Tree Falls, Trail Ends, Moon Glows

Yes, it’s true. Good, bad and indifferent, all things must pass.

June 18, around 5:30 p.m., summer solstice approaching under dark, still, foreboding skies. A nasty storm is brewing, approaching from the west. Television alerts are warning of heavy winds, hard rain and even potential tornadoes. Such storms seem to visit this time of year.

Still gray air starts showing signs of disturbance. Blustery winds whip the bordering pines across the street as though they’re reacting to updrafts. Looks like  a furious, windy rainstorm is on its way to the upper Meadows. We stand in the kitchen  watching it quickly develop into heavy, windswept rain, followed by large, dense hail that clouds the backyard alcove between barn and woodshed.

My wife is in awe. “Look,” she says in amazement with a thin slice of concern, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this.”

Then, suddenly, our attention is drawn out front. A weird “whoooosh” signals catastrophe, then an abrupt, quake-like, front-yard shiver.

“What was that?” my wife gasps, looking me square in the eye.

I walk toward the south window and look out through a center gap between the upper, burgundy-checkered curtains. Immediately, I recognized way too much light pouring through a large old sugar maple standing along the horseshoe driveway.

“Uh-oh,” I say, heading for the front parlor through the dining room. “Looks like we lost part of our maple. Hope it didn’t hit the house.”

I glance out the inset-porch-door’s split, narrow windows and see a large, heavy leader lying diagonally toward the front southwest corner of my home’s main block. Because I hadn’t heard any windows shatter, I’m confident the house had been spared, but not by much. Sure enough, just missed.

Phew! Dodged a bullet.

Upon further inspection outside, walking around the mess, it’s apparent that the weight of that massive leader had shaken and partially collapsed the raised flagstone terrace that once served as a sturdy porch floor. Quarried in Charlemont before 1840, the dark, slate-colored stones were delivered by oxen teams to Ebenezer and son Hollister Baker Thayer’s new stagecoach inn. They wanted to spruce up old Hinsdale Tavern for business along the post road to Bennington, Vt. What’s interesting is that oral history has it that the old porch had to be removed well before my day when an old elm tree fell on it, separating it from the house in a storm. Apparently, someone in the heavens has objected to that 19th-century porch from the very beginning. It never belonged on a Federal-style Georgian colonial.

The timing of this latest Old Tavern Farm treefall couldn’t have been more surreal. Finally damaged beyond repair and conservation, it had to be removed. I hired Mike Dagilus and crew (MD Tree, Leyden) to drop it and leave the wood for winter fuel. They did an awesome job right through the tidy cleanup. The massive trunk, sectioned into four or five pieces, now lies where it fell on the east side of the driveway. The hefty leaders, also cut into thick, five-foot lengths are neatly stacked across the driveway’s eastern leg, near a small lilac bush at the head of the island lawn. It’ll be a good retirement project, probably three cords of wood.

Yes, you heard me right. This is my final Recorder column. I emailed my notice to the company two weeks ago today. After 39 years and four months and, according to my calculations, at least 38 years as an outdoor columnist, I’m walking away into a friendly morning sun. My clock-punching, page-making days are over. The Trail has ended. That sugar maple and I went down within about a week of each other. Fitting. A message beyond my comprehension at this point. I’ll figure it out, though, regain my footing and will soon open my last chapter.

Today is my first day of retirement. Two days shy of my 65th birthday, I suppose I could claim to have retired at 64? Why? That would be stretching it. So, I’m good with 65. I’ve had enough. It’s been a good ride. I’ve been able to remain true to myself and my beliefs throughout. Now I’ve hit a fork in the road, have embarked upon a new journey. Give me a few weeks to enjoy the transition. But, retire? Well, it depends how you define it. I will never stop working, because I love to probe and write and speak to sources, and plan to continue doing so till the end, my cosmos willing.

Speaking of which, those very heavens will tonight smile in the silvery hue of a Full Strawberry Moon on my first night of a new adventure. Can it possibly be a coincidence that a full moon is here to greet me on this night of transition from work to retirement? I think not. Moons have always mightily influenced this moon child, who has often, after the fact, spotted full moons wearing a wry grin on my way home in the wee hours from places best unnamed. A pious life I have not lived. Gave that up as a peach-fuzzed boy in South Deerfield.

Indeed, full moons and I share many secrets, have enjoyed many triumphs, escapes and conquests. Yes, a few defeats as well. A full moon had to be there for me tonight as I turn the page, and it will be, in its full glory, even if clouded.

Like my late dad used to say in parting, “See you around the campus.” If we meet in passing, please don’t even hesitate to introduce yourself and shoot the breeze. I’m always willing, approachable, and eager for information or chatter. It’s what I do. That and react in writing.

I know it won’t be long before I’m sitting by the dawn woodstove blowing out a first draft warmed by that split, seasoned maple cordwood that fell in my front yard and jostled me toward new beginnings. Yes, it’s true that winds of change deposited both of us in new places. Maybe it had to go that way.

Now, I’m off to new horizons as a happy, healthy, curious man, gray at the chin and temples. So, be well. I have enjoyed serving you, my readers, and will indeed remain among you in this place I study and call home, sweet home.

Off I go.

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