Talkin’ Okefenokeeese

On The Back Page With Daryl Gay, November 2018

Daryl Gay | November 7, 2018


Imagine being surrounded by a dozen different languages, all at the top of each screamer’s voice. They meld into an echoing cacophany that renders making sense of what’s going on nearly impossible.


It has taken half a lifetime to scrape together a pidgin which is workable quite possibly in my mind only. I call it Okefenokeeese. It goes like this…

“That One is hanging; the Two split back west from the great big ol’ pond deep in there; the rest looks like they broke the race.”

Which means I’ve got to get to that One. Quickly. Of which there is very little in the swamp. After all, it is hard to make haste when crawling on one’s belly through 6 inches of water in a hog/deer/bear path surrounded by bamboo, briars and walls of limbs.

Brief translation here: The One happens to be the lead dog of Tall Man. (His radio handle; Don Butts to you. One is Blue, a Plott hound I happen to implicitly trust. No clue who or which Two is, nor do I care because I’m sticking with One/Blue. As for “the rest,” they seem to have given up and gone their own ways… which is somewhat understandable since “the race” has gone on for over two hours now, and they’re doing the running.

Calling the action while interpreting his Garmin is Bobcat. Fellow hunters—including a couple of rookies that we’ll get back to—who don’t speak the language shuffle their toes and examine cloud formations while wondering what in tarnation is going on.

Says Bobcat: “That One is by hisself, showing treed.”

I look at Dylan, and Dylan looks at me. Outta the way, boys; stars and schedules have at last aligned, and for the first time my son’s going in with me to “the tree.” I know Blue ain’t lying as he claws the bark off the base of that ancient pine, wishing  he’d worked harder to perfect his climbing skills.

Because the bear he’s trailed without fail for so long is at the top.

Assuming, of course, that we have correctly interpreted what One/Blue’s been trying to get across to us all this time. Whether or not his fellow hounds believed him. And there ain’t but one way to find out.

Before we start, a brief note to my doctor…

I know, I know. It’s just over four months since you split me open, took out a couple of choice items, then re-zipped. Stamina and strength are still MIA, and you won’t even let me ENTER a gym for another eight weeks!

But there’s no way you or most of the other folks on the planet can hope to understand. This is me and Dylan; this is the pinnacle of what we do; this is side by side, as always; this is once in a lifetime.

If I fall down and don’t get up, he’ll drag me out. After all, there are worse ways to go, and the bears DO owe me a few.

Besides, it’s my birthday!

OK. I’ll spare you any whiny details about the trip in, because arriving at that pine tree was the highlight of 32 years of bear hunting. He was up there all right, but what made it so special was that Dylan was on one side, and I was on the other. Just the two of us and Ol’ Blue—still out of his mind!

What the bear was saying is translated pretty much as, “I ain’t coming down there, and you ain’t coming up here, so why don’t you traipse on off somewhere and bother a coon?”

I’d give a heap if you could hear the video I made of their conversation. All Dylan and I could do was grin like simpletons in pure joy, looking at each other and shaking our heads at the wonder of it all.

Shoot the bear? No, thanks; never shot one out of a tree and don’t plan to unless he’s a dog killer or shonuff lardbutt.

There was a “shooter” struggling to make a way in behind us, and when he arrived, he extended his rifle to Dylan—neither of us had carried one in—as first man to the tree. My son gave him a smile and headshake, saying, “Me and Daddy ain’t going to shoot him; that’s your bear.”

So big Leon Gray looked up, understood and grinned back.

“Leash the dogs,” was all he said, but those simple words told me everything I needed to know about what kind of hunter I was in the swamp with.

Leon understands the language.

One/Blue never got a chaw of that bear, and he still ain’t too pleased about that situation. The bear? Far as I know he’s still in that pine, forelegs lazily crossed over a big limb and looking disdainfully down with a smirk on his face…

Now, about those rookies…

Back on opening day, standers silently in place, the race roaring directly to me. Thirty yards in—and I can’t see 30 inches—I can actually hear the bear’s “Chuff, chuff, chuff, chuff” as he swings ahead of the dogs. This is it; another second or two. Shifting my weight to the balls of my feet, I flip the safety off, shoulder the rifle…

The 4-wheeler may once have been equipped with a muffler, but there’s no evidence of it now. The vehicle’s screaming whine drowns out all else as the fool of a driver roars past prepared—and irate—hunters and right at me.

Don steps into the road to stop him even as the commotion turns the bear back into the swamp. I hear it splash into the creek—Dylan’s direction—but Fool has responded to Tall Man by hanging a U. Which manages to spook the bear away from Dylan, who hears the same chuffs I had! It was that close.

I could tell you a lot more about language, of the sort Fool heard later. But I ain’t about to translate that for you…

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