Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Work at Panther Creek paying off!!

Our work at Panther Creek Youth retreat is finally paying off, 30 kids and five counselors from the Joplin area will be there the 17th thru 19th of March. Another group of 16 kids will be coming as soon as they can finalize a date. I can't wait to spend some time with them and teach them a little about the real outdoors.

A thank you note written late summer of last year by a Panther Creek youth group.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

New Directions

         So a new year begins! My new years resolution is the same this year as it has been each and every year since I can remember…  “I resolve to live and enjoy every day of this year one day at a time, and try to think of others more than myself. And I will thank God for each day even if I ain’t kilt or caught nothin.”

       If you adopt that same resolution and try to live by it, I will bet you’ll have a good year. Lot’s of simple country folks have had similar resolutions for a long time, but as the years go by there are far fewer simple common-sense country folks. Since we are just about out of those people, I don’t think our country will ever be as strong and as good as it was, ever again. 
       One big reason for that is how little money there was then, compared to how much there is today.  For every 10-dollar bill in circulation in the 1930’s, there are probably a million now. It is so simple for people today to have so much of all that money can buy.     
       My grandparents and the country people around them couldn’t have much of what money could buy, they had to live for what money could NOT buy.  And that made them happy!  I doubt if that will ever happen in our country again, but I swear, my greatest happiness over the years has been just that… the blessings that money cannot buy. 
       I find most of those blessings when I am off somewhere alone, enjoying the wildest of places, and the presence of someone far greater than my mind can comprehend. What you can find there is freedom, freedom peace and beauty.  I don’t see any of that where there are concentrations of people… there’s not much freedom in a crowd.

       This year will likely be the last year I pursue what I have done since I was 18 years old… fifty one years of writing about the outdoors as a living. Because I cannot stop writing I will try to publish more books, and a magazine article when I feel like it, or a newspaper column done without any deadlines. But I have a revolutionary idea. When that time comes I will stop charging a fee for my writing and give what I do to all those newspapers that want it free of charge.  They’ll like that!

       A reader opened my eyes not long ago by sending me this letter… “Larry, old friend…you have outgrown your purpose in life because today’s people just live their lives facing in a different direction than you always have.  Clean rivers, beautiful wild places, wild creatures and tall trees are not of much importance to them. Conservation is a forgotten concept because it cannot possibly work any more. By definition, it is anti-progress. Progress will be defined by ever-increasing accumulations of money and a technology we cannot even comprehend. Generations to come will HAVE TO destroy the earth to survive.  And they will, but you and I won’t see it, we will be long dead.”
        “Do you think you speak for God? Do you really think God wants what you believe in?  He has allowed huge, burgeoning populations to make a world that is foreign to you, rushing along a path where they can never return to ‘the old days’. Who knows what is at the end of that easy path. God does not interfere with that.”
       “You were one of the lucky ones who got to see the last of the best of it. You were blessed. You got to spend all those wonderful days outdoors. Just think how awful it would have been if all those city-bred masses you describe it to had loved it as you did. They’d all be out there with you! You would never find a place to be alone, enjoying such peace!” 
       “Remember when you floated Ozark rivers in the spring all by yourself?  Take a look at them now.  Do you think the people out there in those strings of banging canoes care if there are smallmouth beneath them, or if the banks are eroding or that the rivers are filling with gravel and algae?  No, they do not.”

       “Give up your crusade and enjoy what little time you have left.  You are getting old and no one wants to hear what you preach. The state conservation people will become even more corrupt, because great sums of money does that.  Who cares, but you?  Just tell us how to kill something or catch something, where and how to do it the quickest and easiest.  That’s what outdoor writing is about today and tomorrow. You are yesterday’s outdoor writer!”

       That writer died recently and was a far smarter man than I. It is about time to recognize that almost no one lives in the world he and I lived in.  And today, who wants to? I just never was able to accept that when I was younger.

       At some point, a person who cannot believe where the years went, has to realize that it is about time to quit, and just enjoy what is left in life.  Believe me there is a lot of the good life left if you can escape the rat race and be free. I want to turn much of my attention now to that outdoor education center and a retreat for underprivileged kids. You cannot imagine how much I am enjoying that, and how thankful I am that God has put it in my lap.

       I still keep thinking I am thirty years old, and in the outdoors, I feel that way.  But I can’t hunt ducks from dawn to dusk two or three days in a row. In between I need a day to rest up. That really annoys me. I can still climb a mountain, but not half as fast as I did twenty years back.  I can paddle my boat down miles of river all day long and I am thankful for that, but darn if I don’t have to take aspirin at night because one shoulder hurts from doing it.

       I write more and more about memories, people and experiences from years ago, what I saw and did then, and less about what I have experienced outdoors recently. I don’t really know if today’s newspaper readers like that. 
       I let deer pass by that I would have shot years ago, and sometimes take pictures of ducks rather than shooting them. I never keep a bass, and I didn’t set one trotline in 2016.  What has happened to me?
       It isn’t so hard to find a quitting place when you know you have done your best to use whatever little talent God gave you, and you couldn’t have tried any harder.  So as far as doing things as I have done them all my life, this will likely be the last year of that.

       Right now I am working on the spring issue of the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Magazine and if there are some outdoorsmen out there who would like to send us some good outdoor stories, we need to get them before February 1. We pay now for good stories and photos. Some of the best outdoor stories we have ever received were written by just ordinary folks who had never written anything at all, but had one great story to tell. This new issue will be all color for the first time, and much larger.  It is our 56th magazine.

       More about this later, but our Grizzled Old Outdoorsman’s free swap meet will be held again at the Brighton Assembly of God Church Gymnasium the last Saturday of March, which is the 25th.  We will offer about 50 tables to vendors who want to sell outdoor oriented items and hunting and fishing gear.  Tables are free and entrance to the event is free.

       Anyone who needs information about acquiring the spring magazine, or the swap meet or whatever, can call me at 417 777 5227 unless I am gone, in which case you may have a confusing conversation with my executive secretary, Ms. Wiggins.  Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at lightninridge@windstream.net

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Old Things At Panther Creek

Some things that are awfully old... at our Panther Creek Retreat… the bridge is from 1888 and an old Mosely safe from Cincinatti Ohio from the 1870's. Can anyone give me an idea of the value of that safe?  My e-mail address is lightninridge@windstream.net


Many of you know about the outdoor education center and youth retreat I own. We are always improving it, and there have been quite a few folks who have come to see and enjoy it. Remember that if you want to get away for a couple of days and enjoy real freedom and peace away from your troubles, you may come and visit, spend a night or two in the lodge or a cabin at no cost. It is a beautiful place. We also have special events held once or twice a year so that folks who are interested, can spend some time and see what we have to offer. If you are interested, you can call me at 417-777-5227 or e-mail me at lightninridge@windstream.net

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Most Valuable Tree


         I marvel sometimes at how well wildlife can survive cold weather, but to tell the truth, when cold weather hits hard, especially with rain ice and snow, plenty of wild creatures do not survive.  Birds are hit especially hard if they are being fed from a feeder and then it stops. A day or so ago, just after one of those fifteen degree nights we had, I found a dead wren, and a dead shrew along a woodland path.  How any shrews survive a winter I can’t figure out.  They have to eat a great deal because of their high-energy life with such a strong metabolism.  I can’t understand how they can find enough food, knowing that they will die in about four hours if they don’t find enough to eat.

         A couple of years ago, I came across a live shrew under a board next to a tool shed up here on Lightnin’ Ridge, that was like none I have ever seen.  He was a gray shrew, not suppose to be this far north and east.  I was amazed at that silver colored shiny pelt it had.  I hope a good colony of them are still living under the shed.

         If you look in the mammal books, bird books, reptile books etc. you will find range maps telling you where everything is supposedly found and not found.  But things change, and that little gray shrew is not suppose to be here, but he is.  The creator knew what he was doing when he made the shrew small. If they were the size of a house cat then there wouldn’t be any house cats, and few dogs. If they were that size, I don’t think horses and cows would be safe either. Shrews are brutal and savage little creatures with a voracious appetite.  They will attack and kill small rabbits and wood rats many times their size.

         I have found a few species of plants out of their range over the years and when I was 19 I spent my Christmas break from college living in an old shack on the Big Piney. I had a dozen live traps and used them to find about 10 species of small mammals. I found a pair of overgrown deer mice known as a brush deer mouse living in a cave above the river.  I think I have written about that too often perhaps, but I live trapped two of them and sold them to Marlin Perkins at the St. Louis Zoo where they were constructing a small mammal display. He was tickled pink because one was a female and one was a male.  But the range map for the brush tailed deer mouse remains the same and they are shown to be a citizen of Oklahoma, not Missouri.

         Anyhow, it is tough to be a wild creature in the winter, and few people who do not live on the land realize how many of them die. If you own land, you can’t do much more for wildlife than to put out food plots, leave brushpiles and preserve cedar glades.  Those stands of cedar shelter small game, birds, furbearers, even deer. When the wind is really whistling and snow and ice ride the gales, a heavy thicket of cedar trees is a Godsend.  If you are lost or have to spend a winter night outdoors, such a thicket can save your life.  You find a cedar tree about eight or ten feet tall in the middle of such a glade, and cut the top out of it, then cut out all branches on the bottom so that you have a cleared space beneath it to huddle in. 
         The tree will then look like a mushroom, or a big green umbrella. If you are farsighted enough to have a light spread of plastic, like a pair of big black trash bags that can fit in your hip pocket, you can spread it over that cedar tree and tie it down to the edge of the branches, basically constructing an umbrella.  You use the branches you have cut away for a cushion beneath you, which helps eliminate the cold coming up from the ground.  If nothing else, cut more cedar branches and pile them onto your shelter, with the limbs pointing down so that water runs off of the tree.  If you can just keep a small fire going there in that shelter, you will survive the coldest night, the worst blizzard.  Just think what those cedar thickets can do for wildlife.

         There are four things that hikers or outdoorsmen should have in their pack if they get very far from their vehicle… a small sharp folding saw, a good sharp pocket knife or belt knife, a thin, folded plastic sheet or big plastic trash bags, which you can make a pretty good raincoat out of, and a roll of  good duck tape, thicker, stronger types preferably.  Thin cheap duck tape will let you down in an emergency.

         Last week I was deer hunting with my old friend and fellow grizzled old outdoorsman Dennis Whiteside, when he pulled himself up a little bank via a clump of weeds, and a tiny vine or a razor sharp blade of the tough grass slit the outside of his little finger down where it connects to his hand.  It is something I have never seen an equal to, a deep cut almost all the way to the bone, done by a plant stem.  He couldn’t get the bleeding stopped, it was really gushing. So we wrapped his hand in a handkerchief and wrapped that tightly with some duck tape, tight enough around his whole hand to build to stop the intense bleeding.

         Six hours later, about eight o’clock, he took the duck tape off and his hand began bleeding profusely.  At a nearby hospital emergency room he received five stitches.  All that from a weed or vine!  It was the duck tape though, that made it possible for him to hunt until dark.

         Duck tape is the outdoorsman’s secret weapon and every boat, backpack, pick-up and basement workshop needs to have a roll of it for emergencies. On a float trip once I patched up a hole in a canoe with that stuff.  My grandpa could have done great things with a roll of duck tape.

         Our Panther Creek retreat is really coming along, and though it is to be used for underprivileged children, I want it to also be a center for outdoor education as well. We will finish several miles of hiking trails this winter, and we have already finished a shooting range.  I want to see it become a place for parents or a parent to bring their youngsters, and spend a few days. We have never and will never charged one cent for a stay at our cabin or lodge.  If you want to see it, you are welcome to come and stay for a whole weekend. Many groups and individuals have been there, and everyone who has come is in awe of its beauty and potential.

         This winter, a lady who works with abused or addicted women plans to come and use our place to get them away from everything and try to help them.  Until now, she has had to pay for such a retreat.  Not this year!  If you are interested in helping build nature trails, I would welcome your help.  I intend to publish a small self-guiding booklet for hikers to use on these trails.
I have had difficulty getting the word out to churches and organizations about our hopes to provide this 60-acre tract on a beautiful creek for kids without fathers or youngsters who need a dose of inspiration and encouragement.  I asked several television stations to come and film it and help us spread the word, but none will do it.  I really think that today’s news media shies away from anything which mentions God, or what they perceive to be “religious”. 
This column is the only way I have to make it work.  And I believe that God willing it will someday change some lives.
Our office phone is 417 777 5227 and email address is lightninridge@windstream.net    Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, mo. 65613          

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Old White Men

                                   Old white men…God bless the few that remain!

            Two days after Christmas I drove my Dad’s aging pick-up out south of town and turned down a gravel back road, hoping I would catch the old man home. His given name was Ezekial, a veteran of World War I.  But it seemed as if half of my old friends from back in the pool hall were called by something other than their real names.  Everyone called him Satch, a name he gained in the army. 

            It is unusual I suppose for a seventeen-year-old kid to have mostly friends that were three or four times his age.  It’s the way I grew up though, in that pool hall, when I was twelve or thirteen years old.  Satch was one of them, and as long as I can remember he had let Dad drive down through his gate and across his farm to the banks of the Piney to put in our boat and fish and hunt.

            For six months or so I had been away to School of the Ozarks College, and it wouldn’t have taken much to get me to quit and come home. I missed the river.  But that day it was sunny and warming, and the wind was calm, so I decided I would go hunting down in the bottoms.  Satch was home and he came limping out of his house to greet me with a big smile.  He wanted to know how I liked going to college and I told him that it was too much work and too much pressure for a free spirit like me.  I told him I might never catch a bass or catfish or goggle-eye, ever again, ‘cause all they had down there was trout.  He said he knew about trout, he’d caught them before.

            “Never did catch a big un though,” he said.  “If punkinseeds just growed a few inches longer and was skinnier, I reckon they’d pretty much be the same fish except fer the eatin’.  I’d druther eat a hog-molly than a trout.”

            “I thought about goin’ down to the river to see if there’s any ducks to sneak up on,” I told my old friend.  “Or I might shoot a squirrel if I see one.”

            “Shore enough,” he said, “and if you would clean one and skin it, I’d shore be tickled to have a young fox-squirrel… but don’t cut off his head like you kids is prone to do.”

            “Did you have a good Christmas dinner, Satch?” I asked.

            “Oh my yes,” he grinned, “Et so much I couldn’t hardly walk home!  Went to Nellie Elkins place on Indian Creek, down the road apiece.  Her kids fixed it all up.  They’s all home from the city an’ that ol’ lady was as happy an’ proud as a white duck.”

            Then I asked him if his daughter had come back from California and his face fell a little.  “No-sir,” he said, “but she sent me a bunch of presents and such.  An’ your pop came by and give me the best lookin’ pipe you ever have seen.  What a surprise that was.” He reached in his over-all pocket just below his chin and pulled it out for me to see.

            Dad never had much money to spend, but he never forgot several of the old guys we knew who had done special favors for our family or Grandpa and Grandma, at Christmas time.

            “My daughter sent me a blanket, I reckon you’d call it.” He declared, “In the evenin’ I build up a good fire in the stove an’ lay down on the couch an’ cover up with it whilst I watch television a mite.  It says Californy on it an’ has pretty pitchers painted on it… wanna see it?”

            Satch didn’t wait for my answer, he just headed for the door asking as he went if I would come in for coffee.  Well I had hunting to do, but I went in for coffee, and watched him retrieve a brightly colored beach towel and hold it up high enough that it stretched from his boots to the bill of his cap.  The coffee was old and luke-warm and awful tasting.  The beach towel was beginning to get a little wrinkled.

            “That’s no blanket, Satch,” I told him, wishing I could poor that coffee through a crack in the floor, “It’s what them folks around the ocean call a beach towel.  But I reckon it can be used as a blanket too.”

            Satch looked puzzled. “I don’t much need a towel this big,” he said, “little as I’ve gotten as I get older.  ‘Sides that I won’t be takin’ another bath ‘til near about the middle of March.

            “Well it is a mighty fine and pretty Christmas gift, Satch,” I said, wanting to see him happy with something sent by his daughter, “and don’t forget that when you do take a bath you can use it as a towel too.”

            He looked puzzled for a minute, then lifted it high above his head again to gaze at it, big and brightly colored. “You know something boy,” he said to me, “ I’d druther use it fer a blanket, ‘cause when I take a bath, I don’t hardly never get that wet!”

            I brought Satch two fox squirrels that evening just after Christmas, many years ago, with the heads left on so he could crack open the skull and eat the brains.  I never saw him again after that memorable day. But his grave is up not far from Grandma and Grandpa’s final resting place at the old cemetery close to Simmons, where the Piney still flows a little ways to the west. In a short time, before I even finished college, most of those old-timers that were my childhood friends were gone.  But I thought about them, just the other day when some moron posted something on that facebook thingamajig, saying that this latest election shows the effects of ‘fearful old white men’.  That made my blood boil.  I answered her… 
            “I wonder what old white men you are talking about, the old white men who defeated Hitler, the ones who were at Pearl Harbor, the ones who fought the Koreans and Chinese.  Are you thinking of those who flew aircraft from flat-decked ships, those who drove the tanks, those who took the Pacific islands yard by yard? Maybe you are talking about old men who gave the best of their youth to a struggle in Viet Nam. Fearful old white men!!! What is fearful about them? And as for you and your friends, disgruntled liberals who have done so little with your lives, I hope you and your kind aren’t allowed in the cemeteries where Satch and old men like him lie.  You would dishonor sacred ground.  

            To all you ‘fearful old white men’ and all others who still keep our nation great with old-fashioned convictions and beliefs, God bless you.  And Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year!

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Christmas Duck

The most unlucky mallard ever hatched, he finally gave up the ghost and floated to the bank to become a Christmas dinner for the worst duck-hunter I ever met.

       In last week’s column Ol’ Joe found a couple of the town’s citizens willing to pay him a dollar and fifty cents each for wild mallards, unplucked and not even de-entralized.  His landlady was gone, and the marshy pond behind his little shack was full of mallards. All I had to do was help blast ‘em and split the money. If things went well, I figured on having enough to buy my grandpa a pair of socks for Christmas, some pipe tobacco for Dad and another pint of perfume for Mom.  That money meant a lot to me.

       My dad had thrown cold water on the whole plan by telling me that it was against Federal law to shoot any duck without a three dollar duck stamp and Joe didn’t have one. I don’t think Ol’ Joe had anything that cost three dollars. And the law said you couldn’t sell ducks.

       And that is when the whole thing became a clandestine operation, right up there with selling your own moonshine, like Uncle Roy and Uncle Frank did. My sixteen-gauge Iver-Johnson had lots of experience whacking ducks that set still or swum slow. Dad and I hunted ducks on the Piney every weekend and we got lots of them. Dad and I would be going out to hunt the river again that weekend, so Joe and I had to get our ducks on a Friday morning.

       School was out for the holidays, so I tied my shotgun to my handle bars and headed for Joe’s little place about three and a half miles south of town, using the gravel back roads to get there.  I did that often in the fall, when I hunted squirrels, so folks around town were use to seeing me peddling out of town with my shotgun and never gave it a second thought.

       I had four shells, acquired by Dad at Mr. Duff’s Western Auto Store across from our pool hall.  That’s the main reason Joe liked to go hunting with me.  He never had any shells, and I had to always loan him one or two.  So that day we huddled below the dam of the pond with two shells apiece, faced with one big problem. While indeed there were a million big ol’ greenhead mallards on that pond, they all were gathered on the shallow side, a good sixty yards from the dam where we waited in ambush.

       You cannot sneak up on ducks which rest at the open end of a pond, out of range of any spot you can select for hiding.  We could wait and hope, or I could go around and spook them over Joe and he could blast away at the whole lot, or vice versa, with him sneakin’ and me doing the shooting.  Then he had an idea.  We discussed it.  I could certainly throw a baseball-sized rock that far, and if it landed amongst the ducks it would scare them our way.

       It was a heck of a throw.  I watched the rock arc way up above tree level and lost sight of it as it came down.  With hammers cocked, Ol’ Joe and I heard the roar of wings as my rock landed amongst them, and they came over us in a great cloud of waterfowl.  A shot pattern spreads as it reaches 25 or 30 yards but those ducks weren’t fifteen feet over us, and at that distance it is indeed possible to get a tightly packed pattern of shot into a twelve-inch gap between ducks.  That’s what happened, twice. When the ducks had left and we remained, nary a feather floated above that pond. I sat there for a moment, distressed, depressed, discouraged and duckless.

       Ol’ Joe climbed to the bank above us and began to whoop and holler.  “By jiggers and by jory,” he hollered, “we got one!”
       And indeed, sixty yards away on the shallow side of the pond, a greenhead mallard swam feebly in a small circle, with both eyes crossed and his tongue sticking out of his beak on one side.  He must have been the most unlucky duck ever hatched.  The way we figured it, that rock I threw came down right on his head.

       Joe was gonna take it in town and sell it to Mr. McKnight over to the drug store, but he never could get his pick-up started, he claimed. Truthfully, I think he ate the darn duck.  I never saw a skinnier fellow than old Joe so I don’t guess a person could hardly begrudge him a good meal.

       There wasn’t much Christmas money for me to spend that year.  But thankfully, a pint of perfume and a pouch of pipe tobacco didn’t cost much back then.  And really, Grandpa had a whole bunch of socks.

       That weekend as we stopped on a Piney River gravel bar for lunch with several mallards and a gadwall in the boat, I moaned about my lack of Christmas-present buying inability.  Sitting on a log, Dad puffed on his pipe and sipped hot coffee.  Then he said that the idea of Christmas presents came from the three wise men bringing gifts to the newborn Jesus. 

       He said that there were no gifts we could give Jesus now worth more than the gift of ourselves; our talents, our time and our faith.  He stopped for a moment and then seeing my confusion about giving gifts to Jesus he told me about a Bible verse that said if a man gives to the least of those with us, then he gives that and more to the Lord Himself.  Dad told me that the best gift I could give Mom and my sisters was just to wash dishes on occasion. Boy did that idea hurt! Even today I’d a heck of a lot rather buy perfume than wash dishes.

       I surely must have made Jesus happy when I made it possible for Ol’ Joe to have baked duck for Christmas. When I told Dad about all that to ease my conscience, he said maybe it would be best to take Ol’ Joe a box of shotgun shells for Christmas, and maybe another duck or two, even if it might be a violation of the magnatory bird act.  For a kid who had only been 13 for a couple of months, I reckon I learned more that Christmas than any other I ever remember.  I haven’t forgotten.

       I have known Santa Claus ever since he started ordering my books, and while we were hunting caribou near the north pole a few weeks back, he scolded me for not making our Panther Creek Youth Retreat a place for some needy kids or families at Christmas time. 

       He said, “Every year I pass right over your place on Panther Creek.  There it is with a big beautiful cedar Christmas tree and all that room with beds and a huge dining room and kitchen and no kids in it.  If you could make it available for some kids and their folks or counselors to come there and enjoy Christmas, I could just stop by and leave their toys and gifts there.”

        “All you have to do is be there to read the Christmas story out of the Bible,” he said, “and help with the meals and the cookies and the candy” Santa said.  “Other folks can bring the kids that need to be there!”

       Knowing he is right, I want to let everyone know that on Christmas Eve, or Christmas night, even for several nights afterward, I have a great place for those youngsters who don’t have a great place to stay and enjoy themselves and wake up to find Christmas gifts between a big cedar tree. The gifts will be there, and there are a bunch of nice soft beds and a kitchen full of breakfast fixings and Christmas dinner. And it is all free.  My phone number is 417 777-5227, if you know kids who need such a place.