Monday, December 14, 2015

A Weekend for Boys

A group of boys admire the view from one of the cabins.


most of the crew working on the nature trail were fascinated by this huge hollow sycamore along the creek           

         We ate three squirrels here on Lightnin’ Ridge last week, two fox squirrels and one gray.  Fried, with gravy!  Hot dang was that a good meal.  Since I have owned many, many pet squirrels, you might think I would have an aversion to squirrel hunting but I don’t.  I like to eat them so much that at times I even thought about eating those pet squirrels, when they did things like making a hole in my screened porch or dumping a whole hummingbird feeder. 
         At one time in Ozarks history nearly everyone ate squirrels.  But changing times have put an end to that.  As an example, my dad and grandfather would cook the squirrels with heads intact and crack open the skulls to eat the brains.  We know now that eating the brains of squirrels is not wise, because of the chances of contracting something called ‘encephalitis’.  I never, ever ate squirrel brains.  Grandpa said it was a sign of rebellion in our youth, and he said it was a sight how young Ozarkians were changing, refusing to eat squirrel brains and no longer wearing over-alls to school. Of course, we didn't live during the depression.d

         But I cling to old ways and I love hunting squirrels.  This fall and early winter, there has been plethora of squirrels.  Grandpa never once said ‘plethora’.  He would describe the situation we have, with abundant numbers of squirrels, as them being “thicker than possums in a dead cow”.  I started out hunting squirrels with my dad’s Winchester 97 pump shotgun.  It was near about more than I could carry and even with low-powered shells it gave me quite a jolt when it went off.  But few squirrels got away. 
         Then for my eleventh birthday I got a small 16 gauge Iver-Johnson hammer single shot, and we ate squirrels until Mom refused to cook any more.  Now, I just love to hunt them with a .22 rifle, but I kill fewer than if I would use that little Iver-Johnson which hangs on the wall in my office right beside my dad’s old 97 Winchester. 
         Things do in fact change… once upon a time most every kid I knew could skin a squirrel.  Those days are gone, and Dad and Grandpa are gone too.  But there are still lots of squirrels, and they still are really, really good to eat. If you are going to teach your boy to hunt, you might try them, and walk back into the hardwood forest of yesterday.
         At this point in time, there isn’t much hope in changing anything in the future regarding our forests and streams and wildlife.  Our ever-increasing and overwhelming numbers in our country combined with unchecked immigration, will destroy all that is natural and beautiful someday, unless we destroy ourselves first.  But it is rewarding for me to be able to teach young boys that there is a better life than pavement and concrete and shopping centers and computers.  That’s why we planned and worked so hard to create our boy’s retreat on the fifty-acre tract of land north of Springfield about 40 miles. 
This is where the beaver swam out!
         This past weekend, I watched it all come to fruition as for the first time, 16 boys and 4 counselors came and spent two days.  It was everything I have hoped for.  We used both cabins, one with lofts for sleeping, and the big 5-bedroom “lodge” on the hilltop and in doing so, had plenty of room for everyone.  On Friday evening, we all went down to a gravel bar on the Creek, built a big bonfire and roasted hot dogs.  Several of the boys were sitting on a high bank looking down into the water about dark when a beaver swam out below them, only a few feet away.  You have to remember these are boys without fathers who have never been out of the city, never dreamed they would see a wild animal that close.

         Their counselors, headed by Mark Powell with Farmer’s Insurance in Springfield, do a great job of explaining to these boys what God expects of them.  I got to talk to them about alcohol and tobacco, and what I have seen it do, and I got to mention to them that all young men are born with talents and gifts endowed by the creator, and that a life lived in pursuit of fulfilling such special abilities is far more rewarding than just trying to make as much money as possible.
         They can see a great example of that right there.  On my land is an old iron bridge that was built in the 1880’s for horse and buggy traffic.  I am trying to figure out a way to have it donated to the state’s historical society in some manner, and give access to it through so many can see and enjoy it.  Meanwhile a man across the creek, said to be a large landowner, once a local politician with lots of money, is trying to get the county to tear the bridge down. He is doing so, I believe, with an eye on making lots of money from selling the bridge for scrap metal.

Hard at work, making a winding nature trail along the creek

Almost too high….

         On Saturday morning, for three hours, the boys and counselors and I built several hundred yards of nature trail along the creek, in what is the first stage of a trail we hope will wind for about two miles through the bottoms and ridges, where giant trees more than 200 years old can be found, an area full of birds and wildlife.  By spring, we hope this trail will be half finished, and these 16 boys can recall, as grown men, how they started it in December of 2015.  We still have much to do, with a trout pond and sports field to be built.

A drink from the artesian well, soon to be used to feed a trout pond where they can catch fish 


         I figure that each year we will have to come up with about 4000 dollars to pay insurance, taxes and electricity.  We’ll have some special events to raise money, and always list our donors, sending a once-a-year accounting for where each dollar comes from and how it is spent.  Already one man, on his own, has found and donated three bunk-beds by going to garage sales in the Ozarks, and he not only gave them to us but spent hours fixing and painting them. 
         I want for us to always spend each year just a little more than we get in donations, so there can never be those who are suspicious about what we are doing.  I also want as many people as possible to see this place and understand it’s potential for changing young lives of underprivileged children.  So this spring we will have another weekend get-together and a fish fry there, most likely in April.  I also want to encourage history buffs to come and see that 125-year-old iron bridge high over Brush Creek, and give me advice for saving it from a very greedy man who wants to tear it down.

        Pass the word to churches or organizations that work with underprivileged children that this amazing place is available and free to whomever would use it.  

         You can still order subscriptions to one of my magazines or one of the books I have written for a Christmas gift.  Just go to Lightnin' Ridge Publication web site for details.  I have worked up a good sales pitch, and last week I talked one fellow into ordering all of my books for his wife.  What a happy lady she is going to be on Christmas morning?!  My address is Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613 or email


area reader said...

One really obvious question here (and I am sure many others wonder the same) is how another matter how rich or politically connected they are..could do something with an old bridge that was on your property (and therefore would belong to you)! Also...don't know how anybody could "make lots of money" selling scrap now...because it is worth next to nothing...currently not worth labor to scrap anything out. Take care, area reader

Anonymous said...

I would image because the bridge is not on his property. Maybe he should have the land surveyed to prove that it's his.