Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Forever A Hillbilly: The Safari

Forever A Hillbilly: The Safari: A few years ago, my wife Barbara and I chose Nairobi, Kenya as a "safe" country in Africa to go work in an orphanage. As we prepar...

The Safari

A few years ago, my wife Barbara and I chose Nairobi, Kenya as a "safe" country in Africa to go work in an orphanage. As we prepared, things were changing in Kenya. The presidential election was contested, and tribal war broke out. Nairobi was the hotbed, and thousands were dying. Two days before we flew, missionaries on the ground told us not to come. We would be met with gunfire. The day we were to fly, a power sharing agreement was signed. We looked upon this as a sign from God. We flew. The day before we were to fly back, the opposition decided that the president didn't really mean it when he said he would share power. Again, the war drums rattled in the bush. I think we picked a good time to go, and an even better time to leave. This Safari was only one of many weekend adventures during out time there. The prices were cut-rate, because people were starving.

      It was time for our Safari. We were to fly, instead of driving as was normally the case, because people were still killing each other in the countryside. When we arrived at the dirt runway in our 30 passenger plane, a man was busy clearing the wild animals off the runway. We were at the Masai Mara, the Kenyan portion of the Serengeti. When we stepped out, Our guide had a small folding table set up beside his 4 wd vehicle. He constantly watched for dangerous animals while we had cookies and tea.
     Our guide, Wesley, drove toward Kichwa Tembo camp, which would accomodate 60 or so, but only we and 4 women were there now. The bloodletting was still too fresh. All white people in Kenya now were still UN related or missionaries, and this group was no exception. Wesley had been one of Kenya's top distance runners. He told us they all got into distance running because it was the only chance they would have to come to America. He ran a 4 minute flat mile in the finals, but didn't qualify.

     We went to our tent to stow our stuff, and get ready for our first outing. Monkeys were all around us, and warthogs were everywhere. When we left our tent, I tied the doorway tightly, as instructed, to keep out baboons. Our first trip went well, for a time. It was a big plain with sparse trees. Many large animals could be seen scattered throughout the plain. After we had gotten a good close up look at a lot of animals, and were miles from camp, a major storm blew up just before dark. Wesley got out rain gear for us all in that open jeep, But it did little good in this storm. The plain was flooded, and we got stuck, again and again, each time finally managing to get out. After dark, I kept my face covered to try to keep out some of the rain. I once looked out, just as a big lion jumped out from in front of the jeep, and stared at us hard. I knew this was the last place on earth that I wanted to spend the night. We finally got back to our tent, on the edge of the plain. We were freezing, but felt safer, and they had placed hot water bottles in our beds. Two guards wandered about, armed with bows and arrows."Arrows against a lion?" I thought. But these were Masai warriors, the most experienced people in the world with lions. I had read that President Obama had also used Masai warriors for security when he went on Safari.

      Early the next morning, I was awakened by big animals of some description, growling loudly, around our tent. "You've got to be kidding me," I thought. This just had to be recordings, played to make our experience more real. Didn't need that. It had been far too real already, last night. Turned out, a warthog was in heat and a couple of males were fighting.

     Once in the jeep for our morning outing, Wesley got a message from another guide, in Swahili, so we didn't get the drift, But he headed out fast. On the way, he explained, Large animals just see the Jeep as one big unit. Step out of the jeep, they see you as a meal. Don't get out for any reason. He told us of a honeymoon couple a few weeks earlier. They were filming a lion, and the husband stepped out to get a better picture. The wife was operating a video, and she filmed her husband's death.

     Two female lions had just killed an antelope, And as we got in close one tore the face off. Barbara was on the corner of the jeep nearest the lions, but for once in her life, she would have gladly given up the best photo angle. With misgivings, we shot pictures like crazy. Maybe get something for our kids to show at our memorial service back home.
     Soon two male lions came running, trying to take the kill over while hyenas circled, waiting for their share. One female lion jerked off a large chunk of meat, and ran off with it, chased by a male.
     Water buffalo had another Lion treed, and each time he would try to come down, they ran at him with their sharp horns, trying to protect their young. He just went back up the tree to wait them out. These kind of encounters continued for a while, then Wesley drove us back in some woods along a river bluff, overlooking a river full of hippos, and set up a table for our breakfast.
      I picked up a huge bone, and brought it to Wesley for identification. "Never do that. There could have easily been a black mamba under that."

     He got a call. Someone had spotted a leopard, and we were off, scattering water buffalo as we went. Sure enough, a leopard was treed. We got photos. We got many good photos that morning. One of the most beautiful birds I have ever seen, many animals in the deer family, then a herd of elephants. Next was a herd of zebras rolling in the dust. "That's why nobody ever rides a zebra. Their first instinct, with something on their back, is to lie down and roll over on it," Wesley said.

     When we got to Lunch, back at camp, we only filled up one table of many in the lunch room. "It is just hard to get tourists to come in,"  Wesley said," when someone's getting hacked to death over the hill with a machete."
     Our group consisted of a war crimes recorder, with the UN, her two sisters from Canada, two missionaries, and us.
     Using my trademark charm, I told the ladies, "I would have been here long before, if I had only known I would be dining with 6 beautiful ladies." I know they all were inwardly swooning over that, but ourwardly, It looked a little more like they were gagging.

     The waiter, not very busy, sat down and talked to us a lot. He was explaining how his generation of Masai were trying to change old customs of his tribe. The old customs largely stripped them of their wealth, and also contributed greatly to the aids problem. Their Dad wanted to buy yet another wife, but his sons told him he didn't need another wife, he had given far too many of the cattle they had for the group of wives he already had. The dad was pouty about that, but he didn't get the wife.
A dead man's wife was traditionally taken by his brother, helping further spread the aids problem.

     A Masai leader of some sort came to talk to us that afternoon. I think he sorta expected our women to swoon at his full dress costume, But these were strong, outspoken women, and they had their own agenda. "Why do you circumsize your women?" was their first question. Well, all he could tell them was, "It's just our custom." The UN War Crimes woman stated, "Well, its a bad custom, and you need to stop it." Poor guy. He was just never able to get around to his prepared speech, and was happy to see us go. He did manage to ask me if anyone in America had cows. When I told him many people do, he said, "Tell them we will be coming for them." The Masai feel they own all the cattle in the world.

     Wesley got a big scare on the afternoon outing. He saw the end of a woman's toe in the corner of his vision when driving, and I thought he was going to dive out of the moving Jeep. He later told us black mamba's, when ran over, sometimes wrap around the axle and get into the open Jeep, and by then it would be very mad.  If that happened, it could take out a lot of people.

     We flew back to Nairobi. When we stepped off the plane, our regular driver was waiting. I proudly introduced him to the five new women, my five new "wives," and told him I had spent all my cows.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Forever A Hillbilly: Wing Bits and Pieces

Forever A Hillbilly: Wing Bits and Pieces:  Wing Life -  Bits and Pieces Coon Hunting As a young boy, I often accompanied a couple of the older boys on coon hunting trips. Th...

Wing Bits and Pieces

 Wing Life -  Bits and Pieces

Coon Hunting
As a young boy, I often accompanied a couple of the older boys on coon hunting trips. The hides could bring in a little spending money, and thinning the coons out during the winter usually helped out our corn patch the next summer. Coons just love corn in the roasting ear stage, and a family of coons could quickly make a portion of the patch look like hogs had gone through it in a very short time.
     I didn't have a battery for my headlight, couldn't afford one. I often borrowed Dad's large battery from his electric cow fence to hook up to my light, though it was very heavy, maybe twenty pounds. I could never quite keep up with the older boys, toting that battery, but I was sure as heck never going to let them get out of my sight, either. Tooter was not a good coon dog, but my friend had a big hound that was very good. We could follow his barks as he trailed a coon, then if he treed it, the bark changed. We headed out to that spot quickly. We carried a .22 rifle, though our poor lights offered little help in bringing the coon out of the tree. We sometimes “squalled” a coon down. As best as I could ever figure out, making a sound similar to a coon fighting a dog would often cause a coon to climb down the tree, I suppose thinking that while another coon kept the dogs occupied, it could get away. But it would be met by the dog once out of the tree.
     Once two or three were caught, and the dogs were off trailing another one, we built up a fire and skinned out those we already had. That cut down on the weight we had to carry. A large coon could weigh about fifteen pounds. We only took the skin. My family seldom if ever ate coons, though the meat is good. Dad's family had some bad experiences during the depression with some wild meat, and he became very picky. Squirrels were the wild meat of choice. It was very good, and never caused problems.
     The hides were later stretched out on a board or on a wall. A well stretched coon hide is almost square, and the fur buyer who came to our house always said my coon hides were handled better that others, and that made me feel good. But, actually, I think I got about the same price, a buck and a quarter, as others. Many people did eat the meat, and the meat could be sold for a buck or so. If I could put it in my bag with that twenty pound battery, and carry it all the way to the house, while keeping those older boys in sight. I never sold any coon meat.

The State Fair

Fourche Valley School, in my childhood, always sent one school bus to the state fair each year at Little Rock. Those of us lucky enough to get a seat on that bus had a great day, seeing and experiencing many new things far removed from our life at Fourche Valley.
     At thirteen, I finally got a seat on that bus. At the fair, as I wandered around wide eyed, I started noticing hundreds of federal troops walking about, and I wondered about that. I had no knowledge of the drama that swirled around Little Rock that year, at the height of the Central High School integration crisis. On the bus headed out of Little Rock, a black girl walked along the sidewalk. The boy in front of me lowered his window, and hollered out what I now know was a hurtful racist remark to her. She turned her head toward the bus, and answered in kind, it looked like, because her face was contorted in anger. But her words were just carried away by the wind. I wondered to myself why he did that. He, nor I, had never known a black person. None lived in Fourche Valley. All I knew was, she was just another person, like us, minding her own business. I never again thought highly of that boy after that.

The Keen Switch
     One day, Sammy Turner was at my house. He wanted to go to the river, a couple of miles away. I asked Mom. She said no. We sneaked off and went anyway.  
     When I got home, Mom was waiting. With a freshly cut  switch. I had never experienced the switch before, though I had heard many tales of it from my siblings. Those tales  had pretty well kept me in line up to this point. Mom walked toward me. I was taller than her by now,  and as I looked down at that small woman, I knew I was too big for her to do that to. I made a major mistake. I smirked down at her.
     She grasped my left arm, and started swinging away. Round and round we went. I just could not get away from that small woman. My screams echoed all over that hillside.  I never felt the switch again from her. A limber switch does no damage, but the pain is intense. Properly applied, once is enough for a lifetime. At least, it was for me
     This year, I had the opportunity to pass that bit of country wisdom down. I was at my daughter's house. Her husband was gone for a couple of days. Her youngest is very headstrong. He just decided that he would not do a thing she said. Her regular discipline just didn't work. The final step was for him to have to deal with his dad, when he got home, but now Dad was gone.
     I went out in the back yard, and found the perfect keen switch, just as I remembered it. I called her out. I explained the hold one arm, and whale away with the other technique. Then I told her to hit me with it. She did. I called her a wimp, her son would laugh at that weak effort. I instructed her to hit me, harder each time, until she got it right. Her hand was shaking by now. After about half a dozen licks, she finally got it right, and earned my respect. A couple of days later, her time came. She earned his respect, also. After half a dozen proper swings, he broke loose, and ran. She later found him hiding behind the clothes washer. She got a bonus. After the youngest gave a full description to the oldest son, they both got much better. When her husband returned, things were different. When trouble arose, they both begged her to let Dad handle the discipline.

When I was a small boy, I went into Herbert Person’s house, our next door neighbor a mile away. On the wall was a mounted, pure white albino crow. Albinos normally are looked at as just different, other animals of their species tended to reject them, so their line does not last long in the wild before it plays out. This crow, however, must have had attractions for at least one other crow, because during most of my childhood, we always had a few white winged crows after our corn crop. My job was to protect the patch, as best I could, with our .12 gauge double barrel shotgun. I just never could make myself shoot one of those white ones, however, they were too pretty. So I just gave them a free pass to our corn. That line played out after awhile, and they finally disappeared.
This year, some 50 years later, I told Annette Person Miley, Herbert’s granddaughter, about that white crow. She pulled out a picture of that mounted crow, and the feathers had all turned black over the years. At long last, That “different” crow finally looked like all the others in it’s pack. He Woulda’ been proud.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Forever A Hillbilly: Chasing the Crest

Forever A Hillbilly: Chasing the Crest:      As I write this, a wildlife disaster of biblical proportions is playing out in Southeast Arkansas.      My wife’s brother and his ...

Chasing the Crest

     As I write this, a wildlife disaster of biblical proportions is playing out in Southeast Arkansas.
     My wife’s brother and his family, JD and Sue Dunnahoe, live beside the Arkansas-Mississippi River Levee, at a location almost even with the confluence of the Arkansas River and the mighty Mississippi. Actually, they live on a low hill, which is the remains of the river levee that was washed out in 1927. Just across the levee, the flood waters now flow along the levee much higher that their rooftop. The sounds of that rushing water is not a comforting sound to hear as they doze off each night.
     The levee, at that point, is many miles from the river. Inside that levee, the dense forest abounds with wildlife. Normally. But this is not a normal year. The flood that is occurring now has happened only twice before in my memory banks, and never in mid-winter.
     Near the river itself, higher land occurs, many low hilltops. As the water comes up, first flooding occurs along the levee. Slowly, as the water rises, areas nearer the river are flooded.
     Thousands of wild animals must make a choice. They must go outside the levee, without much cover to protect them. Many have already made that choice. JD tells of 25 deer in his yard when he came home yesterday. Others have reported herds of 75 deer in their fields. Many dead deer already litter the roadside. While the deer are the larger, more visible victims, rabbits, snakes and other small animals are also faced with this life or death decision.
     The other animals have made the other, the seemingly more attractive choice, in the last few days.  Move toward the river. Higher land, with plenty of cover and food. Farther and farther away from the levee, and survival.
     The deadly choice.
     During a previous flood many years ago, JD put his boat into the floodwaters and traveled to the riverbank. He saw hundreds of deer, rabbits, snakes and other wild animals, all crowded together on the few dry hilltops near the river.
     Yesterday, JD walked up to the levee top. He knew the river had crested, because the government man who follows the crest of the Mississippi river was there. He was a nice enough guy, and he told JD all about his job. He will chase the crest of the Mississippi river all the way to New Orleans.
     Flood stage of the river at that point is around 37 feet. At some point soon after flood stage is reached, the river begins to flood the top of those few high points along the river. The river is now at 43 feet. Those thousands upon thousands of animals are now dying, or already dead. The 10 mile swim to the levee is impossible for them.
     Now, it is up to the relatively few wild animals who made the right choice, who went outside the levee, to repopulate those beautiful, dense forests surrounding the confluence to those two mighty rivers. It will take many years. But they always succeed, during the time leading up to the next great flood.

     Hopefully, many years down the line.  

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Forever A Hillbilly: The King of Fayetteville

Forever A Hillbilly: The King of Fayetteville:      The year was 1968 and I had just turned 24. I was flipping through the paper one day when I stopped on a picture of an old man with ...

The King of Fayetteville

     The year was 1968 and I had just turned 24. I was flipping through the paper one day when I stopped on a picture of an old man with what looked to me like, at the time, an unbelievable large string of catfish. The caption under the picture was, "Dick Dyer Does It Again!" Seems Dick Dyer was about the best cat fisherman around Fayetteville, Arkansas. I wished I could do that, but it seemed out of my reach.

     When I was a kid, growing up in Wing, Arkansas I caught lots of catfish, and we needed them. They sure tasted good, after a diet of salt pork. But they weren't real big. In the early days of Fayetteville, I had access to larger rivers, and I thought more and more about cat fishing.

     Well, as it happened, shortly after seeing that newspaper article, my wife Barbara and I  moved  over to Anderson Place. Would you care to guess who my neighbor, right across the street was? You guessed it. Dick Dyer. I befriended him, I cultivated him, I quizzed him. After a while, Dick's MO began to emerge. I studied his techniques. He even let me go fishing with him, once. Well, he began to see that I could be a competitor somewhere down the line, and Dick dearly relished being the best river catfish catcher around. Maintaining that status consumed his whole life. He pretty well cut me off from any more information.

     But I knew enough. I began to catch more and more fish, emulating his methods. Dick was OK with that, he was catching more, and bigger fish. We went along there, him doing a bit better, for several years. Then I slowly began to catch as many fish as he did, and probably about the same in total weight.  He still had the largest fish, 16 pounds. Every time he saw me, he told me about that 16 pound catfish.. He never let me forget about that 16 pound catfish..

     Barb and I were coming into our last months at Fayetteville. One really deep hole I fished a time or two that spring, with my limb lines probably tied to limbs I know now were too solid, with very little give, just kept breaking. The lines were 120 pound test or so, and I couldn't understand it at the time.

     Barbara and I were walking along the river bank, one day in June, on a picnic. I saw two old watermelon rinds lying on the bank, and they were just covered with hundreds of june bugs. I had never heard of anyone using june bugs to catch catfish, but I knew that in the late summer, they often fed by just skimming along the surface, picking up floating bugs and whatever they could find.  I had seen them doing that at night.

     After Barbara had walked on toward the car, I went back, pitched the rinds in the river, and the June bugs all floated up. I just scooped them all up, put them in a paper bag, and stuck them in the car.

     When we got home, I wrapped them up real tight in a freezer bag, and stuck them way back in the back of the freezer, out of sight. Barbara put no stock in mixing fish bait and food in the freezer.

     Late in the summer, I was watching TV one day, and I heard Barbara scream. I ran to the kitchen. There she was, the bag in one hand, a handful of June bugs in the other. Seems she had been going through freezer bags to find something to cook, stuck her hand in, and pulled out the June bugs. I caught it pretty good over that.

     As Barbara settled down some, a little later, I said, “ I've just got time for one more fishin' trip before we move, and no telling when I'll get to fish again. I'll get every one of those June bugs outta' here then.”  She agreed. Catch Barbara when she's not screaming with a handful of June bugs, and she's a great gal.

      Next week rolled around. I asked John Philpott if he wanted to go with me. Said he guess so, nothing better to do. We went back to that hole, where the White River and the West fork of the White River join, where my lines had been broken last spring.
     This time, I had a new idea. We were fishing with cane poles, very limber, and we stuck them way, way back in that mud bank. I floated each hook right on top of the water, with a June bug on it.

     We ran the lines at midnight, and had a couple of ten pounders and a whole passel of smaller catfish. But, right where the two rivers join, that pole was going absolutely crazy! Ever tried to get a lively 25 pound catfish into a small landing net? We finally did. The next morning, we had a couple more ten pounders and another bunch of smaller catfish.

     Then, we approached that last pole, right where the two rivers join. The pole was completely pulled out of the bank,  but it was still laying there, mostly out of the water. Lying in the water, either just too worn out for one more flip of the tail, or having learned from his struggles that was as far as he could go, was the brother to the last big one. He was also 25 pounds.

     Well, when I got home, the first thing I did was take them over to Dick Dyer. Dick came out, I held them up as well as I could. Didn't say a thing, I didn't have to. He never said a word to me. Just turned sorta sick looking, turned around, dropped his head, and walked back  into the house.

     We moved to Hannibal, Missouri a couple of days later.

     I never saw Dick again.

     About two weeks after we got to Hannibal, a letter chock-full of pictures arrived. A 40 pound catfish, and a whole bunch in the 20 pound range. The letter just verified the weights,  And in the picture an old man was smiling. Smiling right straight out at me. That's all. Not another word.

     The return name on the envelope was Dick Dyer.

     I knew Dick didn't have my address. But he managed to find it. And I knew he had found my Glory Hole. All I could figure out was, he must have ragged John Philpott into telling him.

     I was pretty put out by this whole thing for awhile, then after I settled down some, I began to think about it a little differently. I had used Dick's methods, developed through his many years of experience. He used me to locate the Glory hole. Fair's fair.

     I've never been back to that Glory Hole, but someday I will.

     Over the years, I think I've figured it out. There's a dam on the White River, a quarter mile upstream. Catfish naturally swim upstream. Until they're stopped by a dam. The small fish stay there, in that shallow hole at the dam. The big fish must have deep water, and they go back downriver, only as far as they need to, the first very deep hole. Right where the two rivers join. In the Glory Hole. And there they still lie.
    Year after year, just getting bigger and bigger.

    Just waiting for me to come back and challenge them again.

    But Dick Dyer passed away many years ago, and when he died, he was still the King of the Catfish Catchers in Fayetteville - and it just wouldn't be the same. Who else in the world could care as much about the size of the catfish I might catch there as Dick Dyer did? Nobody, that's who.

    For all you fishermen out there, I know you can find my Glory hole from what I've told you here. But where will you be able to find a whole bag full of June Bugs?