2015-08-05 / Opinion

BACKROADS AND BOBTAILS

THE IMMORTALS
by Bob Kornegay

Not long ago, a friend and I watched a television show depicting the primitive pastime of noodlin’. Okay, okay, it was a slow day. Bear with me.

For those uninformed, noodlin’ is an ancient fishing method dating back too far for anyone to remember its origin. Before hook-and-line, it is likely even Neanderthals and beyond practiced it. Simply put, it is a technique carried out when a fisherman reaches his hand and arm into a submerged hole, logjam, or the like and extracts very large catfish from their hiding places. The subsequent wrestling matches between these gargantuan fish and their audacious captors are often sights to behold.

Veteran noodlers have dozens of tales to tell and most have a comparable number of scars to show for their past noodlin’ efforts. Extremities that find their way into catfish hidey holes bear wounds (old and new) from encounters with such critters as biting beavers and snapping turtles, which are too often found inhabiting the same nooks and crannies as the catfish.

As my buddy and I leisurely watched the television broadcast with interest and amazement, he shook his head, turned to me, and said, “You know, Hoss, there’s no way I could be talked into doing that, not for any amount of money or even the biggest catfish in the world.”

I thought for a moment, then replied, “Nope, me either. Not now, anyway.”

“What do you mean, not now?” he asked.

“Well…..”

Thus began a lengthy philosophical conversation during which I told him all about some of my dicey outdoor adventures of yesteryear, some of which proved as inherently dangerous to life and limb as noodlin’ for giant catfish and tussling with the occasional angry beaver or belligerent reptile. At least they would have been, had I not been completely immortal during that long-ago era.

You remember those times, don’t you? You know, back when we were invulnerably young, ignorantly foolish, and firmly believed nothing we attempted could possibly do us harm, much less kill us? Sure you do.

As a youth, I fearlessly waded creeks clad in nothing save cut-off blue jeans. Occasionally I was shod in “protective” footwear; usually old, worn-out canvas sneakers offering little more protection than my littleboy calloused bare feet. Armed with a hand-medown or hand-hewn fishing pole and a cage full of crickets scratched from beneath the pine straw of Mom’s flower beds, I caught bluegills and redfin pickerel by the dozens. In the process, I was also eaten alive by yellowflies and mosquitoes and came too close too often to cottonmouths, bankside yellow jacket nests, and various other biting or stinging “obstacles.”

I routinely turned over rocks and logs in the woods, just to see what might be under them. If a discovered critter wriggled, I grabbed it, be it lizard, bug, worm, or snake. Sometimes it bit me, occasionally badly enough to make me cry, though never in plain view of my companions.

I frequently munched berries and other wild edibles, even those I was only “ almost” certain I recognized as safe to consume. I drank directly from the creek when I got thirsty.

I got sunburned, peeled, then I fried again, spending most summers looking like the trunk of a shagbark hickory. I impaled fingers and various other extremities on rusty fish hooks, tin can lids, and sliced myself regularly with a very unsterile pocketknife.

I did all this and more, usually within a half-day’s fishing trip. And I did it almost every day, rain or shine. Through it all, no critter bite ever became infected, no poisonous fruit, leaf, or root sent me to the ER, and no water-borne disease contaminated my innards. Likewise, no tetanus shot was ever necessary. Good thing, too, as I would never have considered getting one.

“So,” said my friend after patiently listening, “you’d have gone noodlin’ back then?”

“You better believe it,” I answered. “Nothing could hurt me when I was 12. I was immortal.”

“Hmm,” he thoughtfully stated, “Strange you feel that way. Don’t I recall how over-protective you were of your boy when he was about that age?”

“Nothing strange about it, pal. It’s a scientific fact that immortal children always belong to someone else.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yep.” I said. “Just ask any parent you know.”

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