Tuesday, October 25, 2022

When Your Boat Leaves You


When you can provide someone with a good laugh and it lasts all day, you have really accomplished something.  And here is how I did it.


Dennis Whitesides, an old friend who I have fished and hunted with since college days, showed up at my place with nothing to do, and so we went fishing.  And we were really into the fish, catching them right and left up against a little rocky bluff, when I cast too far and got my lure up on the bank.

It doesn’t sound like something a grizzled old veteran outdoorsman like me would do, but I think I was distracted by something and there was my lure, about halfway up that rock embankment jutting out in deep water, stuck tight.  So I went to get it, and when I came in close, I tried to pull my trolling motor up so it wouldn’t bang into the rock ledge. Somehow it got lodged in a crevice when it was halfway up, with the prop and motor at the base of the shaft really wedged tightly, in danger of being bent or broken. 

I stepped out on the little rock outcropping, which was about three feet above the water, and started trying to unwedge the motor, and when I did the absence of my weight caused the bow of my boat to come up rapidly, wedging the motor even worser then it was when I first done it.

So I stepped over onto the bow of the boat with one foot, shifting my weight to push the boat down, leaving the other foot on the rock ledge.  Now if you can recreate the whole thing in your mind, I have one foot on the boat, one on the bank, and I am straining hard to pull that motor out of the crevice with one hand, holding the rod in the other. All of a sudden, the motor came out.


So there I am, still clutching my rod, and unable to grab anything, with my weight pushing the boat away, and not nearly enough of my body over the rock ledge to jump out on it.  Quickly there became a widening gap about three feet below me, filled with very cool lake water.


There comes a time, when you are in such a situation, in which you realize that you are incapable of standing on either of the two places where you have one of each of your feet.  The boat goes away because your foot is pushing it out into the lake, and you have only a few seconds to say “Oh no!”  Actually, I said something else, but some language is best left on the river.

You know at such a time, that you should enjoy the warm dry condition of your present existence, because you are about to lose it.  And you just sort of fling your fishing rod toward the rock ledge and flop into the water below you, hoping you haven’t forgotten how to swim since August.

Fall water is warmer than winter water I suppose, but not so much that you can tell it when you get in it all at once.  It leaves you sort of gasping for a good breath, unable to speak.  Dennis says he could tell I was trying to say something while I grasped the side of the boat, still drifting out into the lake. I don’t know what it was, but I wasn’t attempting so much to communicate anything of importance as I was commenting on the seriousness of the situation, because at my age I lack the ability to just hop over the high, steep and slanting side of that boat.

There is nothing you hate worse than being wet and cold, floundering around in a good hole where you had been catching lots of fish.  You just want to get out, and so I turned and swam to the rock ledge jutting out over the water, and Dennis said I looked a little bit like a really big turtle trying to crawl up on dry ground.

The air was warm that day, thank goodness, and it was windy, so I got carefully back in the boat and we just kept fishing and I dried out in a short time, continuing to catch bass one right after the other. They did not seem to associate the big splash seen and heard minutes before with any danger. My fishing partner had a harder time catching fish than I did because every now and then he would stop and bend over and laugh really hard for a while. Then when he recovered, he’d get in several good casts before breaking down again.


But I remember writing a column once, talking about how I am a reckless, devil-may-care, risk-taking, sort of outdoorsman who seeks out adventure.  I may have exaggerated that a little. Actually, I’d just as soon catch fish than find any more similar adventure.


       And remember this one thing… don’t ever have only one foot in your boat and the other foot somewhere else.  When you get out of a boat, take both feet out at once in sort of a hop or jump.  One of these days I will write a little bit about safety on the water, when I learn a little more about it.




Friday, October 21, 2022

October Memories



         Ain’t October wonderful! It’s the best month of the year for fishing and hunting, except maybe for November and April, and possibly May and December. I once spent most of October in Canada, fishing for walleye, crappie and smallmouth, and hunting ruffed grouse and ducks and geese. 

       We would start on the Lake of the Woods in northwest Ontario and then move over into Manitoba’s prairie pothole country where ducks and geese numbered in the millions.  One October evening I caught a ten-pound walleye in Manitoba’s Red River after hunting geese all morning. 



I recall a time in deep woods around Lake of the Woods when I shot a limit of four grouse late in the evening after catching two four-pound smallmouth out in the far reaches of that beautiful lake, and a limit of crappie and walleye before noon. That was three decades ago… in October. 

That evening way back in the bush, a big beautiful grey timber wolf eyed up my Labrador and I from a gentle rise ahead of us, on a little-used wilderness trail.  Old Rambunctious and I covered more ground that evening than usual getting back to my pickup, miles away, and there wasn’t a hair on the neck of either one of us that wasn’t standing straight up.  You have no idea how big a timber wolf looks at dusk in the wilderness, pondering Labrador for dinner.

       Several years back I got to spend the best of October in the mountains of Colorado, where I killed a bull elk.  We were camped so high and so deep in the Rockies that I felt like a Blackfoot Indian might be looking over my shoulder.  There might be a writer somewhere that could describe the lonely beauty of that distant peak, but I can’t.


       A writer has to describe the way a place feels as much as how it looks.  You have to feel the way aspen leaves float down to the ground in a shower of yellow rain when there isn’t even a breeze.  You have to feel the first light of day where you are ten or eleven thousand feet closer to God, and feel the sound of a bull elk bugling in a stand of green fir trees along a cold mountain ridge above you.  It isn’t something you just entirely hear and see.

       The sight and sound of ringneck ducks across your decoys in a little bay of wild rice, growing from dark water in the back of a Canadian bay, the sight and sound of a thousand geese on the horizon, winging low over a Manitoba cropfield, the sight and sound of a huge northern pike coming up from the edge of his lily pad domain to smash a topwater lure…   that’s something you also feel, and I wish I could pass on the feeling, because it is addictive.  It is something October is responsible for.  I don’t know where I would rather be.  I’d also like to go one more time to the Sand Hills of Nebraska and see those old ranchers where we once hunted ducks in little potholes where green reeds towered over your head, and there were widgeon and gadwall and teal and mallards and redheads, all in the last stages of summer plumage.  We stood out there in the reeds up to our waist on solid sand, and never, ever felt a soft mud bottom.


We’d put little leather boots on our Labradors about noon and head out into those Sand Hills to hunt prairie chickens and sharptail grouse, and from a distance it looked like there wasn’t enough cover there to hide a cottontail. But in those colored sand hills there was a hodgepodge of cactus and prairie grasses and little crevices filled with multi-colored shrubs and bushes.  There you found an occasional antelope and jackrabbits and mule deer as well as the flocks of grouse and chickens. What great beauty there was in that harsh land in October where nothing grew more than six feet high.  And believe me, I can still feel those little cactus balls, and I can still taste that sweet water at the lowland windmills, when the sand hill winds had you so dry you’d just about drink from a mudhole. 


       I long to be there in those sand hills again, but I know it is never to be. So this year, I guess I’ll go float an Ozark river and be just as happy.  As time goes on a man learns it is no longer yesterday, and he can’t make his legs do what they once did.  And why should they. The Ozark ridges and rivers are just as colorful and beckoning to me as anywhere else.


       I could break out my old bow to see if I might be able to bring down a deer on the back of my place, where there are some persimmons and white oak acorns to attract them. But this year I will take my camera instead of my bow, and shoot everything I see.  Lord I love this camera and what it gives me to forever remember and pass on to others.


       I will sit there in that tree stand waiting for a deer and I get to feeling those far-away places, every time I close my eyes.  How wonderful it was. Maybe next year I can afford the gas   to go to Canada again.  I can always paddle a canoe even if I can’t climb mountains as easily as I once did. But the Ozarks is a wonderful place in October too, if you get far enough away.  And in these October days, I know some great far-away places where no one will be, but me.



Sunday, October 16, 2022

Reflections of Sixth Birthday: Appreciations and Remorse


         Facebook is a problem for me.  I spend too much time reading posts when I need to be writing on books or newspaper columns or my magazines.  I enjoy most of what you folks write and especially the photos.  I was surprised to get so many good birthday wishes, better than 500 on facebook.  I can’t thank everyone, as I would like to, so here is a true story you might enjoy… one I never wrote before.


         I didn’t have a good relationship with my mother, she wasn’t fond of my dad’s family, and I was too much like the worst of them.  I was as close to my father as a little boy can get, at the age of five.  On my sixth birthday in October, I had been in school since August and  I was the youngest in the first grade class. Mom had me when she was 16, and was way too young to have a rascal boy like me.  Her mother was an angel, and she spoiled me and did as much to raise me right as she could.  For my birthday, the two of them made me a shirt, most likely out of an old dress or perhaps a flour sack.  Back then flour sacks were all different, with color patterns on them, and it was common  for ladies to make children’s clothes and even dresses from them.

   I wasn’t the best example of a first grader. First grade teacher Violet Frost held me on  her lap part of the time because I cried for the first two days.  Then after a couple of weeks I found an apple tree in the school yard like the one’s on  Grandma McNew’s farm and I climbed up in it to hide, intending to stay there forever.  Mary Lou Troutman,  who in time would prove to be the smartest of our whole class at graduation 12 years later, saw me in the tree and climbed up to join me and I kicked her out.  I wasn’t spanked, as I should have been, but when I saw her skinned knee I felt so bad I didn’t need to be.  I was an obnoxious 5 year old, but soft hearted.  I didn’t like anybody, but it killed me to hurt someone.  

         I cried again when I unwrapped my birthday shirt, and it must have hurt Mom  and Grandma something terrible.  It is funny but I can still plainly see that shirt today, and that pretty little red and brown plaid dress with the white collar Mary Lou had on when I kicked her out of the apple tree.

         As for the shirt, it wouldn’t do!  I had seen a paint-by-number set in the dime store in Houston and I wanted it more than I wanted anything in the world. After I threw a fit (and got a paddling from Dad), Mom and Grandma got it for me and I was happy.  But here is what I can’t understand…  I still think about my 6th birthday often and I want so much to tell Mom and Grandma that I am ashamed of the way I behaved then.  In time, I come to love that shirt, and that paint by number set, (a picture of two ducks flying from a pond) proved  I would never be an artist.  Once I messed up our bathroom just trying to paint the walls.  

         I just wished I had told them when they were alive how sorry I am that I never told them how great that little shirt was.  And thinking about it often brings me a certain amount of agony.  It is a hard thing for me to forget.  But so is the fact that in all those years I never told Mary Lou Troutman how sorry I was that I kicked her out of that apple tree and skinned her knee.  In twelve years of school, I almost never talked to her, or any other girl for that matter.  Now 70 years later, I wish so much that I had apologized  to her and  it   still bothers me that I didn’t.  But when you get right down to it, over the years I remember a lot of folks I should have apologized to and didn’t. And there were a lot of folks I should have told how much I appreciated who they were and what they did for me.  But it is a good reason for St. Peter to let me into heaven.  I have a lot of people to find, starting with Mary Lou.

Life and Times of The Pool Hall Kid (excerpt)




         Ol’ Bill and Ol’ Jim both said it was the best outdoor story they had ever read.  I was proud of it, the account of a young English Setter that had run off with a red wolf and had a litter of half-wolf puppies.  I had written it right there at the pool hall one evening after school, in between racking balls and collecting money for my dad at the age of twelve-and-a-half.  Mrs. Murrell, the 8th grade teacher, had given her English class the assignment of writing a story. She was going to read the best one out loud, and I figured it would be mine.

         But such was not to be. That doggone Nolan Don Akins wrote something called, “My Family Shangrila” and she just swooned over it.  Read it out loud with most all the class, including me especially, not knowing what a Shangrila was before or after she read it.  I couldn’t be mad at Nolan Don, one of the few kids in the eighth grade I could get along with.  


         He was quiet and friendly, even though he was a top-notch basketball player on the Houston Tiger team.  Most generally athletes put themselves on a level kids like me couldn’t attain. But not Nolan. When we were seniors, Nolan Don and I took an aviation class with Coach Weaver and flew around Texas County in a single engine Cessna airplane. The whole time in the air I was scared to death. He took to it and became a big-time airline pilot for United or American or some top-of-the-line airline company.  I never knew him well, because playing varsity basketball well and shooting pool well are different achievements.  But I liked him… who wouldn’t. I liked him even though his family was well off.  He never acted like he was on a different level than anyone else, even though he was, in my eyes.   

         Anyhow, Mrs. Murrell thought he was too, and she read his story as I wilted, near about to cry.  She did however ask me to stay after class and I thought maybe she would tell me I had written a good account of romance in the woods! She thought it was a little too descriptive I guess, and gave me a C-plus.  She told me as I left to never use the word ‘bitch’ in anything I wrote in her class, ever again.

         Lord almighty, was I decimated (I think that might be the word, but if it ain’t substitute your own.)  Crestfallen might fit, or discombobulated.

Anyway, in one of my books, (I think it might be “The Front Bench Regulars”) I wrote about how the old men in the pool hall tried to cheer me up that evening.  It is not easy to convince a boy who thinks he has no redeeming qualities and no self-esteem that God doesn’t look at him that way. But never has a 12-year-old boy had so many grandfathers!

         Now skip to the following year when I was a thirteen-and-one-half-year-old high school freshman.  I fell head over heels for the freshman English Teacher, Ms. Susan Catlett, only about 24- or 25-years old and beautiful.  That first week, Ms. Catlett had all of us write an essay, and I did it up right, a story about a young Canadian trapper and his uncle, Old Pete, coping with a wolverine in the northern wilderness. 

         Ms. Catlett kept me after class that Friday morning to tell me how good it was, and offer some tips to help me sharpen my writing ability.  I will remember forever what she said to me as I walked out the door, my heart soaring.  She said, “Larry, I think you might be on your way to being a professional writer”.  A professional writer…rather than joining the army as some of my other teachers advised me?

         I never ever wanted to go to school like I did that next Monday morning.  Ms. Catlett was there, a young woman I might actually be able to marry in 6 or 7 years!!  But Ms Catlett wasn’t there.  My heart sank again.  Why?  In my mind I contemplated how she had perhaps been fired for liking me and my writing.  I didn’t know that Houston High School did not look at me as I did.  They wouldn’t have done that.  But you could not have convinced me of that.  I was sure, back then, that I had enemies galore in that school.  When you were referred to as “the pool hall kid” by so many, you learned to hate, and start making revenge lists.  As a high school freshman, I began to do that, and most everyone in my class got on that list at one time or another, plus several teachers, then business people in town.  I was a mixed up and kid.

But five years from that time, I began to sell a newspaper column while a student at M.U. and my first magazine articles to a Texas outdoor magazine, and then 8 years later to Outdoor Life and Sports Afield, as I became the Outdoor Editor for the largest newspaper in Arkansas.  I wanted so badly to tell Ms. Catlett I had lived up to her prediction for me.

         About ten years ago I met Ms. Catlett’s sister at Mt. Grove Missouri and she had a tear in her eye as I told her of my love for the greatest teacher ever… her sister Susan.  She gave me her sister’s picture and one of her college journalism books.  And then she told me something that in thinking about it today, still makes my heart heavy.  

         “She wasn’t fired,” her sister told me.  “That weekend after you met her, she killed herself!”

        I hope somewhere in heaven Ms. Catlett knows that when she told me I might amount to something as a writer, she inspired me to do just that.  I never became more than just average at what I do but that is enough, at least it is the best I can do with whatever talent God gave me.  

         But Houston High School had many people who did become “great”.  Like my friend, Nolan Don Akins.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Info Fo’ Readers


            Anyone who reads my column is invited to my birthday party and fish fry here in my home and office in the woods on Lightnin’ Ridge, about 10 or 12 miles north of Bolivar, MO.  It will be held from 10:00 to 3:00 on Saturday, October 15, celebrating Gloria Jean’s birthday, and mine too.  They are only a couple off days apart.  It is a free event, but I only ask that you tell me you are coming so I will know how many fish to catch. There will be catfish, bass, crappie and walleye unless I don’t catch some of the four. 

         At 11:00 that morning, my naturalist daughter Christy and I will take folks on a hike along our nature trail, which winds through some huge timber full of birds and wildlife.  Then we will eat at 12:30 or 1:00 p.m.  I will supply all the food necessary and pay for it by selling some of the hunting and fishing gear I have used since I was a kid.              Two of my friends will bring some of their stuff as well, and anyone else who comes can bring their own used outdoor stuff and put it on the table with a price.  You can bring a dish of some kind if you want but you don’t have to.  I could likely use a dessert or two.  Last year I made a chocolate birthday cake but it ended up being just an inch or two high, so we just called it a fudge brownie.  I will supply a map to those who don’t have that gps thing.

            This week I have had both my magazines printed.  You can receive both for the price of one just by calling me.  They total more than one hundred pages of good reading.  One is about the outdoors, and the other is about the history of the Ozarks.  If you have never read what we call the Lightnin Ridge Magazines, you have missed something.

              Because of printing prices, the combined magazines are $8 each.  We have printed 90 issues of our magazines over 20 years.  Some of the early ones are worth about $50 apiece now and a couple even more.  Probably 70 or so of the back issues are still available and we sell a lot of them.


            When I published my first book in the 1978, it was done by a company called, David McKay Publishing out of New York. It was a hard copy book entitled, “The Authentic American Johnboat” that sold for less than $10 dollars back then. They published two hundred thousand copies and several years later they called me and told me they had a little less than five thousand copies left which I could purchase for a dollar apiece.  I had a family back then and I just didn’t have five grand.  Not too long ago I saw that book, autographed, priced on the internet for $195!  Then other copies were selling for $33. It was given a five-star rating by readers. See for yourself. I can’t believe it neither! If you have one of those, you might sell it on ebay for some good money. If it is one I autographed, who knows, it might be worth a dollar more!!  If only I had just went to the bank and borrowed the five thousand!  But that was just me… I was out hunting coons then, thinking that fur prices were going to go up.


            I guess this is a good place to mention that the publication I am putting out in November, “the Truth About the Missouri Department of Conservation” cannot be mentioned in all newspapers.  It is free to all who want it, all we are asking is that you pay $3.50 for postage. You will have to call me requesting it. My number is 417-777-5227.  My address is Lightnin’Ridge, Box 22, Bolivar, MO 65613. My email is lightninridge47@gmail.com but something has happened to it where not all are received.  If someone doesn’t answer your email, chances are we didn’t get it.