Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Black-Hearted Bird

A black-hearted cow bird

       It gets harder, as I think more about things, to shoot something just because I disagree with it’s
headed for the nest… this blacksnake has a wicked look in his eye!
lifestyle. It was not so hard to shoot a big blacksnake last summer that was crawling up an oak tree to eat the little bluebirds in a bluebird box I had attached to it. He made me realize that I need to take that box off the tree and put it on a steel post, then keep the post greased so his descendants can't climb it. 

      It is easy to shoot the occasional copperhead that ventures to close to my home here on this wilderness hilltop we call lightnin’ ridge. As I get older, instead of heading for the lake or river early in the morning, I make a cup of coffee and sit out on my screened porch; looking at the patch of grass and plant life we jokingly refer to as a ‘yard’, or ‘lawn’. 

This blue racer isn’t evil… I don’t think.  
 Never seen one eat a baby bird!!!
     It is a place for occasional wildflowers and mushrooms, rabbits, and all kinds of birds. Some snakes, like the hog-nose or garter snake or blue-racer, may cross it safely, as do terrapins or a variety of lizards. The lizards occasionally fall prey to the yellow-billed cuckoos, which us Ozark country folks call 'rain-crows'!
         Normally I would never shoot a bird in my back yard, but there is one I ought to pick off with my .22 rifle every time I see one… the brown-headed cowbird.  

      Yesterday, there they were, hopping around in my backyard, beneath the big oaks, a male and a female cowbird of the brown-headed variety.  Only the male has the brown head.  The female is gray. Though only the male is brown-headed,  I think both of them are black hearted, because they are like so many in the Ozarks... they are too lazy to work to provide for their offspring.

      That does not include me. I worked hard to make a good life for my offspring without causing difficulty for my neighbors.  When my daughters left the nest, they left a nest I had built myself.  This cannot be said of the brown-headed, black-hearted cowbird.  They build no nest. They find one made by a cardinal or bluejay or mockingbird and kick those eggs out of the nest, laying their own where returning birds of some other species, will hatch and raise their young for them.

      You would think that any bird would be wise to this, but they aren’t, displaying the traits for which we refer to really dumb folks, usually found in the big cities, as ‘bird-brains’!

      At any rate, now that I have made many city people mad at me, let me tell you why I let those brown-head birds venture off on their own to do what they do without being shot.

      The male, all black except for his brown head, was following that smaller gray hen around, standing straight and high, then huffing up his feathers to make him look taller and wider than he really is, throwing his brown head forward, making him look hunch-backed and disheveled.  That quite often makes the female receptive to mating with him.  Who knows why that would be, he looks awful doing that. It didn’t work that day.  She was apparently quite hungry and seemed to be trying to get away from him.

      He really looked stupid running around on the grass and leaf litter right below my place on the screened porch, huffing up and hunching over.  It reminded me that I had often done something similar as a youth, trying to show off my muscles and getting some girl to notice me.  It never seemed to work for me any better than it did for him.

      Eventually they both flew up on a white-oak branch only a few feet from where I sat drinking my coffee whilst I listened to an old gobbler sounding off down the ridge from my nest… er, I mean ‘house’.

      I could have plugged the two cowbirds with my .22 rifle, but it would mean making a pair of holes in the screen of about 1/5th of an inch, big enough to let in a fly or mosquito later in the summer.

      So I left it to the Great Creator to deal them justice for their evil ways. But really it seems as if he has been overlooking a great deal of evil everywhere lately. I may, later this summer, take things into my own hands and shoot their progeny, even if it will upset some mama cardinal or brown thrasher that raised them.

      You wonder why God created things like brown-headed cowbirds or copperheads, or cockleburs.  I guess he had His reasons, and as I see the perfection of His hand in the woods and streams not yet ruined by the hand of man, I feel a lot better than I do sitting on the porch watching some devilish blacksnake trying to eat my baby bluebirds.

      Then I begin to think that the blacksnake and I aren’t so much different.  I wouldn’t eat a baby rabbit or squirrel for anything, but I would sure eat either one this winter when they are grown up.  If the blacksnake waits until everything grows up, he will starve to death.

      It likely is best for me not to get into such deep thinking as I sit on the porch and drink coffee. I am fairly sure God didn’t create me for any deep thinking! It is best to get up early and head for the river and try to catch some five- pound, evil-minded largemouth, which might eat a baby wood duck or a whole household of young crawdads in his self-indulgent whims.

      I think that is perhaps what God put me on earth for… to stand up for the weak and defenseless, catching evil bass and evil catfish and evil walleye.  But the cowbird episode shows me I am getting too old for such purposes, growing too kind-hearted to do what should be done.

      However, through this column I might encourage others to keep a shotgun handy and shoot every cowbird and copperhead they see. In such a manner, I continue to be of some value, straightening out Mother Nature in her misguided ways.

You can read more about the outdoors and nature in my Lightnin Ridge Outdoor magazine’s summer issue.  To get a copy of it, call my executive secretary, Ms. Wiggins, who will likely be napping at her desk here in our executive offices on Lightnin’ Ridge. The phone number is 417 777 5227. You may write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at lightninridge@windstream.net

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

I’d Rather Talk Than Write

Signing books at the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs after a convention speaking engagement.

         Last week I spoke to the Sertoma ( service to mankind) Club in Springfield.  They are a group of 40 or 50 who work to help boys and girls clubs of the area, and they were surprised to hear that I have a ranch for underprivileged kids where they can come and stay free for a week or a weekend.  Several of those men work with groups of children and vowed to use our place this summer. 

          I have never made a big thing of speaking to groups, but I have been a public speaker as well as a writer for decades, speaking in several states and once in Canada.  I have spoke in huge beautiful cathedrals and little country churches; in grade schools, high schools, small colleges, big colleges...at wild game dinners, at ducks unlimited banquets, at various kinds of conventions and sport shows. 

        It is easy for me, I have done it so much that I never even prepare a speech or talk, I just try to add some humor to what I have to say, with a few minutes of seriousness about whatever I feel God wants me to say.  Groups are so different… so you have to adapt to each situation. 

         A few years back, I was asked to come to a town on the northeastern border of Missouri and speak to a church.  When I got there it was a giant cathedral that I absolutely was in awe of.  I had never even been in such a place.  Then Gloria and I were asked to speak in Plano Texas to a church that ended up being several hundred people in a huge community building.  I spoke for 40 minutes and then signed books for more than an hour.  They provided a place to stay and gave us a pair of beautiful matching jackets.  I would have driven the whole distance just for those jackets.

         I spoke to a convention in Hot Springs, Arkansas a few years back that was in the Arlington Hotel, and they put us up in a room right across from the room where Al Capone always stayed when he came there.  The room was just as it had been back then, set aside as something of a museum site.  I never knew what that convention was all about, but they paid me well, and again, I signed books for an hour or so.  

         The following day, Gloria and Sondra Matlock Gray, who was my editor at the time, wanted to go to the horse races.  Sondra’s husband and I bought three two dollar tickets for three races and we didn’t win anything, but I swear this is true…Sondra, who had never been to a horse race, picked three straight winners, and her two-dollar bets won her about thirty dollars.  She didn’t bet on the fourth race, but picked the winner anyway.  If she had bet two dollars on that race she would have collected about 20 dollars more.  It was one of the most unbelievable things I have ever seen.

         About five or six years ago, due to my book on duck-hunting experiences, I was asked to speak at a Ducks Unlimited Banquet in Oklahoma City.  I should have known, from what they were paying, that this would not be like speaking to DU banquets in small towns of the Ozarks. Gloria and I got there the day before and they had us staying in one of the fanciest apartments I have ever seen. At that dinner, there were about two hundred members of the richest people I have ever seen, all in expensive suits and ties.  Imagine how I felt that night, walking out before them in boots and jeans and a new ten-dollar sports shirt purchased at Wal-Mart.

         I mainly want churches, schools, and civic groups to know that I will speak at any time, any place to any size group, especially if they are trying to raise money, and while I once was paid for doing it....when I was young and broke with a family to support, I now speak anywhere-- free.

         Speaking to ANY group of any size is easy for me, and I recall the times when I have helped raised a lot of money for good causes.  Speaking at a big church in Kansas one summer, I helped raise enough money to buy more than a hundred pairs of shoes for Indian children on a couple of reservations in Kansas and Nebraska.  Once ten years or so back, I spoke at a Mt. Grove Baptist church in Missouri and that night, we raised 981 dollars, which was spent to buy coats for poor kids in the county. At another church in Kansas, I finished speaking and turned it over to the pastor, and he asked if there was anyone in the crowd in need that night.  A young man in a wheel chair came forward and said that he wanted to become a Christian.  Maybe nothing I have ever done equals the results of that 40-minute talk that night. 

         Those are the reasons I will go anywhere, anytime, and speak to any group.  I enjoy it, and it is easy for me to do it. I’ll end this with a story about 7 or 8 Baptist ministers who got the idea to have a big “Outdoor Sportsmen” dinner to try to bring in men of the area, hopeful they would start coming to one of the churches in the area.  They would have a free wild game dinner, give away tickets for a drawing which furnished all kinds of hunting and fishing equipment and in particular a nice 500 dollar shotgun.  I was to speak at the event. 
         It was cold that night, and the wild game, cooked and served outside, was just as cold when folks lined up to eat.  Then they packed the church, and a group of musicians that were suppose to play for 30 minutes liked what they were doing so much they played for almost an hour and a half.  Then a minister talked for a while and they announced that after I spoke they would have the drawing.  At that time it was a past 11:00 p.m.  Those men were really restless and they didn’t care about listening to me. 
         I confined what I had to say to about three minutes and then the drawing took about another hour.  I remember that the preachers and others involved in putting on the event all had tickets. One of the minister’s sons won the set of books I had donated.  Unbelievably, one of the ministers won the fifty-dollar Bass Pro Shops gift certificate and another one ended up holding the ticket for the shotgun. I think maybe not many of those folks who came that night ended up joining any of those preachers at Sunday services. 

         If you want information about my books or my outdoor magazine, just call me at 417 777 5227.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The One That Got Away

         I wasn’t going to tell this… thought I would just let it go, since it doesn’t make a very good story.  But there was this big ol’ gobbler, one morning about eleven o’clock. I like to walk and call and walk and call, and explore the country sometimes when I hunt spring gobblers, and upon a ridge-top, I hit my call at the right spot.  I am not sure how to describe the sudden and surprising response of a wild gobbler less than one hundred yards away. 

         It is loud and beautiful and rattles.  It bounces off the leaves and the branches like nothing you have ever heard in the woods.  “A thundering of his passion,” one writer described it.  Well when it is that close, it will put a walking hunter on the ground in a hurry, and I just happened to be in a good clump of buck-brush, where I was so well hidden I just figured I couldn’t even be seen by the sharpest-eyed bluejay, let alone that old gobbler.  

         Oh it was fine… I would call and he would answer, and I could have set there for a half hour or more, even with my lack of patience.  But as they do, when they have been alone too long, that gobbler came slowly toward me and before I saw him I could hear him booming and spitting as he strutted forward through the woods.  But the trouble with late-spring foliage and buck brush is… it hides the turkeys as well as it hides the hunter.           But then I saw him, maybe 30 yards away, and I brought up my barrel as that bright red and white head disappeared behind a big, big oak.  He stepped out from behind it a little and only his head and neck were visible.  That’s enough for any turkey hunter.  I blasted him with a load of 3-inch magnum sixes and on the other side of that tree, another turkey took to flight and soared away through the trees.

         I expected to see the one I shot at flopping around in the leaf litter, but to my surprise, the one that flew away was also the one I shot at.  I surveyed the scene, found no blood and no feathers.  As rule wounded turkeys run, they don’t fly.  There on the south side of that tree were the tracks of a half dozen lead shot.  I was right on him.  All I can imagine is, the big lovesick tom had enough luck that as I squeezed that trigger he pulled his head back behind the tree.  So I just kicked one stump only one time.

         Years ago, when I was young and more of a throbbing gizzard that young hunters tend to be, I would have kicked more stumps, maybe even thrown my old scarred up shotgun to the ground and hurled the turkey call into the tree tops. I was like that back then. 

         Certainly I would have cussed. My gosh I would have hated to have my daughters see me back then when I missed a turkey.  Heck there were times, when I missed a turkey in my twenties or thirties, that I would have been kicked out of that little country church where I went, when the hunting season was behind me and the fishing had slacked off. 

         But when you get that carried away in the quest of a gobbler, you learn that kicking a stump makes you limp home.  It can also loosen the sole on your boot.  Sometimes when you throw your turkey call, you can’t find it!  That day, I sort of smiled and reckoned that I saw a beautiful sight.  In my files, I have a plethora of photos of me grinning at the camera over the spread tale of hundreds of wild gobblers.  They all have smutty, bloody blue and white heads, and a beard sticking out just almost exactly like all the others I have ever seen.

         I do not like cleaning a wild gobbler nearly as much as I once did, and as I recall I have two turkeys in the freezer right now that I have intended to smoke for Sunday dinner.  Why do I need another?  I really don’t mind that he got away.  He will be there this fall or next spring, with longer spurs.  It is amazing what time does to a hunter.  An old friend of mine in the pool hall when I was a boy put it best when he said, “ I ain’t as mad at gobblers and bucks and catfish as I use to be!”

         As it is, I am just barely a little bit mad at that one that got away, and missing him really isn’t that big a deal. I just would rather not have any more pictures of dead turkeys, or dead deer, or even dead ducks and geese.  It is a darn shame what advancing age can do to a throbbing gizzard.

         This year, because of all the bad weather and an early spring, I think the wild gobbler harvest will not be what it usually is.  But I have this theory.  I think it is a different wild gobbler we hunt today than the one we called in so easily 40 or 50 years ago.  I met last week with an old-time writer and a man more obsessed with hunting wild gobblers than anyone I have ever known… Jim Spencer. A true woodsman and outdoorsman, Jim, to me, is the best outdoor writer in the country, since the days of Erwin Bauer and Zane Gray.  He doesn’t live in the suburbs somewhere getting what he writes from the Internet. He has been there--done that… and lives in the wilderness of Arkansas down the White River aways.

         I told him I thought that gobblers are different today, a change brought about by intense spring hunting pressure and natural selection that makes wild creatures evolve just a little in order to survive.  He agreed whole-heartedly.  A gobbler today isn’t entirely a different bird than he was in 1970, but he is a little bit different for sure.   What Jim and I see today is a difference in spring mating. I won’t go into it, but if you are an old timer who did indeed hunt back then, you know that the ratio of hens to toms is very much different.  I would estimate that in the Ozarks it might be as much as 10 to 1.

        Today in late April, there aren’t lot of gobblers wandering around by themselves.  You may see one or two or three toms with 10 or 15 hens!   It didn’t use to be so much like that, and gobblers never claimed to be buddies, they hated one another.  Hunting turkeys today isn’t much what I wanted to do when I was younger.  We didn’t feed them until April, then sit up blinds with decoys.  And while I own enough acreage to do that easily, it isn’t my cup of tea.  I do not like sitting and waiting and ambushing. 
          I like to walk because so may old hunters who get to their sixties cannot do that.  I like exploring and I like hitting my turkey call late in the day and hearing a response from a gobbler that never ever heard my call before.  But if wild gobblers are going to evolve, I reckon it is okay for hunters to evolve a little too.
         I’ve changed myself.  I no longer kick stumps and cuss at all, and calling one up and seeing him is always going to be enough from now on.  In late May, when no one else is hunting gobblers, I will be.  I intend to get a new camera soon and shoot a bunch of them with it.  That’ll teach ‘em.

     If you want a free copy of my outdoor magazine, ‘The Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal’, or information about any of my nine outdoor books, call us at 417 777 5227.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A Secret Cave

       My daughter Christy and I took a little trip over to the Big Piney River in mid-April, where I grew up.  I wanted to show her some caves I remember, caves that my grandfather had shown me more than 50 years ago.  He found many of them just because when he trapped the river in the winter he would look for overhangs on the river and feeder tributaries where he could build a fire and be a little warmer through the night. 

       I forgot my hip boots, something I wouldn’t have ever done when I was a kid on the Piney.  Of course when I was a kid, my hip boots always were hand-me-downs and they usually leaked.  But you only used them half the year, the other half of the year you waded in old shoes or sneakers.  So I did some wading again in the Big Piney.

       I did good though to remember my camera, boat and paddles… and some lights!

      Looked a long time for that one cave I remember that
grandpa said only he knew about back decades ago. Found the first one easy and a third one he hadn’t told me about, but the one that had big rooms back in the back and a waterfall
took some looking. The 
entrance to that one is small and well hidden, and I found that day a couple of weeks back that what I could crawl into so easily in 1962 was one heck of a challenge today.  I think that entrance has grown smaller!!

       Those caves had some little orange salamanders back in them a ways, but there were formations that were absolutely beautiful in size and shape and color.  When I was a kid, folks would go into a cave in various areas of the Ozarks and break of stalagmites and stalactites and carve on the walls.  But that is exactly why grandpa Dablemont told me to never take anyone to see the hidden ones, or the hard-to-find ones.  I thought about blind-folding my daughter so I could protect the location of those we saw that day, but I decided I could trust her.

       She was in awe of what we found, and like me, a little apprehensive about going back into a cavern through small openings with small lights.  But she was awed by all we saw. I want everyone to see some of the pictures we took, so I posted several.

       We found one thing that I don’t remember seeing, something that looks like a petrified jawbone with teeth sticking out of a rock wall.  Formations in caves form usually up or down according to the drip or the flow of water, but the teeth on this thing stuck out at a 90 degree angle to the floor.  I would like to think it is a petrified jawbone but I would hate to bet one way or the other.  Take a look and see what you think.

       When I was only about 14, I and a couple of cousins dug down into the floor of a huge dry cave and found an assortment of artifacts that I have on my office wall today.  One was a four-inch piece of ivory with a hole drilled in it.  Those items are pictured in my book, “Rivers To Run”.

       As we sat resting at the mouth of the first cave, Christy remarked that a family could wall it off and live inside the cave.  I told her that it was likely that the only time it had been without dwellers of some sort was the last 200 years.  We found a piece of clay pottery a couple of inches across and a quarter inch thick, back in the dark recess of that cave.  It was made of baked clay and tiny ground up pieces of mussel shell.  The outside was decorated a little with striations, the way so much of the pottery that bluff dwellers used was adorned.

       I have spent much time thinking about those people who were there, maybe 500 years ago, maybe thousands of years before.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to see what they were like, to hear their language and see what a day of their life consisted of, what they ate, how they slept, what games they played.

       Yes, I told my daughter, people lived here before and some of the grandparents and great-grandparents that many of us have were born in caves in the Ozarks, because they were shelters for those who came here before the civil war hoping to clear a small place along the river or creek for a cabin.  If it took a couple of months to build that cabin they had shelter in the yawning mouths of caves. I spent many a night sleeping in caves on fishing trips on Ozark rivers. And when my dad was a boy, they always had a vacation during the hottest months of the year, living, sleeping and eating in the cool protection of a dry-floor cave on the Big Piney, one big enough to place a semi and trailer in.

       But is that over forever, never to be again.  I wouldn’t bet on it.  Those who believe nuclear weapons will never be used again do not know about Iran and North Korea.  If there comes a time when turning back to the earth is the best way to survive, those caves may be shelters again.  It might be that the few who survive some catastrophe like a war or a meteorite, will be those who know how to find a deep rock shelter that once sheltered, primitive people way back before we had electric plug-ins and the only light at night was a bright warm flame.

       You can contact me about acquiring one of my books or the outdoor magazine I produce by writing to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613, emailing me at lightninridge@windstream.net, or calling my office, which sits up here in a man cave in the woods on Lightnin’ Ridge amongst the oaks and deer and raccoons and squirrels.  That number is 417 777 5227.

A Nature Test

                  As someone who worked for many years as a naturalist in state park systems, the national park service and a contract naturalist in the mountains of Arkansas for that state’s Natural Heritage Commission, I think surely I could be pardoned for having a little fun with a group of people who refer to themselves as master naturalists after attending classes for a week.  I have met many of them, and most are nice people who are hungry to learn about nature. 

         A few years ago they paid about forty dollars to attend a series of conservation department night classes and if they passed the test they got a certificate for that, saying they were ‘master naturalists’.  I don’t think anyone ever failed to pass it. So for a month or two I added a nature question to each of my outdoor columns and lots of folks seemed to enjoy that.

         I myself am not a master at anything, though I was once darn near a master johnboat paddler, and in my youth, almost a master snooker player.  I sure learned a lot in receiving a degree in wildlife management and working all those years as a paid naturalist.  I think I would recommend those two efforts if you really want to be a naturalist…go to college and then get a job in that field.

         Back when I was a boy, there were lots of young people who were natural naturalists, kids who grew up on Ozark farms and spent hours out exploring the woods, and the creeks, and learning the difference in a hawk and a hoot owl, and a bass and a bluegill by the time they were 8 years old.

         So since readers seem to enjoy answering those questions, I thought I would just do a whole column of natural history questions.  If you are indeed a master naturalist you should be able to answer ALL these fifteen questions without looking at any books or the Internet.  These things you should know without much thinking.

Let’s start with birds…
1.     Two hawks in the Ozarks that are hard for people to tell apart are the red-tailed hawk and the red-shouldered hawk.  Which of the two have a one-note call, and which has a two-note call.
2.     What bird of prey cannot build or prepare a nest but still may attempt to raise young in the dead of winter.
3.     What bird other than the hummingbird will often visit your hummingbird feeder in the spring to drink nectar?
4.     What bird may find a songbird nest, kick out the eggs and lay it’s own eggs for the nesting birds to hatch and raise?
Now for the mammals…
5.     A shrew can go for up to three days without eating! True or False?
6.     What common Ozarks furbearer has insufficient salivary glands?
7.     A dog of the same size can hybridize with both coyotes and foxes?
8.     True or False… The hair of a white-tailed deer is hollow!
Concerning fish…
9.     A shell-cracker is also known as… a. rock bass  b. drum  c. red-ear sunfish.
10.  A flathead catfish will sometimes eat a channel catfish and vice-versa… True or False?
11.  Eels are sometimes found in unimpounded Ozark rivers, but they cannot reproduce there!  True or false.
12.  What is the common name most often used in the Ozarks for the plentiful Green Sunfish?
And a few about plants…
13.  Commonly eaten and canned like spinach in the spring old time Ozarks, it was known as ‘cow pasley’.  What is the other common name?  a. hillbilly                    spinach  b. crows foot  c. poke  d. wild dock
14.  What tea was said to thin the blood in the spring?
15.   What is the fastest growing, and arguably the prettiest, of the large trees found in the Ozarks?

         Okay, now here are the answers.   I hope you didn’t peek.  If you have, you are disqualified from being a master naturalist and true Ozarkian. The two-note hawk is the red-shouldered, and the non-nest-builder that hatches young in the dead of winter is the great-horned owl. Number three is the oriole and number four is the brown-headed cowbird.  Five is false, shrews have to eat every few hours or they die.  The raccoon washes his food so much because he doesn’t have enough saliva.  Coyotes often cross with dogs, but foxes do not.  The hair of the whitetail is indeed hollow.  The answer to number 9 is c.   Both catfish will indeed try to eat the other when the size is right, and Ozark river eels migrate back into the ocean hundreds of miles away to reproduce. Number twelve is easy… black perch. Number 13 is crow’s foot, and number 14 is sassafras.  A sycamore outgrows all Ozark trees and is also the prettiest of them all.  You may think another tree is prettier, and if you would argue that, you belong on the front bench of the pool hall, where I once saw four or five old men debate that for much of an hour.  And in that pool hall, when I was about twelve, is where I learned that possums breed through the nose!!!

         You can contact me at lightninridge@windsteam.net or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613  You can get information about my outdoor magazine or any one of my 9 outdoor books by calling Ms. Wiggins, my executive secretary, at 417 777 5227.
She has figured out how to take orders over the phone for either via credit card.  But grade schools that are still in session may order a quantity of my book, ‘Dogs and Ducks and Hatrack Bucks’ to give to students.  It is a collection of outdoor short stories written for and about young boys, and I am giving them away free to students who get tired of reading romance stories and mysteries.  I know a little about mysteries but not a darn thing about romance.

Friday, April 21, 2017

A Malady Mis-Named

       They call it ‘ocular migraine’ but that is a poor name for something that is awful.  I know… I have lived with it for more than fifty years.  I am writing about it now because I know others have it and have no idea what it is.  I particularly want parents to know if the malady appears in their children.

       First, the word migraine is misleading.  Migraine headaches do not have a thing to do with it.  The first thing that happens is, without warning, there appears a very distinctive curving zig-zag line in your vision.  Quickly, just beneath and around it is a brightness like you are looking into a white light nearly like you would get from looking directly at the sun.  Within a minute, it becomes a complete blindness, except for what they refer to as peripheral vision, meaning you can see, to some extent, those things to your far left or far right, or at your feet.

       As this blindness takes over, a numbness begins to come from the tips of your fingers up your arm.  With me it is always my left arm.  The numbness is severe enough that you cannot feel a pin stuck in your arm, and it comes with about the speed of an insect crawling up your arm, into your shoulder, neck, and quickly into the left side of the face, right down the middle of your forehead, nose and mouth.  The other side of your body is unaffected.  With that numbness, you will lose the ability to speak coherently, so you learn that you had better tell someone quickly that you are going to be okay and to leave you alone and not take you to the hospital. 
       Going to the hospital is useless.  They do not know what is wrong, and the last time I went, a big hefty, gruff nurse told me I was putting on an act.  “You can see me just fine, and you could talk if you want to,” she derided me.  I wish to God I could have seen her face or remember who she was because if I did I would let that hospital know that anyone in any kind of stress should not be ridiculed.

       What is difficult to deal with is the terror you experience, a foggy awareness of all that is going on, and an unreasonable, unexplainable fear.  No matter how many times it happens to you, the fear, the terror, the panic always is a part of it.  In one to two hours usually, you recover the ability to speak fairly coherently and then the blindness subsides fairly quickly.  In the aftermath, you are confused for hours, and you may become extremely irritated and angry.  You will lash out at those who love you and are trying to help you.  But the confusion, the inability to make your legs and arms work like you want them to, and the inability to think of the words you want to use, may last up to a day.  Surprisingly, I have never had a headache through all that.

       The best thing anyone could do for me when I have one is to give me something to help me sleep and leave me alone.  I now deal with the onset of this by doing these things…    If I am alone, I stay away from anyone, and find seclusion. Perhaps I will pull my pick-up into a remote parking lot, lay the seat back and close my eyes and take a pill to relax me if I have one.  Afterward I ask directions from someone on how to get where I am going.  But believe it or not, it may take awhile to remember just where I am going. This might make a lot of folks laugh, but years ago I started saying something over and over that helps mightily.  I continually repeat, “Come unto me, all ye who are weak and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  Through all the years of medicine to help this condition, nothing ever works, but that bible verse does.  It is something I recommend often to those who have any problem, especially depression or panic attacks.

       And yes, I know what brings these “Ocular Migraines” on.  Three things,---extreme fatigue, extreme stress or extreme anger.  And the degree of the severity and long-lastingness is strange.  I have had these things last only a couple of hours and return quickly to normal.  But sometimes I have experienced a bad affect for up to two days.
Once out on the lake, I got through it by lying down in a pile of leaves against the trunk of a large tree.  I eventually slept quite a while and it was late in the evening when I awakened.  There on the shore was my boat, but I had no idea what lake I was on or how to get back to my truck.  Thank goodness some folks on the lake helped me. I was amazed how I could be so short-tempered and angry with people so kind and helping.

       What I wouldn’t give to go find them and explain things.

       I have tremendous embarrassment from what I have done at times immediately in the aftermath of the blindness.  There is a doctor I think the world of, who was trying to help me, and Gloria tells me that I talked to him like he was my greatest enemy.  I would like to go talk to him, but I just don’t know what to say.  For the rest of his life, that man will think I am a worthless jerk.

       The first of these “spells” occurred when I was 13, and when I was 19 at the University of Missouri, they had me in the hospital for two days.  That was the worst of the occurrences, because I couldn’t describe my parents.  When I finally came up with their names I couldn’t for the life of me remember what they looked like.

       In my thirties and forties, I would go for years and have no problems and get to thinking I had outgrown the awful things.  But in the last two years, the severity has increased, and now they overwhelm me by coming every few weeks.

       For anyone who might recognize these symptoms, the one thing we all have in common is the zig-zag line and temporary blindness.  From there, everyone with ocular migraine seems to have different problems in the aftermath.

       About ten years ago, driving through Macon or Moberly Missouri, I can’t remember which, I was quickly hit by the onset of a particularly bad episode.  I was near a hospital and somehow ended up in a dark room for four hours under the 10-minute attention of an emergency room doctor who didn’t know what was wrong because I couldn’t tell him.  That day, after 40 years of living with this, I found out what it was! A nurse came in and spent about a half hour with me.  She said she had the same thing, and described the numbness, the blindness and the zig-zag line to perfection.  I broke down and actually cried with relief when she told me that the problem would never have a lasting effect.  She knew because she too had lived with it since childhood.  She put her arms around me and assured me that we would both be just fine.  I hugged her and just turned loose all of my emotions.  I didn’t want to let go of her.

       There have been a bunch of MRI’s and cat scans that say there is nothing in my brain they can find. I doubt if many people have had their brain looked at that often. But the United States Army found what others did not.  When I was 20 I wanted to join an Officer Candidate School and in St. Louis at a place called Jefferson Barracks they put me in a dark room and hooked up about a dozen or so wires to my head.  I slept for three hours and afterward I was told my brain waves showed some kind of problem which rendered me ineligible for the armed services except for a possible stateside desk service. I had plenty of questions, but they had no answers.

       So there you have it.  I have bared my soul about something I have seldom spoken of, even to my family.  But recently I was talking to a youngster who I immediately knew was a victim of ocular migraine.  It makes me think something needs to be said about this.  Who knows how many people have it, and live in the dark as to what it is.  If you are a parent and experience a problem with a child who is sometimes incoherent, or can’t see, or has a numbness in their face, you may be able to help him a great deal, even though medical science cannot do much.

       And no matter who you are or what you might be living with, remember that Bible verse.  It is something of the recipe for small, unheralded miracles.