Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Grouse hunting


Canadian Grouse


        If you don’t see one close up, I don’t know that you would describe the male ruffed grouse as a beautiful bird.  They are a little bit drab.


       They are a bird of thick undergrowth in heavy forests. Before the time of intense logging of pines all through the Arkansas and Missouri Ozarks about 150 years ago, they thrived throughout these timbered hills.  But the ruffed grouse can’t live with people and agriculture.


       They aren’t wild and wary like the quail and the pheasant.  They are birds that were once called fool hens because they trusted people too much.  They often ran around on the shaded ground of the Ozark thickets right before the guns of hunters, or perhaps flew up into a nearby tree to look at them only a few yards away.

       I never saw a ruffed grouse in the Ozarks, but I love to hunt them in Canada in the fall. This past October, with the northern woods ablaze in color, Tinker Helseth and I headed down an old gravel road in my pickup, in Northwest Ontario, to find one of those trails local Indians have made to run their ATV’s back to small lakes where they trapped minnows to sell to bait shops.


       You can’t hunt grouse by just setting out through the woods in Canada.  A weasel can hardly get through those thickets!  Grouse can, but you can’t. But they love those trails because some clover and undergrowth buds are easily found there. 

    Gloria Jean and I, with my Labrador, Rambunctious, used to walk those trails. The Lab would find the birds just off the trails and he learned to circle them and flush them out into the open. The hunting was absolutely great, right out of some 1930's outdoor magazine. In three or four hours we always got a limit, even in those years when they went through the low part of their population cycles, which seems to occur every seven years.

But my Labrador that I have now just turned a year of age and I didn’t take him to Canada this year.  Next year perhaps, after he gets a lot of experience hunting ducks.


      Tinker and I never made it to the trails I wanted to walk.  Before we were a mile into the bush there was a ruffed grouse, feeding in the grass in the middle of the road. He just sat there, 50 yards away, so at Tinker’s urging I got out the shotgun, loaded it and walked toward the grouse.  I got to within 25 yards of the darn bird and he wouldn’t fly.  Walking into the heavy cover beside the road, he just disappeared.  So I walked in behind him, ready for him to fly.  He didn’t, he just disappeared.


      I killed 4 grouse that morning by hunting them like they were rabbits back home.  Only one grouse flew after he scurried into the underbrush and ran behind a rock. I shot at him and missed him!  I shot the others as they scurried along into thickets or as just as they sat there and looked at me.  One time I had to back up a few yards because he was so close and yet about to disappear into thick cover, logs and boulders.

    It reminded me of when I was a boy in the pool hall and I chastised Ol’ Jim for shooting two mallards with one shell as they sat on a farm pond.  I told him that wasn’t ‘sportin’!  He looked at me disgustedly and said, “I shoot pool for sport, boy… I shoot mallards for eatin’!

        I had a great time fishing and hunting back in Canada, but as far as grouse hunting, at least this last trip, I shot grouse for eatin’.  Tinker thought that is what we were out there for. But next year I intend to take my young Lab and walk those trails like I did with the pup’s great grandfather years ago.         


      You might enjoy seeing my photos of Canadian grouse hunting over the years on this website… larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com


      Oh by the way, ruffed grouse are great eating, distinctively flavored. You just brown them in a buttered skillet, then cook them in a crockpot for hours, seasoned and simmered with mushroom and celery soup.

This is a little bit different.  Near Hermitage MO, there is a beautiful, tame fox with a collar on, obviously an escaped pet.  It looks nothing like a grey or red fox, undoubtedly a cross between perhaps a red fox and arctic fox. What a beauty it is.  I will put its photo on that blogspot of mine too.

       Fur farms raise these foxes, making a lot of money from the furs. They sometimes sell the kits (babies).  Game Wardens in the Hermitage area try to catch it but can’t.  They tell folks they are sure it has distemper, which is ridiculous.  Apparently they have never seen and animal with distemper! 


      Anyways, no one will ever catch the animal even though it is domesticated, without knowing how to lure it into a live trap. You can only do that with some know-how and effort, with some sardines and a very well concealed cage-type live trap.


       Next week I will tell you more about foxes, and why you cannot possibly make a pet out of any species of fox.       

       All my books and magazines can be seen on www.larrydablemont.com.  They make economical Christmas gifts for those who like to read.                            

Monday, November 15, 2021

Known by many names


Sick doe


       I will end what I have been writing about what is known as “Chronic Wasting Disease” by saying that it should not be called that anymore, nor by any other of a half dozen common names used to describe it.  When found in deer and elk, it is ‘Spongiform Encephalopathy’, which occurs in several mammals, INCLUDING MAN.  You CAN get it from eating the meat of infected cattle, sheep, goats, elk or deer!


       If anyone dies from it, doctors or coroners can only tell they have it by finding what they call prions, in the brain or spinal fluid through an extensive autopsy.  Those who die from it are very often misdiagnosed as dying from some other disease, because prions are not looked for.  But I will repeat what I said in my last column… a study of brain samples of approximately 300 people who died from what was thought to be Alzheimer’s disease” showed that’s about 10 percent of them had prions in the brain.

       Let me add that doctors don’t know all the answers yet to this disease… but none of them will tell you that human’s cannot get it from eating diseased animal meat.  Thousands have died from eating cattle in England with spongiform encephalopathy, known commonly as ‘mad cow disease’.  If you talk to those who know the disease, they will tell you that there are variations in prions and that one variation may not be a problem for anything but animals.


       That was what game and fish departments once told hunters.  They wanted to convince them not to worry about getting the prions from elk and deer.  THAT CONCEPT IS BLATANTLY UNTRUE!  If you are making millions from selling elk and deer tags, you are scared to death that the truth will cut into your revenue.

I tell hunters “ don’t believe what I am telling you or what conservation departments have said in the past, just to study the disease as much as possible and do the things that protect you AFTER you have killed the deer.  I covered that in last week’s column.  You should have your deer checked after killing it, before you start gutting it and for certain, before you begin to process it.

         Do not eat any untested deer.  I would never take a deer to a processing plant, because they process hundreds of untested deer.  What if there were diseased deer processed before yours.  What if you get someone else’s deer meat mixed with yours.  Think it never happens in those places? If there ever was a higher chance of getting prions into your system it is through those “share your harvest programs”.  In a later column, I will tell you things about those venison distribution programs you do not know, and you need to know.  It is just as much a “get rid of everything but the antlers” program so trophy hunters can dump venison they do not want without breaking the law against wanton waste of wildlife.

       To get confirmation about much of what I say here, go to the Internet and read all you can about it.  You are going to be surprised that those who study it do not say what you are being told by those who want more deer tags to be sold each year.  And do you wonder why then, that there are no articles in newspapers about those who have died from the disease, like Mrs. Schroeder’s husband.  That’s Taboo for the news media.  You read in this column last week about the researchers who are trying to find out more about spongiform encephalopathy who have died from it.  You’ll read about that nowhere else!

    Now let me add that about 75 percent of the deer disease they want to call chronic wasting disease shows up in older bucks, almost never in young deer, and seldom in female deer.  That is why I urge you, if you kill a buck, to use good heavy up-to-the-elbow rubber gloves when you clean it and GET IT TESTED!

And never eat venison someone else gives you!  Read, study and know the truth.

Next week, hunting the ruffed grouse.


If you know folks who like to read about the outdoors, tell them about the new books and magazines on my website, www.larrydablemont.com and read past columns of mine on www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com   You can write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613 or email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

What IS the Truth About a Horrible Disease


       It is called spongiform encephalopathy and it amounts to little more than malformed proteins called prions, getting into the brain.  That’s what it is, period!!  You can call it chronic wasting disease, mad cow disease, scrapies, Creutzfeldt-Jakobs disease… whatever.  But it is a malady involving those ‘prions’ in whatever variants there are, getting into the brain. 


       A few years ago, a little over 300 brain samples from people who had died and were diagnosed as Alzheimer disease victims.  There were prions found in more than 30 of those brain samples, meaning they had died of what the disease is called when found in humans--Creutzfeldt-Jacobs’ Disease…(which IS Spongiform Encephalopathy) and had been misdiagnosed. If you talk to the right people, especially those who are afraid they will lose lots of money if there is a scare among deer and elk hunters that it is a danger to humans, they will tell you that humans cannot get the disease from deer and elk, only from cattle. That is not true! I know seven people died of prion infestation in Arkansas in 2019 and one was a taxidermist.  He wasn’’t mounting cow heads!

        So I will repeat… the disease, whether the prions vary in shape or not, is Spongiform Encephopathy, and you sure as heck can get it from a deer that has it!  In research I have done on the disease, I have talked to people whose relatives have died from the prions in their brain, which they got from eating deer.  And if you talk to the conservation people hoping they don’t sell fewer deer tags because hunters learn the truth, they will tell you….Prove it!!  How do you know that person didn’t get the disease from sheep, cows, goats, antelope, or buffalo? 

        And no one CAN prove it… prions are prions. But what has happened in French and Italian Labs where they are studying the prions, might make any hunter cautious about eating deer meat.  Lab workers have died simply because they ran a prion-filled needle through rubber gloves into their fingers, and from that, developed spongiform encepalopathy and died from a prion infestation in their brains which developed.  One of the two died within a short time, but the other lab worker died of the disease thirteen years later.

       I had a sad conversation only a few years ago with a lady from Camdenton who told me that her husband died from the human name for Spongiform Encephalopathy, known as Cruetzfeldt-Jakobs disease. Her name was Carol Schroeder. Her husband’s death was due to the same horrible disease that biologists call ‘chronic wasting disease’ in deer and elk, determined by the Center for Disease Control in Atllanta Georgia. He had died in a St.Louis hospital in a quarantined room and that his body was taken to the crematory by police escort to be sure that if any accident occurred on the way his body would not be handled by unknowing first responders.  All that was set up and controlled by the CDC, not local doctors.

       “I never believed in assisted suicide,” she told me, but I would have given anything if it could have happened for my poor husband.” Mrs Schroeder told me.  “It took him two months to die and what he went through, what I saw as his brain deteriorated, I cannot even talk about it to this day.”  

       Deer hunters and those who eat venison, need to hear from Mrs. Schroeder and others who have witnessed Spongiform Encephalopathy, people like Bill Zippro from Joplin who lost his brother to the disease the year after his brother killed a big-antlered buck that didn’t seem to be wild. He thinks it had been released from a nearby pen-raised deer facility, after they saw it was sick and wanted to protect other deer in their operation. 

        If you want to hunt deer, do it.  I won’t! Not ever again. I have learned too much about the prions. I can’t say one way or another in any uncertain manner if deer hunters are in danger of getting the disease. I CAN give some sound, solid advice… NEVER eat venison that someone else has killed and butchered, and though it was an accepted thing to do for years past, DO NOT EAT DEER MEAT THAT COMES FROM THE ‘SHARE YOUR HARVEST PROGRAM which the MDC has carried forth for years and years. You cannot be sure there are no prions in that meat you receive.


       Have any deer tested BEFORE YOU GUT IT!   If you disregard that advice, DO NOT clean a deer shot in the spinal column or brain.  Don’t cut through any bone; just cut the meat off the carcass without causing any cuts or damage to the spinal column or any bone marrow.  And don’t even touch any deer that appears to be sick, or acting strangely.

       Next week, as deer season begins, I will write more about what I have learned through investigating this disease and what is being learned about it.  I will still have an article on grouse hunting soon, as I said I would last week, but right now I think some more info on deer and the prion disease needs to come forth.  You will not hear any of this anywhere else in the news media.  Many newspapers will not print this column, as the conservation departments do not approve of it.  It might result in fewer deer tags being sold.

        My fall magazines, one on the outdoors, and one on the history of the Ozarks, are finished… 82 pages, all color.  If you want to see past magazine issues and the eleven books I have written, go to my website, www.larrydablemont.com. If you want to order any of them you should call me at 417 777 5227. Photos and past columns are found on www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com

Friday, November 5, 2021

The Canada Goose—In Canada. (photos of trumpeter swans, grouse I got, and fish we caught)


     When I was in Nestor Falls, Northwest Ontario in October, I stayed about ten days. Besides fishing by myself, I spent some time with Tinker Helseth's son-in-law, Dallas Mosbeck, who like Tinker is a bush pilot and Lake of the Woods hunting and fishing guide. 


Dallas with his Canadian goose

  One morning I got up at 4:30 and went goose hunting with him about an hour north of the Canada border and an hour south of Nestor Falls.

    I have hunted geese for many years in Manitoba crop fields, but that country is a different world altogether. Most of northwest Ontario is heavy forest, but in the south part of that province there are quite a few fields interspersed amongst the expanse of trees and lakes, where permanent pasture and a few cropfields are found.
And with them, lots of geese.

To hunt Canada geese there, Dallas purchased blinds that lie flat on the ground, well camouflaged, with decoys all around them. I figure with those two blinds and likely two- dozen of the most realistic goose decoys I have ever seen, he likely has 500 dollars or so invested in goose hunting.  

realistic decoys

But it was a morning to remember, as every ten minutes or so a flock of 10 to 20 geese came gliding in over us, honking away, sometimes only 15 or 20 feet above us. Let me say right here that those coffin-like blinds are much better for sleeping than they are for shooting out of. I napped a little in the warm summer-like sunshine. 

      I also missed my share of easy shots because the geese can get the heck out of there in a hurry when you fling the lid on that blind open. But the limit is five geese and in three hours and twenty shells, which today cost about a dollar and a quarter apiece, Dallas and I brought down 6 geese that morning and it was a hunt to remember.  

     But he and I saw something amazing that morning when a young mallard flew past and from out of nowhere a peregrine falcon nailed him from above and drove him into the ground. There was high grass there and somehow the falcon lost the duck in the grass. He soared around diving and sweeping over the area, and eventually winged away. An hour later I walked over to see if the duck was dead and could not find him. But suddenly, from underneath a green clump of high pasture grass, the young drake, not even close to having his winter plumage sprang to flight as if he hadn’t been hurt.  

     I’d like to think he will soar over my decoys here on some Ozarks water, in full winter color, and I will have him for dinner, just like that peregrine falcon meant to do. The way I was shooting in Canada he might cost me two or three shells.

     I ate one of those geese last week… grilled breasts cut into small steaks with bacon, green peppers and onions on long wooden skewers… unbelievably good for supper. And let me assure you, if I didn’t like geese for supper I would never raise a gun barrel again to bring one down.

      I will only write one more column about my October trip to Canada, next week, writing about hunting ruffed grouse. But there was so much more from that stretch of time. My great grandfather was a French trapper from Ontario, and my great grandmother a Cree Indian woman. Maybe that’s why it draws me like it does. I love the place, so few people and so few problems. And because I love using a camera, I got some great photos of the wildlife, fish, birds and wild country. I have put many of those photos on my website, www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com A pair of trumpeter swans put on a show for me. Take a look at their antics in my photos.

Trumpeter Swans putting on a fantastic display

Grouse I was hunting
Grouse I was hunting

I ended up getting three

Canadian goggle-eye are big

Dallas shows how big crappie get also
While fishing, a loon decided to join us

Thursday, October 28, 2021

An Underwater World




       What a wonderful time it is to be outdoors… as the temperature cools and all of nature seems painted by the Master Artist’s brush. Finally the darn spider webs are gone from woodland trails. If you find a place to walk through a real forest, unmarred by the hands of man, you cannot help but have your spirits lifted.          

    There isn’t a therapist in the world who can give a man answers to his problems which compare to those he can find alone, walking through a woodland in October, or drifting down a river, eyes and ears and nose tuned to a world where everything is as the creator made it.



       A few years back, I wrote about gigging in Ozark rivers, and mentioned seeing river redhorse suckers between 10 and 15 pounds as a boy.  Shortly afterward I received this letter from someone by the name of Brown.

-----“Like Ronald Reagan said ‘There you go again’! The state record red horse is just over 8 pounds. But you’ve seen 10-15 pounders? Ha ha ha ha ha!  Man are you full of it!… yuk yuk yuk.” ----

       Mr. Brown is convinced the book he has is the last word in the subject, but there are many of us who actually spent time on our rivers 60 years ago and saw much larger river redhorse.  In William L. Pflieger’s book, “The Fishes of Missouri,” he writes this about the river redhorse…, “length and weight in Missouri streams seldom exceeds 26.1 and 8.25 pounds now, but the present state fishing record is 17 pounds.”

Mr. Brown is guilty of what so many of our present-day biologists and overnight naturalists are guilty of… relying on whatever book they have read, and not spending enough time outdoors… not having been there. I have been there!!! I grew up using those books too, but also spending enough time outdoors to see and learn things on my own.  Natural history books are not always accurate, nor are present day wildlife biologists. For whatever reason, while we have smaller individuals of that species still fairly abundant in some rivers, those big, river redhorse suckers do not exist anymore.  But they did once, and believe me, there was a time when even larger specimens than that recorded 17-pounder swam in our Ozark rivers. My grandfather gigged many of those big ones, and I saw them… and ate them. Anyway, thanks for the letter Mr. Brown, I hope you have learned something today… yuk, yuk, yuk.


Anyone who wants to know about the outdoors has to spend a great deal of time in the woods and on the waters! When it comes to the outdoors and fish and wildlife, the books and the Internet are often wrong, as in this case.  There are five different redhorse sucker species in Ozark streams, and the largest is the river redhorse.  Who knows what happened to the river redhorse that we knew fifty or sixty years ago? They were a fish with average weights way above 8 pounds. Maybe it is the declining quality of our streams, maybe it is an inherited genetic defect, maybe it was over-harvesting. 

       William Pflieger was one of the best fisheries biologists Missouri ever had. He started working for the Missouri Conservation Commission in 1961, and first published his book in 1975.  He worked with some of the best, biologists Otto Fajen, Fred Vasey and George Fleener, to compile the information found in the book.  If you are interested in fish, it is a book you need to get ahold of.  That was a different state agency than we have today.  The name of the agency was different and the men who worked for them were different, and the goals were different as well.


In the night, beneath bright lights, the bottom of an Ozark river was once a fascinating world of many creatures, and seeing it was absolutely amazing.  I saw the rivers when the gravel hadn’t filled the deep eddies, and the big rocks and underwater caves could still be seen.  Back then, you didn’t see the slime and algae there is today.  Even golden redhorse, black redhorse suckers, and hog-molly suckers were so much bigger and more numerous back then. But too, there was just so much more life in those waters.  It is seeing that underwater world in that time which makes one realize how fish numbers are being reduced, from the largest to the very smallest.  If you saw the bottom of a river in the sixties, and you see the same substrate in the same place now, you absolutely will not believe what has happened to them.


I hope readers will visit my website, www.larrydablemont.com to see the outdoor books and magazines we produce.  And you should know that you can read this column each week on the computer under larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com when your local newspaper has space problems and cannot run it.  We have a new book coming out soon, and you can learn about it by calling my office, 417 777 5227




Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Golden Bass



       There wasn’t anything about that point to tell me it was any special hideout for bass. I knew I’d love to fish it sometimes when the wind wasn’t blowing across it. But that’s what you deal with on Canadian lakes. All the old time Canadian guides and experienced anglers I learned from 40 and 50 years ago said it over and over, “Fish the points, fish the points.”


       ‘Reefs’ they often called them, because sometimes, big boulders ran off them for 29 yards or more, then there would be a drop-off of perhaps 25 to 40 feet. In those drop-offs, in the fall, you found smallmouth, walleye, yellow perch and often crappie.


    Only two of those four species of fish were found in Canada in 1900. Can you guess which two?  I will tell you at the end of this column.


       I had trailered my boat from Lake of the Woods to a small lake only five miles away. It was only about a mile wide and three miles long but Tinker Helseth’s son-in-law, Dallas, said it was a good lake for smallmouth bass. Back in August he told me about a reef jutting out from a bank which had underwater boulders under the surface a few feet. You could see them in the clear water and if you worked top-water Rapala lures over them while sitting out aways on the lake, you could see smallmouth from 10 to 15 inches long came up and whack those lures like a Lynx going after a pine marten. The strikes were vicious, not a lot of surface commotion, just a flash of gold or brown, and a four-inch lure sucked under. With that, four-pound line stretched taut and an ultralite rod bent nearly double. The water was still and deep to each side of those boulders, little wind on an August afternoon and it was wonderful.


       A smallmouth bass that was 12- to 15- inches long was a battler on my light rod. But I drifted out a little to the end of the reef and decided that I might catch a big walleye in that deep water around me. So I tied on a jig and retrieved a dead minnow out of a bucket I had brought along. You catch most of your walleye on jigs and minnows in that Lake of the Woods region.


       Walleye seldom hit a dead one, but bass and crappie will.  In just a few seconds off the end of that reef, I lifted my jig off the bottom a few inches and felt a weight on the line so I set the hook into the jaw of a hefty fish. At the time I was using that same light spinning outfit with four-pound line that was a year and a half old. I know better than to do that, but it seemed strong enough. The bass in the depths below me fought hard and I gave him line by loosening my drag. I could do that because in the depths of 25 or 30 feet there was nothing he could get around to help him escape, or so I hoped. But I desperately wanted to see that fish.


       It is easy to tell a big bass from a big walleye in Canada after 40 some years of hooking each. I knew what he was, but I didn’t know how big he was. In a few minutes I did.


       He seemed to tire and the arc in that light rod eased a little. Fishermen dream of a fight like that, maybe a six-pound bass, easily well over five. And finally there he was, surrendering to lay on his side, not a dark brown bass like I so often see in the Ozarks, but a light bronze or golden color.


       On the other side of my boat I had a nice-sized dip net, but the big bass seemed whipped so I just reached down to grab his jaw, seeing the jig firmly embedded in the side of his mouth.  He’d be released anyway, the fight was over, but I couldn’t wait to get a picture of this bass, at least 20 to 21 inches in length.


       My thumb had just touched his lip when he mustered one last lunge, burrowing toward the depths and snapping the line with his last effort. I have measured a lot of lunker bass, both black and brown , and you don’t catch a lot of bass longer than that one, even in the Ozarks.  He was broad-shouldered, shaped like a football rather than long and lean as our Ozark smallmouth are. What was really exceptional was not his length, but his width.  I think he was seven inches or so below the dorsal fin and thick as my grandma’s biscuits! I tipped my cap to him and told him I would be back in October.


       So last Monday on my birthday, I kept my promise. That is when I wound up on that windy point; about forty yards from the end of the reef where the golden bass had took that jig away from me.  The wind encountered each October was prevalent, and I used it to take me over the point again and again.  On every pass I caught a bass between 15 and 20 inches, but not that big one.  Maybe he lay in the depths telling other lunkers like him to beware of that rubber lure.  Some didn’t listen.  But for a few hours, it was the best birthday I can remember.  In all the years of going to Canada, I have never seen the equal to it.  I believe a lone angler like me could easily catch a couple hundred smallmouth there.  Lots would be smaller; the lake has plenty of 8 to 10 inch brownies that pester you to death while you pursue their grandparents.  If there is no photo of a bass with this column, you can see a 19 inch golden smallmouth and other Canada photos on your computer. www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com


    I’ll write more about my 10-day October trip to Northwest Ontario, fishing, hunting grouse and geese, and enjoying the mildest October they have ever had.  And I will tell you more about the fish, including smallmouth and crappie, which once did not exist in Canada anywhere.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Storm


The storm recedes at dawn, photo by Jim Gaston


       I awakened on Saturday morning about four o’clock, and fixed up a cup of coffee before going out on my screened porch in the darkness to sit and listen to the gentle rain falling.


       It is strange for me to have a time that it is difficult to write, or to go through a time when I have trouble sleeping through the night.  But I am troubled now, by what is going on in the Ozarks, and the nation. There are some nightmares in which I see things coming I would not like to see. 


       My perch here on the highest point of this county looks out across a wide river valley, and the distant ridge on the other side of it is miles and miles away.  But there on the porch as I relax in an old rocking chair and listen to the rain, I can see that far-away ridge from time to time, in flashes of white which play across the western sky.  I try to count off seconds between the time I see it and the time I hear the thunder.  At first it is 22 seconds.  I think that is supposed to mean the storm is that many miles away.  That rumbling of thunder in the darkness is a beautiful sound, combined with the slow rain on the metal roof.


       I thought, that morning, of all the nights I have laid in a gravel bar tent, just loving the sound of a gentle rain falling through sycamore branches, knowing and apprehensive about what is coming. That rumble in the distance is soon going to sweep over that peaceful, flowing river, and the lightning bolts will be crashing down, taking away the sound of a nearby shoal, making it impossible to sleep.  But then the storm passes and a welcome still morning takes its place.  My dreams are something like that, but what I hear isn’t thunder and lightning, it is another kind of distant roar, and it is coming slowly to destroy this whole nation.  It is something you can’t sleep through.


       And then, in a night as black as a politician’s soul, there is another bright, white sky, and the rumble count becomes 16.  The storm is moving fast.  The rain is picking up a little, and on the open deck to the north side of the covered porch where my coffee cup now sits empty, acorns whack down from the big white oak which towers over it.  It is the same every October in the past thirty years.  What a racket we have to contend with, and it is a wonder that two or three acorns no bigger than the end of my thumb can sound so loud and intrusive, falling onto a board floor.  That oak tree sits next to it, at least 200 years old.  Should a coming storm ever shatter its giant base; the limbs much bigger than my leg will be lying across my bed.  But for now it stands just like it has since before the civil war, showering my roof with acorns in the fall, sounding like someone is throwing rocks.


       In the darkness below my perch there are about 25 huge trees made up of about ten or eleven species.  Hickories and walnuts are falling now too, and it is good to know we are going to have a good winter mast crop.  In January, those acorns, way down into the deep woods, will be eaten up, by most ever kind of bird and mammal that roams lightnin’ ridge. Sometimes, in the dream that wakes me up, I envision a time when there isn’t plenty for everyone, when inevitably, the earth revolts against too many and too much.  Once in Arkansas I saw a huge migration of squirrels across Bull Shoals Lake and I remember there were thousands of them moving, in search of a better place.  Then days later there were hundreds of dead squirrels in the lake.  Made me think of the plagues of locusts in the Bible.  There were no acorns to be found in the wake of that migration. Among men there is a migration which will result in turmoil you do not see in nature.


       A chinquapin oak behind my place has already been hit by lightning, the first night I moved my family onto this high, wooded ridge.  But it survived it and is doing well, with a big scar down it’s trunk.  The night sky becomes white again, and now I see a streak of lightning, a bolt from high places which strikes the ground somewhere in the deep valley before me.  I count again.  The thunder comes in 6 seconds, no longer a gentle rumble but a loud and ominous roar from the heavens.  A couple of minutes later I hear another kind of roar, which is the sound of heavy rain hitting the earth perhaps a mile away.  It moves slowly, but as steady as daylight appearing through the timber to the east on a calmer day.  Soon it is becoming a roar only a few hundred yards to the west of me, and then in minutes there comes a subdued whisper of cool water against the warm dry earth, then the sound of bigger raindrops rushing through the foliage, coming to a crescendo against the roof of my porch.  There is that smell of fresh rain, a smell that makes you breathe deeply to pull in the scent.  Many things no writer can describe, and that scent is one of them.  I sit in the darkness hoping that the lightning will pass and the rain will continue. But as in my dreams, the worst of the storm is coming!


        The river in the valley below me has been low, but now the shoals will run swift again. My old johnboat sits in the trees below me. I will sit in it soon, paddling down that river looking for ducks or trying to tease a bass with some old lure, now the worse for wear after too many days on the river and many, many fish. I don’t know why I cling to the past so tightly, but old lures are better, to me. Then, as a bolt of lightning cracks down on something only few hundred yards away from my porch, I decide I will go inside. It’s funny, but you can smell a close lightning strike too.


        Finally, we have the rain we’ve been needing.  It makes me think of my Dad, who often said, as we took cover in some Piney River cave to wait out a storm… “It rains on the just and the unjust… and they just ain’t nothin’ you can do about it.”  Then he would light his pipe, lean back against the dry rock wall and ask if I had pulled the boat up high enough on the gravel bar, JUST in case the river started rising.  I always wondered if I had… if I had done a good enough job and was what Dad wanted me to be. From the shelter of the cave I would peer into the deluge, worried about whether the storm would pass on or stay. But always, the rain and thunder would recede and we would go on down the river as foliage dripped and the clouds began to break open.


       Now when I wake up early, before a storm comes I might wish I could go back to sleep and be comforted by the coming smell of fresh rain, the gentle rumble of distant thunder and the lightning flashing, still far, far away and feel as safe as I did in those caves with my dad. But in the dreams that awaken me in a panic, sometimes I see huge bolts of fire, and hear thunder as loud as explosions in our cities that are felt all over the world. I see strong trees splintered in awful winds, and rivers flooded by great torrents never seen before.  And I can smell burnt earth. 


       But then the daylight comes and I know that what is beyond that distant horizon is not here in the Ozarks. We should all be glad of that, being born and raised in this part of the country instead of those tormented cities where the war is on the way, if not there already, like a giant unstoppable storm. It will reach the Ozarks too, someday, but not soon I hope.

On Lightnin' Ridge, roses still bloom, birds still sing and my Labrador chases squirrels. It reminds me then, of something my Dad also said often, as we floated down the river. “This is a day the Lord has made, rejoice and be glad about it.” And whether there is a storm here at dawn on Lightnin’ Ridge or the sun bathes the forest brightly as it climbs high in a blue sky, I try to remember that!