Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Huck Finn Had Nothing On Us

Just as I swung into the crowded pickup/dropoff south terminal area at Hartsfield International Airport to pick up Uncle Buster and Jeanne; my phone rang.

"YEAH. Where you at?"
"I'm almost there"
"We're all the way at the end."

After 15 minutes of easing my truck through the crowded lines, I finally spotted them. Buster was sitting as far from any other humans as the hustle-and-bustle of Harsfield would allow, and Jeanne was by his side. I hadn't even come to a complete stop and he was in the truck:
"Get me out of here" he said.

And away we went.

When I pulled up to the front door at Pea Ridge Plantation I'm not sure Buster even went inside; he went straight to the tractor and started riding. I heard the low rumble of the big John Deere for the next 3 hours. Finally, just at dusk, it subsided into a roaring harmony with the spring buzz of cicadas, the chorus of frogs, and the gentle "plooop" of fish shrugging off the lazy mantle of a hot spring day; turning back to the business of hunt-and-catch for table fare.

Finally, as the last glowing purple of a pollen-hazed sunset faded across the lake; I spied a pair of lights bobbing down the bridge road and a gravelly voice floated across the lake:

Catching any?

The answer was, as always "not many", but I didn't care.

Well. Lets go to Lake Juliette tomorrow afternoon then.

I was game, of course.

Juliette requires the use of a motor no bigger than 25 horsepower; an attempt, I think, to keep the lake relatively pristine and free of the usual cross-section of southern humanity and its penchance for "overdoing it." Given the massive powerplant belching coal-fired smoke into the air at the North end, I'm not sure why they bothered with the restriction. However, Buster happened to have such a boat handy, though in some state of disrepair, so we spent an hour or so the next morning getting the little aluminum jonboat cranked and tackle stowed before heading to the lake.

The trip was miraculously uneventful (no tag, no trailer pin, questionable trailer lights, ungreased hubs), and we were underway on the water in no time at all. After 15 minutes at top speed, and quite a long way from the dock, the motor began making a very concerning VVVROOOOMMMM sound at intervals. A look of perplexed consternation crossed Buster's face; followed by a series of derogatory remarks concerning boats in general, jonboats specifically, the laborforce, general inability of anyone (nonspecific) to follow instructions, and Mercury outboard motors. I sat very still at the front of the boat while he gently swore under his breath and fiddled with some switches at the rear, then we were underway yet again at a slightly reduced pace.

Shortly afterwards we slowed to a stop and began fishing; the soft "whiizzzz" and "splash" of the baits keeping time, somehow, with the natural order of sound on the water. After a short few minutes of fishing my attempts to untangle myself from several yards of stray line was violently interrupted by a howl of fury from the rear of the boat and the sudden exclamation from the captain: "WE ARE TAKING ON WATER."

Now, in boat lingo I understood that to mean that we were, in short, "sinking." Sure enough, a quick glance to the rear confirmed that Buster, and my jar of pickled okra, were both beginning to resemble bath toys at the rear of the boat. Several inches of water had crept in through a faulty drain plug of some kind. The lack of profanity (suggesting dangerously intense concentration) and the rapid rocking of the boat, coupled with the frantic activity taking place at the rear, confirmed my worst fears. We were, in fact, headed for a long swim.

To my surprise, Buster cranked the motor up, reached down, and SNATCHED the entire plug out of the bottom. "We'll just outrun it" he grinned in response to my unintelligible expression of horror. His plan was simple: run the boat wide-open allowing the rushing water below, and the upward tilt of the boat, to drain the water inside.

It worked, and we continued performing his genius quick-save tactic periodically during the rest of the afternoon. The only real problem I noticed with his method was this: the captain would periodically disappear under the motor to struggle with the drain plug for long periods of time while running at a full-clip towards the middle of the lake; our tiny boat hurtling headlong, hither-and-yon, as the tiny craft willed. Since he didn't seem particularly concerned, I just put on a 1960's vintage life jacket and faced backwards. I figured if I was going to die in a jon-boat collision I really didn't want to see it coming.

Disaster averted - we resumed fishing, then took off again for the northern reaches of the lake. A few minutes had gone by and I had only just begun to un-pucker from the first sinking incident, when the boat began to slow once again. I sat very still, looking forward, waiting on the next series of clankings and swearings from the rear of the boat, but none came. I turned around, slowly, to find Buster looking at me with a huge grin on his face: "BabyJimmy, we're on an ADVENTURE!" he crowed.

And really, that's all that you need.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Golden Egg in Four-Part Harmony

"You mean you're going to Macon to watch the little grandchildren hunt for Easter Eggs, right?" she said, quizzically.

"No. I mean - right. I mean - I'm going to Macon for The Great Golden Egg Hunt of 2009." I responded.

Not to be put off by a cleverly-turned phrase, she continued: "But you're not actually HUNTING for Easter Eggs, right? Because thats for small children."

"Mmpph, eh...Ahem." I responded, wittily, with an inscrutable look and a quick jerk of the steering wheel intended to distract any occupants with the possibility of sudden impact - a mild form of the "Impending Collision Scare" (see previous post so-titled).

"AHH, ARGH!" she responded, gripping the doorhandle. "What was that?" she gurgled through a half-swallowed piece of chewing gum.

"Sorry. I thought I saw The Golden Egg." I said.
"Thats not funny." She said.
"I've heard THAT before." Said I.
"No, seriously. I almost choked." She responded, undaunted by my witticisms.
"Sorry about that. The truck just sort of jerked a bit. Alignment. You know."

"Well, explain this Great Golden Egg Hunt of 2009, then. I don't understand. You're almost 30 years old. Isn't it time to turn that over to the young grandchildren? Like, TWENTY YEARS AGO?? I'm worried about you. You're regressing"

In true female fashion she had encapsulated a whole host of accusations and cast various aspersions on my character in one long, run-on sentence; an onslaught in the face of which I was powerless to resist.

So, her point was: I'm immature. Stop the presses. I know. Does that mean I can't hunt for Easter Eggs like all the other immature people in the world? NO. Does it matter that their maturity is based on age and experience? NOT TO ME. I WANT THAT GOLDEN EGG AND NO PINK-CHEEKED ANKLE BITER IS GOING TO BEAT ME TO IT WHILST I STILL DRAW BREATH.

Fortunately, I did indeed claim the prize this year: a small golden egg hidden cleverly in the base of an old, forgotten, electric snowman; remnants of Christmas past meeting Easter present in a beautiful, Protestant, melody. A bright light shone down on me, illuminating the Golden Prize, I heard the flutter of doves' wings, and a faint refrain floated down from the heavens. I couldn't say exactly, but it sounded as if the angel choir was softly singing "We Are The Champions" in 4 part harmony....All for ME.

Like most perfect moments in life, it was not to last. Cousin Daniel tripped gaily by, interrupting my holy reverie and holding aloft a much lesser prize. Not seeing me there in the shadow of the house; I extended a foot.....and sent him flying headlong into the bushes.

How's THAT for immature, eh lady!!?!?

Naturally, there was a victory interview:

North to Lanier

As you may have guessed by my protracted absence; turkey season and bass fishing are both in full swing at the moment. In short: I've been busy. Not "successful" so much, but definitely "busy."

Several weeks ago my good friend, Hank, called to suggest we take "Spring Break" and spend it turkey hunting each morning in the mountains, and fishing for spotted bass on Lanier in the afternoons. Naturally, I was game.

After the requisite 50 or so phone calls, and at least that many emails discussing timing, baits, weaponry, and food and beverage requirements; we loaded up and headed north to Lanier. Two men that are boys, one black dog (answering to both "Buddy" and "Allie" for some reason), two shotguns, 40 shells for same, two turkey vests, 10 fishing rods, minimal clothing, 6 decoys, and untold quantities of baits, calls, cheap beer, electronics, and lunchmeats found their way into the house and, friends, we were home for the week.

By the time I got into the cabin Hank had dug up some classic James Taylor vinyl from his Dad's extensive record collection. James was crackling loudly across the north end of the lake (did you know Stevie Nicks used to be a perfect "10"?), I heard a poptop pop, and we were officially Spring Breakin'.

The weather caught us off our game to start with, and the turkeys didn't cooperate as well as we might have hoped, but we had a ball. It turns out - the mountains aren't nearly as easy to hunt as you might think. At one point, standing on a beautiful ridgetop with the sun just peeking up over the trees I suggested the fatal plan, "lets just drop down off this ridge into the creek bottom and work our way back to the truck."
Oversimplifications are my recent specialty.

It turns out - the creek bottoms are essentially impassable, and there is no "just dropping down." Everything turns into a ridge somehow, then you generally end up sliding at least 100 yards to a stop, hopelessly entangled in the thick bank of mountain laurels that guard each stream. 3hrs, and untold slides later, a sweaty Hank Farmer looked over at me from our precarious positions sprawled facedown in the dirt during an attempted crawl up an 80 degree grade, and said "We started out hunting, but now I think we're just crawling around in the woods."

Well put Hank Farmer.

Fishing at 70mph

I came home from Christmas this year and found a printed form on my bed that said “Skeeter Eliminator Series” and a note from my best friend, cousin, and roommate, Seth “BassMonster” Slocumb, indicating that instead of our ordinary exchange of Christmas hunting paraphernalia; he had entered me in the Skeeter Eliminator Series tournament on Sinclair. As we’re both poor in the boat department, we were to go “no-boat.”

In due course our registration materials came in the mail, followed immediately by several expensive trips to Bass Pro Shops, and a general sprinkling of fishing equipment in inappropriate places throughout the house. I didn’t notice quite how overboard we’d gone until my girlfriend (at the time) hopped in my truck, hollered “HEY! OUCH!” loud enough to override the Robert Earl Keen sounds coming through the stereo, and gingerly removed a chartreuse crankbait from her nether regions. At that point I realized “I think we’re good in the lure department.”

She’s long gone, but I’ve still got that crankbait.

I received a friendly call from Mike Millsaps, my boat-owning partner a few days before the tournament and we arranged to pre-fish beforehand. We fished for an afternoon and I realized – “I like this Millsaps guy.” He knew what he was doing and used his equipment like a surgeon, hitting his spots fast and with precision. We ran around the lake, talked fishing a bit and decided on a productive pattern; then arranged to meet at Little River Park before blastoff

The morning of the tournament dawned at the usual time but, due to the pea-soup fog engulfing the lake; we never saw it. Blastoff was delayed an hour or so – a good thing for me since it was 30 degrees on the water and I had forgotten my gloves, but by the time we were all waiting to start it was still freezing cold and the fog had only just begun to lift. Once on the water, Mike looked at me and said “Wwwaayyuull, holler at me when they call out number 15” then, to my surprise, he reached behind him, lifted a motorcycle helmet out of his rod locker, and slid it down over his head – kicking the faceguard shut with a snap of his neck.

Not being terribly familiar with fast-boat tournament fishing, I was a bit taken aback, but it was so cold that I just sat down on the padded seat of his Ranger Z19 and stuffed my hands under my knees to stay warm. Mike grinned through his rapidly-fogging lenses and said “hey there fella’ – you better haaawwlld awwn!” then, they called our number.

Friends, the boat ahead of us disappeared into the fog about 200 yards off our bow and when Mike laid the hammer down on that Evinrude Etec 225 all I could think was “I am going to die without ever owning my own boat.” I looked over at Mike, tears streaming out of my eyes, hands numb, and realized: “the fog is so thick, he’s just following the other boat’s bubble trail.” The speedometer said 70mph, my brain said 200mph, and my mouth WOULD have said something too, but the excessive drool whipping out behind the boat in a slobbertrail befitting a Great Dane prevented any timely remarks.

We hit the first wake and my entire body flew up out of the boat, hovered for a second, then came back down sprawled out on the bilge drain. Grinning, Mike slowed in order that I might collect myself, and said “Tawwldd you to hawwld awwn to that there handle little fella’!”

Held on I did, for dear life, and we scalded the topwater of the mud-brown reservoir for another ten minutes to reach our destination.

It was tough on the lake that day and the fish weren’t biting like we had hoped, but we had a ball. We talked about strategy, and baits (most of mine were wrong); Mike showed me some great tips for finesse fishing and rigging (I broke off frequently); we played with rods tried new tackle; we got hung up, and fell over, and stuck the trolling motor on hidden structure. We even caught a fish or two here and there – Mike more than I, but still - it was a huge success.