I grew up in the Ozark Mountains. Though I am barely in my thirties, I still had the pleasure of living in the South that my ancestors knew, to a point; I warmly recall walking into the local general store and listening to the old men tell stories around the wood stove, just as I remember my great grandma and the old timers all having a huge gathering at the local cemetery for Decoration Day, just as I remember my great grandfather giving me advice from a voice that seemed older than the hills we lived in.
That South, sadly, is mostly faded. Though it is far from gone.
I married about five years ago to a woman who was still versed in the old ways, though she was younger than even me. It was through her skills (canning, pickling, gardening, etc.) that I began to think about my great grandparents and all the old timers, and how their ways were still the best.
We decided to rekindle their spirit and become self sufficient, best we can, and are raising our children to do the same. Whilst discussing my great grandparents and how we were raised, something dawned on me that is an old-time Ozark tradition, and served my ancestors well; the squirrel hunt.
I went squirrel hunting a month or so back, at the beginning of the crisp Ozark fall. It had been ten years or better since I had been on one, but it was just like the first time I went as a child. The beautiful changing leaves and the cold, clear morning brought the memories flooding back. It was the world my people lived in; the world they fought for their sustenance; the world they conquered and reared children in. I stalked down the hills and along the creek bed, listening to the tell-tale barking of the fuzzy tree rats that my great grandfather so relished on his table. I sat at the base of a walnut and spoke with God as I waited, patiently, on my quarry. The world slowly came to life as the sun rose, and I was the sole witness, there in that Ozark bottom. I listened to the birds sing and the squirrels bark, and for a moment I forgot all about the stresses of work and everyday life. For a moment, I was my grandfather.
The man grew up in the hills; scratched a living out of timber cutting and trapping, along with ginseng digging and was the epitome of the hard scrabble Ozark farmer. The man lived and died as he wanted, on his terms; fishing, hunting and trapping as he liked. He spent many an hour just sitting on the front porch alone, enjoying being outside. It’s a shame it took me so many years to understand why he found solace in that.
I believe that we, young Southrons, get wrapped up in living and making a life, and that is one more way the Empire steals our heritage. We are surrounded by the greatest land on God’s green Earth, and an abundance of game and herbs that are, literally, there for the taking. But, that is not exactly my point.
My point is this; those that forsake tradition often forsake their children’s future. Don’t wait as long as I did to reclaim that. Get out – go hunting, trapping, fishing, and take your children along for the experience.
As I walked the bottom fields here in the hills, I could almost glance to my left and see my great grandpa Wayne, in his overalls and old hat, with a .22 and seventy-plus year old eyes that could outshoot any youngster.
To my right was my grandfather, Glen, with a .30-06 and his old flannel shirt and a calm composure that put many a meal in his family’s belly.
They still live yet, in your memory and the memories of our people.
This world is OURS, Southern man, and nobody can take what is in your heart and soul, save God himself. The hunt is part of who we are. Of who our people were. An integral part of our survival, and a damned good way to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and “find yourself” (to sound like a damned hippie) in the outdoors and within the simple things.
Get out, teach your young ‘uns. They will thank you for it later.
Oh, I'm a good old Rebel, now that's just what I am; For this "Fair Land of Freedom" I do not give a damn! I'm glad I fit against it, I only wish we'd won, And I don't want no pardon for anything I done.