Berkshire Woods and Waters: School vacation evokes fond, sometimes scary memories

Whoopee! School vacation! How we looked forward to that. It is hard to imagine that 66 years ago, in the summer of 1951, at age of 8 years old, I started fishing with my Lenox Dale Grammar School buddy Jerry Zink.

He and I immediately took to one another because we had the common interest of stream fishing. He was already a fisherman of some renown living on West New Lenox Road (now Roaring Brook Road), where he fished Roaring Brook, Mill Brook and others.

I haunted the streams of East Street in Lenox, including Woods Crossing Brook and another unnamed nearby brook. There were many farms on the east side of Lenox in those days and we fished the streams that crossed their woods and pastures.

During that 1951 school vacation summer, we agreed to link up and fish the many small streams in Lenox which all held wild, speckled brook trout. You couldn't find a stream in Lenox that didn't have them. We frequently linked up at one brook that ran along Housatonic Street in Lenox, which ultimately emptied into Woods Pond in Lenox Dale.

I had it easiest for I only had to walk a mile to get to it. Jerry, on the other hand, had to walk or bike from his home, then along New Lenox Road, along upper East Street (which was a dirt road then) to Housatonic Street.

There we would fish the brook for a mile to Woods Pond, then walk along Crystal Street in Lenox Dale in hip boots, pick up a small can of fruit cocktail at Steinhilber's Grocery Store in Lenox Dale, walk up Walker Street then onto East Street to my home. After sitting on our lawn sharing the fruit cocktail, Jerry would head back home. He covered a distance of 14 miles that day! As we got older, we were then able to ride our bikes to that and other nearby streams.

Yes, that's a long distance for a couple of 8-year-old kids to hoof, but we didn't think twice about it. We had nothing to fear back then for there were no predators like bears, coyotes or some humans, nor were there any deer ticks. True, there was the Korean War going on, but at our age, we knew very little about it. Ah, such wonderful days, the skies were bluer and the grass greener.

One thing we did have to fear was nuclear holocaust, but we had that covered. We would just climb under our school desks. I must admit that I did worry a bit if we were attacked during summer vacation, for the school doors were locked and we couldn't get to our desks.

A couple other things we had to worry about while fishing were the mean bulls that some farms had and grumpy farmers guarding their lands with shotguns loaded with rock salt. Of course we would risk life and limb and always fished posted farmlands.

Our fishing gear consisted of a cheap pole, casting reel, Dacron line (no monofilament line back then), a tin which contained our hooks and sinkers, a jackknife and a Campbell Soup can in which we carried worms (later on, when we had the money, we bought green worm cans, which attached to our belts).

We also carried a measuring tape because the trout had to be 6 inches long in order to legally keep them. We didn't have creels but rather cut branches to carry our fish. That gave us a chance to show off our catches as we trudged along the roads.

We both had hand-me-down hip boots in which we proudly strutted. My boots originally were black, but because of so many red patches required over the years, they were two-toned. I don't know why I wore them anyway, for they leaked terribly and were too big.

We never wore anything red, which we believed attracted the mean bulls. We wore drab greenish, brownish clothes so as not to attract them and also to avoid detection by the farmers as we snuck across their fenced in, posted pastures.

Oh, how I remember those days — sneaking across the pastures trying to get to the streams, and the terror we felt when we heard the sound of cowbells and thundering hooves approaching from somewhere.

Without looking back, Jerry and I would race for the nearest fence as fast as our little legs could carry us, hoping that it was not an electric fence and one which we could easily get under or over it without getting snagged by the barbs.

Inevitably, my boots got barbed, requiring yet another red patch that evening. Usually the hooves and bells that we heard were from herds of milking cows which wouldn't gore us, but might trample us with their hooves.

I guess we saw too many movies featuring herds of buffalo or cattle trying to trample Tom Mix. Once the cows reached the fence, they would stand there looking at us, probably laughing. We must have made their day. I'll never forget those days.

Years later, while attending a Trout Unlimited meeting, an interesting event occurred. As usual, the older fishermen were congregated in the bar talking about fishing. When it came time to start the meetings, it was nearly impossible to get them assembled in the meeting/room, in spite of sharp whistles, clanging glasses, shouting, etc.

That evening, chapter president Karl Kronberg brought an old cow bell into the noisy bar and rang it softly once or twice. There was immediate silence and stillness. People were frozen in action, in the middle of sentences, some holding glasses near their mouths. It was like that old TV commercial "Well, my broker is E.F. Hutton and he said..."

Karl quietly told everyone that the meeting was about to begin. They all filed in, albeit a little ashen colored. I'll bet they used to sneak through posted farm pastures, too.

Questions/comments: Phone: 413-637-1818.


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