Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Master Naturalists

diving ducks… called 'blue bills' by hunters,  greater scaup by ornthologists

puddle ducks,  blue-winged teal

-->        Once again it is the time of year for that age-old question… How do I keep squirrels out of my bird feeder?  I have found that squirrels eating bird-seed have a much better flavor than those found eating acorns.  

       Here are some nature questions you might find interesting. First, are there any mammals that reproduce by laying eggs?  What color is a giraffes tongue, blue, pink, black, red or green?  How do male giraffes fight, with their horns, their feet, their necks or their teeth?  True or false… some frogs in Africa swallow their eggs and their young climb out through the adults mouth. There are more than 300 species of humming birds somewhere… Where? Answers at the end of this column.

       I learned the answers to these questions by watching television.  I hate to admit that. That skinny little box is no doubt the devil’s most favored instrument, a place where you can see as many advertisements per hour as robins on a spring day. It is designed to ruin the minds and lives of millions of young people.  

       But when I get in from a tiresome day in the woods in the winter, I set back in my recliner and turn it on and usually go to sleep.  I notice that Marie Osmond spends more time grinning and talking about her stubborn belly fat than Matt Dillon does recovering from gunshot wounds.  Boy am I sick of that woman!

       The companies which provide television channels do not have to tell you the truth, or live up to anything they tell you.  I called one and told them I do not watch television much, I just need the old westerns, the nature channels, the Cardinal baseball games and occasionally a news channel.  No problem, they said, “we’ll fix that all up for 40 bucks.”        
       So I agreed and then I couldn’t get the Cardinal baseball games at all, but I had about 80 channels I wouldn’t watch except at the point of a gun. To date, after several months, nothing works right, and the first bill was a hundred and two dollars.  I called several times trying to get someone to fix a problem, and each time I got someone with a foreign accent I couldn’t understand. 

       So I asked to get it all unhooked and finally an English speaking employee decide to talk to me. She apologized and got the Cardinal baseball channel added. But she couldn’t remove the trashy stuff channels I had no interest in.  She told me that even though I only watch and ask for a dozen channels, I have to get all the others, and after one year the price will go up.  I told her to pass on to the main people at her company that when that happens, they can come and get the whole mess, because I won’t be paying them anymore. 

       I won’t miss the stuff most people watch television for, the slanted, biased and useless news mixed in with the advertisements which take up hours of viewing time.  But I will miss the nature channels.  With the Animal Planet channel, National Geographic, Discovery, the Travel Channel and British Broadcasting, I have often been fascinated and made aware of a natural world in the ocean, in the Arctic, in New Zealand and Australia and Africa.

      When those programs about history or geography or nature come on, I don’t drift off to sleep. I don’t have words to describe my amazement. The wonder of it, the beauty and peace found in those wild places where those cameramen I envy so much get to go, taking me to a world I could never have seen otherwise.

      Take my advice and spend some time with those channels. It is mesmerizing, photography that is mind-boggling.  It makes me think often of that first line or two of the song.. How Great Thou Art.  Indeed what a great Creator God is.

       If you are a hiker, this is the time of year to get out and see what the trail-followers do not see.  Strike out across the forests of south Missouri and north Arkansas where others do not go.  Go alone and stay off those beaten trails.  Take the bare necessities for a long day and see what others have not, from high promontories or along rocky creek bottoms, finding and exploring a cave here and there, finding a gushing spring, a rushing waterfall, trees that are two centuries old because they grow where the loggers cannot get them.

       Just last week a lady wrote me a letter, talking about being a member of a group of “Master Naturalists” in a Missouri city not far from this wooded ridge I live on. It made me think of a man at a sports show years ago who proudly announced himself as such in a boastful way.

       I pushed one of my magazines before him and asked him if he knew what species of duck that was on the cover, and what it did that other puddle ducks did not.  He just looked at it with a bewildered look… had no idea what it was, knew nothing about it.  The cover showed a baldpate, or widgeon, a puddle duck that likes to hang around diving ducks and steal food. Divers go way down deep to bring up vegetative matter that the widgeon can’t get to.

       Can you name ten puddle ducks, and a half dozen divers?  Any real naturalist can do that off the cuff. That Master Naturalist really got mad when I told him that true naturalists do not live in suburbs, they love the natural world so much they find a way to live close to it, far from the traffic jams which consume so much of his life.

       I worked for more than ten years as a PAID naturalist.  I spent a couple of years just out of college as the Chief Naturalist for Arkansas State Parks, giving hundreds of programs in those parks, conducting daily hikes with park visitors to teach them all I could about nature and conservation, and the web of life found in unaltered natural places. 

       Then for a couple of years or so, I worked as a paid national park naturalist at Buffalo National River.  During winter months I explored the Ouachita and Ozark mountains of Arkansas for the state’s Natural Heritage Commission, going into the wildest areas of the state to find and report on significant natural features, and plant and wildlife species I found there.  Again, I wasn’t there as an amateur, I was a paid naturalist. 

       For fifty years I have written about nature and the outdoors. I sell those articles to newspapers and magazines because they believe I have been there and done that.  I do not write about what I read out of some book, but what I see and hear and experience in wild, remote places.

       AND WITH ALL THAT, I NEVER WAS A MASTER NATURALIST.  I never knew anyone who was! Every trip outdoors then, and every trip now, I learned more and more.  I have studied the lives of great naturalist like Leopold, Muir, Audubon, Miner and Peterson.  Not one of those men would have accepted the term “Master Naturalist”. 
       There are indeed Master Electricians, Master Plumbers, Master Musicians, because they can learn all there is to know about what they do.  Naturalists cannot. Calling yourself that makes it obvious you haven’t spent enough time wearing out boot soles in far off wild places.  You haven’t been out there alone where bobcats bounce from tree limbs to rocky ledges as you slip close late in the evening, and a barred owl answers your call at mid-day. Bobcats and barred owls do not live in the suburbs.  Neither do naturalists.

      The giraffe has a black tongue, they fight with their necks, whipping with tremendous force at the body of their opponent.  There are 18 species of hummingbirds in North America, 308 species in South America. In Africa, a species of frog incubates eggs inside the stomach and the babies crawl out the mouth. One mammal lays eggs, from which her young hatches.  A Platypus!


Friday, January 20, 2017

The Breaks

Uncle Norton paddling Dad a few years ago, hoping to get ducks for dinner

        Sitting in the front of the boat, I held my shotgun and trembled a little with the excitement as we slowly floated forward toward the flock of mallards.  They seemed aware that the blind which grandpa had arranged on the bow out of sycamore and oak branches wasn’t quite right.  It looked like a floating brush pile, but perhaps they could see me poke my head above the brush on occasion to get a better look. 

         Gosh, those bright green heads were beautiful, milling about on that shimmering, bright water shoal below us.  My grandpa was masterful with that sassafras paddle, maneuvering the old wooden johnboat downstream slowly.  We would soon be right in the middle of that unsuspecting flock of eight or ten mallards.

When the branch hit the water, I watched the mallards take to flight
   And then it happened!  By a peculiar circumstance of bad luck, a big dead sycamore branch hanging put over the river between the ducks and our boat, snapped under the weight of lingering snow and an alighting kingfisher, and plunged into the river. With a frenzy of rushing wings and erupting water, and an old hen quacking in panic, the mallards took to flight and were gone.

         I think that’s when I heard it first.  Grandpa uttered an oft-exclaimed expletive and said, “THE GAME GETS ALL THE BREAKS!!” I heard that often over the years, hunting with my dad and grandpa and Uncle Norton.  Dad said it often as sort of a tribute to Grandpa, but I came to know that it seemed to be a true statement.

         Sitting in the woods along the creek a short distance from my Panther Creek Cabin last week, I thought of that as a rush of memories of those great times I had as a boy came back to me.  In my hands was a weapon Grandpa would perhaps have laughed at… a crossbow.  I can hear him saying…  “Yore huntin’ turkeys with that there contraption?”

         As the last weekend of the archery season approached, along with a cold freezing rain that was only hours away, I built a good fire in my cabin and peered out the window.  There they were… a goshawful string of wild turkeys across the clover patch, moving past the plot of milo and into the woods.  It was easy to count them, in a long procession of one or two or three at a time.  Fifty-one in all.
         The huge flock, mostly young of the year and old hens, crossed the creek and went out into a field on the other side.  I knew they would come back across in an hour or so, to roost on the timbered ridge back behind me, above the bottoms they had just crossed.  So I took my crossbow and got myself substantially hidden along the creek with my back to a big sycamore and waited.  At that time I was about 73 percent convinced that I would be bringing a young turkey back to the cabin about sunset.  It is hard to miss 51 turkeys if two or three of them pitch across the creek together.

         And then it came back to me, what Grandpa always said… “the game gets all the breaks.”  The break those turkeys got was the fact that I had sat down in the wrong place!  I watched them cross the creek and head up into the woods just above my cabin, all 51 of them, one or two or three at a time about 75 yards downstream.

         I muttered that oft heard excuse my grandfather had made famous, and then enjoyed the ambience.   Three red-headed woodpeckers seemed to be fighting along the creek, causing me to realize that this year I have seen more of them on Panther Creek than I ever can recall seeing along any stream. Contemplating why that might be, I glance out into the woods on my left and there stood a nice young buck!

         That’s the way deer do on occasion.  You are sitting somewhere wondering why women can’t think more like men, or why God lets there be so many crooked lawyers and all of a sudden there is a deer, just materializing before you. This one had a medium-sized set of antlers, but at 60 yards there isn’t a hunter in the world who could have said for sure if he was an eight-pointer or six-pointer, nor if he had a brow tine an inch long or shorter.

         Me, I didn’t care… it is the one game regulation too stupid to give any regard to. Most agents ignore it anyway, and there will be a time when that regulation, which never had any biological basis, or any conservation value, will be gone and forgotten.  It will someday be a remnant of an ill-advised rule, created by conservation department officials who spent too much time in an office and not enough time outdoors. A rule made by men in suits who needed to know more about deer hunting than any of them did.
         Earlier this year I killed a buck with my crossbow at 40 yards, a heart shot right where the green dot of my scope settled.  So I figured with the power the crossbow has, a sixty-yard shot was feasible.  I watched him for a while and then aimed eight-inches above the heart and squeezed the trigger.  I couldn’t see where the arrow went, but he jumped and milled around for a while without running.

         A crossbow makes a thumping sound, but not enough to alarm much of anything in the woods. The buck certainly wasn’t hit.  I reloaded and got ready for another shot, but he walked away, joined a doe, and disappeared.  I found the arrow embedded in a bank just past where he had stood.  I think if I had held that sight sixteen inches above his heart, I would have put a third buck in my freezer this winter.  But what the heck, I have two, and they will be enough to make a lot of steak and hamburger and jerky when I get the time to work it all up in February. I take care of my own venison and I treasure the meat that comes as a result of that effort.

         As the freezing rain began that night I sat back and watched the fire in my cabin and heard a limb or two crack down on the creek. I thought of those poor turkeys sitting on a branch somewhere up the hillside. The woodpeckers take refuge in hollow spots in the branches, but God made turkeys so big they have to just sit out there and take it.  Doesn’t seem fair does it?

         I looked for the turkeys awhile the next morning. They had just disappeared. Then I walked up to the main lodge on a high point a mile or so to the east, and folks, I swear this is the truth.  That whole flock was milling about that big house, some within ten feet of the window on the west side!  If I had spent the night there, I could have plugged one out the bedroom window!

         I wouldn’t have done that of course, never shot anything out of any kind of window and never will.  But I think Grandpa would have.  He hunted for different reasons, and he would have welcomed a wild turkey dinner no matter how he got it.  Besides that, he was a little more of a believer in getting what you could get when you could get it.  He didn’t feel sorry for anything he looked at down the barrel of his gun because when it came right down to it, back then, he lived with the conviction that--- “The game gets all the breaks!”

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Work at Panther Creek paying off!!

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

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

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

New Directions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Old Things At Panther Creek

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


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

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Most Valuable Tree


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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