Long before the first Europeans came to the Americas, a small furry creature
roamed the woods of what came to be known as New England. The English
translation of the name that the natives of the land gave to this creature
was "Runs into trees." When the first European settlers arrived,
they found this creature to be both sociable and amusing, and they soon
named them "Grounders" for their habit of scurrying about with
their heads close to the ground.
The Grounder was an odd creature indeed, with its chubby brown body and the strange antlers - bigger on one side than the other - atop its head. Every spring, the grounders would appear (presumably, emerging from hibernation) with no antlers whatsoever. In what was perceived to be a bizarre mating ritual, the grounders would run into the forest at top speed, colliding with any trees that happened to be in their path.
What was not known at the time was that the Grounders were incredibly near-sighted, and just couldn't see even the largest of trees until it was too late. The result of their numerous collisions, however, was the growth of their generous racks of antlers. As we now know, antlers serve a function in Grounders similar to that of melanin in humans; they protect from injury. And just as melanin production in humans comes about as a result of exposure to ultraviolet rays, Grounder antlers grow as the result of exposure to sudden impact.
Each collision with a tree causes the Grounder's antlers to grow more. However, Grounders rarely hit a tree straight on; they usually turned to one side or the other in a desperate attempt to avoid the inevitable. Since most Grounders favored their left side, they most often turned to the left. As a result, they would strike the right side of their head most often, causing their antlers to become larger on the right side than on the left.
The historical record is rather sketchy, but it appears that the Europeans were under the impression that Grounders liked to hit their heads. That, combined with the Grounder's sociability (and lack of fear of humans) prompted the invention of a game of sorts. Grounders were trapped, and placed in cages, each cage containing twelve of the innocent animals. One player stood in front of a tree with a rod about one yard long. When the player yelled "Release the Grounders!" the animals would be released, one at a time. The grounders would head straight for the tree, but their flight was interrupted by the player, who would swing the wooden rod and attempt to strike the charging Grounder on the head. If the player was successful, the Grounder would tumble toward the field, where some number of other players would attempt to catch it and return it to the cage.
The Grounder normally rolled, tumbled, or bounced into the field after being batted. One day, it is said, a Grounder was batted so forcefully that it actually flew through the air, striking a hapless farmer (who happened to be working in the next field, on the other side of a fence) in the head. The name of that farmer was Homer. Since an airborne Grounder was such a rare occurrence, it was decided that anyone who could bat a Grounder over the fence would automatically win. And the name of the hapless farmer lived on; from that day forth, batting a Grounder over the fence was referred to as "hitting a Homer."
Alas, the Grounders did not enjoy this sport as much as the humans did, and they became less and less sociable. Over the next fifty years, Grounders slowly disappeared from public sight. It was thought by most that the Grounder, like the Dodo bird, had died out. Although there were reports of thundering in the deep forest, accompanied by muffled thuds, the Grounder appeared in the Village Green no more.
The author wishes to thank the following:
Mary Lyons-Kreitinger for her work in recreating the Grounder, based on little more than a series of historical anecdotes. An updated version of her illustration of a Grounder graces this page.
Tom Best, upon whose oral history of the Grounder this recounting is based.
Finally, just to add a little fuel for vanity searches, here are the names of the principal players in the Grounder saga, in alphabetical order: Dave Howse, Jim Meyer, Peter Palmer, Steve Siktberg, and Todd Webb.
All material herein Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 1897 by Jim Meyer and Airy Productions. All Rights Reserved.