Is Seeing Believing?

Winter finally arrived this week, leaving a thin yet significant coating of a filthy, frozen disaster that’s nearly impossible to shovel. But why dwell on the negative? Wouldn’t you rather backtrack to the good days of the recent surreal past, when springlike weather was receiving love from lollygaggers and fitness freaks alike and, for the most part, hate from deer hunters patrolling warm, soft, snow-free woods?

So, here we go. …

It’s 6 p.m. and the shotgun deer season has been over for about an hour. The wireless phone, cradled in its charger within arm’s reach atop a Federal four-drawer cherry chest of drawers, rings and displays a familiar name on the caller ID. It’s an old hunting buddy and traveling companion. No media darling, he prefers anonymity. Thus, he’s always been “Killer” in this space.

An old backwoodsman and Buckland native, the man has successfully hunted and fished for just about everything in his 71 years of existence. Not only that, but he can even lay claim to rare membership in the rapidly dwindling fraternity of working men who once supplemented their annual income by trapping back in the days before leg-holds were outlawed in 1996. His lively tales of predawn awakenings to tend trap lines and pre-breakfast skinning, stretching and treating chores for the beaver, otter, mink, muskrat, fox, coyote and raccoon pelts he processed are fun indeed to absorb; likewise, the tales of carefully packing pelts for trips to fur auctions halfway across the state. Whether spun during back-road rambles or just sitting in front of a toasty, crackling winter fire for convivial chit-chat, they’re always worth a listen.

The reason for his call on this particular night was total astonishment. He had to talk to someone. You see, traveling earlier that day to a last hurrah of shotgun deer season in Conway with his stepson, and crossing east to west across Bardwells Ferry Bridge, the Fox-News devotee had run across a most surprising sight. Yes, after the appearance of a parked pickup on the Conway side had produced a glimmer of hope that other hunters were in the woods and may even move fleeing deer past him or his partner, his optimism had been quickly squashed. Why? Because, upon closer inspection, he spotted movement along the distant eastern Deerfield River bank far below. To his disbelief, there stood a vested angler wearing chest-waders submerged to the waist and, of all things, flycasting before 9 Dec. 12 morn.

“I remember thinking then that when you live as long as I have, you’re bound to see strange things,” he quipped, “but I gotta tell you I never dreamed I’d see someone flyfishing on the last day of shotgun deer season. Who knows? Maybe global warming is real.”

It doesn’t end there.

After making his rounds and working himself to a profuse sweat by circling, zigging and zagging through the woods in many directions trying and fill a harvest tag, the boys came away empty on that last day and Ole Killer was home by 3 p.m. Preparing something for supper out of carefully packaged foods from his bloated stand-up freezer, he went to the backyard for a moment and — lo — noticed something that surprised him as much if not more than his earlier Deerfield River sighting. Right there underfoot were unmistakable nightcrawler holes Pioneer Valley residents grow accustomed to seeing in rich summer soil, not during the typically frozen second week of December.

He first thought was that it must have been something else. But no! Inspection confirmed they were indeed nightcrawler holes. Go figure. Just the previous night, crawlers had obviously been out and available. And given the mild temperatures forecast for the approaching overnight, they would again soon be stretched out in the darkness on damp green grass.

Sure enough, when he later returned to the scene with a moss-filled Maxwell House coffee can, he had no problem picking a couple dozen fat, lively crawlers to store in the fridge for future ice-fishing adventures. Quite a day: a morning Deerfield River flyfisher followed by nighttime crawler picking in … uhm … mid-December. Is something wrong with that picture?

But wait. It gets better — this time maybe even traipsing into the realm of surreal.

Two weeks later, on the most recent Saturday past — yes, the day after Christmas — again that same white wireless phone cradled in its charger on the cherry chest of drawers rang within arm’s reach. It was the Killer with more news. No, not a hunting tale. Not quite, even though his stepson had pestered him that morning, chumming for a short hunt. Killer declined. The weather wasn’t right. Plus, he had other plans that precluded even a brief foot-free push.

Come nighttime, chores and a sumptuous family dinner behind him, the dedicated old ice fisherman decided to perform one more little mission before mixing a stiff drink and putting his feet up for the night. He went to the fridge, grabbed the Maxwell House coffee can full of crawlers, picked up a flashlight and headed to the damp, loamy, backyard lawn to pick some additional future ice-fishing bait. And yes, you betcha he snagged a couple dozen more crawlers in no time on the day after Christmas. In fact, it was described by him as easy pickings. Yes indeed — big, fat, juicy, lively buggers stretched out luxuriously for effortless collection on the green, dew-covered lawn. No lie. Here it was the day after Christmas and nightcrawler picking was probably better than it had been on the Fourth of July.

Problem is that now Ole Killer is perplexed. Something just ain’t right. Although still reluctant to doubt his favorite nightly-news feed that routinely harangues global warming as a liberal scheme, he says this recent string of events has really sent his wheels a spinnin’ to a shrill, unnerving scream. Shaking his head in confusion, he ponders the probabilities of first not seeing a deer during shotgun season, then at the same time finding a flyfisherman on the Deerfield River and later the same day, plus again two weeks later, he himself picking backyard crawlers.

Frankly, he’s not sure what to make of it. Could it be that he’s getting fed a line of baloney on his favorite news feed?

Well, as cartoon character “Muskie” used to comically quip on Saturday mornings back in the day, “It’s possi-bullllle.”

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