Mourning Memories

My daily morning walk covers more than a mile, less than two. It begins by exiting the inset porch and crossing the front yard, passing a tall pink weigela and splitting a pair of tall Japanese maples to the triangular common on the crotch of Colrain and Green River roads that forms the southern tip of my property.

The neighborhood is sleeping as I walk toward Meadow Lane, where I take a left toward a looming sunrise and walk a couple hundred yards to a farm right-of-way between two nice, circa-1970, colonial-revival homes. There, I follow a nearly invisible double-rutted trail between tall, tidy residential fences and ornamental trees. The access allows manuring and harvesting of vast hayfields. Folks unfamiliar with the place probably pass the lane without notice.

Past the fences, I go left off the trail and, alone with my thoughts, follow the backyard perimeter of a couple of homes toward a small wood line. There, it’s not unusual to see a deer, especially this time of year when fresh, sweet, salubrious clover and rye stubble sprout. Never is it richer in nutrients than during that first spring growth, thus the higher price for “first-cut” hay.

On a recent morning, recrossing the common on my way home, I stopped to chat with a local farmer slowing for the stop sign in his white pickup. In the course of our brief, neighborly conversation, he told me about the deer he had just spotted grazing the field behind his barn. Sighting them through dim dawn light, he first feared his cattle were loose, then realized it was deer. Many of them. So many, in fact, that he took a count: 15, coming off an easy winter.

In this season of budding and mating, nesting and birthing, growth, renewal and blissful morning birdsong, thoughts of a solo, sentient walking man can romp and ramble to the most peculiar places. It’s difficult to predict where such ponderings will lead. I guess it depends on the elements – wind, rain, fog, or perhaps that first pink twinkle peeking through budding trees low on the eastern horizon, illuminating spring pastels to a soft glow.

Turkey gobbles from the ridge recently entered the mix as lustful mating toms assemble their springtime harems. This week marked the opening of the annual, four-week spring hunt, when hunters use an assortment of mouth and friction calls to mimic the sounds of eager hens and entice dominant gobblers to tightly choked shotguns. I’ve been there, done that. Enjoyed it while it lasted. Loved it, in fact. But how many turkeys must a man kill to be considered a good hunter?

If ever I am hungry and destitute, I know I can call in a turkey. That’s good enough for me. Hunting in my world is not competitive. It’s leisure activity. Though killing is a necessary component, to me it’s the most distasteful element of the game. One way around it, of course, is photography, with its benign type of shooting. That alternative satisfied my late Uncle Bob later in life. But it’s not for me. I don’t need it.

On a recent, clear morning, as light crept in, a tom sounded off from the ridge just before I hit Meadow Lane. By the time I reached the open meadow, I had heard two additional gobbles, then another as I circled back on the homestretch toward Meadow Lane. I can’t say why, but that garrulous gobbler spun my wheels into death and dying in the season of life and living. The die cast, I let it ramble as I put one foot in front of the other.

The chain of thought started with my late son Rynie, who had died eight years ago to the day, a day shy of his 29th birthday. Less than three years earlier, his 28-year-old brother had died a similar death, both confined to hospital beds and succumbing to dreaded post-operative infections. I didn’t dwell long on Rynie and Gary. Other deaths have entered my life recently. Isn’t it inevitable as we age? I must admit by now I am hardened to death.

Just in the past year my wife lost a brother and sister, both younger, as well as a slightly older brother-in-law. All of them died at home far too young – one of a hideous cancer fought with dreadful hospital poisons, the other two related to lives lived in the fast lane. Although it’s true that all three made choices that contributed to their demise, that’s life. Get over it. We’re all going to die someday.

Which reminds me, since the death of my sons, I have read the obits of at least four or five of their friends, all of them good kids who enjoyed many happy hours under my roof – blowing out my woofers with high-volume hip-hop and rap, and tearing my tweeters with ear-tickling newgrass and bluegrass selections from my CD collection. If you haven’t noticed, young overdose death before the age of 40 is now a national epidemic. Very sad. Heroin, fentanyl, and crack cocaine are the primary villains. Up and down these young people travel to tragic young demise.

All those thoughts were bouncing and whirling through my inner consciousness on that robust daybreak ramble through short, frosty grass and crisp air – touching on this topic and that like a hummingbird
feeding through morning glories. No, not mourning glories.

Although my inner ramblings began with my dead sons, their aunt and uncles, thoughts of them didn’t linger long. I quickly moved on to my late boyhood friend, Big Stosh, with whom in younger days I played ball, hunted, fished and caroused regularly. He was here today, gone tomorrow – discovered dead at home, likely a heart attack victim. Big Stosh and I had many good days on the Deerfield River and its surrounding hardwood ridges; that, and taking in the sights and sounds while riding on larks around secondary hilltown roads, preferably dirt.

I missed the Big Boy’s funeral, and would have offered my pallbearer services had I not been away at a national outdoor-writers convention. I regret that I couldn’t pay my last respects by lugging him to his grave. It wasn’t meant to be, I guess. Bad timing.

I also thought of friends Fast Eddie and Blue Sky, two men cut from similar, independent fabric. I loved both of them like brothers, warts and all, but have held off mentioning them in print. I suppose enough time has now elapsed to disclose that they both took their own lives. Their choice by different methods.
I hope no one will now object to me making such an acknowledgment in print.

So, there it is, my salute to friends who decided they had had enough. One suffered from multiple health problems that finally wore him down and out. The other had run afoul of the tax man. They chose not to stick around to pay the consequences. Churchgoers would call them cowards. I don’t go there. I’m not wired that way. Genuflecting to crucifixions, dropping to my knees to pray, and feeding the log-handled basket for salvation is for others. A believer I am not.

Looking back, that train of thought that briefly brought the dead to life in my imagination lasted maybe three or four minutes. It was all triggered by that rambunctious tom turkey establishing territory with throaty gobbles. As can happen to receptive beings when the conditions are right, my consciousness welcomed in wafting spirits riding soft, undetectable currents through still morning air. I enjoyed the brief visitations. Then, like the darkness, they disappeared.

I was back at home before the tall clock’s 6:30 gong sounded. I poured a hot cup of coffee, passed the dining-room woodstove into the parlor, maneuvered my power recliner to a comfortable position, propped up the headrest and opened a book about ancient Eurasian/Siberian rock art. Written by art-historian/anthropologist Esther Jacobson-Tepfer, it’s titled The Hunter, the Stag, and the Mother of Animals: Image, Monument, and Landscape in Ancient North Asia.

Now there’s a long-handled basket into which I willfully throw contributions – supporting beliefs grounded in the ancient hunter-gatherer realm condemned by “civilized” religions as pagan and ultimately reduced to ashes, some tied to a wooden stake surrounded by dry, brittle fagots.

Robed Inquisition monsters called it progress. Today it’s a hot mess.

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