2007-07-11 / School & Sports

BACKROADS AND BOBTAILS

SURPRISE!
by Bob Kornegay

Ah, the outdoors. Serene, pristine, relaxing. Wonderful! Nothing like time spent outside to give a fellow that contented, peaceful, rejuvenated feeling. Most of the time, anyhow.

Remember Gomer Pyle, how he often unintentionally startled Andy, Barney, or Sergeant Carter with his frequent "Surprise, surprise, surprise!" exclamation? Well, the outdoors is like that sometimes.

At the tender age of 11, I ventured into the woods one day to hack down a uniquely shaped cypress "knee." I had this great notion of constructing a rustic, outdoorsy lamp for my mother. Finding one of the strange protuberances that my creative eye said was appropriate for the purpose, I employed my hatchet and began feverishly chopping at its base. After about a dozen swings of the axe, I discovered I had just disturbed an underground nest of very belligerent south Alabama yellow jackets.

The hatchet and the britches I was wearing are most likely still there in the swamp where I left them.

Ouch.

When I was thirteen, I went hunting in that same stretch of woods. In a short time I stalked and shot a fat gray squirrel, which led me to expect a wonderfully successful morning's hunt. Later, as I sat on the ground watching the treetops for bushy-tail activity, the "dead" squirrel in my game vest, evidently just momentarily stunned, came to life and mounted a determined and quite violent escape attempt.

I shed and abandoned vest, shotgun shells, and squirrel much as I did pants and scout axe a couple of years before.

As a "grown-up" 16-year-old in possession of a brand new driver's license, I motored from Ashford, AL, to the Andrews Dam on the Chattahoochee. Fishing was good, and it wasn't long before I caught a dozen fat channel catfish, which I kept alive and fresh on a stringer dangling in the water eddying near the dam's granite rip-rap. When I knelt down to add fish number 13 to my catch of the day, I felt a tug on the stringer and discovered a huge alligator snapping turtle at the opposite end with my largest catfish clamped tightly in its powerful jaws. I subsequently lost the tug-of-war that ensued.

Several years later, as a "mature" adult, I was Gomer- Pyled by a sleepy Angus bull I inadvertently awakened as I walked through a patch of chest-high dog fennel while seeking to jump-shoot a cottontail or two. The big black "rabbit" was fortunately as terrified as I. His galloping away in one direction, however, did little to deter my frenzied flight in the other. There have been other such incidents as well.

Consider, for example, the huge Banks Lake gator that surfaced not two feet from my little Coleman canoe with no advanced warning. Let no one tell you it's impossible to speed-paddle across the tops of lily pads. Likewise, the man who says he can listen and determine in just what direction a summertime mountain thunderstorm (complete with lightning, hail, and 40-mph winds) is headed is a liar.

Nothing utters "Surprise!" with greater shock value than a fat water moccasin one finds coiled on the floor of the duck blind into which one has just stepped without looking. Never think you cannot execute a 40-inch vertical leap with one foot on the ground and the other in mid air. Barred owls, by the way, are also full of surprises. Just let one sound off a short distance above your head as you sit sleepily atop a 15-foot ladder-type deer stand. I hope the ground upon which you light is softer than my own landing site.

Worst of all, though, might be that inglorious surprise an outdoorsman sometimes gets a couple of days after answering an urgent call from Mother Nature in an out-of-the-way patch of improperly identified native vegetation. Can you say "poison ivy," boys and girls?

Ouch again.

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