Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Appearance and Reality

Everything is not what it appears to be. Spring and winter are like two strong animals fighting for dominance. Some days are like summer and we want to go to the lake in short sleeves and then a short time later we are back in winter, dressing like Eskimos. I am glad warmer weather will eventually get the upper hand, but meantime we endure the struggle.
There are a couple of lakes on Rick Evans Grand View Prairie near my home that I love to visit. They are well-maintained bodies of water with good ramps and fishing docks. But there is something other-worldly about the whole place. Hardwoods are scrubby and pines are gnarled. In short, a prairie emerges from the hardwood and pine forests of our region and it is strangely spectacular.
It is odd to feel remote and out in the open at the same time. Most of my wilderness memories from childhood are in the big woods and the Ouachita River. We hiked and camped, built bonfires and tree houses galore. We learned to tolerate king-size mosquitos and abundant red bugs and ticks. Although we had a repellent called 6-12, we always ran short of it and came home with evidence of prolific parasites. We saw a lot of snakes, mainly water moccasins, and carried snake-bite kits we learned about from multiple sources, but none of my companions ever came close to the deadly creatures. I think that is because we always watched the ground.
You can tell a country person or one familiar with the woods by the way they are ground-conscious. When I was in basic training, we had to hike through rough terrain and I was surprised at how many guys tripped and fell. They paid no attention to where their feet were going. Most of these were from the city and had never walked in the woods. Some of them had never shot a rifle before and country boys felt smug in their understanding of and skill in shooting.
Even now, when I am working out in the yard, I am conscious of the ground upon which I walk. Just the other day I stepped on a camouflaged stick and the other end of it came up and struck my calf. I jumped like an armadillo because my instinct told me a snake had struck. My head knew better, because it was in January and all the snakes are sound asleep, but still, my automatic response brought to mind that I am always aware of ground zero.

Once when my childhood companions and I were camping on the Ouachita, I saw a snake with front legs. He had a broad, desperate-looking head and really active little legs as he coiled down a stump. I wanted a closer look at the creature, so I got as close as I could without being in jeopardy. Then I saw that it was a moccasin with a bullfrog in his mouth. Try as he would, the frog was going down and the snake seemed satisfied with his conquest. Everything is not what it appears to be.

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