Fall Smells & Sounds

Lyme Disease victims almost never reach REM sleep, so I am a usual light sleeper, and don’t dream. Rapid Eye Movement stage of sleep is when most dreaming takes place, so I knew I wasn’t dreaming when I awoke in the middle of the night last week, and faintly smelled woodsmoke.

Having been through two costly house fires, I am especially attentive to the smells associated with house fires: woodsmoke and propane or natural gas, which smell similar to me. Without moving, just trying to extend my nose outside the light blanket we were sleeping under with the windows open, I was pretty sure I wasn’t smelling wood afire that belonged to me and Betsy. This had a twang of campfire smoke maybe, and was pretty far off, smelt like.

I have read that when a person loses one sense, other senses grow more acute to compensate. My hearing has always been poor, since early bouts with ear infections, plus shooting right-handed shotguns left-handed. Naval gunfire might have contributed as well. Whatever, my smeller seems more sensitive than other folks’ olfactory talents. But I clearly heard at this point what had awakened me: a screech owl sounded off again from the persimmon grove across the driveway.

There just ain’t a better fall sound than a screech owl’s quavering cry, that some of the little predators can stretch out longer than they look like they’d have breath for. The owl in the persimmon tree was answered by another from back toward the Mammy Grudge ditchbank, behind the house. Screech owls not only make wonderful pets, but they seem friendly in the wild, often coming to perch close to a campfire and enter into the conversation at night. I drifted back to sleep, thankful for the serenade, blending with nightsongs of crickets, frogs, and katydids.

Investigation the next morning revealed unto me that the woodsmoke came from behind a neighbor’s house, across the pasture where we’d dragged up broke-off pecan limbs after Hurricane Harvey’s winds. As I figured that out, I was standing under a vine-covered hackberry tree, and the smoke smell mingled with the tangy odor of possum grapes hanging from the vines. I just made a trip with a couple of friends to visit a burn-victim friend in Memphis, and Betsy had sent us off before daybreak with a bag of biscuits slathered with pear honey or muscadine jelly, along with two thermoses of my Slung Coffee. JuBaby made the remark as we breakfasted on the road at sunup that he gussied up his muscadine jelly with juice from possum grapes: “Gives it a little tartness,” he boasted. I had never heard of doing that, though I’ve eaten lots of possum grapes.

The smell of woodsmoke and possum grapes also mingled, as I crossed the yard, with the aroma of ripe persimmons. Uncle George Vickers, a former resident of Brownspur, used to make persimmon beer that he aged in buried kegs. I have also eaten persimmon bread, but it takes a LOT of persimmons to get enough pulp for that or persimmon preserves, because of the many large seeds in the fruit: as in the old country saying: “He was shiverin’ like a dog passin’ persimmon seeds!”

I didn’t shiver that badly, but I did experience that delicious little dancing across my spine that my grandmother used to say was “A goose just ran over your grave.” I breathed: woodsmoke, wild grapes, fallen persimmons, the scent of ripe cotton before defoliation, the heavier odor of harvest dust from corn and beans being combined down the road. Betsy had just finished a making of pear honey back in the kitchen, and I had tested it with my last cup of Slung Coffee, the empty cup still swinging on my finger. It was a cacophony of autumn smells!

It was missing one thing. I thought I’d go back into the den and take my left-handed Remington 870, “Southpow,” out of the gun cabinet, picking up a couple of shells. There was a squirrel that needed a scare out on the Mammy Grudge ditchbank, for Betsy begrudged him the pecans he was invading her yard to pilfer, when he should have been content with the pignuts in his own back yard. The smells that were missing from this almost-perfect-smelling morning were the combined aromas of gun oil and burnt gun powder. I figured to make it perfect!

Top Shots, and how they get there!

A younger friend recently asked his Uncle Bob for his endorsement in applying for one of these TV reality shows, entitled Top Shots, or something similar. His reasoning was that since Brownspur had been quite a large part of his upbringing, who might better be qualified to testify to his marksmanship?

Who indeed?

This youngster (anyone under fifty is one of those) and his own late Daddy and Uncle grew up out here in the country, and like most Southern boys, was introduced to firearms – and their safe use! – at an early age: if one counts the plastic Cowboy-&-Indian cap pistols, even when the boys are still in diapers. His grandfather made for me and his Uncle, who was just older, wooden rifles that shot rubber straps cut crossways from inner tubes. That same grandfather shortly impressed upon us with his belt that only discarded tubes should be used for ammo; we had gotten into the farm shop inventory of new tubes. That was one of our first lessons on gun safety!

Probably that next Christmas came the ubiquitous popgun, which shot a cork inserted into the end of the barrel. When the cork disintegrated from frequent use, we found that green plums that spring made suitable substitutes, even achieving much more velocity. Our principal at school confiscated those type weapons after a math teacher was targeted between temple and eye, and in a locker room session with class boys proved how much of a welt those plums could raise upon bare bottoms at a ten-foot range, one of the most unusual punishments meted out to us.

Then came the BB Gun: this was when daddies, uncles, coaches, and even female relatives seemed to constantly harp on safety, and as I recall, any adult was qualified to administer licks if and when they were needed to enforce gun etiquette. Future “Top Shots” learned safety long before accuracy!

But if the Top Shot survived BB Gun ownership to the point that he was allowed to “hunt” with one on his own – two other rules were, “You gotta clean and eat what you shoot,” and “Do NOT kill a mockingbird!” – he soon learned the basics and value of accuracy, graduating to a .22 rifle. When contests were held, the bullseye concept was well understood, and no future MVP or Heisman trophy was esteemed more than that small dot in the middle of a paper target that signified the champion of the day, and could be presented to Dad and Mom before supper, with proper accolades bestowed.

Later on, the .22 rifles graduated to deer rifles, and eventually to elephant guns – on the theory of “My gun’s bigger than yore gun, and makes more noise.” I have a vivid memory of this young man in question standing with his comrades on a gravel road bridge shooting offhand (without a rest) at floating gallon jugs over 200 yards away with a rifle calibered in .458: big enough that the youngsters would not permit their left-handed-shooting Uncle Bob to even shoulder the gun, because rifles that big are engineered with a “cast-off” recoil that could literally break the neck of a southpaw shooter. Though this particular skinny kid could not have weighed 140 pounds then, he shot round after round, sinking jugs with only iron sights, and at every shot, he was shoved backwards two feet on the gravel!

Shotguns followed the same progression: the cut-down .410, then the .20 gauge, then the standard .12 gauge, and some even went on to .10 gauges. My son turkey hunted with a loaned .10 gauge once, and told me, “Daddy, .10 gauge hunters go out in pairs, so if one misses, then the other can hold his gun on him and MAKE him shoot again!” My cousin Mountain Willy, the family gun nut (“turning money into noise”), once showed up with an .8 gauge, which shot a solid slug to stop charging elephants. One needs to have a charging elephant close at hand to be motivated to shoot that gun!

Here again, boy standards point toward practice to achieve accuracy; the kid who comes in from a dove shoot having expended two boxes of shells to down his limit, is likely to have to clean everyone’s doves, then wash dishes after supper, while his buddies brag on their Top Shots, and make fun of the one who shot the most shells.

However, like in any endeavor, practice can only take one so far. Some are born with the Top Shot Ability, but never develop it. Some, like Mac and Adam, do both.

Outdoor Commercials: Dogs, Guns, & ATVs

Over a decade ago, I was associated with a Delta television station in several capacities, the most enjoyable of which was been the production of commercials. The success of my very first one I owe to an Ole Miss friend, Joe Camp, who produced the popular “Benjy” series of movies. Joe told me that his dog trainer had confided to him, “You can make a dog do anything with a pound of bacon and a microwave!”

A local shoe store wanted an ad for a Hush Puppy Trunk Sale. Betsy had a restored antique trunk upstairs, and I knew a lady with a month-old litter of bassett hounds. The rest was easy, with Joe’s advice. I bought a pound of bacon and got access to the lady’s microwave. We used bacon to get the dogs in the trunk and the lid closed. Then we used bacon to entice them scrambling out, going after the shoes. I’ve never done a more fun ad!

It was here at the house we did an ad for a glass company, part of which involved glass bursting. I used my .22 pistol with ratshot loads, and it worked perfectly for the water glass and a glass table. However, for the scene in which a sheet of window glass is supposed to break, the ratshot only made small holes in it. Finally, I went for a shotgun.

We were filming on our west balcony, and had the sheet of glass (4X4) propped up across the outside door, with the camera set up on the south side of the balcony. I was inside, out of sight. It was the day before Thanksgiving.

Betsy was downstairs, in the kitchen, on the east side of the house. She had gotten used to the faint “Pop!” of the .22. She did not know I now had a shotgun. Back upstairs, I loaded up, got the camera guy ready, then realized I needed to be far enough back for the shotshell pattern to expand, to get a really spectacular picture of bursting glass. No problem: there’s a long hall leading to the balcony door. I just backed down it 30 feet and told Landry to yell when ready. He yelled. I fired. It was, indeed, a spectacular shot of bursting glass. It was also a spectacular shot of the sudden appearance of a somewhat perturbed apron-clad wife, who was not prepared for an explosion directly above her propane stove!

We shot another commercial out here at Brownspur that attracted the law. It was an All-Terrain Vehicle ad, during a dry summer and fall – mud was scarce. However, I knew of a spring-fed mud bar down in the Mammy Grudge behind the house and downstream 300 yards. It was certainly suitable, for we stuck the machine and ended up having to take another couple of ATVs down there to get it out the next day. We got back to the house hot, sweaty, and muddy. I used the fire hose to clean the ATVs: most of the mud bar had come back with us through the ragweeds. Betsy made sandwiches.

We were loading the ATVs on the trailer, but the cameraman had another shoot, so he cranked his pickup to let the air conditioner begin to cool, shook hands around to say “Bye,” and scratched off. Just then a black helicopter appeared overhead, hovering.

The truck took off down the road, and the chopper headed right after it. I knew it was a narc chopper, and that they thought the path to that muddy spot in the Grudge led to a marijuana patch. We laughed at their ignorance, and then the ATV guys left for the dealership. Just as the chopper reappeared from following the cameraman for a mile. The helicopter swung around and took off after the truck and trailer of ATVs.

I had on cutoff jeans and a tee shirt, and was filthy, so I headed across the pasture to the Brownspur Swimming Hole. I was nearly there, when the narc chopper landed in the pasture. Two men in black jeans, tee shirts, and boots got out, as the pilot shut down the rotors, and one called, “What have you guys been doing, back there between those ditchbanks?”

Just as innocently as I could, I replied, “Making an ATV commercial, sir.”

“Right!” one snickered. “We’re gonna have to check that out.”

“Help yourself,” I offered. “I’m gonna be in the Swimming Hole here.”

The pilot eyed my muddy, sweaty person and the cool shady water under the huge cypress. “I’ll be at the Swimming Hole with him.”

He never said pea-turkey to me, but the agents showed up an hour later, hot, sweaty, and muddy. One whistled at the pilot to crank up the helicopter. They boarded and took off, with never even a “Good-bye.” Making commercials can be dangerous!

Screech Owls & Wind Chimes

I was sitting out on the porch the other day having lunch, enjoying the cooler fall weather. There was a gusty breeze, the sun was bright, and all-in-all it was one of those days you consider to be perfect. Last Mother’s Day, we had gotten Betsy some of those big wind chimes that are calibrated in different pitches, and we’d not really appreciated them in the summer, when few breezes blew. Today, though, they were playing a tune!

Then I heard a different tune. Which was not particularly unusual when you have several different-pitched wind chimes, but it wasn’t quite in harmony. I sat up and tried to concentrate as it sounded again.

Cross my heart, there was a screech owl in the back yard – and he was singing along with those wind chimes!

This was at high noon, now. It’s common to hear screech owls out here at Brownspur, and we have raised several of them – matter of fact, seems like I just did a column on them a month or so ago. Yet the time to hear screech owls is at dusk and dawn. They’re nocturnal birds, as are all owls, and they sound off that quavering cry all night long, if you want to stay up and listen to it. Betsy has even sent me outside to shoo owls away from the pecan tree over the bedroom window, because they had awakened her with wee-hour serenades. But high noon? No way!

Yet this owl was talking right back to those wind chimes, one of which was at almost the same pitch as the owl’s voice. Question is, was the owl calling because he thought it was another owl, or just because he felt moved to join in the music?

I voted for his joining in the music, and sat back to enjoy it. He called for nearly an hour, from the same tree, sounded like. It was great!

We’ve lots of times sat outside at dusk and called up both screech owls, with their quavering “whooo-ooo-ooo-ooo,” as well as barred owls and great horned owls with their standard “Who-who-who cooks for you?” We even raised some of the latter, great horned owls Major & Howland, and a barred owl named Stoney. We’ve never had pets as interesting as the little screech owls, though: Hoot, Don Quixote, Gordo, and Monfred.

First time I ever heard one imitating wind chimes at high noon, however.

We’re used to the Brownspur mockingbirds imitating sounds, especially before duck season and turkey season, when we are practicing up on the calls. If you’ve never heard a mockingbird quack like a duck, you still have things to learn in this life.

One of the worst mocker imitations I ever heard was after I had spent all day printing out letters to bookstores about a new book I was publishing. It was a beautiful fall day, and the windows were wide open, one of them a double window right behind the printer. The feeder was on the blink, so I was having to hand-feed each sheet of paper into the printer, and it would make a high-pitched “Beep-beep-beep” after each sheet went through. I was used to it, until the next morning early, when I was just sitting down with my first cup of coffee. The first couple of times I head the printer beeping, I didn’t take notice, and then I thought I’d just forgotten to turn it off the night before. When I went to refill my cup, I checked the printer. It was off, but just then the beeping started again.

The printer’s beep sounded just like the smoke alarm!

I spilled coffee as I sprinted upstairs – no smoke there. I ran down the outside stairs to check the Store, our guesthouse – no smoke there. I puffed into the house – no smoke in the sewing room or pantry, where the hot water heaters are. The beeping had stopped now, and I collapsed into my chair before it started again.

It was after I made that panicky circuit once more that I heard the beeping begin again, and traced it to the corkscrew willow by the patio. A mockingbird who nested there had apparently listened to that printer all day before, and was now imitating it, not knowing that it was an exact replication of the smoke alarm!

After we came home from the Navy, complete with a genuine cuckoo clock, the clock hung in the den right next to the doors onto the side deck. Those doors stayed open most of the year, except for the dead of winter, and we all were so used to the clock’s cuckooing that we never noticed the mockingbirds were imitating it until a dozen years later when the clock quit. The mockers continued to cuckoo for years!

So, are the mockingbirds fixing to start imitating wind chimes and screech owls?

Whatever. We can stand it, as long as nothing is burning!

Dry Season Doves

With last year’s dove season opening up, everyone else was looking for feed fields to try their luck on Opening Day, but I had other ideas. August and late July had been exceptionally dry, and we had of course been spending afternoons and weekends out at the Swimming Hole in the pasture next to the house. I couldn’t help but notice how many doves came over, flared, and then swooped down to water at the edge of the Swimming Hole.

So, after all the youngsters had left the house headed out for a sunflower or corn field, I sat around with an extra cup of coffee, then slipped on my swim trunks and a tee shirt, grabbed Southpow, my left-handed Remington 870, a shell vest, and strolled out to the pasture. I settled in a comfortable chair by the west end of the Swimming Hole, loaded up, and sure enough, here came the doves. I had to pick my shots, so as not to sprinkle my house or the neighbor’s house, but that was no problem atall.

Time the youngsters got in from the field with maybe two limits total between the four of them, I was through breasting out my limit, had them washed, and marinating in Dale’s Sauce for that night’s supper.

Used to be, we’d have 100 hunters for Opening Day. Back in the old days, if a farmer had a 25-acre milo or sunflower field, surrounded by 20,000 acres of cotton and green soybeans, he’d have a concentration: all the doves for 20,025 acres would be feeding in that little field, and they’d stay for a week or two, providing you didn’t shoot it out, and you let the doves come in to feed unbothered after you and your guests had limited out.

Then twenty years or so ago, the corn market suddenly exploded in the Delta, and instead of that little sunflower or milo field being surrounded by 20,000 acres of cotton and green soybeans, it was adjoined by 12,000 acres of corn, 2,000 acres of cotton, and 6,000 acres of early short-season soybeans. The corn and beans were combined about two to three weeks before Opening Day, and then instead of the doves on 20,025 acres having one feed field, they now had 18,025 acres of feed fields. No one could keep a concentration, because there were too many other places for doves to go. The best hunting nowadays seems to be late sunflower fields during the second season, after the grain fields have been harvested and cultivated.

So, heading out to the water hole was a natural thing to do and I was successful, though it would not have worked for more than a couple of hunters, who would be careful about where they shot.

Late in the season, Big Robert and the Dead Duck Club men would hunt the banks of the Mammy Grudge canal, back behind the house, where doves were coming to water. Uncle Shag used to have a favorite stand close to a locust tree: everyone knows how doves love to light in thorn trees. I once saw Uncle Shag get a triple on doves, though why the second and third birds didn’t panic when he dropped the first one, I’ll never know. They just kept on loafing toward that limb.

Sammy, Little Dave, and I went out to that same canal one December after a freeze. The water was still running in the canal, but the mud was freezing on the banks, and the icy mud was freezing on the legs of the doves as they came to water. It would collect into ice-mudballs until they couldn’t fly more than a few yards. We shot them like quail for the first few minutes, until we realized what was wrong with them, and how many doves were affected. It was awful, but they would have never lived through the night anyway. We took sticks and whacked our limits in the head before dark. When we went out early the next morning, there were hundreds of dead doves, and the coons, possums, skunks, bobcats, and coyotes – plus tame dogs and house cats – had mopped up on the feast.

Water Hole doves are a good bet for a hot, dry first season. But here’s one piece of advice from the Brownspur Swimming Hole Hunt: Do NOT discharge a 12-gauge shotgun straight up at a dove, while floating on an air mattress!

Wasps on an August Sunday!

Sunday was a wasp day!

This ain’t a religious column, either.

Walked into church before Sunday school, and right there in the hall, a lady wanted to know what was the best thing for a wasp sting, because the janitor had gotten stung several times by those big ole man-eating red wasps, and she remembered a recent column on sting remedies. Meat tenderizer was the remedy she was trying to recall, but the day after that column came out, an insurance lady across the street caught me to say that Elmer’s Glue worked just as well: put a drop on the stung place, let it dry, then peel it off, & presto: no pain. Your call.

But after church some of us walked around and discovered two more huge nests, one of red wasps, a second of those smaller striped yellow & black guinea wasps. Betsy got buzzed by one of those, but didn’t get stung. Someone went after the bug spray in the church, but we skedaddled.

After lunch, I changed into trunks and headed for the Swimming Hole, as usual, glancing at the thermometer on the way out of the porch: 102 in the shade! Lordee, this has been the hottest summer I can remember, although I’ve had Lyme Disease, so have a medical excuse for forgetting. One day last week that in-the-shade thermometer was 105 degrees! Yet the water coming out of my well into the Swimming Hole is 68 degrees, so I was headed for a comfortable place for my Sunday afternoon nap, floating on a net & air mattress that lets you recline half submerged. No better place in the world to be on a hot afternoon!

However, the sun was burning through my eyelids, felt like. No problem: my Grunk cap (Granddaddy Uncle Bob got shortened to GrandUncle, then Grunkle then Grunk) was hanging on one of the smaller cypress trees by the pool patio. I waded out to get it.

I grabbed it, lifted it off the branch, and it was full of red wasps!

My cousin Mountain Willie was a calm, controlled man who advocated never panicking in a situation where one is surrounded by stinging insects. “Just calmly back away and don’t let them sense fear, and they won’t sting,” he used to say. He’s dead now (not from wasp stings), but passed away before he convinced me of the value of remaining calm when a wasp nest is revealed unto me closeby.

There were probably ten plastic chairs, a couple of canvas recliners, four small end tables, and a couple of buckets on the patio behind me. I cleant those suckers out in a hurry; seems like I fell continually for five minutes before I reached a metal table and chairs that offered a firm support to stop falling, far enough away from the wasp-inhabited Grunk cap. One of the metal chairs against the table had a kid’s tee-shirt laid across it to dry. Someone left it while we were gone to Texas, and I hung it across that chair only a week ago to dry out.

When I grasped that shirt-covered chair back, another dozen wasps boiled out from under the shirt – they had built a nest there in a week’s time! I ran for the water. One sting on the right ring finger – no rings – and one below the right knee, which is a good place to get stung, since I don’t have much feeling there after the doctor cut out the gangrene in that leg.

When the buzzing settled down, I hied me to the house for some bug spray, returned, and used up most of the can on the two nests I had discovered, then sprayed under tables and chairs, just in case. I lifted the lid on the plastic garbage can out there, to toss the empty spray can.

Would you believe there was a wasp nest under that lid??!!

Two more hits, one on the forehead, one behind the ear.

I did have another can of spray back at the house, plus some meat tenderizer.

Okay, it’s Sunday: tell me again: just why did the Good Lord make wasps?

I know: that ain’t Neill’s Department – ‘way above my pay grade!!

Wrong-handedness Can Be Dangerous!

I was doing some storytelling at a Youth Art Camp once up at the Bologna Performing Arts Center at Delta State, and during lunch happened to sit across from a co-ed counselor. Since the next day was scheduled to be Friday The Thirteenth, the subject naturally got around to bad luck. Some people don’t believe in luck, good or bad, someone pointed out. The co-ed heard me mutter something like, “Yeah, and you ain’t got over 24 broke bones, either.”

She reached across the table to catch my eye and mouthed, “You’ve got 24? Why, I’ve got 14 myself!”

“Were you in a bad car wreck or something?” I asked.

“No, I’ve just been a klutz all my life,” she shrugged. “Is that how you got all yours – in a wreck?”

“Nah, I broke four vertebrae in a wreck right after I got out of the Navy, but I mostly just break one, maybe two at a time on a regular basis. I’ve also had 14 major joint injuries besides the 24 broken bones,” I noted. “Plus six concussions, being struck three times by lightning and five times by poisonous snakes, and a few other little things like Malaria, West Nile, Zika, Lyme Disease and 2 brown recluse spider bites. Some folks obviously don’t believe in bad luck, but I ain’t planning on getting out of bed tomorrow for Friday The 13th.”

The co-ed agreed: “I’m planning on being especially careful tomorrow, but I have to work with these kids. I’ll keep my fingers crossed the whole day, though. Wonder why some people have good luck and some have bad luck?”

“Well, let me ask: are you right-handed, or left-handed?” She held up her right hand in answer. “Then, when you were young did your parents switch you from your left hand? Like, sort of trained you to be right-handed?” I continued.

“I don’t know,” she shrugged again. “I was adopted when I was eight, so I have no idea what my biological parents might have done when I was a baby. Why do you ask?”

I shoved across a scrap of paper and handed her my pen. “Write ‘Mary had a little lamb’ on that for me,” I requested. She frowned, but did that and shoved the paper back to me. I nodded in understanding: her letters slanted almost backward for a right-handed writer, just like my own writing does.

“See, your writing shows a tendency toward left-handedness, even though you are writing right-handed. It’s a right-brain function. When I was an infant, they told me that my left-handed mother declared that she was not going to raise a child of hers to be wrong-handed in a right-handed world. So whenever I’d pick up something with my left hand, she’d take it away, put it in my right hand, and spank my left hand. She meant well, I know, but a medical study released five years ago shows that people who have been changed from one hand to the other, for any reason up to and including amputation, are ten times more accident-prone than the general population. I’ll bet you were changed when you were young too.”

At this writing, I don’t know if the girl made it through Friday The 13th okay or not, but I survived it. But here’s the point: if your kid shows a left-handed tendency, let him or her alone with it. It’s okay. The Bible even speaks of left-handed warriors, so it would seem that southpawism is God-given, an assertion that most baseball managers would agree on, I’m sure. Matter of fact, left-handed pitchers go at a premium these days, so if your little boy is a lefty, give him a baseball in his crib! He just may put himself through college thataway. Mine did.

But if he’s a righty, don’t change him over, either. The curse works both ways. Whatever handed your kid is, let it be. It’ll save lots of money on casts and stitches during his or her lifetime. If I was a betting man, I’d have bet that all the rest of the people at B-PAC that day couldn’t have come up with nearly 40 broken bones between them all, like me and the co-ed across the table had!


I was tooling along back home the other day, and caught a glimpse of something on the side of the road that I instinctively declared, “A leopard?!” and slammed on the brakes. Nothing was coming, and we so seldom see roadkill leopards, even out at Brownspur, that I wanted to examine this one more closely. Sure enough, it was a golden color, with very distinctive black spots. But it had a bobbed tail. I estimated it weighed close to 40 pounds, which would make it a very big bobcat, which is obviously what it was.

Of course, it had been hit by a vehicle some several hours before, and it was 100 degrees, so some unnatural swelling was present, yet I could tell by the length and height that it was an exceptionally large bobcat, of a most unusual color. Generally, our bobcats are brownish-gray with spots that blend in more than they stand out. The ruff around this cat’s neck was somewhat darker than gold, more tawny. He was absolutely beautiful, and my first thought was to get him into a freezer, then to a taxidermist.

That thought lasted just as long as it took me to roll him over with my foot. WOW!

A skunk’s perfume is nectar, compared to the stink I unleashed! I jumped back in the pickup, gagging, and stomped the accelerator. A half mile down the road, I pulled over again and got out to wipe the bottoms of my shoes on the roadside grass, but there was no residue on my shoes – it was just a lasting odor!

Another mile with the windows down, and I was finally able to breathe. Yet it struck me: what a waste! This was the most beautiful bobcat I was ever going to see, probably, and there was no choice but to let him rot by the roadside. Nor would I have shot him, if he had come by while I was in the woods on deer stand, for I’ve never been one to shoot predators, except wild dogs and coyotes. I’d rather watch them, and have saved up many wonderful memories of bobcats, wolves, panthers (which the Game & Fish people say we don’t have, so these were probably figments of my imagination), Russian boars, bear, alligators, red & timber wolves, and the lesser predators: coons, foxes, possums, mink, otters, skunks and others, right here within 50 miles of Brownspur!

Later on that day, I saw a big coyote lying beside the highway as I traveled north. I didn’t stop for it, nor mourn, as I had for the bobcat. Coyotes have become such a pest out here at Brownspur…. Well, having said that, let me back up and say that they used to be such pests out here at Brownspur, but someone or something has solved that problem for the past few months. We’ve not heard the coyote packs this summer like in years past, when one could step outside late at night and hear three packs running simultaneously. Don’t know what’s happened, unless a neighbor has taken drastic measures. We did have some professional coyote trappers come through last winter, and maybe they did a number on our local population.

One early May morning, my neighbor across the road shot, obviously a deer rifle, and then came over to explain. “I was sitting there drinking coffee, and saw something move in the cane patch in front of your well tank. It walked out and stretched, like it was just getting up, and made its morning constitutional as I scrambled for the binoculars, thinking it was a dog. It wasn’t – it was a big coyote, and he must have spent the night in your cane patch, right in front of your house! Then he starts trotting up the turnrow that runs by my house, and I reached for my rifle. That was the shot you heard: he won’t be spending the night in your cane any more!”

That’s getting ‘way too familiar with human habitation, but explains why we haven’t been able to keep cats around the house.

Yet I got to cogitating: I didn’t atall mind seeing the coyote roadkill, and actually appreciated Jim shooting the bold one in my cane patch, but I actively grieved for the bobcat by the side of the road. Nor would I have been offended if he had shot a big bobcat coming out of my cane patch, in order to mount it. I wouldn’t do that myself, but I understand if other hunters want to, in order to preserve the beauty of the animal for their own den and family pleasure.

Of course, it’s nobody’s fault, when they hit a bobcat, or coyote, or deer, with a speeding car. Usually, there’s no time to dodge, and dodging is dangerous. But there is no harm in grieving for the beauty that has been taken from us, when that happens. Selah.

Jesus Who Was a Vegetarian???

This is not a religious article.

On the other hand, I was raised to use the Bible and religion as a part of life, in growing up, and ain’t got over that. While cruising down the Interstate recently (on my way to prison, actually, for a Christian Prison Ministry Reunion), I noticed a sign from a distance (I can see great at a distance, but my arms get short holding the hymnbook) that proclaimed “Jesus” on the front end. What a great way to witness, I thought. Sort of like those signs which have been appearing “from God” on roadsides, as in “Be still and know that I am God.” Or, “Come on over to my house before the ball game, and bring the kids.”

Then I got a little closer. That sign said, “Jesus was a vegetarian.”

“Jesus who?” I asked Betsy, pointing it out. Whoever put that sign up obviously did not have in mind the Son of God, who ate lamb and fish, for sure, though I’ll grant that the Bible is kind of weak on mentioning Christ eating marinated venison loin and shish-ka-bob mallard. That could be because I am not old enough to be specifically included in that book, but if there’s an update in the works, I KNOW the Heavenly-inspired writer will have to make reference to my rabbit shish-ka-bob, my char-broiled bass, and Betsy’s duck gumbo, as well as my sassafras-smoked turkey and Adam’s crawfish etouffe.

Turned out, as we got close enough to read the fine print, that the sign was put up by one of those groups who espouse never hurting anything but other folks’ feelings, so they probably were thinking of Jesus Carrouthers, whom I believe flunked out of Ole Miss when we were sophomores. I had never thought about it before, but that Jesus could have been a vegetarian, sho’nuff. I never saw him eat anything atall, for that matter; he seemed to get all the nourishment he needed out of liquids which came in cans, mostly. Seems like he was a member of the Knights of Alcohol fraternity, though I could be wrong.

Myself, I always figured that the Miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000 was when the Lord inspired flat sardines. The kid who had the “two fishes” probably really had the boat lunch for he and his dad on their fishing trip, and they stopped to hear the Lord’s message, after which the boy wanted to share his sardines and crackers with Christ. If they had been the kind that are packed in mustard sauce (which is also Biblical), there wouldn’t have been all those leftover baskets, I guarantee! I’ve seen a dozen guys at turkey camp make a lunch off of a couple cans of flat sardines, so it’s not hard to believe 5,000 folks feasted on the same amount, what with Jesus (Christ, not Carrouthers) to supervise the sharing.

Some kid came down from college with my daughter once, and expressed disfavor on the eating of meat which had been killed. That was before Betsy started stirring around the kitchen with Venison Stroganoff, which is so good that Jesus (Christ, not Carrouthers) would have ordered it for the Last Supper, assuming He approved of substituting Venison for the Lamb. If not, Betsy could have simply made Lamb Stroganoff for Him.

After we had insisted on helping the college kid keep to his standards by serving him squash & onion casserole while we ate the Stroganoff made with dead deer meat, we pointed out that he had on leather shoes, leather belt, and a leather billfold, all of which was (hopefully) processed after the steer was deceased. Oh, he didn’t mind that, nor chicken sandwiches and hamburgers. Pointing out that the contributing hens and cows had not died of old age before being pressed into service at fast food joints helped. After considerable discussion, he ended up eating two helpings of Venison Stroganoff, rather than give up all the accouterments of modern life made from dead animals.

How do these people miss all the obvious references in the Bible to eating meat? Since God (the Father of Jesus Christ, not Carrouthers) early on considered the odor of barbecue to be worthy of a sacrifice in Old Testament times (which caused the first murder, when Cain – who may have been an ill-tempered vegetarian — wasn’t as good a cook as Abel), man has been cooking meat and sharing it with even the angels. Would you want to worship a God who wanted burnt onions as a sacrifice back then?

Of course, if they’re referring to Jesus Carrouthers, I could care less. But for all the drivers who see that billboard and know anything atall about the real Jesus, I guess it is a constant source of humor, as well as a monument to ignorance.

Hey, the real Jesus ate meat, folks; but He loves even the ones who don’t know it.

Too Wet To Fish?

During our annual Brownspur spring Swimming Hole cleaning project, one of our usual co-workers opted out for the day, saying that he was going fishing with a friend. Since he is an accomplished fisherman, in addition to being a college engine-ear, we excused him enthusiastically, envisioning a fish-fry when we finished work that evening, knowing that Namby would return with full stringers and feed us bountifully.

Our efforts were interrupted after lunch by several hard showers. One might not think a shower would bother anyone in a Swimming Hole, but the cleaning-out stage involves pumping out the winter accumulation of water, minnows, tadpoles, crawdads, a snake or two, a few legless salamanders, couple of snapping turtles, and assorted other critters and trash you don’t care to swim with. When it showered, the pump would quit. Of course, the uninitiated might say, “Well, hold a tarp over the motor,” but standing beside a pond next to an 80-foot-tall cypress tree while lightning strikes around you is not recommended by the best authorities. Perhaps our absent engine-ear could have figured out a way to put up lightning rods, but the rest of us just retreated until it quit raining and waited until the motor dried out to try again.

When the mosquitoes came out in force at dusk, we went inside, leaving the Swimming Hole mostly pumped out, and chlorining the water left in the bottom to eliminate what critters that still survived. We could almost taste the fresh bass Namby would have for our supper, some char-broiled, some beer-battered and fried.

Sardines were as close as we came to a bass supper that night. Our engine-ear had returned bass-less and clean. “It was too wet to fish,” he explained, plugging in a movie.

Too wet to fish?

Lordee, some of the best luck I’ve ever had fishing was just before, during, and just after a shower! Dude and I tore up the bass on the Alligator Hole one evening toward the end of a six-inch rain. Filled up both stringers, and didn’t string a fish less than three pounds. Gary Dye and I got next to nekkid one morning on Christmas Tree Lake when it was raining hard, but the bass were on a feeding frenzy. We had so many big fish that he introduced me to “bass eyes” that night for supper, also known as “Arkansas lobster.” Using a sharp knife, he cut out a double-thumb-size piece of meat from right underneath the fish’s eye; I guess maybe “bass cheeks” would be a better description. He had a deep pot of lightly salted water boiling, and would stir those pieces into the pot, more or less poaching them. Drained and dipped in melted butter, they tasted better than lobster!

I’ve got an eight-pound plus bass on the wall that brother Beau netted for me one rainy morning, just as the Who Dat lure pulled out. Wind was blowing so hard the lake was white-capping, and raindrops stung like hailstones. Cal Ibele and I stayed out in the rain one morning on Chandelier Island and loaded the boat with speckled trout, when all the other skiffs had run for the cover of Uncle Tullier’s (“Too-yay”) boat, the “Captain Pete.” Now, I will admit to sitting with Dude on the porch of Guy Sharp’s cabin at Honey Island when it was raining so hard that our “Big O” lures floated well before they ever got down to the surface of the lake. In addition, the lightning was truly spectacular, which discouraged us from sitting on an open lake in a metal john boat. However, in our defense, we were able to troll from the truck, as the road went under water almost before we could pack up and get out of there. Didn’t catch anything, though.

Too wet to fish? We gave our resident engine-ear so much grief that the movie was forgotten. How could it be too wet to fish, if it hadn’t gotten to the point where his lure floated on each cast before it could get to the lake surface?

Turned out that what Namby actually meant to say was, that the turnrow they had to drive down to put their boat in the lake was too muddy to drive on. We could appreciate that, because we’d all had experience with folks driving down our own turnrows and cutting them up when they were too wet. However, one would think that an engine-ear would be more specific, considering the profession. I mean, when he’s designing a future bridge, is he going to say, “pour a little concrete in that hole, chunk some metal and wire in it while it’s wet, and prop some big long timbers on it when it’s dry.” Surely not!

However, seems like I recall that we crashed a billion-buck Mars spacecraft a couple of years ago because some of the engine-ears got confused between metric and American measurements, right? Maybe, in some circles, it was too wet to fish that day!


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