWildlife press release publicizing 2012 deer numbers arrived last week, a day late, of course, to use as fresh news here. So, yeah, I know it’s probably old by now. But what the heck, I convinced myself, why not just throw it out there and return to a far more captivating topic that seems to be gaining speed these days, like bald tires sliding down an icy mountain pass?

Well, at least that was the strategy I had developed while running the dogs in bitter-cold, refreshing morning air. Then, with that daily chore complete, the dogs content, tails wagging for more as I departed, I sat down in the study to begin a weekly task and — Bingo! — an enticing email from Montague to huff the bellows on a current subject of interest. Reacting to last week’s column about a hidden balanced rock and sacred landscape in our western hills, a woman wrote to say she thinks she’s discovered an ancient ritualistic site in woods near her home and would like me to take a look. I do intend to take that field trip, the sooner the better, and told her so in my reply. Hey, why not? Sure beats sitting home before a toasty,  crackling, whispering Rumford fireplace and convincing yourself it’s too cold for outdoor activity? Plus, I understand how magic stark winter woodlands can be once you get there. I will get there with this new potential sacred landscape pulling like a stormy riptide.

But wait. No sooner had I fired off that email response than my desk phone rang. I vaguely recognized the caller-ID, couldn’t place it but answered nonetheless, confident it wasn’t some annoying solicitor reading a monotonous sales pitch. Nope, a welcome intrusion instead — a so-called “avocational-archaeologist” who’s all wound up about a forgotten Paleo site on Sugarloaf’s front lap, and the alleged secret UMass excavations at Deerfield’s Fort and Pine hills. The man hadn’t seen my last week’s column until somebody at the Post Office questioned him and handed it to him Wednesday morning on his daily rounds. He went home, read it and promptly gave me a ring. Not only that but he wanted to stop by with a pile of documents he thought might entice me to keep chasing a subject he thinks ought to be pursued.

Yes, I told him, bring it by.

So here I sit, pondering this and that after blowing through that book I mentioned last week here: “In the Maelstrom of Change: The Indian River Trade and Cultural Process in the Middle Connecticut Valley, 1635-1665,” by South Deerfield native and UVM anthropologist/archaeologist Peter A Thomas. A great read, I would recommended it to anyone interested in the contact-period Indians that called our Pioneer Valley home. No, not a word about sacred landscapes, but not far off, either. Same bolt of cloth, so to speak; much better, from my perspective, than any freakin’ deer-harvest numbers from week-old press releases. But this is a newspaper so, first, those week-old numbers. Then, who knows where we’ll meander  off to? Potentially dangerous territory.

I’ll keep the deer discussion brief. After all, the numbers are preliminary and do not include those from the primitive-firearm season. The numbers will be much more meaningful once complete, digested and professionally analyzed, but it’s anyone’s guess when they’ll arrive, hopefully before the shad run and the turkeys gobble. Anyway, the early, incomplete deer-harvest is 8,912. Broken down, that includes 4,945 shotgun kills, 3,879 archery kills, 84 Quabbin kills and four successes during the paraplegic season. A quick glance reveals a troubling development that remains blatantly persistent: a harvest dominated by the eastern half of the state. Excluding the Quabbin kill because the state reservation overlaps the western/central region, and the paraplegic harvest, which gives no kill locations, a measly 24 percent of 8,824 deer taken statewide during the archery and shotgun seasons came from the Western and Connecticut Valley wildlife districts. Yup, that’s right, 76 percent of the deer were killed in the eastern half of the state. If the blackpowder harvest stays consistent with others in recent years, we’ll be looking at about 2,000 additional kills, most from the eastern half, producing an all-weapon harvest in the familiar neighborhood of 11,000.

But enough of that for now, back for a moment to sacred landscapes from New England’s prehistoric past. Wednesday’s email correspondent apologized for her delayed response. What she didn’t know was that hers was just one of many queries and comments I received by email and telephone after that column hit the street. One correspondent was none other than the widow of Byron E. Dix, co-author of “Mainitou: The Sacred Landscape of New England’s Native Civilization.” She too wanted to meet and talk. The meeting is coming, trust me. Ancient ritualistic landscapes seem to be a torrid topic here in Franklin County at the moment. I’m basing my opinion on the crowds I have witnessed at a couple of local presentations. The most recent, a Pioneer Valley Institute-sponsored lecture by Connecticut archaeologist Dr. Kenneth Feder on a rainy Monday night before Christmas at Greenfield High School, drew an audience of 100 or more. The other, held on a Saturday night in October and delivered by Ashfield stone mason Jim Vieira, attracted twice that number to Ashfield Town Hall. Some of Vieira’s wilder claims about a race of giants and Smithsonian deception are now under fire from the archaeological community, but he is standing his ground, defends some of his wilder speculations based on local town histories and 19th century newspaper clippings. Google the arguments if you don’t believe it. It’s all there.

Well, that’s all I’ve got this week. I’m out of time, too many distractions. Stay tuned. I’ll get through that pile of documents on my dining-room table, make a few calls, take a field trip, meet Ms. Dix and associates and see where it leads me.

I love it when this kind of stuff jumps into my path on a slick winter trail. Who knows? It may just get me through the winter doldrums. They say you won’t catch the fever if you flee the cabin.

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