Spurred Down Memory Lane

The fall equinox has passed, oaks are raining acorns that nick and knock and bang through the branches even on still days, and the tall, dignified pignut hickory I pass daily is balding fast, its round, green-husked nuts spread liberally underneath.

Apparently there’s critter trouble in my old stomping grounds around South Deerfield’s Bloody Brook Monument. Well, at least according to an email that arrived quite unexpectedly last week, a blast from the past in my inbox.

What a surprise. The message came from Sissy Boro, whose father long ago owned a pig farm on the acreage behind the east side of North Main Street, running all the way back to the base of North Sugarloaf and up the hill. I remember her dad and a hired hand once a week picking up our garbage left in a galvanized pail out along Pleasant Street for collection in their soiled, reeking truck. I also recall many pigs in the Boro barnyard as a young boy, before her father, Alec Boro, died suddenly and the pigs disappeared.

It was back on Boro’s hill where I learned to ski with Mike Manson, Tommy Stehalek and others, carrying equipment hundreds of yards through deep snow to pack hillside trails by walking uphill sideways in tight steps time after time with our skis on, great exercise indeed for young boys. Now and then we even tobogganed or slid on flying saucers on that slope, but preferred Gorey’s Hill out in back of Bucky Kuzdeba’s and Sonny Boron’s houses, behind the Cross Street/Eastern Avenue V. That was back in the Sixties, before the Kelleher Drive and Captain Lathrop developments, when there was nothing but open farmland and a few barns between Hillside Road and Graves Street, separated by perhaps a half-mile.

Yes, those were the days in South Deerfield, about the time Interstate 91 was coming through, splitting off Mill River — Billy Rotkiewicz holding court at his downtown drug-store greasy spoon, three barber shops, five family-run meat markets, massive Redmen’s Hall standing tall and wide where Deerfield Spirit Shoppe now sits. My father played basketball there, in the same big upstairs hall where June Lankowski taught ballroom dancing in my day.

As kids, we used to horse around on the vast acreage bordering the base of North Sugarloaf between Yazwinski’s Farm on North Main Street and Graves Street, patrolling the mountain all the way to Eastern Avenue and the notch beyond. We’d follow farm roads and power lines and jump spring brooks, ditches and fence-lines to gain access to Indian trails leading to the top of the ridge. Once there, we savored unsupervised silence as we peered down on our quaint village feeling like we were perched atop the world with no one to even suggest an uninspiring chore.

I had long ago lost track of Sissy Boro, a couple years younger than me, whose given name was Valarie. She was the younger sister of Steve, children of Lolly Boro. The mom eventually married widower neighbor Charlie Smead, who moved a few doors north into the Boro farmhouse when I was a kid.

My oh my, how times have changed. Can you imagine a garbage-fed pig farm and stinky pig pen right off North Main Street in South Deerfield these days? If you recall, much more recently, out on the western Sawmill Plain outskirts of town, condo-dwellers raised a helluva stink about Romanowski’s pig farm on Stillwater Road, in my day wide open cropland and pheasant-hunting territory surrounding the dump. Although I admit being young and not remembering every minute detail, my parents and others I’ve spoken to from their generation say there was never so much as a peep from anyone when Boro’s pungent pigs lived right in the center of town. Go figure. Times change, I guess. Not always for the better. Maybe old-timers were more tolerant, huh?

Even though the acreage between Hillside Road and Graves Street has been chopped up over the past half-century, there’s still a lot of open land back there between Kelleher Drive and Graves Street, and apparently Ms. Boro, who’s recently returned home after decades living in the sunny South, is still walking those same old farm roads I myself toured as a boy, carrying maybe a BB-gun in hand and a jackknife in my pocket. Problem is, she’s concerned about a new creature that now calls backyard home, could be a threat to her small terrier, and lurks far too close at night, sometimes even just before dark. Yes, the tracks scream that coyotes are patrolling far too close to home. Not only that, but she’s also haunted by their eerie nighttime sounds.

Well, at least that’s one sentiment, because, according to her email, she also finds it: “fascinating, because as a kid and teenager we never had coyotes, and being here for only a year and a half after living in the South for most of my adult life, I had no idea they were here now. At night, I sometimes hear them as early as 9 and as late as midnight to 1 a.m., and I can never tell how many there are because of the strange noises they make. Their yapping and yipping reminds me of space aliens or some other freaky sound.”

Welcome back to the Pioneer Valley, Sissy, home of the Eastern coyote.

What’s interesting to me is that this unexpected note arrived just weeks after I reviewed Edward R. Ricciuti’s book “Bears in the Backyard,” which, given my own personal close encounters with bears and coyotes, I judged a bit too alarmist about potential conflict between humans and large carnivores invading suburban neighborhoods. Now this, right in my old dooryard, where my parents have also encountered bold, cat-hunting coyotes up close and personal in their yard across the street from Boro’s.

Ms. Boro says she’s taking special precautions these days during daily walks with her 13-pound pooch, carrying a sturdy walking stick just in case coyotes come out of the brush to attack her pet. I guess that’s not a bad idea, because most of the backyard attacks Ricciuti chronicles occur when pet owners intervene during such an attack.

Still, I feel confident she’ll be OK on daytime walks, with or without a walking stick. On the other hand, it might not be wise to tie the dog untended to a backyard run overnight. Sounds like that could be asking for trouble.

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