Garry's Outdoor Kicks and Grins - January 2019
School snow days for kids in the Deep South are as rare as magazine sweepstakes winners. You are probably familiar with the event. The magazine folks bring a giant $1,000,000 cardboard check to people’s doors with TV cameras in tow, obviously hoping the shock will cause the recipient to fall over dead so no money will actually change hands. Anyway, when I was a kid, we only had two snow days during 12 years of school. I went fishing on one occasion and hunting on the other and learned a great deal both times. But not so much about hunting and fishing.
When I was 12 or 13, the temperature dropped to like eleventy-something below freezing, and we had what we assumed was a blizzard one night because there was an entire inch of the magical white stuff on the ground the next morning. School was gloriously called off. I spent a couple of hours building the first (and last) snowman of my life. It took every flake of snow in the entire front yard, but I ended up with a Frosty about 18 inches high.
When my friend Ducky awoke that morning, he discovered his little brother’s plastic pool was frozen solid. He ran excitedly to my house, surprisingly without snowshoes, and breathlessly exclaimed that we had to go ice fishing down at the strip mine pit. Now, we had read about and seen pictures of ice fishing in our outdoor magazines, had always wanted to try it, and this was literally the opportunity of a lifetime. We grabbed our spincasting rods, a few crappie jigs, a hatchet with which to cut a hole in the ice and took off walking to the strip mine pond. We marveled at the crunch of snow under our stupid little feet.
The pit was one huge sheet of glistening ice. With a lapse in judgement of Biblical proportions, we decided to go to the middle to cut our hole. We gingerly walked, slid and slipped approximately 5 feet from the bank before said ice cracked, gave way and left us standing knee deep in breathtaking, mind-numbing ice water.
Lesson No. 1: Ice is always thickest nearest the bank.
Lesson No. 2: The thermal qualities of a wading pool are not those of a 30 foot deep lake.
Lesson No. 3: Walking home through the snow in wet tennis shoes is a painful and humbling experience. Especially with no fish.
It snowed again only a few years later, and we conjectured that a new ice age was upon us. Snow had been forecast a few days before the actual event, and in spite of the prognostications of my Great Aunt Mary, I was looking forward to it. She had told me it was too cold to snow. Whaaaat? That was like saying it was too cloudy to rain. Of course, she had told my folks that she hadn’t been worried about the last tornado warning we had because, and I quote, “The river would cut it off.”
I was actually related to this person. She lived in a little town called Sycamore, and I am convinced that she was single-handedly responsible for the inhabitants of that little hamlet being referred to as Sycamorons.
Anyway, Ducky and I were in high school when the second snow of our lifetime occurred. We grabbed our .22s, jumped in his old beat-up 1940 something pick-up truck and headed to the country for some small-game hunting. There had been ice on the road, but it was mid-morning and sunny, and it had all disappeared. Except. When we reached the top of a rather steep hill, we hadn’t realized the downhill side was a western slope and the sun hadn’t touched it. It was slicker than a lifelong politician. The Olympics could have held a bob-sledding competition for the next half mile.
As soon as we hit it, the old truck began to slide and Ducky slammed on brakes. Now, even in the Deep South, everyone knows you don’t touch the brakes on icy roads. But we weren’t everyone. We were teenagers. The most ignorant form of life on earth. Fortunately, no one else was on that stretch of rural road, so we had full use of both lanes. And we needed them.
So began Ducky’s sit-down comedy act with the steering wheel. At times, he held it steady in a death grip. At other times, he was spinning it wildly back and forth with absolute abandon. Apparently, there was no rhyme or reason for his choice of direction except possible animal instinct. And the whole time, he kept the brakes jammed to the floor as we gained speed. I, of course, was giving him perfectly logical directions. Between screams. They consisted of such management commands as, “Turn right! Right! No left! Turn left! Put on braaaaaakes!” And so forth.
For a half mile, we slid, gaining momentum the entire time. I know we turned completely around twice, and at one point were facing backward for a while, looking wide-eyed at where we had been. Most of the time, we were sideways. I do remember thinking, this was a slow, cruel way to die because you actually had time to contemplate how it might happen and how excruciatingly painful it was going to be.
Somehow, we never left the road, and when it opened into sunlight again and the pavement was dry, we were facing the right way, in our own lane. After we slid to a stop (Ducky still had the brake on), we sat there a moment, silently staring out the windshield.
Ducky said, “Well. That was interesting.”
He always had a knack for understatement.
I replied, “I have to go to the bathroom.”
Ducky said, “I’ve already been.”
After a thankfully uneventful half hour, we reached our hunting ground. I mentioned earlier that I had learned something on both snow day outings. On this one, I discovered you can actually learn someone’s personality by the way they interpret tracks in the snow.
Ducky and I were trailing a fox in an old corn field when it’s tracks intercepted those of a quail. There was a bunch of feathers and some blood in the snow. The fox tracks continued on into the woods, and there were no more bird tracks to be seen.
I said to Ducky, “Well, it’s pretty obvious what happened here.”
He replied, “It sure is. That quail must have jumped on Mr. Fox’s back, pecked his head ‘til it was bloody and then flew off.”
I just stared at him for a moment. “Okaaaaay.”
It dawned on me then that Ducky was a champion of the underdog. And observing him over a lifetime has proven me correct. Perhaps it is because Ducky himself is a perpetual underdog. And as such, it would only be poetic justice if he were to win that magazine sweepstakes one of these days. I just hope they don’t scare him to death. After all we’ve been through, that just wouldn’t be right.