It was probably about a decade ago that Owen first noticed a big weasel-like critter running across the road around twilight. We were pretty well acquainted with weasels since we owned a couple of ferrets, which are tame animals. Very small. These have been pets for thousands of years and although once upon a time they may have been wild, it has been a very long time since any of these adorable little guys lived “a wildlife” in the great outdoors.
There’s a particular way that weasels run, almost doubling up on themselves. No other animal runs like that. I suppose it’s because they are so much longer than they are tall. Our two ferrets were Bonnie, a tiny brown girl, and Clyde, a big fat white boy.
Neutered, so their sexes weren’t important to them or us. Except that Clyde was much bigger than Bonnie — like maybe three times her size. She barely weighed a pound and Clyde was a solid three-pounder.
They were a lot of fun. Our cat, Big Guy, adopted them. You might say that they were the pets of our pet cat. He adored them. They don’t live very long … maybe five or six years … and after they were gone, I didn’t get any more of them. They had a knack for getting into absolutely everything, including the inside of the sofa, the walls, under the floor.
Retrieving them from wherever they’d decided to take a nap was getting difficult for me. But we were familiar with weasels. There was no mistaking that gait.
Not long thereafter, I saw one too, so I call the Massachusetts Wildlife Division and asked if, by any chance, some rather big weasel-like creature had come to live in the Blackstone Valley.
The woman I spoke to was pleased. She had heard they had reappeared in the valley after having been missing since the late 1800s.
Closely related to mink, they have beautiful pelts and were heavily hunted for their fur. And land clearance pretty much finished them off. Unlike our ferrets, which are pets and have never lived wild, Fishers are wild animals and weight in at between 3 and 7-pounds. Their favorite food is (sorry kids) squirrels.
Usually, they are very dark brown — almost black — and maybe the size of a small raccoon. And yes, they do like eating cats if one happens to be roaming around. If you know you have fishers, do not let your cat roam. Given the plethora of predators — coyote, fox, raccoon, bobcat, and fisher — do your family a favor and do not let your cat roam outside. Between the toothy predators and the cars on the roads, they don’t have a chance.
We got to meet one up close and personal not long thereafter when one of them decided to take a nap in the one sunny place in our backyard. He was a gorgeous color of russet-brown. I could see him making a stunning coat.
When we tried to enter the yard, he hissed at us with just a hint of growling at the end. We retreated. Quickly. Between the bobcat who’d moved into my tepee and the fisher who’d taken over the yard, I developed a strong desire to stay on the deck.
But the wild weasels have every right to be here. They used to live here before being nearly hunted to extinction.
It’s the two-legged ones that work in the Statehouse and our Capitol that I resent. The wild weasels may take over the backyard while the sun is shining, but unlike the two-legged variety, they aren’t going to try to take away our medical care.
It’s either in the chalice from the palace … or the vessel with the pestle … or possibly, the flagon with the dragon. One of them has the brew that is true, but if you mistakenly drink the wrong one? Then you’ve consumed the pellet with the poison. And your goose, so to speak, is cooked.
Herein I praise some of the funniest movie dialogue ever to grace a screen. This particular “bit” has been going through my head since yesterday.
I defy you to memorize the words and keep them in order. I’ve been trying to remember them in order for decades, to no avail. I always lose track eventually.
Maybe you’ll have better luck but I doubt it!
I went out to mail some batteries back to the company who sent them — they didn’t work — and I took the camera with me. Lo and behold, this is the perfect place for all those roady pictures. Marilyn said they’d come in handy, just wait.
So we waited … and voilà!
Roady pictures by Garry Armstrong! And spring is coming, the weather is warming. Who knows? We might even see a few flowers. The snow has melted and what we currently have is mud, tick, ants, and broken branches. The birds are nesting, so they just pop in, grab a seed, and fly home to feed the babies … and until the middle of April … this is pretty much “it” for our region.
BUT. Uxbridge is getting it’s very own POT SHOP! That’s right! A pot shop — not medical — for FUN. In Uxbridge. Uxbridge.
Where there’s not a single parking lot in town and one road through the middle of town which is always under construction. This should be loads of fun! I can hardly wait to hit the town with cameras. Stay tuned!
And just one from Marilyn …
As I stood at the French doors in the dining room, I watched both Cardinals — male and physical come and go. I didn’t even both reaching for the camera.
They play this game with me every morning and I didn’t feel like playing today.
They flew off and I got a short visit from one of the red-bellied ladderback woodpeckers. He waited for me, but my camera didn’t feel like focusing. He got annoyed and left. Who could blame him?
No problem. The little squirrel popped onto the railing. He went into the flat feeder and chugged a pound or two of seeds, then came back to the rail. Where he sat and looked at me. I tapped on the glass. He ignored me. I tapped harder. He ignored me harder.
Duke got disgusted with me and the squirrel and went out back to do some anti-squirrel barking. Meanwhile, after one more round in the flat feeder, the young squirrel rambled off into the trees. Slowly. I think he waved at us on his way to the giant trees.
With the squirrel gone, the birds came back. I took a few pictures. Then I went and drank coffee. The birds are wary of that big, furry, four-legged, bird!
Garry appears worried that the birds aren’t eating enough. I assured him that they appear fat and happy, so they are eating enough. You know you’re hooked when you’re worried your wild birds aren’t getting enough to eat.
Not to worry. We have about 40-pounds of high-quality birdseed and as they get fully into breeding, they’ll also get hungry. They will eat. They always eat.
I also saw a really huge hawk in the woods yesterday. It was so big, I wondered if it might be a young American Eagle. We’ve had them nest in our woods before, but usually, they like being by the river. But then again, we’re less than half a mile from the river and that’s not much for an eagle. Barely a flap of the wings, come to think about it.
This story goes back to the early ’70s. My mind gets a little bit hazy. I always thought I’d remember everything, but it turns out, you forget. It’s not dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Other stuff happens and the older stuff gets pushed back into the hard drive. We are older computers, you know? We need a faster operating system, bigger drives. Maybe solid state and definitely a much better graphics board, or anyway, that’s what my wife tells me.
I knew he had a house on the Vineyard, but I was a bit shy about personal — non-work meetings — with celebrities, especially Hollywood people. I was ( still am) a serious fanboy. I loved old movies and admire the stars. I grew up with them. I wanted to be them. I settled for reporting, but it wasn’t, as it turned out, such a big step after all.
About James Cagney
I’d just come into Oak Bluffs aboard the Island Queen ferry. It was the first or second year of nearly twenty summers I’d spend on the Vineyard, sharing a home with a small group of other Boston TV friends and colleagues.
Our first summer home was in Edgartown, off Tilton Street. We laughingly called it “The Tilton Hilton.”
I’d been on Channel 7 for maybe 2 or 3 years at that time. My face was just becoming familiar. I was also starting to get used to being recognized in public. This was a long way for a shy kid from Long Island to come in a short period of time. I was growing into myself.
I had just turned thirty, the end of “kidhood” and the start of being a man.
As I was getting off the ferry, I noticed a familiar-looking elderly gentleman. I couldn’t quite place his name. As I started towards a cab, the gentleman stopped me and said something like, “Hello, young fella. I hope you don’t mind me you interrupting you. I’ve watched you on television and just wanted to say I enjoy your work”.
I looked more closely and the face was suddenly and immediately familiar.
He said, “I used to be James Cagney. Now I’m just another old guy.”
We both laughed. We shared a bit of small talk about the weather, the ‘touristas’ coming to the Vineyard for the weekend, then more about the weather. People in New England spend an inordinate amount of time discussing the weather. It’s a thing.
There was an awkward silence and James Cagney said, “Would you like to have a beverage and some doughnuts. My place is just down the street a bit.”
I stammered “Ye-Yes, thank you.”
We laughed again and walked away to Cagney’s “cottage” which was a respectable residence covered with the light green or gray Vineyard paint color required for all cottages. Really, it was a small farm, but that would have been bragging. He didn’t brag.
Inside, it was a bit sparse. Neat. Just a few paintings and pictures, all depicting Vineyard and Cape locales. No Hollywood stuff. Cagney saw me staring and smiled, “Yeah, I dabble a bit but I’m really just a hack”.
In the kitchen, over tea and cookies, we had a long, rambling conversation with me talking about my then relatively brief career and James Cagney talking about his (long) career. He called them “jobs” or “shows.” That’s how I learned how most working actors and techs described movies.
I wanted to ask so many questions, but he persisted in talking about the “working part” of filming his pictures. He was “wet behind the ears” when he did “Public Enemy,” the film that shot him to stardom.
Originally he had been a supporting player. The director liked his feisty brashness more than the star’s blandness, so the roles got switched and show biz history was made.
We went on for two or three hours, swapping stories about “suits” we despised.
Our bosses. His studio bosses: the Warner Brothers and my news directors and general managers. I told Cagney about the suit I worked for at Channel 18 in Hartford before I came to Boston. My news director used to sit in the dark, mumbling to no one, like a punch drunk fighter.
Cagney cracked that familiar laughter and told me about working with directors he liked and didn’t like. He said he always focused on getting the job done, using the basics.
Show up on time, meet your mark. Know your lines. It sounded like what Spencer Tracy always said. Cagney nodded in agreement. Just before parting, I told him about my love of westerns.
He grinned, saying, “No way, I’m gonna tell ya about the ‘Oklahoma Kid.’ Bogie and I detested that show. We felt like idiots, kids playing grownups … but I enjoyed riding. I love horses. I have a farm hereabouts.
“The invite is open if you wanna come riding.”
And, that’s a wrap. One of those wonderful afternoons. Just talking. Not business. No cameras. A summer afternoon on Martha’s Vineyard. Two guys, cookies, and tea.