Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The River's Edge

I've come to the delusion that all things happen for no other reason than to keep us on our toes. That's all well and good if you happen to be a ballerina, or if you just happen to have a fetish about wearing a tutu.
....A few nights ago when I was unable to post due to Blogger problems, I was fooling around with "Paint Works" on my desktop. The image above is one the products of that evening. Naturally, no one would ever mistake it for a Manet or a Monet, but there was something about it that I liked. It was deja vu and a Kodak moment all wrapped in one package.

....It was in that spot, or at least in a spot eerily similar to the image above, that I stood one night at the river's edge. I must have been an eight-year-old lad. That night, I was out "bull-froggin." For those uneducated about bull froggin, the best time to catch them is at night. They float on the surface near the riverbank, usually underneath some branches overhanging the water. A full grown bullfrog has two enemies, man and the snapping turtle. While floating their eyes are half-submerged, which allows to see above and below the water at the same time.
....The most successful "bull-froggers" operate from a boat and use a spear-like implement known as a gig. With the aid of a light, they quietly approach the unsuspecting frog from behind. Most bull-froggers hunt the frogs as a means to supplement their incomes. It seems cruel to me now, but back in 1957 in Appalachia, few people were concerned with such matters. I don't remember if it was considered black market then, or if it is today, but there was a demand for frog legs.
....The least successful bull froggers, like me back then, plied the trade from dry land. Whether I was bull froggin', fishing, or swimming, the scene above was just like my favorite spot. About three feet from waters of the Elk River, there stood a thirty-foot Sycamore tree. The spot was about a hundred yards from the confluence of the smaller Sandy River. The deposits from the Sandy formed an area of shoals and a small island. We often waded from the Sycamore to the island where we would find an ample supply of small "crawl-dabbers," or cray fish as the more sophisticated tended to call them. The ones about an inch long made ideal bait for large and small mouth bass and muskies.
....On that evening, however, I wasn't looking for fishing bait. I was looking for frogs. One good-sized bull could fetch a generous five dollar bill. I don't suppose you have any idea how much money that was to this eight-year-old back then - it was like a ka-zillion dollars! We used to think of money in the Fifties in terms of how much penny candy you could buy with it.

....Above I mentioned that a full grown bullfrog has two enemies, man and the snapping turtle. Well, a boy also has two enemies, man and a snapping turtle. That fact is especially true on a river bank after sunset.
....Creeping ever so slowly from the shadows of the Sycamore, I raised my stick, and at the river's edge I was about to knock a large specimen senseless. It happened so fast, that to this day I'm still not quite sure just what the sequence of the events were. Apparently at the very instant my stick was hurtling home, a large snapping turtle had chosen that moment to attack. There was the splash of my stick and a violent thrashing in the water. The frog was gone. I had missed. Little did I know, the turtle had missed too.
....Suddenly, I felt something strike my foot. I screamed in terror. A snapping turtle, one of the biggest ones I had ever seen, had clamped its mighty jaws onto my foot! Only because I am able to look back on the incident, can I describe the next few minutes as both tense and funny. On that night, however, only tense was applicable.
....I found my self running in circles, the turtle not about to loosen its grip on my foot. I ran headlong into a branch that hung down at about eye level. I recoiled from that and crashed hard into the trunk of the Sycamore. There is an important fact that one should consider here, a Sycamore, or any tree for that matter, does not yield to the body of an eight-year-old lad. It was the body of the lad that had to yield.
....Knocked for a loop as I was, I managed to stay on my feet. I don't know if anyone ever heard my screams that night, but if they did, none came to my rescue. I was in tears. I was imagining that two or three of my toes were already in that turtle's gullet and it was still hungry. In blind terror, I tripped on one of the tree's roots, and found myself flying through space. I was propelled face first into the river. My face stopped my flight as it landed on the rocky bottom beneath only three feet of water.
....Somehow my shoe, the one wearing a determined snapping turtle, had come off. I struggled to my feet and got out of the water like I'd been fired from a cannon. Shaking like a leaf, not because I was wet and cold but because of the ordeal, I collapsed on the river bank. Fighting back the tears I took a deep breath before I finally worked up the nerve to look at my bare foot. I was certain that more than my right Keds was missing.
....To my amazement, my foot was all there. There were no missing toes. There was no blood. ...And there was no tennis shoe. More importantly, there was no turtle! I looked up and saw my shoe floating at the edge of the bank. The toe was facing me. With a sigh of relief I reached for it and pulled it ouf the water. The turtle was no where to be seen.
....I was fascinated as I inspected the shoe. There was triangular shaped wedge missing from the canvas material. The rubber sole appeared to be intact. I eventually figured out what had happened, and how I had walked away with the same complete foot that I had when I'd arrived at my "favorite spot."
....Through some miracle or just plain dumb luck, the turtle had clamped its jaws in such a way that its beak and lower jaw met between my big toe and its nearest neighbor. I don't know if there was some kind of reflex reaction that had forced the toes to separate enough or what. All I know is that they did.
....Coming through safe and in one piece, did little to humor my parents though. I escaped the "killer" snapping turtle that night, but I fell victim to a whuppin'. The irony of my ordeal was that I was punished more for the wrecked tennis shoes, brand new by the way, than for being near the river after dark in the first place.

Yes, the scene depicted above evoked a lot of memories of a long time ago. I guess Blogger could be thanked in some small measure. It was only because of Blogger's problems that I was playing around with Paint Works and revisited the river's edge.



Ben O. said...

Dude, we must both be up with nothing else to do. I think you were commenting on my blog while I was hitting yours up.

Too funny!

Ben O.

Peter said...

Hi Mike, thankyou blogger!!!!!!!!!!

Josh said...

LOL! Ouch! Can't decide which.

btw great picture too.

jules said...

I remember nights you could be out alone at the river. Man, I miss those days.

bornfool said...

Good story. It brought back memories of my frog-giggin' days. Peter sent me over and I'm glad he did.

Miss Cellania said...

My folks sued to serve those things... ick! They didn't settle down til they were almost done. This is a great story. I can just SEE you sailing into the river, sans sneaker.

Duke_of_Earle said...


Well I think that the bullfrog saw both you and the turtle coming and dodged both. Then he had a good laugh watching the action as his enemies fought each other.

Great story, in any case. Glad you didn't end up missing a digit.


TLP said...

Sweet story. Kids used to roam free. Can't do that now.

Sandy Hatcher-Wallace said...

Peter sent me and I thoroughly enjoyed your frog giggin story. I used to frog gig, but not to sell frogs, but to eat them. In fact we are thinking of going gigging tonight. I have caught those nasty aligator snapping turtles with my bare hands, but I am very careful to stay away from their powerful jaws.

I just can't imagine what terror you must have went thru as an 8 year old on a dark river bank with a snapper attached to your foot. Great story.

poopie said...

Very nice picture! The only thing that would have made that story more horrific to me would be a snake..yikes!

I'm not even supposed to be here today said...

That's a great story... and very well-told. Thanks for letting us accompany you down memory lane!

Janet said...

That sounds like the makings of a great short story.

Hale McKay said...

~Ben - I think you're right.

~Peter - No, thank you for the referrals.

~Liz - It was a definitely a moment of mixed emotions. Only now is it funny from where I stand.

~Jules - So true. All the weirdos and perverts out there now. (Present company excluded, of course.)

~Bornfool - Ah, nice to hear from another voice of experience.

~Miss C. - I remember the first time i tasted them, I was told they tasted just like chicken - NOT!

~John - I'd be willing to bet that ol' bullfrog was sitting on thqat island laughing his ass of.

~Lucy - I agree. Our parents never worried about us, well a little, but not like today.

~Abandoned - It's nice to hear from still another with frog giggin' experience.

~Poopie - You must be related to Indiana Jones. Funny you should mention snakes. I do have some memories of encounters with a copperhead and a cottonmouth or two.

~Rachel - Glad to have you along.

~Janet - Hmmm ... Maybe a collection of smiliar stories?

~Everyone - I'm so glad to hear from you all and equally glad you enjoyed how I kept my toes.

kenju said...

Mike, my dad used to go frog-gigging with his brothers and some of his best stories were told about their exploits, which usually involved too much alcohol (they were in their 20's) and not enough sense. I am glad the turtle got you between the toes!

Shannon akaMonty said...

My granddad used to go frog giggin', then grandma would cook up a mess o' frog legs.

I never tried them.

But WHAT an excellent story, and picture to match! :)

Hale McKay said...

Kenju - I guess just about everyone south of the Mason-Dixon must have done some giggin' or knew someone who did.

Monty - Thank you. You make number five of the commenters who are familiar with frog gigging.

TMelendez said...

Im laughing because I know that if you could have, you would have posted teh best graphic of the turtle bitting someone...!


Hale McKay said...

You're so right, Tony. I looked, but didn't find a toon with a biting turtle that I liked.
...Sometimes you don't need pictures to convet imagery.

V said...

Love the pic and the story! I've been playing around with Paint too lately for some odd reason.