Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Photos from the mountains of Arkansas.....

This cave, with a small stream inside which came from a big spring back in its depths, was nearly hidden by the debris which had fallen to obscure the opening.
These old whiskey barrels were all that was left of a moonshine still. Wish I could have got them back to my pickup, five miles away.  I found an active still once down south of Jasper, Arkansas.
Always, miles from any roads, there were little openings along small creeks with the foundations of old cabins, occasionally an old barn still standing...

Monday, January 26, 2015

Catching Fish in February

It turned out to be a great big drum, and I fought it for ten minutes thinking I had a monster walleye

Maybe February isn't the greatest month to fish, but it may be the best month to catch walleye in the Ozarks

 
Hot dang, I love February, all because of Valentines Day. Lots of our lady readers send me small boxes of chocolate candy! I say this hoping that you realize that a person can lie about one thing without really lying about everything else.

And I ain’t lyin’ when I say that the month of February can be a great month for fishermen. When the weather stays mild for a while and you have several days of warmth and warmer-than-usual nights, bass get very active and some of the best bass fishing I have ever enjoyed took place in the last three weeks of February. In addition, walleye begin their spawning run in February with the slightest warming.

A couple of years ago I went down to a small Ozark stream and there were two old timers sitting there with four lines out in the water, fishing a deep hole with night-crawlers. I sat down and started talking to them and found out they were fishing for suckers. They had four or five on a stringer and caught another one while I watched.  They were the common yellow suckers between two and three pounds. Some of today’s fishermen wouldn’t know what to do with them, but they did. And anyone can catch them, with worms and patience. 

 “You can’t find a better fish to eat,” one of them told me. “But you can’t freeze them. You need to take ‘em home, scale ‘em, score ‘em and fry ‘em.  We’re going to have a supper fit for a king tonight.”

He was right, but you have to know how to score a sucker and most people today don’t have any idea what that means. It is a matter of slicing the meat crossways all the way to the backbone but not through the spine, on both sides, so as to eliminate the presence of the fine bones found throughout the body. And when they are fried fresh in the winter, they are so good some fishermen would proclaim them the best tasting of all fish.

You need a few degrees’ change in water temperature in February to get some good response from fish. It is unlikely that you will see walleye and bass and crappie move toward shallow water when it happens, but they sure will become more active in the deeper water. That’s where you have to fish, and you have to do it slower than you do things as spring arrives.

I have had some great walleye fishing in February, up north where there are a great number of fish per acre. We caught them under the boat in deep water with jigs tipped with minnows, pulling the bait up off the bottom a couple of feet and dropping it again until suddenly the line would tighten and you knew you had a fish.
 
So I got the idea I could do that in one of the deep holes well up the Sac River as a warm week of February weather occurred several years ago. I worked that jig and minnow in a hole about 15 feet deep, a perfect spot for pre-spawn walleyes to gather. And finally, wham… I had one. 

It was a dandy, and bigger than I ever dreamed might be there. He stayed deep and pulled line against my drag, bending that medium rod over like a reed in a strong wind. I was elated. This walleye was a monster! Except it wasn’t a walleye. After several minutes of playing the fish just perfectly I brought it to the surface. A darned drum, maybe 16 or 18 pounds. I think I ate him and pretended I was eating a walleye filet. I have to say that the meat of a drum isn’t bad; there just isn’t much of it. A drum has very white meat, but more body and head than meat.

Some of the best February fishing I have ever had was on the Gasconade River with an old boyhood friend of mine, Alvin Barton from Success, Mo.  We caught smallmouth and largemouth all day in still, warm weather fit for light jacket, but not light tackle. The bass were active, but very deep. Maybe some of those big smallmouth we caught actually fought harder in February than they would in June.

If you are a hiker or a photographer, February may be the best month of the year, because the mountains of the Ozarks are shorter this time of year. What I mean is, the undergrowth is minimal and you can see so much farther. Every year I see a hundred photos of the places in the Ozarks where everyone goes. One of those places is the Hawk’s Bill Crag overlook on the Buffalo River and the falls at Lost Valley. If one picture has been taken there, there has been a thousand.

I spent twenty years exploring those Boston Mountains, Ozark Mountains and Ouachita Mountains and getting paid for it. I was reporting on remote natural areas in the state for the Arkansas Heritage Commission. I never followed any trail, unless it was a game trail. In February I found caves and waterfalls and natural bridges that few people had ever seen, miles from any roads. 

When I would do the same thing in the summer I would get a better idea of the plant life, but you could walk right past a big cave or spring, or historical old home place without knowing it was there. I reached some of those most magnificent places via the rivers, and I could write a book on what I saw. I have old slides that show features I am sure no one ever photographed. On one occasion I stumbled across an active moonshine still! Try that if you are looking for adventure.

Let the masses travel those foot worn trails where a thousand feet have gone before them, but my advice to you, if you are healthy and active, is to go look for treasure in the hard-to-reach creek valleys and ridge tops and find pictures no one else has taken. Now is the time to do it, if you have good footwear and the knowledge of what you need to take with you to make your day enjoyable. 

Leave your cell phone in your vehicle...it won’t work where I go. Of course we have fewer wilderness areas in the Missouri Ozarks, but again, if you want to see what is really there, get away from the easy trails that everyone sees and explore. And go slowly… do not get in a hurry.

The February-March issue of the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal has been finished and printed. I hope you will find a copy, just to read our Common Sense Conservation section and the letters from our readers relating experiences that will surprise you. 

Remember that you will have to look hard on some newsstands to find it, as we have a well-organized attempt by some people to turn it around and hide it behind other magazines. There are those, I suppose, who do not like what we print about the Missouri Department of Conservation. If you can’t find it, just call my executive secretary, Ms. Wiggins, who recently got a raise and has promised to work harder. Our office number is 417 777 5227

And remember that if you want a table at our big outdoorsman’s swap meet, you had better let me know soon. By March, I expect all of our tables to be spoken for.

To see some of the photos I took years ago back in the Arkansas mountains, visit my website, www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com

Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or send those boxes of chocolate candy to that same address. Or you can email me at lightninridge@windstream.net

Monday, January 19, 2015

Grizzled Old Outdoorsman's Swap Meet March 28

The 28th of March, which is the last Saturday of that month, is already on your calendar. So mark that day as the day we will hold our annual Grizzled Old Outdoorsman’s Swap Meet Event, which is often referred to by the initials, G.O.O.S.M.E., although not real often. 
It is a fun day when we gather at the gymnasium at the Brighton Assembly of God Church and have a big swap meet for outdoorsmen, filling more than 50 tables with outdoor antiques, old and new fishing lures, gear, guns, camping gear, outdoor art, carvings, taxidermy work and baked goods and canned goods. Outside the church we will have some boats and motors, canoes, maybe even a good coonhound for sale. 
The church is located 16 miles north of Springfield and 6 miles south of Bolivar on Highway 13. No one has to pay to get a table and no one has to pay to get in, it is free to the public. 
You can call all the other outdoor swap meets and ask them, “Is there a charge to get a table at your swap meet, or an entrance charge”, and they will say, “Of course there is, we are trying to make money”. And then you can tell them, “Well the G.O.O.S.M.E. people don’t charge a doggone thing.” 
It’s true… the organizers of all outdoor swap meets in the whole world charge an entrance fee and charge so much for tables inside. But we don’t! So if you have outdoor stuff to sell, and want a table, you had better call us or write a letter and let us know. We always have big crowds, and some good food for breakfast and dinner both, and we raise some money from those who donate voluntarily to the Brighton Assembly of God Church’s effort to help some needy children. 
So please come to our swap meet and have a good time because I would love to talk to you and I will give you some of our magazines free of charge. It is one of the few ways I have to meet readers of this column. All in all, it will be a great day and you will be glad you came… most likely… I hope.

Ducks and G.O.O.S.M.E.’s



 
Finally, a dead mallard. Finally Bolt does his job right.

I may be getting too old to go duck hunting. I walked a half-mile across a big field last week, then waded down the half-frozen creek to a little hole where ducks had been loafing. Where there wasn’t any ice, the rocks were so slick I could hardly keep my balance. Where there was ice, it was so slick I could hardly keep my balance either. 

As I set out eight decoys, an over-hanging limb knocked my cap off and it started floating down the creek. I went after it and my knee boots were too short for the water. When one boot is too short for the water, the result is cold water accumulating in the very bottom of it. So I am sitting up against a big tree with overhanging limbs hiding me, trying to get my boot off to dump out the water.

Twenty years ago it was easy to take off a boot and put it back on. Today it is a chore. It has to do with added fat where nothing but abs use to be, and stiffness in the back that accumulates from years of carrying shotguns and decoys. The bulky coat made it harder to do so I took it off. Then I leaned over with one hand on the ground and I’ll be darned if there wasn’t a thorn under it!

I got a cramp in my leg from trying to pull it up where I could reach the end of it, and a pain in my right hand where that thorn had punctured it. 

I got up and tried to hobble around a little to make the cramp go away and four mallards came swooping in over my decoys. I reached for the shotgun that I had left leaning up against the tree and knocked it over. Then I remembered I had forgot to load it. My shells had spilled out of the coat pocket and had sand all over them. 

Finally I am ready again, and my Labrador, Bolt, who is the 4th or 5th best Labrador in the whole country, decided he would run down and get a drink from the creek. He made that decision as a pair of nice mallards came sailing in on set wings, then saw him and flared away.

Bolt confused my sharp order of “Get the heck back here and sit” with “Run out in the creek and get a stick.” He is young, and though he is well disciplined, (meaning that if he doesn’t do what I tell him I will give him a good whack on the rump which lacks enough effort to be mistaken for animal cruelty), he also knows that I am too old to get up and chase him down in hip boots with a cramp in one leg and a thorn in my hand.

Finally we reach and agreement and he comes back and I fasten him to a little tree with the leash I brought. Now I am ready, water out of the boot, cramp subsiding, dog obeying and gun loaded. I see ducks and I hail them with my duck call. I am as good with that duck call as you can get. I sound more like a duck with my duck call than a duck does. But it has to be free of sand and dirt, and it wasn’t. Must have happened when I took my coat off and got that thorn in my hand.

Two ducks come in. One is a hen mallard, which I won’t shoot, and the other is a drake. The hen settles in over the decoys, presenting an easy shot. The drake sails over me, a very, very difficult shot. I shoot up through the branches and miss him twice. The shot loosens some limbs and they crash down upon me and I get a little piece of bark in my eye. Bolt sees the hen out before us and decides he can catch her so he breaks the leash. He flairs some other ducks that are coming in. I consider something that does indeed border on animal cruelty.

Somehow I got two drake mallards that afternoon. If you consider the cost of several three-inch magnum shells and the three hours it took, at the five dollars an hour which I normally make as a writer, the four delicious breasts of mallard, cooked on the grill with onions and peppers, cost me about ten dollars each. My daughter is a doctor, and she will surely help me dig this thorn out of my hand, so that is some relief.

I carried the decoys, shotgun and two mallards up the hill, which had been easy to descend. Ascending is a far different word than descending, as you get older. Bolt, wet and muddy, jumped in my pickup, thinking my order of ‘sit there and wait’ actually meant ‘hop up there and mess up my truck seat.” 

Back home, my good friends Dennis and Kent call to say they have floated a river and killed two limits of mallards with little more effort than unloading the boat and drifting with the current. 

This warm weather means I can get out and catch some fish without much actual physical exertion, when duck season is over. At least I am not too old to fish. I know now the answer to that question I had as a boy…. “Why do old men quit hunting and start to fish so much?”

The 28th of March, which is the last Saturday of that month, is already on your calendar. So mark that day as the day we will hold our annual Grizzled Old Outdoorsman’s Swap Meet Event, which is often referred to by the initials, G.O.O.S.M.E., although not real often. 

It is a fun day when we gather at the gymnasium at the Brighton Assembly of God Church and have a big swap meet for outdoorsmen, filling more than 50 tables with outdoor antiques, old and new fishing lures, gear, guns, camping gear, outdoor art, carvings, taxidermy work and baked goods and canned goods. Outside the church we will have some boats and motors, canoes, maybe even a good coonhound for sale. 

The church is located 16 miles north of Springfield and 6 miles south of Bolivar on Highway 13. No one has to pay to get a table and no one has to pay to get in, it is free to the public. 

You can call all the other outdoor swap meets and ask them, “Is there a charge to get a table at your swap meet, or an entrance charge”, and they will say, “Of course there is, we are trying to make money”. And then you can tell them, “Well the G.O.O.S.M.E. people don’t charge a doggone thing.” 

It’s true… the organizers of all outdoor swap meets in the whole world charge an entrance fee and charge so much for tables inside. But we don’t! So if you have outdoor stuff to sell, and want a table, you had better call us or write a letter and let us know. We always have big crowds, and some good food for breakfast and dinner both, and we raise some money from those who donate voluntarily to the Brighton Assembly of God Church’s effort to help some needy children. 

So please come to our swap meet and have a good time because I would love to talk to you and I will give you some of our magazines free of charge. It is one of the few ways I have to meet readers of this column. All in all, it will be a great day and you will be glad you came… most likely… I hope.

Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, or email me at lightninridge@windstream.net. The office phone is 417-777-5227.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Some Agents to Be Commended


My old friend, fellow outdoorsman and naturalist Dennis Whiteside gave me a bit of good news after deer season. He goes over to camp and hunt with his brothers at an MDC wildlife area known as Mud Puppy Conservation Area near Doniphan, Missouri.

Dennis remembers when part of it was his family’s farm many years ago. He says that it needs much attention, growing up to be nothing but an impenetrable thicket. But of course the MDC has little money left to actually enhance conditions for wildlife there, as they put so many millions into stocking elk not far away.

A few years ago, Dennis talked about how Conservation agents would drive up to their camp and find ways to make everyone mad with their belligerent attitude. This last fall he said he saw something different.

The hunters found four deer killed and dumped not far from their camp, and they called agents who came to investigate so they wouldn’t be blamed for it. The deer had not even been gutted, with only the loins and antlers removed. The camp asked the agents to let them cut the meat off the frozen carcasses and give it away or use it, so the deer wouldn’t be wasted.

Dennis said that a few years ago the request would have been denied unless someone tagged each deer, ending their hunt. This year the agents agreed the meat should be utilized, and they consented to that plan without asking anyone to tag the dumped carcasses. Whiteside said it was a bright spot he hasn’t seen before. He said he was amazed to see that change.

Then he told me about a man whose son went on his first deer hunt during the youth season last year and obtained two landowner tags. The boy thought he could use one on Saturday and the other tag on Sunday, so he tagged two deer and called in both as the law requires. Later that week his father learned that the youth hunt weekend allows a kid to take only one deer, so he called a local agent and reported the mistake they had made.

There are agents I know well who would have given the boy a citation, but this one said he could understand how the mistake could be made. He told the father to tell his son not to hunt during the regular season, and always read the regulation well as a new hunter and congratulated him on his success.

There’s some common sense we need to see more of in our MDC agents. I would love to give their names of course, but if I did, they would likely face disciplinary problems out of Jefferson City. I salute them for being what ‘game wardens’ use to be, and it gives me some hope that maybe a new trend is developing.

I think most of our agents, just like most of our policemen, are decent people. But there are too many worthless ones, too many bad agents out there who do not have to worry about violating the constitutional rights of innocent people because their power holds them unaccountable for anything. In a couple of weeks after I can investigate more, I will tell you about one of the worst miscarriages of justice I have ever seen in MDC agents. You won’t believe some of the things I see happening in my work.

I am convinced that if the devil came to earth and had his choice of keeping just one modern day technology, it would be television.

I watch it quite often in the evenings though in the winter. But not the “networks”. What I watch are the National Geographic channels, the Discovery Channels and the Animal Planet channel.

If you love the outdoors and want to learn a lot about wild America, if you want your children to see TV that can’t destroy their minds, watch what those channels have from time to time.

I have spent a lifetime outdoors, but I learn a great deal from watching those beautiful films about the earth and the wildlife.

Not too long ago I was fascinated while watching a red fox dive again and again into deep snow, like a kid enjoying himself, and coming up with mice and voles. The film showed that beyond a doubt the fox oriented himself toward the poles of the earth to detect a movement far beneath the snow, and somehow knew where his prey was. It fascinated me, I can’t comprehend how he knew and sensed what was below that snow.

Then I watched a bobcat catch a rat and playfully toss it high in the air over and over after he had killed it. I guess I understand that. I watched that same kind of game once when I was out in the deep woods hunting, and a bobcat and some crows seemed to be entertaining each other.

We are going toward a time when our children, our teachers, and even our biologists know only what they read in a book or watch on TV, and so it is great that really knowledgeable outdoorsmen and naturalists can teach us through such films. I don’t think any of it will make much difference though. Fifty years ago there were 180 million people in the United States, and today there are 360 million. It is projected that in about 25 years there will be 700 million. In China there are eight million acres of useless, polluted land. Huge populations did that.

There won’t be much left of this beautiful and wondrous country when we are forced to give up everything to have giant hog farms, and billions of cattle and chickens just to feed the world. By that time the only wilderness may be the tops of mountains where men and farm animals can’t survive. 

But what can we do? It is just going to be that way, or the multitudes can’t be fed. The only alternative is a situation where absolutely millions die off, and of course that can’t happen can it. One kind of human will be gone then, the people like me who want to see and feel the freedom afforded by wild remote places where you can escape what is coming and greed doesn’t exist.

All mankind will be satisfied and content then because we have learned to print all the money we need to make everyone happy.

This mass of humanity we have growing in our cities knows that if you see storm clouds growing on the horizon, you turn away and look at the other horizon. Ignore that which is coming, everything will be fine.

There is one place you might flee to in that time, though I don’t know if wild and free places exist there…. Mexico!  In a hundred years there may be no one left there.

You can find winter issues of my magazines, the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal and the Journal of the Ozarks, in most magazine racks around the Ozarks, but you have to look carefully. We have some people who do not like what we write, and they have made it a habit of turning the magazines around backwards and hiding them behind others on the rack. It seems to be a fairly widespread effort and some stores are trying to find out who is doing it, through their security cameras. If you can’t find a copy in your local store, call us at 417-777-5227 and we will help you get copies.

Please visit my website, www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com as we have a story there that can’t be printed in many newspapers. Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at lightninridge@windstream.net

Monday, January 5, 2015

To Serve And Protect


Since it is a little too cold to fish, and too late to hunt, I would like to write about something that many newspaper editors probably do not want to see. I know there are those who will say this has nothing to do with the outdoors and shouldn’t be part of my column. But there are hundreds of little people out there who have been victims, and never get to tell their story and I would like to speak for them because I am, and have always been, one of them. It is time newspapers began to give a voice to people who are bullied and victimized by the very people who are suppose to be on their side, and it almost never happens. 

In my life I have seen the best of law enforcement in the Ozarks, from highway patrolmen to local small town policemen to sheriff’s deputies. I have indeed seen heroic acts and compassionate acts, which go above and beyond the call of duty. I can tell you plenty of stories about times I saw law enforcement people do things that lifted my faith in them and made me proud to call them friends. I have had several relatives in law enforcement, and I know the difficulties they face. So many of them do a job I could never handle, and do it well. It is fine to talk about our police, our game wardens, our deputies in glowing terms. I would bet that a majority of them are fine people who definitely are out to ‘serve and protect’. The trouble is, we have come to a point where the bad ones seem to be increasing, and cannot be held accountable, and they know it. They just aren’t responsible to anyone, and that kind of power is awful when it is in the hands of the wrong people.

It wasn’t long ago I sat for an hour in the office of the local police chief and listened to him talk about that problem and the need for better training. He is an intelligent man, and I am convinced he is honest and truthful. But all he talked about was the need for better training. He never once talked about the need for BETTER PEOPLE… for the things training doesn’t ever touch, like compassion and common sense and conscience. I wonder if he knows that there are some people who do not deserve to be in that position. I was there to talk to him about one.

I was apprehended by one of his department’s finest, as they are often called, as I was coming out of an eye appointment in Walmart at the very front of the store before dozens of people. Now I have often been told that city policemen do not come to the Walmart parking lot for fender benders. If you call and tell them someone has banged up your car, they will tell you to exchange license numbers and insurance and work it out on your own. It has happened to me! The chief says they will come to a private parking lot… “only in case of injury”. 

The policeman that day changed the rule on his own. He took me to my car, back by the automotive entrance, and showed me the scuffmarks on my bumper and told me he was writing me a citation for hitting a poor lady’s car, which had obviously been rear-ended. Trouble is, the damage to her SUV was about a foot above my car bumper. As she stood by, shedding tears, he wrote the citation without listening to my objections at all, and wanted me to sign it. 

About that time the automotive department manager came out and said they had a tape showing my car and hers as they pulled into the area where I had supposedly rear-ended her if he would like to see it. The officer put the citation in his pocket and headed for his patrol car. He didn’t want to see it; he wanted to get the heck out of there. I stopped him and called the police station asking for his superior officer. Another policeman came, telling me he was a 25-year veteran. 

I told him I wanted the lady charged with making a false report, attempting to commit insurance fraud. He told me they couldn’t do that, that I would have to file charges myself, which I have since found out is not true. So I went to the police chief, and found out I was wasting my time. That’s when he talked about better training, and more money needed.  

I wrote about the event in one of my magazines, and shortly after received a five-second threatening call at my home telling me I would pay for what I had written. Since then I have been harassed by the police department in this small town, recently give a ticket for driving 29 in a 20-mile speed zone. There was nothing factual about it. I had been caught on radar in a 30 mile-per-hour zone approaching the lower speed limit. 

It wasn’t long ago I talked to the city prosecutor about going to court with some of this stuff and she told me that if I would just pay the fine she would reduce it, but if I went to court she would add the charge of “defective equipment” and that the fine would be increased substantially.  

And you are right, there is no way to fight back, nothing you or I can do if this kind of targeting takes place. Our justice system here in the Ozarks is a mess. You are always guilty until proven innocent, and if you have the money to pay a lawyer. If you are driving 90 miles an hour in a 55-mile-per-hour zone, you can pay a lawyer a big sum of money greater than the fine and it will be erased from you record!! No problem for you. Without money to pay a lawyer hundreds of dollars, you are not going to be listened to in court and it all goes on your record. But the guy who was going 90 had money so he deserves a better grade of justice than you. What is right about that? Why do the people who make our laws allow such a thing, which is so blatantly wrong? Do you realize you could get ten tickets in a month and if you pay a lawyer some big money to rig the paperwork, you don’t even get one point on your driver’s license?

The thing that bothers me the most is that the policeman who was trying to aid in insurance fraud cannot be fired for doing it. He wasn’t even disciplined for his violation of my constitutional rights, for actually violating the law. It happens to others who have no voice, no money to hire a lawyer, no hope of receiving justice. There isn’t space here to discuss some of the things I have seen happening in my years of travel as a free-lance writer, but I will write about some of those events in the spring issue of my “Journal of the Ozarks” magazine, and I urge you to read it. 

While they are talking about body cameras for policemen, I am looking for a way to put a camera behind me in my vehicle, which focuses on the speedometer. I would give ANYTHING if I could just show, on film, the things I have seen over the last forty years. I suggest that all of us begin thinking of such a camera, because if a policeman says you were going 29 miles an hour, endangering the lives of others which such a reckless speed, there isn’t much you can do to prove they were lying.

Next week, better news… I will write about a pair of Missouri game wardens who makes me have hope. They went out of their way to help some hunters whom they could have made victims if they had wanted.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Wise Use Makes Sense


My dad with some Big Piney mallards. We picked every duck we ever killed, saved the feathers and ate the necks, wings, breasts and legs. Dad said a man who wasted what the outdoors gave him had no right to be hunting and he wanted nothing to do with him.  
I have been called a hunter and fisherman quite often, and really I am no more such than a million other Ozarkians. I was born a conservationist and naturalist, and I will always be. I was taught by a grandfather and father who knew more about conservation than any man I ever met. No, they didn’t go by the fish and game laws, newly imposed when they were young. They went by the laws of ‘wise use’, which is what ‘conservation’ once meant.

My grandfather was the most knowledgeable riverman and outdoorsman I ever knew. He taught me more about the workings of a natural world and wild creatures than books could ever could have. But my dad taught me how to live in the outdoors, enjoy its bounty and still be the kind of creature on this earth that he felt a man should be.

I recall like it was yesterday the time we were floating the river in December hunting ducks, and we drifted slowly past a gravel bar where two young raccoons were caught hunting for crayfish and mussels. They scurried up a nearby sycamore tree. I was 11 years old, and excited about the prospect of shooting, more than hunting. I wanted to blast the two of them, take the hides home to grandpa, who still trapped and sold furs at that time.

Dad lowered my gun from my shoulder by telling me that if I shot them, I would have to do the skinning, and clean them both and eat them after Mom had baked them. I had eaten raccoon, and I got to thinking I would rather eat a squirrel, if I had the choice. Why waste one of my eight 16 gauge shells on something I would like to eat less than a squirrel or rabbit? Those shells had to last me until the local Western Auto store had another broken box so I could buy ten more.

We stopped to eat sandwiches on that gravel bar, as the young ‘coons watched from high in the sycamore. Dad always built a small fire beside a log, and cut three-pronged forked saplings we could place sandwiches in and heat them. While we sat there on that log, he told me that every man should develop a reverence for life, something he used in his relations with other men and wild creatures too.

He told me that day that I should never kill a wild creature without feeling that reverence for life, something God gave to men in order that they could be what He meant them to be. It meant that you never created a tame creature with cruelty, and you never killed a fish or a bird or a mammal without feeling just a little sadness at its passing. He said that when you ate fish or squirrels or ducks, you were enjoying the bounty given by the Creator, and all lives, even of the smallest of his creation, had value and purpose.

“A boy yearns to kill something, and thinks of little else when he is just a boy.” Dad told me. “But a grown man who lacks that reverence for life has a weak soul, a lack of knowledge about who he is and where he fits into life, and he lacks any understanding about who God is and what is expected of him by the Lord.”

The impact of that powerful talk on the gravel bar of the Big Piney River has stayed with me. I have never been the same since. Oh yes, I forgot it briefly when I killed that robin with my sassafras bow and when I shot a chipmunk while alone in the woods a year later.

Grandpa is the only one who ever knew about the robin, and he helped me clean it and eat it, but no one ever knew about the chipmunk. As I held it in my hands that day I shed the last tears I ever remember and promised God that if he would forgive me for wasting that little life I would never ever do anything like that again.

We should all learn to live with that reverence for life that Dad taught me to find within myself. I can forgive about anything, but I am not a good enough person to not feel an awful wrath for someone who is cruel to an animal, or hurtful to a little child. If you took someone like that out and hanged him, I am afraid I would help you find a rope.

For such a person, who would for no reason create unnecessary pain and suffering for a poor creature, or harm a woman or child, I cannot have passion, and I cannot find forgiveness. What I feel for such a person is not in keeping with what God would expect of me, but I just can’t help it.

A reverence for life is the center of the word for wise use… conservation. If you hunt or fish, remember it. If you do not, remember that anyone can practice conservation. I think of that word when I shave, and I can’t keep the hot water running. Saving water today in a world that will have very little of it in 100 years is wise use… ‘conservation’. I turn it off and on as I need it, and while I use it on my garden, I have never watered a lawn in my life. What a useless waste!
My family recycles paper, plastic, glass and cans and anything else we can recycle. Gloria Jean is in charge of that, she hauls the bags of refuse to a recycling center a few miles away once every month or so.

My grandfather never had anything to haul off, he found a use for everything. Old match boxes were kept by all his neighbors for grandpa to use to sand his sassafras boat paddles and the furniture he made from scrap lumber. Remember those rough patches on the sides of the boxes? His rocking chair was made from the leftovers of johnboats he built, sanded smooth with match boxes! He used every can he emptied, and every paper bag.

What kills me is the way we throw old tires in the river, or dump them on back roads. Our government could give 50 cents to everyone for an old tire at the tire shop and end the increasing number of old tires thrown in the rivers. We also should pay a nickel or so for every plastic bag you get at Walmart or the local grocery store. Charge a nickel for each, and then pay a nickel back for those returned.
Only in the past year have I learned about one of the greatest conservation businesses in the Ozarks, a grocery store named Aldi’s. If you haven’t been in one, you have not been conserving your money. I checked out a list of food and grocery items in Aldi’s compared to the local grocery store and found that for every 100 dollars I would spend at that store which distributes thousands of plastic bags to be found all over the Ozarks, I will spend only 88 dollars at Aldi’s, and the food is better.

Best of all, Aldi’s stores have no plastic bags… you bring your own containers or put your stuff in cardboard boxes the store sets aside after emptying them. And you put a quarter up for the shopping cart and when you put it neatly back where it came from you get the quarter back. None ever have to be collected from the parking lot. That is a way to save money and practice conservation even if you never get outdoors.

If they ever start paying fifty cents for tires and a nickel for plastic bags, I can give up writing and spend all my time outdoors, just like I did as a kid. When I was nine or ten I would make some pretty good money picking up pop bottles that were worth three cents each.

This year folks, try to find ways to practice conservation… ‘wise use’. And teach your kids the ‘reverence for life’ my dad taught me. If you will, it would make Dad proud to know his life was worth so much.

The article I wrote years ago about New Years Eve in the wilderness is on my website…www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com. Several people requested that I reprint it for them.