Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Fondly Remembered"

I wrote this on February 21, 2008. I remember it being a rainy day, and I was sitting in my home office thinking about the upcoming turkey season. For some reason, I kept thinking back to this hunt, and how the next year, my friend Harden left this earth so suddenly. I remember the phone call like it was yesterday. I was in the middle of grading the final evaluation of one of the best pharmacy students I've ever had, but something told me to stop and take the call. That day, I cried.

The 'prose' such as it is, leaves a lot to be desired, but instead of edits, I'm gonna leave it 'as is'...I hope you enjoy.

I can't get that hunt off my mind. Why I don't know. Blame it on the pending springtime, the rain today, having nothing to do but chores around the house, or just flat out wanting to be out in the turkey woods right now. In fact call it all the above, and be done with it. But every so often, never more than this time of year, I think about a hunt I shared some several years ago with my friends Busky, Harden, and Harden's son, Patrick.

One thing the internet has bestowed upon us is the ease at which one may afford a quality hunt among new friends. Nowadays, you simply write a "PM" or email the person versus the old way of writing a letter or picking up the phone. Harden for his part, was always better via the internet than phones because quite simply, once he started talking rarely was it that he stopped by his own volition.

Busky and I had been planning an onslaught of the Toms of Jeff Davis county for quite some time. Busky has a really good lease down there, and my daddy has some nice land as well, so we were planning on pooling resources for a weekend hunt. Harden, either by way of Busky or myself became privy to the situation and wanted in. Actually, wanted him and his son in on it. Neither had been turkey hunting before (at least to my knowledge), and Harden wanted his son to experience South Mississippi turkey hunting at its finest. After several conversations via the net, and yes even a phone call or two, the hunt date and time were set - Saturday, April 9, 2005. Due to everyone's obligations that afternoon, we all ended up driving separately and meeting at the "Shell" downtown in the thriving metropolis of Prentiss, MS.

From the first seconds of meeting up with everyone, I knew it was gonna be a special hunt. The sheer excitement that Harden and Patrick exuded was palpable, Busky was his same ole ignorant self, and heck, I had even become one Delta hat richer. Harden, always pushing that stuff - go figure.

I can't remember how we decided to try my dad's place first, but when we pulled up, we were greeted with the typical spring morning. It was cool, but not cold, the sweet smells of flowering dogwoods were intoxicating, and even the pine plantations seemed to have a little color. For the sentimental among us, you might have found yourself lost in the color and wonderment of it all, but that's not why we were there. We were in a rush mainly because Harden had to A) take a leak at the gas station, B) get a candy bar and drink, C) talk our ears off, and D) take a leak when we pulled up to my daddy's gate. Not really a problem as I know the birds and had a plan, but I knew we didn't need to be caught crossing a certain rye grass patch in the coming rays of daylight. Realizing this we walked briskly to our destination. The plan was simple, cross the rye grass in that time before darkness and daylight that seems a corridor between this world and the next, slip into the pines and locate a bird. Simple enough, but we never made it.

With Busky and myself leading the way, Patrick just a bit behind and Harden making sure no Indians or German paratroopers were gonna sneak up from WAY BEHIND us, he hammered. And, I don't mean no "well, I'm a jake and ain't sure bout this whole thing" sissy gobble, I'm talking a full fledged, four fire alarmed, "I'm the monarch of these here woods" gobble. It flat out stopped us in our collective tracks. Longbeards and their thunderous morning ritual have a way of doing that, ya' know? I'll never forget the look Rip and I shared upon hearing that first gobble. It was a look of "my God, did I just hear what I thought I did?" Fifteen seconds later, he left no doubt.

Like almost every turkey hunt I've been on during my lifetime, plans quickly changed. I knew where the bird was, but getting there was going to be one difficult sonavagun. Ya see, in accordance to what I can only assume is a covenant taken among all longbeards in this part of the country, this particular bird was roosting about 200 yards deeper into the bottom than he had all year. At the exact time I didn't need him doing such, he was roosted fully up a ridge and down in the bottom of another from our position. Given the topography and knowledge of the land, I knew that this bird sat down in a bottom that was basically a bowl, forcing the hunter to come to the bird from above. This angle of pursuit would allow that arrogant sucker sitting on that white oak limb, gobblin' his head off, ample opportunity to pick our silhouette out and spook, changing from heart-stopping gobbles to ball, 'see ya tomorrow' putts.

Relaying this info to Busky, we collectively decided NOT to play that game. We'd sneak and crawl as close to the ridge top as we could, get his attention letting him know some hens were around, and wait that sucker out.

Well, true to form and longbeard covenant, plans changed again...and again. That ol' Tom, that sorry, no good, spittin', drummin', struttin' turkey would walk alllll the way up the ridge, and hangup just below our line of sight keeping himself or his head rather, out of view. Then, he'd walk down the ridge, and back up the other one, doing the same. Seesawing that bottom, we could tell his approximate location by way of the decibel strength of his gobbles.

We musta gone through three or four position changes that morning, and all the while, that gobbler never stopped gobblin'. And, just as truthfully, never came any closer than he absolutely had to. My guess, he was resolved to have the hens come to him down in his protected lair.

Given the hours spent in the woods that morning and being somewhat of a sentimentalist myself, I had ample time to look around at the crew I was teamed up with that morning. Patrick, a young boy on his first turkey hunt was being afforded and experiencing a show that many might have to wait years for. Harden, his dad, was on his first turkey hunt as well and just as excited at what he was witnessing as his son. Watching the two of them sitting side by side on that oak tree brought back many a fond memory of me and my daddy. I could hear my daddy's voice in my head, whispering quietly through his face mask, "relax, it's just a bird, be still and get ready, he's folded up and...running at the decoy!" I'd venture to guess that much the same conversation was being had five yards ahead of me and Busky's, what times!!

After a couple of hours of this though, quite frankly, I was beginning to hope that if that bird didn't die by gunshot, both lungs would rupture due to the stress he was placing on them. Busky musta been feeling the same way because he leaned over and in my ear, stating, "you stay here with them, I'm gonna walk away from that sucker through this timber calling."

I nodded in agreement and gave some hand motions equating to, "I'm gonna crawl up and sit behind them so I can help them if that bird comes."

Again, Busky nodded.

He walked, and I crawled.

Now, before I go on, please understand that it was getting close to ten o' clock, the bird was beginning to cool down and hadn't gobbled in several minutes. That is, until Busky started calling from further away.

That bird, that cocky, arrogant, conceited bird that he was, started acting like a high school senior who just got snubbed at a party. Simply put, he went stark raving mad.

He gobbled, he spit, he strutted, he drummed, he gobbled some more...he went full bore jealous with rage. But, once again, he kept his head, staying behind a bank of impenetrable privet hedges. I always say during turkey season "I hate a turkey", but never more so than that moment.

After several minutes and over Harden and Patrick's breathing, I caught a slight movement out of the corner of my eye. It was Busky crawling back to us, and every time that sucker would gobble, I could hear him snicker under his breath.

Upon making his way back, and realizing that wasn't going to work, we did some quick figuring. We had both come to the realization that it was either now or we'd let him have the woods until next time. My vote was to wait until he hammered on the other side of the ridge, risk moving as close as we could get to the top of the ridge on our side, let him know where we at, and shut up. Our only hope was his arrogance would get the best of him, and he'd come looking to flog the hen that told him "no."


I relayed our plans to Harden and Patrick. The emphasis was placed on the need for speed, but the absolute must for stealth...a tough combination to be sure, especially when concerning four folks.

We proceeded to a group of pines, and honestly to my great surprise, we hadn't knowingly spooked this bird...yet.


Busky positioned himself behind Harden on the same tree, looking over his shoulder so he could see the action and direct Harden. I did the same with Patrick. And, we waited.


On that fabled Saturday morn', things began to unfold, and they began doing so in a very rapid fashion. By way of my journal, at 10:37 that ol' Tom fired off, unmolested by the crew of friends that had been trying to outwit him all morning. Yep, at 10:37 that ol' boy decided enough was enough, and he was coming courtin' himself a hen.

Within seconds, I could see the tips of his fan as he strutted just behind some low sitting bushes. You could hear his wings dragging the ground as he spit and drummed in his strut zone. The only noise you could hear from us was the breathing of Harden. I honestly thought he was going to stroke on us right then and there. Peering through what little bit of cover standing between Patrick and the bird, I could see that bright red head, white on top with a hint of blue. This boy was fired up I tell ya!

Quietly whispering to Patrick, I found myself saying something I hadn't heard in a while, "relax, it's just a bird." Then, milliseconds later, "shoot him."

Then, several seconds later with the bird in full view, "Patrick, take the shot."

Then, several seconds after those several seconds, "Patrick, shoo...........................................BOOOOOOM!!!!!!!!"

Busky, realizing something was wrong, told Harden to shoot. And, he did...........and killed the nicest sweet gum tree ever to grace J.D. county.

At the shot, Busky took off in a dead run for the bird, which, by all accounts should have been dead...I wasn't far behind him. At the realization of four plus hours of work being a wash, Busky turned around red faced with a crazed look. For those that know my bud, he's not one to be trifled with. He didn't mean anything by it just reacting to the disappointment I suppose, and after me whispering, "don't say anything Busky, it was his first hunt," he calmed and we turned to face the downtrodden twosome.

Patrick was standing up, looking around...Harden hadn't moved. The first thought I had was he truly had keeled over at the stress. But he was sitting there on the tree, looking green, and mumbling to himself, "What happened???? How??? Why??? Did I miss???"

At this, the woods came alive with laughter, and we (Busky and myself) set in on Harden as only we know how. Harden for his part took it well, as he shoulda. We talked about getting the sweet gum mounted for him, cutting shirt tails, how we would plaster him on MSDUCKS if he didn't come clean first. Throughout all the ribbin' and jokin' something was nagging at me - why hadn't Patrick shot?

Walking out I couldn't stand it anymore. Turning abruptly to the group, I asked rather matter of factly, "Patrick, WHY DIDN'T YOU SHOOT?"

Patrick's response just as matter of factly, "Mr. Justin, all I could see was his head!"

At that, Busky and I became quite ill as neither of us had thought to let Patrick know that the head and neck area is what you should aim for.

That day a bird didn't die. That day we all saw and heard one of God's greatest creations thundering in the South Mississippi hill country. That day friendships were forged through the fire and flame of a spectacle and hunt that few can lay claim to. That day Harden almost had a stroke, missed a monster of a bird, missed a kill of a lifetime..........but, he caught a friend.

That I think of it often. But, mostly, I just miss my friend.

 (L to R) Patrick, Hardin, me, Busky

Hope you enjoy, Justin

Saturday, January 30, 2010

"Curious Occurrences Along Jaybird Creek"

“I saw it I tell ya! Looked like a man, sorta, but with big, red eyes! John S. you know I don't lie, 'specially about spooks...never woulda believed it had I not seen it with my own eyes!”

Chunk and I had just walked into the Ward's hamburger joint where my grand dad drank coffee every morning, all the while, solving the world's problems with a bunch of other men. My dad called them the “Prentiss Posse”, tongue firmly in cheek, of course.

“Now, what exactly happened Henry? You say you saw a “thing” down at Buzzard Bar, which I won't even get into why you were own mine and Harold's property, and this thing scared ya did it?” Gran Gran seemed a bit amused and slightly irritated that someone was on his property. He and Mr. Harold (Buff Magic and Chunk's daddy) owned property on either side of the banks, and it seemed every fall and spring we had to deal with folks trespassing, fishing deep holes for bass. Wasn't a big deal so long as no one threw out any trash.

“John S. it ran at me with all these arms going ever' whichaway, and it was hollering and howling too. It seemed like the whole bottom was yelling and howling at me. Of course I didn't get a great look at it, being it was almost dark and I took off running, but somethings down there. Something...unnatural.” Mr. Henry Polk, a man firmly in his 60's, owner of a country grocery store and upstanding member of the town, looked plum sick. His face was white and his voice was trembling. Clearly, to me and Chunk at least, the old timer had seen something.

“Now, Hen, honestly how much snort did you have while you were fishing? I know you had that flask with ya. How much?” Gran Gran had a knowing look on his face.

“A little, but I wasn't snookered enough to see things! I'm telling you, the legends true! I never believed it before, but I do now. Ya'll can all call me crazy, but I'm telling you I saw what I say I saw!” Out the door Mr. Henry stormed, danged near tearing it off the hinges as he went.

“John S. you know Henry wouldn't make that up,” said Mr. H.C. rather matter of factly.

“Yeah, H.C. I know. I'm sure he saw something, but come on, a ghost? Just because that place is said to be haunted doesn't mean it is, and it sure doesn't mean grown men outta be proliferating the stories. That's campfire stuff at best.”

After a few more grumblings and disagreements concerning society, Gran Gran was ready to go home. We put my bike in his old Buick station wagon as I was going to ride with him to his house, bike to my mom's office and hitch a ride with her home. After loading it Chunk waved his goodbye and told me he'd give me a call later.

On the way to his house I asked, “Gran Gran, what do you think happened down there on that creek bank?”

Quizzically he looked at me, crooked an understanding eye and explained, “Oh, I think Mr. Henry saw something. I think he heard something too. But, woods can get to a man at dark. Sounds you hear everyday can take on a harmony found on another planet. Rain drops off oak leaves can sound like tin cans clanging together if you listen hard enough. Even when it's quiet, so quiet not another sound is heard, the pressure of it can build in your ears, and it can actually sound like a humming that can drive you crazy. The trees are strange and too much for some people to stand at night.”

“But the legend says 'the bar' is an old Indian battle ground.” I pushed.

Raising a finger as if to admonish, “an old French and Indian battle ground Justin.”

“Yes sir, an old French and Indian battle that took place right there. Then, the family that lived there later, supposedly went crazy and died. You told us about all that on a camp out one time.”

“Justin, you do remember that was a night around the camp fire – your first if memory serves? We pulled out all the stops that night. But still, stories, every last one of them. It's just what grandparents do...we get you riled up, bouncing all over the place, then hand you back to your parents grinning,” the last bit he said almost laughing, completely killing the mood. “What does your daddy do with Sebron every night? He wrestles with him, gets him wound up, he gets in trouble with your momma, and your daddy grins all night – it's just what we do!”

I couldn't argue, and didn't. Once at his house I pulled my bike out but before I left I told him what I already knew was going to happen, “Gran Gran, Chunks gonna go down the to 'the bar' this weekend, and I think he's gonna ask me to go.” He seemed to study me for quite some time, his crystal blue eyes narrowing at what I could only assume as the thought, and then relaxing as if to give in. Those same blue eyes that I have been told I have, stared a hole in me for several seconds and then almost whimsically he chortled, “Sure go on, you gotta figure it out for yourself. Just remember, nothing in the woods is what it seems in the dark.”

That night, Chunk called.

“Look man, we're goin' – you, me and anyone else that'll go,” in his voice was a certainty I could tell had been there awhile. “Think about it Nige! We go down there and prove there ain't no such thing, at worst. Best case is we talk about 'the night' the rest of our lives. Hell man, for all we know there could be a whole tribe of forgotten Choctaw.....”

“Natchez Indians, Chunk. You remember, they basically just disappeared,” I interjected.

“Ahh, yeah, Natchez Indians, whatever...whole tribe of them could be down there. Or at least the ghost of a family that just disappeared, and don't forget Mr. Wilfred several years ago. He said he was gonna check it out one night and was gone the next..............FOREVER!”

If a grownup would have heard us, they would have taken us straight to a meeting. Truth be known, we were growing up in the days of the “Goonies” and “Indiana Jones” looking for our own pirates map to take us on the adventure of all adventures. Who knew, this may just be it. Later we found out Buff Magic couldn't on account of a date he was going on, and Skillet and Iffee were both out due to various other things so it would be just me and Chunk. I should add that Chunk and Buff (who both had their licenses) where the only two I was able to go to town with on the weekends, so they tried their best to include me when possible. But, this was different. This was a mission.

The plan was simple. It was the first of March, so good creek fishing was eminent, and we needed to get down to 'the bar' to listen for turkeys. Our plan was to stop off at the bridge crossing at the old Lipsey place and walk in to the bar from there. I didn't get out of school until close to three and it would be close to five before we could leave most likely. By stopping the car (Chunk's old Grand Am) there, we could walk down the road for a mile or so until it dead ended, and then pick our way through the ever thickening privet hedges and oak flats to the 'the bar'. That night we'd eat skillet fried deer loin and deer sausage over an open fire while watching the sun melt behind the horizon.

If you've ever been apart of a carefully laid plan, you know how easily things can change. We left earlier than we thought and made the long trek to 'the bar' in record time. While the days were getting hotter, the morning and evenings were still cool. Along the road to 'the bar' we heard crows cawing, and were stopped several times by deer snorting and running through the timber. As we got deeper into the woods, the sky was blotted out, only becoming readily apparent in minute openings caused by grand old oaks succumbing to father time. At times we came within a mere few hundred yards of the 'Atheist graveyard' which was the supposed scene of the Indian battle hundreds of years before. It was also the home of the family, the strange family, that seems to be the owners of the tombstones situated right beside the house. Thankfully we stayed clear, crossing diagonally to 'the bar'. As we drew closer to 'the bar' the woods thinned and we were in sight of the old sand bar we had forever called 'Buzzard Bar'. Supposedly the battle between the French settlers and the outcast Natchez Indians was so fierce that the buzzards ate flesh from bone for weeks afterwards.

Our camp was the usual one: tent with a mosquito net, campfire set on sand, a skillet, and a back pack full of beer that cooled in the creek. Considering we got there almost an hour earlier than we planned, setting long lines baited with chicken gizzards allowed only a momentary reprieve from the question Chunk wanted to ask most. If only the catfish would have started biting immediately.

“You wanna go look at the house and graves?”

Stunned, but not surprised, I answered, “No.”

“C'mon man.” And without looking back, he took off in the direction of the “Atheist graveyard” and house that sat thereon, which I could just barely see the roof of.

“Chunk, don't do that man. Hey!!! Come back............dammit!” Off I took after my bud, shaking my head as I went.

The house which supposedly belonged to the family that disappeared some many years ago was surrounded by an immense jungle of privet hedges. There were times when you had to get down on your knees to move closer and other times, it felt like you were walking on a path that someone meant to be there. Finally after several minutes of crawling we broke through the privet hedges and made the yard. I'll be the first to admit, seeing those tombstones for the first time was a bit unnerving. They were white marble and had angels on top whose eyes seemed to follow you as you walked. A lone, other worldly looking magnolia stood sentinel in the middle of the three headstones. As silently as possible we crept to the house under the angels watchful eyes. Low stooped, ready to hit the ground at any minute, we crept one behind the other. I remember being unsure if it was Chunk's breathing I was hearing or my own heartbeat pounding in my ears as we approached the window. Under the window seal we sat in silence, both a bit apprehensive for what we were about to see. Straight away Chunk looked at me with as serious a look as any I had ever seen, giving a curt nod. I responded in kind and with a singular move, both of us drew a breath of air – surely our last – and peered in the room. To our astonishment, our eyes met...nothing. No furniture, a wall had been knocked out making the kitchen plainly visible, pots, pans and glassware that were left behind were strewn about as if someone left quickly. Several of the other windows had been knocked out as well. The only thing that looked out of place in this abandoned house was a rug. Not so much it's being there, as it had probably a half inch of dirt and dust resting on it, but something seemed strange about it's placement. I didn't get time to think about it though as Chunk, who was always on the move, said “Damn man, this sucks, let's go back.” I could tell he was thoroughly deflated. Just one time we wanted a pirates map and an “X marks the spot”.

That night after a few beers augmented some undercooked deer meat, Chunk headed for the woods armed with some paper towels. I had my back to the creek and faced the old houses roof. That old house, out in the middle of no where, that which had ghost stories circling it for decades was really nothing more than dormitory for rats and spiders. As I thought about the first time I heard about that house, I found myself staring into the campfire's dying embers. It was right here among the overgrown privet hedges and oak trees Gran Gran had first told us about the great Indian battle that happened here. It was the first time I heard about that family that died and the tombstones no one remembers placing. The first time I met ol' Cajun Jim's drunken self. And, as the crickets sung that camp fire began to beat. As the embers rose and fell with the nights air, I could feel my heart beating the same tune. It was becoming one with the fire. My eyes were getting heavy, I needed sleep. As I slumped against the oak I was leaning against, I saw a light bobbing in the night, coming down the hill to the house. I thought I was dreaming and almost succumbed the the numbness of sleep when it dawned on me that Chunk was in the opposite direction. I couldn't move for a second or two, but the first thing I thought of was dowsing the fire. As I laid on the sand next to a drenched fire staring at the light that had made the house disappearing behind the door, Chunk landed on me.

“What in the hell are you doin' man? We need this fire!”

“Chunk, I saw something. I ain't sure what it was but it was carrying a light through the trees and then just disappeared", I said w/ a gulp.

“Dude, quit. You ain't scaring me. Help me get this fire started back,” as he started dragging some limbs up. As soon as the lighter fluid was opened my revelry broke and I grabbed his hand, “Chunk, I'm telling you somethings up there.” The look in my eyes must have convinced him because all he said was, “Okay man, you wanna check it out?”

I nodded that I definitely did NOT. He smiled, and we started inching toward the house. After several minutes of climbing back up the hill toward the house we came to the privet hedge thicket. It wasn't something I particularly wanted to do, but Chunk wanted to split up and approach the house from different angles. Chunk went south and was going to skirt the house until he was directly opposite my position, I was going to give him 10 minutes and start crawling toward the house through the thicket. The minutes ticked by like molasses on a cold morning, and apprehensive as I may have been, I started easing toward the house. The cover was such that you literally had to get on your hands and knees to move but before long the shadows of the house came into view. Nearly as soon as I saw the outline of the house I saw the light flicker, and for the first time I knew it was real. I knew something was out there. Laying on the ground like I was trying to hug the earth, I moved forward. After a couple of slithering steps, the howling started. The whole of the woods felt as if its heart was beating. It literally felt angry at my presence. Frozen, not ten yards from the clearings edge and within view of the house, I felt as if a demon had jumped on my back. I looked around and saw nothing, just heard howling. Then out in front of me, I saw the light. It couldn't have been more than 15 yards in front of me. I broke. I unhinged. I forgot about everything except running, and the only direction I knew was down hill through the thicket. Out of my periphery I could see the light coming, I could feel the hedges ripping my skin. Forgetting to crawl, I finally got hung up in the hedges and undergrowth. Struggling to free myself and trying to gather my breath, I looked over my shoulder only to see the light bobbing maniacally, running straight at me, yelling. I turned again, away from the on-coming spook and took off running straight at the creek. It was so dark when I hit the tree crossing the creek, chicken-horsing it to the other side, I almost didn't realize it when I fell. The last thing I remember feeling were limbs slapping my face and the cold darkness of Jaybird creek.

The oak limbs seemed to latch onto me, the current seemed to rage not allowing me to surface. With every movement toward the surface, I seemed to be carried back down into the murky water deeper. I was exhausted, I couldn't kick anymore, and then something warm wrapped around my chest and squeezed, pulling me out of the creek.

“Nigel.....Nigel, speak to me boy. Yo' daddy's gonna kill me Nigel!!!”

Coughing and gagging I opened my eyes to face none other than Cajun Jim. My daddy's constant companion and my grand daddy's constant pain in the butt.

“Nige', I been tryin' to stop you for sense you was runned from de house! What de hell you doin' out here?”

“Jim, where's Chunk. Chunk was with me, where's Chunk?”

“Relax, he's at de house. You awright? C'mon den, you need to see this I suppose.”

Helping me up I followed him back to the house that everyone feared, feeling rather bewildered. To my great surprise we walked right up to it and through the front door. Chunk was standing there looking as scared as I was.

“Look, this is something we' been doin' a while now....Chunk, stand back, I gotta move this rug.”

And then it hit me. What bothered me so about the rug was that I could make out faint drag marks in the floor where the rug had been moved.

Under the rug was a door, much like you may find heading up to the attic, only this one headed down to a basement. Cajun waved us down into the pitch black basement, and the further we crept, the more significant a smell became. I couldn't place it but I think Chunk started understanding.

“Jim, turn the lights on please,” Chunk was hardly able to contain his excitement.

Out of the darkness something sounded like a lawnmower cranking, a quick flick of the lights and the interior of the basement was lit. Cajun quickly closed the door, and I was able to take full stock of my surroundings. Dr. Frankenstein didn't have it better. Big copper pots being heating by propane tanks. Some sort of clear liquid dripped from copper tubing into old Mason jars. On the walls were shelves containing more jars and sacks of what looked to be corn.

“Boys this is me...........”

“Still,” Chunk finished for him. “Cajun, I've heard about apricot and persimmon shine some people are lucky enough to get their hands on. Everyone seems to have it at Christmas parties but no one knows who makes's you isn't it?”

Cajun nodded and with a look at the shelves stated, “that third jar is some apricot from last years party at the mayors house if you want a snort.”


I knew that throat clearing sound...that was daddy. Out of the shadows of the basement, both Gran Gran and Daddy stepped. My jaw hit the floor.

That night Chunk and I were given the grand tour. I learned more about moonshine in 2 hours than any 10 people know in their collective lives. I was told how to make it and how it's made right – very different. Per Jim, there was a considerable difference in making moonshine and making good moonshine. Obviously, he made the later.

“This is cool and all, but what about all the howling and other noises we heard tonight?” I still wasn't ready to give up on the hauntings surrounding the 'atheist graveyard'.

“Well, dat is purdy easy once considered. I runs a tape deck off the generator, and have some megaphones wired to it. They hidden in the privet hedges and trees what surround de house here. De privet hedges so tough to deal with too. Sometimes you have to crawls, sometimes not. Me and ya'lls daddy's know how to get 'round, no one else,” stated Jim as colloquially as if he was explaining how to pour peanuts into RC cola.

Because of the sensitive nature surrounding shine, we were given strict instructions that only Buff, Skillet and Iffee should hear about this. Considering their daddies were also “invested” in the outcome, it was only a matter of time before they knew anyhow.

Finally sometime in the middle of the night, Chunk and I were dismissed to our campsite with full knowledge of the curious occurrences along Jaybird creek. Sometime before daylight Daddy came down to visit. Over the fire, warming up some leftover deer meat, Daddy expounded on how we shouldn't get any ideas and he better not catch us in Jim's stash. At the precise moment I was feeling thoroughly deflated by his admonishments, he got up and excused himself saying he needed to get home to momma. But, before he stepped away from the fire he gave me an account number at the CO-OP telling me Cajun needed 100 lbs of corn back at the house in two days. It seems my own modest moon shining career had just begun.

With a wink, he set off...and the atheist graveyard was no more but at the same time, it was everything – at least to us.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"Heros and Legends"

I've always been amazed at how life's episodes play out. If you look hard enough, you are sure to discern the circumstances of the day. Then again, I've been told I read to much into things too. Such is how I've come to terms with today, though I simply must digress to yesterday for a minute. Yesterday I had a conversation with a good friend of mine over the phone. It's amazing that two guys that see each other a couple weekends a year during duck season can become such good friends, but that's what the outdoors does to people - it breaks down individual personas leaving only common bonds. Georgia (the nickname given by Pat Pitt the very first night at L'anguille Lounge) has become interested in a long lost piece of waterfowling history - skulling. This pretty much means that I've become interested in skulling as well. As phone conversations seemingly always do, skulling turned to another topic, then another, and finally ended with a discussion on "heros". I mentioned that I only have a few left, and found myself stopping short, thinking back to my grand dad. I guess he was the definition of "hero" for me. The conversation ended shortly there after, and I tried to put it out of my mind. I couldn't.

Gran Gran was the one who helped me understand my daddy, and I think, he helped daddy understand me. Lately, the enormity of being a father has been on my mind. I want my daughter to both respect me, learn from me, and one day when I'm gone, think back to her "hero". How to accomplish it all is something I'm struggling with. I guess, I just need ole gran gran to talk to. I was supposed to hunt with a friend this morning, but I really wanted to take a walk in the woods by myself. I really needed to just sit and think, so I declined the hunt.

This morning, pulling up to the parking spot, I noticed a familiar truck that I had seen a few times last year. It's passengers are three old men who I can only guess have been buddies for decades. When I met them last year, they reminded me of my gran dad and his friends, meeting everyday at Ward's, drinking coffee and solving the issues of the day. They hunt the same area I do, and despite our close proximity, we never have a problem. They don't "shoot my swing" and call at birds working me, and I return the favor. We shared a week's worth of coffee and stories last year, so it was nice seeing them again.

The place they hunted all last year was actually were I was wanting to go this morning. Realizing these friends may not get many more hunts together, I went to another spot. This spot is a much further walk, crossing several old beaver runs and sloughs, but is one I find myself at when I need to think.

The morning was pretty slow for me by all accounts, but those old men were flat banging the birds. I had managed two greenheads, a wood duck, and raised more questions than answers. Hearing birds overhead, I took a glance and thought I was dreaming. Something to the tune of 30 mallards were cupped up coming into my one little hand carved decoy. With them, though not near as excited to come in, was another bird. It's coloration and secretive nature made it impossible to mistake. Mallards landed literally feet from me and Gauge's hiding spot in the buck brush, and immediately started dabbling. The other bird, circled once, twice, three times, and landed about 80 yards down the break in plain view. While that bird sat there, I thought about air mailing some steel and praying I hit him, but quickly shook that off, content to watch. I wanted, no I needed, this bird to come to my decoy on his own terms. I needed to take him fairly.

After a minute or so, the bird picked up, coming to the mallards sitting around unlarmed - which was strange enough considering the 80 lb lab whimpering and standing on his toe nails waiting for me to shoot. Gauge's ability to sit has been tested many a time by my patience and this was one of those times.

The bird loafed into the decoy and birds, ending a lifetime of searching and a dog's ability to sit:

Heros and Legends

I didn't say a word at Gauge breaking today. In fact, I think it was rather appropriate.

One bird, shot over one hand carved decoy. While my list of hero's may be getting smaller, the legend of this decoy seems to grow.

Vickers, if you read this, I'm sorry about the hunt man. Today I just needed to talk to some ghosts.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"Custom Hunt"

If I was pressed, I could probably right for days on end about this mornings hunt. But, really very little needs to be said. I've hunted most of the continent of North America, killing many species along the way. Somc being birds that ninety percent of the hunting community may never even see, much less harvest. Yet, today's hunt is by far the most memorable hunt I've ever experienced.

I took one decoy - the first one I ever carved, a call I hand turned and tuned fashioned after duck calls of long ago, and my dog who I train almost everyday I'm not at work...and shot a limit of mallards, stopping short of a full 6 bird limit just to say I did. I figure I owed that to the birds today.

Custom Hunt