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Life in the Palmetto State: My new mud boots

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Christmas of 1985 was in a typical South Carolina winter; freezing one day and summer like the next and I remember this particular one well.

Just like the year, it probably was 85, degrees, and I remember I had gotten a new pair of mud boots for Christmas. Santa Claus had done brung’ un to me as Mr. Clower might have said.

Now anybody that knows the author knows that 9 times out of 10 he would be wearing boots. That was just his style. But these weren’t just any boots, they were mud boots.

Now don’t get ahead of me, they weren’t special ordered from Maine (LL Bean) or from  Missouri (Bass Pro Shop), no they were from a little closer to home; Sam Walden specials (Wally World). But they were mud boots and they were “mine.” I was just as proud them as if they were from one of those fancy stores and they kept my feet dry; for less money I might add.

Well of course I had to try them. Even though we were in a hot dry spell, I knew where some mud would have been and I was up for the task.

After all that wrapping paper explosion had subsided and the cat had come down off the ceiling, I figured I would slip out the house, with my new mud boots afoot, and go try them out.

Well before I exited the satellite location of the North Pole, I went and got Dads JC Higgins 12 gauge pump shot gun and a pocket full of shells. 

Oh you never heard of a JC Higgins shotgun. Dad got this gun from Sears and Roebuck in the late fifties and believe me it had its share of powder and pellets shot through it. It was an awkward gun at best with a long ejection/load stroke. It took much longer arms than mind to be comfortable with it but my only other option was a sharp stick so the awkward stroke was fine.

So after I grabbed the shotgun, I doubled timed it to the stable to meet Ginger, a beautiful auburn haired lady.

Now I know exactly where your mind went; Ginger was my horse. 

Ginger was not a big horse; some called her a May horse because of her size but I am not sure of that nomenclature. Doesn’t matter I followed many a bird dog on her and she never tired.

Now Ginger was a bit of a nervous sort, but not skiddish. I have had birds flush and deer jump up in front her and she never flinched. However, she paced all the time; in circles mostly but she wasn’t hard to catch. Sweet feed is a magnet and the great equalizer. So after she saw the scoop, she was mine.

I already had the bridle, blanket and saddle at ready so once she started to eat I could begin to saddle her for our great Christmas adventure.

Now my saddle  and blanket were of the same quality of my new mud boots, but as I said earlier, I was proud because they were mine.

Out of fairness to my lady Ginger I bridled her last so she could eat as much she could before we left to give her the energy for our trek.

Now my bridle was truly one of a kind. I grant you no one had one like it far and wide for it was made specially for me.

Forgive the rabbit trail, but you must hear this story and I assure you it’s true.

Dad and Mom grew up with a gentleman in Alcolu, SC that was the most accomplished and avid outdoorsman I had ever seen. Now I would rather not use names but as I describe this person if you knew anybody in Clarendon Cty, you knew or at least heard of him.

He was the oldest of a large family and everyone in that family hunted and fished and of course being from such a large family they ate what they harvested (killed).

You should have heard them sing; Oh My Gosh what voices and harmonies, yet I digress.

Several months earlier my dad, brother, and I were out at the stable and this gentleman pulled up cause he heard we had another horse and he stopped by as country folks tend to do to see Ginger.

After his verbal approval, he asked me how did she ride and I told him I wasn’t sure and he looked very puzzled. So  I went on to tell him that I had a saddle and blanket but hadn’t gotten a bridle yet. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a time deal, it was because I couldn’t  afford one right then.

Without saying a word he spun around on his heels and went back to his truck that was some what akin to Mr Haney’s truck in the Green Acres show whereby he had a little bit of everything on it and in a short minute he came out with a bit and some kind of webbing that I had never seen before and he commenced to make me a bridle.

Well I don’t know who was shocked more; me or my horse. Both our jaws dropped when he slowly put the bit in Gingers mouth and slid the custom head stall over and behind her ears and it fit perfectly. He said now go ride your horse and boy did I after I thanked him profusely. He was an amazing man.

Now back to Christmas 1985.

I saddled Ginger and I Indian style vaulted into the saddle with the shotgun in my right hand and a hunk of main and reins in my left. A feat I would never try again.

I clucked to Ginger to get up and we were off to check out the mud in a quick minute and as always she was ready.

Now as I said, it was one of those hot and dry winters but living in this area my entire life I knew my surroundings “purty good” so off to Uncle Bob’s fish pond which was about a 20 minute ride from the stable. Yes that was the same “Uncle Bob” that had the Bob White Shooting Preserve I wrote about earlier.

This pond was a spring fed irrigation pond used to water tobacco beds in late winter/early spring before he transplanted the plants in the field in mid to late spring.

Well Uncle Bob had put fingerlings in it and the fish were plentiful and the squirrels, deer, coons, and possums loved this area so I was headed there which was off the back pond for I knew I could find mud and squirrels but what I actually found changed the course of my day.

When I got to the back of the pond I rode Ginger a little ways in the woods down a wide deer trail and tied her where the trail narrowed. We were probably 300’ in the woods, not far, and I tied her comfortably onto a sapling or something substantial enough where she would be safe.

As I dismounted and my feet touched the ground, with my new mud boots on, I had to lean against her to get my knees back straight again.

After I had completed this necessary stretching exercise, I pulled the shotgun down off the saddle, racked one into the chamber, and after I checked the safety, I shouldered this old friend and headed to the muddy environs looking for squirrels.

Well any of you that has ever squirrel hunted before know that you don’t find these furry chatterboxes on the ground, they take residence in the lofty perches making you look into the tops of trees for them; hardwoods and pine alike.

Well I was doing just like I was taught. Keep the tip of your gun barrel up and look up in the tops of the trees for movement and/or nests. Also, my dad taught me how to walk quietly in the woods so as to not scare the game off.

I was in the process of doing all that when I felt that cool water starting to run in my boots and I realized at that point I had gone as far as I intended because any farther in there I would have as much water on the inside of my boots as I did on the outside them.

Now here is where things went down hill fast.

Through out my ramblings of this article I have dropped hints as to what might have happened but I feel sure only the most accomplished outdoorsman would have surmised the ending.

Hints: hot weather, mud, water, and pond edge.

As the mud deepened and I turned around to go back and not mess up my new mud boots, about 10 steps into my retreat my heart stopped and I was frozen in fear. Now mind you I am literally walking in the same footsteps I walked in on when the good Lord said “ Hey stupid, look down”. Folks when I looked down I saw the biggest pile of coiled fury I had ever seen. This snake was coiled up and drawn back ready to strike at any second. I was literally three feet away from the biggest, nastiest Cotton Mouth I had ever seen. I grew up in Black River swamp but I never saw one this big before. Coiled up, it would have covered the lid of a 5 gallon bucket.

As I said, I was frozen in fear for I was so close to this huge reptile, that I not only could see the bright white clear to his tonsils but but hear his death hiss and he was looking straight at me. 

At this particular moment I remembered the shotgun I had on my shoulder but worried a sudden movement of any kind may trigger his attack response and he strike me and I knew if that big skutter bit me, I would have died right there in my new mud boots.

So all at once, now I told you that gun was awkward, I tried to bring it down on him at let that shotgun do what shotguns do to snakes. But the attitude of my body to this monster and the awkwardness of this gun, when I pulled the trigger I saw fire from the muzzle blast and simultaneously the snake sprang towards me with fury of the gates of hell.

At this moment in time I literally felt myself levitate and was transported to my horse. I have never experienced anything so intense and I to this day don’t know what happened that particular Christmas.

I jumped on Ginger and her and me out of those woods we had business. She apparently felt my fear and that wide deer trail I referred to earlier, well, as fast as we were going it got real narrow. When we got out to the open field I jumped off of her because we were both panting I collapsed into a big pile of muddy boots and unbelievable fear.

After a long while I got back in the saddle and headed home very shaky and spent.

In 1985, I was 24 years old and this month I will be 60 and to this day the only explanation I have is that that monster struck at me and one of God’s angels swooped down and snatched me literally from the jaws of a slow death.

God is good and he is our protector and he certainly protected me that day.

And the moral of the story is, don’t follow your feet into places you got no business being there to begin with.

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