Days of Spring

Spring is a welcome thought today. Every week, old man winter plays the grump and stomps us down with another storm blowin’ in this March.

Spring is shedding horsehair all over my coat.

Spring is the woodpecker drilling away at the tall oak tree.

Spring is the promise of better days ahead.

Spring is the house cats moving from the east to the south window in search of deep, loving sunbaths.

Spring is an old friend.

Spring is the scuffle of skunks in the woods. It’s the aroma of fox scenting the wood paths in search of a mate.

Spring is most welcome today.

All hail the turn of the earth.


MA leads the Nation in Strictest Gun Laws

Brookfield, MA – March 11, 2018

On a quiet, sunny Sunday afternoon in mid-March, the Brookfield Inn Bed & Breakfast opened it’s hearth room to a public conversation with Brookfield Police Chief Michael Blanchard. About 50 residents participated in a two-hour Q&A exchange covering topical issues on guns, gun laws and school safety in Massachusetts.

According to Chief Blanchard, Massachusetts has the strictest gun laws in the nation on who can carry, how to purchase and issuance of gun licenses. He said, “I am very confident in the laws in MA. The rest of the country can do a lot by coming up to our standards.” Gun related deaths, are some of the lowest in the nation with 3.13 per 100,000 due to suicide or accidental discharge of a fire arm. The homicide rate of gun deaths is 1.9 per 100,000. The CDC reported 213 firearm deaths in Massachusetts in 2015. Gun licensing is on the rise in the state with a 66% increase since 2010. Approximately 1 in 14 people own a gun in Massachusetts. In 2016, gun licensing rose another 7%.

Local police have control of who is issued a gun permit. The Chief continued, “however, there are some things that can be improved, especially how mental health concerns are made known to local law enforcement.” Information on a person that is confined for 72 hour emergency restraint and hospitalization because they threatened to harm themself or others is not available (MGL Chapter 123 Section 12), Chief Blanchard said “if the incident occurred in North Adams, it is not a searchable record for law enforcement. This information can help in the determination of suitability to issue a firearms license. He said this area could be tightened up.”

Concern about gun violence at schools was addressed. The Chief said, “It is mandatory that public schools have four fire drills per school year. It is not mandatory to hold active shooter drills at this time.” Local law enforcement is proactive in training teachers, staff, students and parents on what to do in the event of an incident of gun violence. The Chief said “I would be a fool if I stood up here and said it is never going to happen here. This can happen anywhere. That is why we conduct ALICE drills, to minimize the number of casualties. Somebody is going to die. Our job is to prevent casualties. Being prepared as possible is the best way.” ALICE an acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate is the training technique often used for public school safety. One question was asked about arming teachers in schools. The Chief said, “if the problem is guns, people who want to add guns to the situation. I don’t think that’s a good idea at this time. I don’t see that as a solution.”

Blanchard explained the steps necessary for residents wanting to legally have a gun. The first is to attend a Massachusetts Firearm Safety Class certified by both the NRA and MA State Police. Not only will residents learn about the laws and consequences of possessing firearms, but how to safely store guns in the home. There are two permits issued by local police. A License to Carry (LTC), commonly called a pistol permit for a hand and long gun. The second permit is a Firearms Identification Card (FID) for a long gun only (rifle or shotgun).

No matter what type of permit is being sought, the applicant must apply to their local police station. A background check will be run as well as an in-house investigation to determine the suitability of issuance. The police chief or sergeant will conduct a personal interview and may check references. The applicant will receive an answer in 40 days. If denied, the applicant can appeal it to a judge with a decision made in 90 days. Both an FID and LTC expire in six years.

Residents must be 15 or older to apply for a FID with parental permission. However, long guns cannot be legally sold to anyone under 18. The website page on Gun Ownership says, “By state law, anyone 18 years of age or older must have a government issued Basic Hunter Education certificate, from any jurisdiction, in order to qualify for their first ever hunting or sporting license in Massachusetts.” The courses are offered at MassWildlife Offices throughout the commonwealth.

Major gun retailers in Massachusetts such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Cabelas or Bass Pro Shops will not allow anyone to examine a gun without having the TLC or FID in hand. Blanchard stated, “Dick’s Sporting Goods will not sell a long gun to anyone under 21.”

Gun laws are complex. Any gun that leaves one pair of hands and is transferred to another must be reported in Massachusetts. If the gun was bought at a private sale, gun show or out of state, the owner must report the transaction. If the gun is inherited, stolen or lost, it must also be reported. Massachusetts law requires all gun owners to report ALL private sales, transfers, and surrenders of firearms via the Massachusetts Gun Transaction Portal. The Massachusetts Firearms Records Bureau catalogues the make, model, serial number and caliber of the gun. The seller and buyer information are recorded. It is unlawful to transfer a gun from an unlicensed owner. This creates a searchable data base for law enforcement to trace the movement of guns.

The public meeting was organized by Brookfield Indivisible. Chair, Trudy O’Connell, said the purpose was to educate residents about the facts of gun laws in Massachusetts. The Brookfield Inn, owned by Paul and Melissa Puliafico is located at 8 West Main Street (Route 9) near the Town Common in Brookfield MA

Published in Citizen Chronicle March 13, 2018 – Blanchard: More states should match Bay State gun laws

205 Self-Portraits – West Brookfield Young Artists on Display

West Brookfield, MA – March 3, 2018

Who am I? At some time in life, this thought may come into the consciousness. West Brookfield Elementary School (WBES) children grades 2 – 6 had a unique opportunity to look inside themselves and answer this question. Rebecca Fay, proprietor of the Worcester Art & Frame Gallery in downtown West Brookfield has dedicated space for the month of March to a unique, local exhibition of 205 Self-Portraits. Each image is a window into the child’s perception of who they are and what matters in their world.

The exhibit opened to the public on Saturday, March 3. An old grandfather clock gently chimed in the background as the public came into the shop. Children and their parents streamed inside to find their work of art amongst the large display. The exhibit takes up two full walls at the front of the gallery. Excited voices rang out, “that’s me, that’s me” as their portrait was found and shared with family. The children drew their images last fall in Ms. Kelly Mundell’s art class. Ms. Fay said for those children she knew, it was remarkable how some part of their personality came through in the drawing. “Some are funny, some are introspective, and it’s just amazing. I could stand here and stare at them all day.”

Some children drew a self-portrait that reflects on their own image visually or mentally. A patron said, “it’s what kids perceive themselves to be. It is amazing how they see each other. How they perceive themselves. How they look.” The children took great care in presenting their face and in particular, expression in the eyes. Hairstyles, clothing and personal effects were shared in detail.  Some children drew objects around them that had meaning in their lives. Animals, sports and music are in the background. Others gave insight into the importance of social connections with words floating around their image. Some images share emotions of the moment including what look like storms clouds around the mind. A few images share a wink back at the audience.

The plaque on the wall says, “These portraits are worthy of a show at the national gallery. Each image represents a child in our community. They represent individuals, but also our strength as one, standing together. When you look at them, you’ll see not only a resemblance to a face you might know, but also, our future, and the hopes and dreams of these remarkable young souls.”

The gallery also contains works from artists both local and throughout New England. Displays of pottery, woodcraft, prints, oil paintings and glass works greet the visitor around every corner. The shop is small, but the exhibits well laid out. There is space to move around easily and find something to appreciate.

The Worcester Art & Frame Gallery is located at 10 East Main Street, across the street from Ye Olde Tavern. The shop offers art by local artists and custom frame services. Hours are Wednesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.



Published in The Citizen Chronicle – West Brookfield student self-portraits on exhibit


Bugs, Slugs and Rock Gardening at the Brookfield Garden Club

Brookfield MA – February 25, 2018

The spring equinox is less than one month away. The roller coaster weather of February has brought a telltale shade of blush to new growth on fruit trees and shrubs. The buds are starting to form and make ready for pollinators. This Sunday started out with a mess of sleet and snow on window panes. By noon, things improved to a cold dismal light rain, the kind that liked to aggravate arthritic joints. The elements did not dampen the turnout as a large crowd streamed into Brookfield Congregational Church’s Fellowship Hall. The cheery crimson red tablecloths warmed up the room. The buffet set with homemade torts, scones, cookies and treats resembled a high tea. People felt warmed and welcomed as they came to the Brookfield Garden Club’s monthly gathering to hear “Gardening is Murder” by Neal and Betty Sanders.

Neal Sanders told the audience he left the corporate world of investment banking after thirty-two years of service. He converted a spare room in their Medfield MA home to a writer’s nest and began a second career as a murder/mystery writer. Twelve years later, the self-published author has penned eleven books from his own Hardington Press with the twelfth due out March 2018. Sanders likes the control of being his own publisher. He prefers to write in the off-season to be free for his role as principal under gardener for his wife Betty. He said his job in the garden is to “dig holes and move rocks”. The affable Sanders shared the garden glories of removing tree stumps by hand, outsmarting a squirrel raiding a compost container and creating a rock pile four feet high, three stones wide and 125’ long. Each rock represents a plant that was planted or transplanted within the garden.

Betty Sanders is a Certified Master Gardener with the Massachusetts Master Gardener Association, a nationally accredited floral design judge and a nationally accredited horticultural instructor. She writes the Horticultural Hints column for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s newsletter: The Leaflet. Sanders has her own webpage: and has given numerous talks on gardening throughout Massachusetts.

The event drew an audience of 50+ including invited members of the Leicester and Monson Garden Clubs. Sanders advised the crowd that internet gardening may not provide the best answers.  In seeking a solution to remove slugs from the yard, Sanders said the search returned five million results with the top responses offering suggestions of natural products that could have devastating effects on pets and wildlife. Solutions included using invasive plant species, expensive plant extracts and lava rocks to thwart the slugs. The most practical solution of baits containing iron phosphate as the active ingredient came on page 32 of the search from the Master Gardeners of Iowa. Sanders said about Google, “they don’t know the difference between good advice and bad advice. All they know is popular advice. The results are what everybody else is clicking on first, whether or not it’s any good.”

Sanders set up a table for book sales including “The Garden Club Gang” based on what he thought was the fictitious town of Brookfield. What a surprise it was to be lost on the way home from a trip to the Berkshires and stumble upon Route 9 traveling through the Brookfield’s. The inspiration for this story is based upon the real experience of a mature woman being ignored at the local pharmacy. She had sent in prints for pick up and felt snubbed by the teenage clerks who were more interested in ogling a pretty girl in the makeup aisle. The woman’s attempts to finish the sale were put off. She said, “I am invisible”.  The woman ended up helping herself to the printed pictures and left without paying the cost of $1.98. The clerks didn’t care if she was there or not. This incident was matched to witnessing an armored carrier picking up the cash receipts from the Topsfield Fair entry gate. He wondered what would happen if four women stole the cash. This book led to two more in the series: “Deadly Deeds” and “Fatal Equity”. Neal Sanders admits he flunked retirement. He loves to write and is “proud of each and every one of his books.”

The Brookfield Garden Club meets at the Brookfield Congregational Church every 3rd Sunday of the month from 2 – 4 p.m. Meetings are open to non-members. Contact Bonnie Thomas for information on club membership through their Facebook page.

Blog page link to Neal Sanders: The Principal Undergardener

Published in The Citizen Chronicle: Brookfield Green Thumbs learn “Gardening is Murder”

Nipmuck Burial Ground seeks National Historic Place Recognition

Brookfield, MA – February 13, 2018

The Tobin’s Beach Site archeology study of Nipmuck burial grounds presented by Eric Johnson, Director of UMass Archaeological Services, Clarence Snyder, Brookfield Selectman and Thomas “Silver Fox” Morse of the Chaubungaungamaug Band of the Nipmuck Nation drew a standing room only crowd to the Town Hall. Field study results from May 2017 supported an application to list the site in the National Register of Historic Places. Johnson said it “has a 100% chance of being approved.” If it is, the site would be eligible for funding to protect and preserve the burial ground. Snyder said at the next Town Meeting, residents would be asked to vote on $15,000 to continue the project. The Massachusetts Historical Commission agreed to match the amount.

Johnson presented a “plain language report” for non-specialists on the current and future status of the site. This was the second in a series of informational public meetings on the area which encompasses the Upper Quaboag River and Quaboag Pond. The property is owned by the Town of Brookfield MA. In February 2017, Johnson gave a summary of what was known and what would be the goals of the field study. Johnson said, “The greater goal is the preservation of the site, returning artifacts and human remains to their descendants. This is a sacred place. “

According to the U Mass Archeological Services (UMAS) study, human remains were found in 1963 during the installation of a utility pipe near the campground owned by Mr. James Tobin. Brookfield resident Barker Keith, an amateur archeologist, was asked to investigate.

“An Adena-Connected Burial Site” by Keith was published in the Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society October 1965. A red substance found in the pipe trench was determined to be red ochre “often deposited in graves here in Massachusetts.” The presence of red ochre at burial sites is an indication of an Adena cultural burial trait.

Keith describes the excavation of 14 burial sites at Tobin’ Beach removing artifacts and human remains from the graves. The objects, or “grave goods”, included spear points, tobacco pipes, knives, scrapers, shells and beads considered to be from the Adena heartland of the Ohio River Valley. He wrote that the Adena settlers arrived about A.D. 200 – 300.  In his conclusion Keith said, “certain likenesses between Adena culture traits from these western areas and some of the recoveries from the Quaboag site are noticeable.” The Keith collection was donated to the Springfield Science Museum.

According to James Gage of Stone Structures of Northeastern U.S., “Scholars and archaeologists have been arguing about how far the Adena culture pushed into northeastern U.S. for decades. I suspect the new archaeological investigation at Brookfield will re-ignite that debate. The question will be whether the Brookfield represent an (a) actually Adena settlement, (b) Native American group influence by Adena culture through assimilation or marriage, (c) Native American group that acquired Adena artifacts through trade network.”

Johnson’s field study, paid for by a grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission, focused on ascertaining if any undisturbed graves remain at the site. Local historians, newspaper accounts, maps, diagrams, and aerial photographs were studied for places to search. The fieldwork revealed “evidence that parts of the burial ground were still intact, and needed to be protected.” Soil discoloration revealed the location of rotted posts left in the ground, twenty food storage pits and evidence of a cooking fire. Fragments of pottery were also found in sifted soil. The study discovered, “Most importantly, in the area where Barker Keith had excavated, we observed two soil discolorations that in shape and size were consistent with burials he had excavated more than 50 years earlier.”

In consultation with the Nipmuck tribe, the next phase of the project is on how to secure the burial ground. An access road for residential emergency services needs to be installed without disturbing the remains. Long term plans include signage at the site and a potential Cultural Center for the region.

Tom “Silver Fox” Morse shared a moment of spiritual connection with the audience. Apparently, during a visit to the site, a member of the party experienced the sensation of sudden cold. The other members of the group observed his hair standing on end. A few steps and moments later, the air temperature and his reactions returned to normal. Perhaps the ancestors sent a message to the group on awareness of their presence at this most sacred place.

There are three upcoming planning sessions on the Tobin’s Beach site: February 27, 6:30 p.m. in Town Hall, March 3, 9:30 a.m. Brookfield Congregational Church and March 14, 6:30 p.m. in Town Hall.

Photo credits: The Boston Globe: Jill Zuckerman (left) and Alexander Honsinger (right) removed layers of topsoil.