Dawg Days, Forest Fight

I celebrated my 39th wedding anniversary Saturday; plus  gundog Lily’s 14th birthday. That bitch never ceases to amaze me, still patrolling terrain, flat or steep, wet or dry, with that happy tail and youthful gait. She’s incredible.

Nearing noon that day, having already grabbed everything needed for my daily ramble with the dogs, my wife caught something out the parlor window and hollered out to me in the kitchen, “Someone’s here.”

I walked out to the carriage-shed door to see who it was. Though I didn’t recognize the green, full-sized American pickup at first glance, I did immediately know occupant Fran Ryan as soon as he stepped out onto the driveway. I also knew his mission.

Resident of a Heath hilltop overlooking Hagar’s Farm, he had stopped by a week earlier when I wasn’t home. My wife gave him Chubby’s AKC registration, which I had copied and left out handy on a Hepplewhite stand. He wanted to register the litter of five sired by my 6-year-old springer spaniel stud. On the ground for a few weeks, five of the six whelped pups  had survived — three males, two females. The dam, Citari’s Tina, was in the truck, gently panting, sticking her head out the partially opened driver’s-side window seeking  affection. I obliged.

As Fran and I chatted about the litter, turkeys, beef cattle and life in the bucolic western hills, I could hear Chubby and Lily barking out back. They could hear us talking, wanted to visit and were ready for breakfast and their morning meadow romp. Ten or 15 minutes later, I was out by the kennel, food scooped into their Wagner cast-iron skillets on the cook-shed floor.

I opened the kennel door and both dogs sprinted to their feeding stations as they always do, but Chub-Chub never even lowered his head, opting instead for an all-out sprint like only he can do it, around the front corner of the barn and out of sight toward the driveway. No one will ever convince me that dog didn’t know paramour Tina had been in the neighborhood, and he was determined to renew their acquaintance, racing around the front-yard perimeter in a frantic, athletic search. What a nose that dog has. He never saw Tina, and she never uttered a peep, but he sure knew she was there. No question about it.

Anyway, enough about Chub-Chub and Tina, onto other random spring reports, beginning with the fact that fiddlehead season is upon us. My buddy was picking them by midweek last, and the ones I monitor have popped as well. How can a man beat fiddlehead ferns for natural springtime sustenance? Someone asked me last week how many weeks they’re around for the picking. Well, I suppose if a man really put his mind to it and wanted to gather enough for a small army, then he could probably get more than a month out of the ordeal, starting in, say, Hadley/Hatfield and working north. If picking just one spot, then you might  get a week. Not more. Maybe less. So, fellas, get out there before they’re gone. They go from tender curlicue vittles tightly clinging to the ground to foot-high ostrich ferns in a few days or less when the conditions are right.

Something else from a friend I spotted the other day outside his truck, getting his tackle ready to fish down the road from my home: the rainbow trout in the Green River these days are nice, in the 16- to 18-inch category.

“You know the game,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “They’re fun to catch. I won’t deny it. But give me native squaretails for eating any day of the freakin’ week.”

He’s not alone or inaccurate in his assessment of hatchery-stocked trout as table fare. Pellet-fed for rapid growth, their meat is white and on the dry side, not the moist, succulent pink of native brookies, large and small. On the other hand, in these days of popular catch-and-release fishing, fly- and spin-casting anglers alike can have a ball catching heavy sky-pilot rainbows in free-flowing, stone-bedded streams  like the Deerfield, Millers, North, Sawmill and Green rivers.

Oh yeah. Before I forget. The Holyoke fish lift  opened Wednesday under hot, sunny skies. It usually opens a little earlier, but the water has been high and cold, thus the delay. Shad will soon be running like gangbusters. That time of year.

One last thing before I sign off. Those five wild turkeys I wrote about flushing last week on my daily walk haven’t gone far. No, I can’t say I’ve seen them since Chubby-Chub-Chub scattered them across the river that day to late police officer Szulborki’s place. But I did hear them Monday morning, opening day of the 24-day spring hunting season. Skirting a gate high above the Green River, I heard the familiar hen yelps hunters imitate to draw in long-bearded, sharp-spurred gobblers within rage of their tightly choked shotguns.

“Schuck-schuck-schuck-schuck-schuck-schuck-schuck-schuck. … Schuck-schuck-schuck-schuck.”

Chubby and Lily didn’t identify the sound, but I did, and it wasn’t the call of a hunter. No. It had to be one of those four hens Chub-Chub scattered to the other side of the river last week. And take it to the bank: the gobbler who was with them that day wasn’t far away. They never are this time of year – mating and nesting season.

It gets no better than that in the wild world. In fact, even theological civilization enjoys it in some uninhibited pockets … where they ain’t shy about admitting it.




Wendell Historical Commissioner Lisa Hoag is fighting the good fight for her town, and protecting its deep history. The result was a petition circulating in recent days, one to which state Senator Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, offered support on Wednesday. Yes, her initiative seems to be gaining momentum. In fact, spreading like wildfire.

The goal is to stop a Wendell Brook Road logging project aimed at a 110-year-old oak forest containing what Hoag believes to be features of an indigenous ceremonial landscape. First off, this forward-thinking, progressive-forestry advocate took aim at preserving big trees that become better carbon filters the larger they grow, potentially stemming global warming. Secondly, there are many stone features on the ground below that she believes should be protected for posterity out of respect for our indigenous past.

Keep an eye on this issue. It’s current, worth supporting and ain’t going away.

Isn’t it time to rethink the tired old concept of forestry management for economic gain and increased wildlife populations that sell hunting licenses, and instead support  a new initiative targeting improved ecosystem, biodiversity and planet health. Forestry experts now believe that cutting down 110-year-old oak forests is not cool. Aware of this new school of thought, Hoag is fixin’ for a fight. We need more like her.

Anyone who wants to support the petition can find it at https://tinyurl.com/savebrookrdforest. The forest-tour pamphlet is available at https://tinyurl.com/brook-rd-logging-public-tour

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