Sunday, May 23, 2010

Game Boys

Script No. 545, February 2, 2008

© 2008 David Minor / Eagles Byte

Forced to lay over in Avon, New York, on August 27, 1830, John Fowler settles

down in one of the place's two inns, this one operated by a Mr. Douglas, on the

west side of the Geneseo-to-Rochester road. The rest of the place consisted of no

more than a dozen residences; it will not officially become a village until 1851.

The landlord offers Fowler his son as a guide, proposing the two of them get a

little shooting in as well as having a look at a nearby mineral springs. Fowler

admits to enjoying some shooting, so the two men enlist the services of a

not-too-unwilling hunting dog and set off.

They spot a few woodchucks and squirrels, but nothing too exciting. Besides his

borrowed weapon Fowler fires off a brief dissertation on shooting, both here and

back in England. He mentions that apart from a number of quail the game here is

not terribly exciting. He understands that pigeons are sometimes spotted in

miles-wide flocks and often plentiful ducks are encountered. Nothing that

exciting turns up today; he doesn't mention their actually doing any shooting.

The lack of action apparently gives Fowler a chance to think about the difference

in game laws between these former colonies and his British homeland. For once

the U. S. comes out on top; primarily due to the lack of many game laws to begin

with. As for Merrie Olde, he mentions that no one abhors England's game law

as much as he does, calling them, ". . . barbarous and absurd as they are

wantonly tyrannical and unjust, —the very fag end of the old feudal system when

barons could lord it over their debased vassals at their pleasure . . ." Citing his

countryman John Manwood's 1598 treatise on Forest Laws, he claims that a

still existing law permits a landowner - if a poacher so much as causes game to

pant or be out of breath – to have the miscreant skinned alive.

He goes on to thank Heaven that the days when that could actually happen back

home have passed, but would still like to see the laws expunged. On the other

hand, he considers New York hunters to be far too free with their shooting.

Also he's struck with the "death-like" silence encountered here in the local

forests. The only bird song is the occasional bark-like cawing of the crows, or

perhaps, ". . . the screaming of the buzzard hawk , or the tapping of a wood-

pecker." But the plumage of the birds here is "splendid and beautiful". He ends

his little digression by noting that not a single snake or other reptile his been

spotted all day.

They wind up at the one mineral spring in the immediate area, first utilized

nine years previously – although known to the French over a hundred years

earlier. Perhaps grumpy because of his missed connection and/or the lack of good

shooting, he's not at all impressed with the lonely spot, but does note that the

minerals are probably impregnated with alum and sulfur. The Indians had

named the spot Canawaugus, meaning "place of bad-smelling water". It's

probably good that the two men haven't eaten yet. They may not be aware that

competition is springing – so to speak - up not too far away.

About a week earlier the Ithaca Journal reported the discovery of a mineral

spring just outside of Buffalo. But Avon's day will come. In the year before the

Civil War it and its reputation will grow, until this place of a dozen or so houses

will rival Saratoga Springs.


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