Friday, August 26, 2005

The Booklover's Shuffle And Other Tales/Tails

If you are like me (and it seems a lot of bloggers share this vice), your gotta-read book list is always finding more additions without the complimentary subtraction of finally-read books. I add two and only read one. Sort of like that old dance, one step forward and two steps back.

So, just in case your list is need of something new, funny and altogether different, I will share my latest must-read title: Hey, Ranger!

About the book:
"During a thirty year career as a national park ranger, Jim Burnett lived and worked in eight different parks all across the country, from Montana to Texas and Arizona to Virginia. Along the way, he encountered a multitude of park visitors and an amazing variety of situations. Hey Ranger! recounts some of the most memorable and hilarious examples of those experiences in a book which everyone from seasoned outdoorsmen to armchair travelers will find both entertaining and enlightening."

If you have some really great outdoor tales of your own, you can submit them to the author for possible inclusion in the sequel, or, you are more than welcome to share here at TT!

Do I have a great outdoors tale? Does a bear defecate in the woods? Of course!

Actually, I have several such stories. Some do not involve me personally, but BEAR the telling anyway. I will never forget my cousin's itchy mistake in using what he THOUGHT were harmless leaves from a nearby vine when nature called at an inopportune time. He spent several miserable days, bellyflopped and nude in front of an oscillating fan which kept his calamine-lotioned hindquarters only slightly cooler than lava from Mount St. Helen's. His wickedly-humored mother gave him a picture book of the flora and fauna of Texas to keep him distracted during his recuperation. That's what I might call a day late, and a hiney short.

Or, the late afternoon fishing miscalculation one hot summer years ago while sharing a small john boat with my mother and aunt. My aunt at the bow, me in the middle, and my mother at the stern comprised the rub-a-dub tub fisherwomen.

It was the time of day when shadows play funny things on the water, the fish have slowed their biting to the occasional half-hearted nibble, and a nap seems a more civilized pasttime. Out near the center of the small lake was an old tree stump with several branches jutting above the water's surface. Lots of grass and twigs had nested up against the tree and it was known to be a cool hangout for lazy, shiftless fat catfish. My aunt whispered to my mother (can someone tell me just how fish understand English, which requires necessary subterfuge of whispers and sign language?) that she was going to paddle up near the stump, tie up for a bit to see if any of those big boys were cravin' a chomp of stink bait.

As our dingy got closer to the tree stump and the flotsam around it, the sun's rays managed to momentarily light up the inner part of the tangled brush. There in the centermost part, coiled up quite contentedly, was a large Cottonmouth, basking in the sun with the possibility of snatching an unwary fish for his own dinner.

From my aunt's area of the boat there came this unearthly noise that began as a slight hitch of breath, followed by a low strained gasp, and then ended as a full-fledged, nails-on-a-blackboard screeching: "ssssnAKE!"

Scrabbling to get her oar out from under the jumble of life-preserving seat cushions, half-eaten Twinkies and the minnow bucket, my aunt looked like a panicked Olive Oyl on speed (she was tall and skinny with an overbite that allowed eating corn-on-the-cob through a picket fence). Finally managing to wrangle the oar into the water, she began to paddle furiously - only in the wrong direction. We were being propelled head-on into danger and all hell broke loose (this is a genuine phenomenon, I have witnessed it many times).

My mother alternated between trying to climb smooth over the top of me and shoving me towards my aunt, all the while screaming at me to grab the oar away from our fear-crazed relative. I wasn't about to attempt such a foolhardy action that would put me anywhere close to the frantic flailing of Auntie gone wild. All this commotion caused our little craft to rock jerkily from side to side, and added a nice wet slosh to the predicament. For a moment, I thought my mother was going to whack my aunt with the other oar, but in one clean motion she dragged me backwards towards the rear of the boat then dug her own oar deep into the brown muddy waters.

With more strength than her 5'2", 100-lb frame belied, Mom started slowly making headway (or tailway?) away from the sea serpent. Our combined weight made the bow tip upwards, thus Auntie's oar was too shallow for proper rowing. (Her "oars" never dipped very deep in the water anyway, as evidenced by her poor sense of direction.)

This little family tale has been the subject of much telling and retelling over the years. With each re-enactment the bad old ssssnAKE gets bigger and bigger, reaching pythonic proportions. These are Oscar-winning performances; one day some Hollywood talent scout will hear of our family get-togethers, and history will be made.

Yeah, and cottonmouths grow to 20' long on Texas lakes.

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