Springtime Bramble

Eleven o’clock, gray and damp, gentle spring rain falling, dogs patiently awaiting their daily morning romp around the upper hayfield and down through a Green River-side Christmas tree farm and wetland I long ago dubbed Sunken Meadow.

On my walk out back to the kennel, I pass the two-plant rhubarb bed at the southwest corner of our red, New England, cupula-topped barn and think, “Gee, what a perfect day to dump a couple of grain-shovelfuls of old dry horse manure from the barn cellar atop those tender green leaves clinging to the ground like affectionate hands.”

I walk to the cook-shed, pick up the shovel leaning against the western doorway frame, and walk to the open barn cellar forming the western perimeter of the backyard alcove created by barn, carriage sheds and woodshed, along which a gumdrop pile of cordwood stands covered by a plastic tarp. The anxious dogs bark from their kennel. They can wait a few minutes. I have work to do, a chore that will produce immediate rewards during a predicted wet week.

Within days, the deep green rhubarb leaves I cover in horse manure will poke through and display little sign of the organic fertilizer, perhaps the droppings of Jack, Jerry and Billy — the three horses’ names written in blue and nailed above the open stable stalls — likely deposited during the first third of the 20th century. The manure was swept into that cellar pile through two small trap doors. The farmer would scrape and pull the manure across the floor using a hoe-like tool, with a hook curling up opposite the blade. This hook slipped through a ring atop both trap doors fronting the box-stall doors, and the two covers would be lifted and dropped to the side, opening the hatchway to the cellar manure piles. New England farmers sure did have an efficient way about them, using a little of everything offered them to make life easier, cheaper and healthier. It’s a way of life that’s sadly and quickly vanishing into thin air.

But, enough of that. I caught the stocking truck dumping netfuls of what I assume were rainbow trout into the river this week and promptly called my friend to alert him. I’m sure by now he’s had his fun, hooking rainbows and reeling them in, playing them through those acrobatic leaps they’re known for. Yeah, it’s fun, but give me brook trout any day of the week, a bias he wouldn’t disagree with. Brookies are native to our waters, they’re stunningly beautiful and, if native, better eating than rainbows or browns, the orange meat moist and mighty tasty. Salubrious, too, unless tainted by some source of chemical pollution, which is not as rampant as it once was. What’s interesting about those squaretails, even big ones in the two-pound range, is that their first move after the hook is set is to dig deep toward the bottom. Yes, some may eventually go into the rainbow sky-pilot routine in a final, desperate attempt to shake free, but their instinct is to head for the bottom looking for submerged tangles and sharp ledge to snap the line.

Which reminds me, I bumped my first spring deer over the weekend, up close and personal, right near the spot where a day or two earlier I had flushed two pairs of vociferous mallards hightailing it out of the swamped wetland. I heard some quacking in there just today (Wednesday) and tried to send Chubby in to flush them.

“Find ’em,” I said with the excitement of hunting season. He knew the game, racing to the edge, nose high, before turning and sprinting the perimeter going away before stopping, spinning around to face me and sprinting, occasionally bouncing, before passing me.”

“Find ’em,” I repeated.

He faced the wetland brambles, standing straight and tall, head high, nose working. Not today. A tailwind was in the ducks’ favor. They were by then silent and ready to flush. Chubby never heard them when they were quacking. We moved on. Those ducks haven’t seen the last of Chub-Chub. Trust me.

Back to the deer, I encountered it at high noon, likely a doe judging from the broad white tail visible through the dense, budding alders. The dogs had already passed that southwestern corner of our daily walk there and I was heading straight for her when I saw the flash of white and heard her heavy steps splashing away through the swamp. Must have been something in there she was eating, probably not far from the spot where she’ll drop her fawns come June. Lots of great nesting sites away from the dangers of the first cut of spring haying operations that have claimed so many fawns over the years. Just another fact of mechanized life. Wrong place, wrong time. They had nothing to fear in the days of scythes and hayricks, not all that much earlier than the days when aforementioned Jack, Jerry and Billy stabled  at Old Tavern Farm in Greenfield’s Upper Meadows, 714 feet from a better place called Shelburne. I like my western neihbor even beter nowadays, with Brook Road closed, potentially forever. Can’t say I miss the Colrain/Southern Vermont traffic one little bit. Yes, I know, it is a selfish assessment indeed. Yet straight from the heart. Just me.

Which reminds me: even though I haven’t yet bumped my first wild turkey or seen one near home in my travels, it’s time to swap the snowblower for the mower deck. Spring’s sprung. Trust me.

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