Thursday, November 4, 2010

Move Over Mickelson, Nicklaus, Woods, etc.

(I’ve Got A Green Jacket)

By Taylor Wilson

OK, so there I am, after school and riding in the back of my mom’s 1970-something Buick station wagon. And I can still see my green jacket, the one with the buck and the mallard on the back, going down the street on the shoulders of the kid that stole it.

“Maybe it wasn’t mine?” I thought. But by the time I realized it had to be it was too late.

“Maybe he needed it more?” my mom said, when I pointed out that the jacket had to be mine, farther down the road.

And maybe he did, but I never got it back.

Besides, I knew all the kids that had those jackets. We got them…with the deer and duck…on the back because we all wanted to stand for something, together. There was even this green-yellow color combination (the buck and duck were yellow as well as the writing) on ’em, that would have made the 1970s Oakland A’s green (and yellow) with envy. (What did we know about color schemes? TV Shows were about crime-fighting angels, not designing homes.)

The jackets belonged to members of Explorer Post 70 headed up by then Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge assistant manager Glenn Stanley. Explorers are an affiliate of the Boy Scouts, typically with special interest/causes. And ours was Hatchie NWR. We did various projects on/for the refuge. Things like band ducks, put up and clean out wood duck boxes, pick up trash around the lake boat ramps and count deer (with all the deer we have today, I still have to chuckle at that last one, but we routinely counted them back then).

In short, Stanley took a bunch of small town, country kids and threw them in the famed briar patch—there was no other place we had rather be. What fun it all was and what influence Stanley’s time and effort carved into us!

I had an old picture of the group, one that I kept stowed away in a copy of Gene Hill’s Tears & Laughter or was it Mostly Tailfeathers? I can’t remember which for sure. Ah, I just got up from the keyboard and went and looked but couldn’t find it to scan and show you that once motley crew on a duck-banding day. So you just have to trust me—it was a cast of characters.

Anyway, these kids went on to become an assortment of grown-ups, most with a love for the outdoors still embedded in their hearts and souls, and some with it tied to their occupations. In reflection, it was mission accomplished for Stanley. His influence, time and effort helped mold the lives of some young folks for the better. (We can all do that, you know?)

Well, after my Explorers stint, the years flowed constantly onward like the Hatchie River. But as with most rivers, in life you just never know what might float by.

Then one day Stanley called me.

“Taylor, I was cleaning out my closet and came across my old Explorers jacket. I don’t wear it anymore, of course. But I thought of you, and rather than throw it away, I wondered if you want to have it?” Stanley said.

I smiled really big into the receiver of that phone, and I thanked him—a lot.

And sure enough, as promised, Stanley brought it by. It was green like I remembered, and the yellow mallard and buck were still there on the back. But you know what’s best of all?

It fit.

Thanks Glenn, for everything!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hunting Makes Memories For Mind's Eye

By Taylor Wilson

Flashes before one’s eyes.

People in dire straits claim to see such when they know their time is nigh. They see moments in life that mattered, things they did right, things they did wrong; things they enjoyed, things they didn’t. There’s joy and pain.

I suspect this to be true. I certainly carry around a lot of positive “flashes” of pictures framed by my mind. And several have happened while deer hunting, quite a few with my son.

For example, there was this moment my son and me stumbled about in the pre-dawn darkness one frosty fall morning. This little cub of a kid wrapped in a camo clothes whispered/confessed to his old man: “My stomach is turning, I am so excited!”

Glad I clicked that memory. (A similar memory lingers from when he woke me up in the middle of the night, before we were to fish the Little Red for trout: “I can’t sleep, I can’t wait for morning,” he said.)

Then there was the time we rattled, called and harassed a small buck until it ran at us in what appeared to be a charge. The kid made the shot, and proclaimed the ordeal AWESOME!

Afterward, we examined his trophy and when we were heading to the truck, the sun was falling on him when he and his shadow skipped for a few steps across a cornfield. Yes, skipped. It was simple enough, but a light, care-free jump for joy that typically we only see youngsters do and mean it. Yep, that too is clicked and framed somewhere in a mostly empty cranium.

And my mind saved another hunting clip the other day. The kid was lamenting the entertainment value of deer hunting when there weren’t any deer: “In deer hunting all the excitement comes at once,” he said.

“Yep, in big doses,” I agreed. But I added there are a lot of other interesting things to watch: the sunrise, the steam rising off a warming pond, the birds, and many other critters.

He noted the cold, the time, the need to go home, soccer games and Halloween parties.

So we started what could be labeled The Countdown Bid (it normally starts after my exclamation of, “We need to sit here a little while longer.”

“Thirty more minutes!” he said.

“Two hours,” I replied.

“Thirty minutes it is.”

“An hour,” was my counter offer.



So, there we sat, counting down our 30 remaining minutes in the deer stand, with me looking at the clock and secretly adding minutes, while my counterpart seemed to count way too fast.

The count-down stopped, though, with one word—“Deer!”

After some frantic whispers and the echoes of some well-placed shots, the smoke cleared and venison aplenty lay on the ground.

“CAN YOU BELIEVE ALL THAT HAPPENED IN A MATTER OF MINUTES!?!” said the excited kid who stood wearing my boot size, and who I almost suddenly realized had probably grown way too big to skip—or at least admit it.

My reply came softly while laughing and framing another mind’s moment. “No, I can’t, I really can’t.”

Sure, I believe them. There are flashes before our eyes…before our earth-bound lights go out, just as many claim. Maybe that is why I’ve always tried to collect as many good memory flashes as possible. Maybe I want the previews for The Big Picture to be mostly good, a prelude to what waits on the other side?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Along Came A (2nd Generation) Spider

By Taylor Wilson

  And one morning there she was, all black and yellow and wonderfully leggy.

  “What are you doing up there, just hanging around…?” I asked the garden spider, more to my amusement than hers.

  Crazy that I am, I continued my conversation with a spider, “Glad to meet you. I kinda been expecting and hoping you would show up. I knew your mom. And you are welcome to hang around here all you want.”

  I believe this spider’s mom had indeed inhabited the same north corner of my front porch last fall. And yes, I talked to her, too, for much of Fall ’09. And like spider’s do, that one too, left the world ’round the time of our first frost.

  I never really got to say goodbye. So I was especially pleased to see a new generation had returned to share my doorstep. And it is a great place to hunt for a spider. At night the porch lights attract plenty of prey. She’s a great hunter and I admire her for it. She had a cicada for breakfast, lunch and supper a week or so ago.

  This “black and yellow garden spider,” is also known as a writing spider, banana spider and a corn spider. But Argiope aurantia is the scientific name. Usually these (the females, anyway) are yellow or black with two rows of three white spots along its back. Argiopes also spins their web with a very unusual zigzag pattern (called a stabilimentum) in the center of it. And that zigzag is obvious outside my front door. The reason is disputed among scientists. “Perhaps it better stabilizes the web; acts as a camouflage for the spider lurking in the center; attracts prey; or warns birds of the presence of an otherwise difficult-to-see web,” they claim. Only spiders that are active during the day build stabilimentums in their webs.

  These spiders also spend most of their lives in one locale.

  So, as we are family now, I told some guys that were working on the house to leave my spider, and her doorstep corner of the world, alone. I think it was hard for one of them to do, as he had suffered the bite of a brown recluse. But for the most part they let her be. They did tell me one of the younger crew members threw another spider in her web and she finished it off. Again, I suggested/warned ’em again to leave her be. “She won’t hurt anyone,” I said.

  Obviously, she’s at home here now. She has since laid not one but two eggs up there in the corner. So maybe the legacy will continue? Next fall will tell.

  Maybe, I’ll one day regret the family affiliation and be over-run with ’em, but I kind of doubt it. And for those with arachnophobia, I have never read an obit that cited, “death by garden spider.” But if I am the first, well, we all gotta go sometime, might as well go having a friend or two hanging around.

  When I was a kid, my mom and I watched a similar spider outside our kitchen window. Mom called the spider Charlotte. It was fun and is now a well-filed and cherished memory. And of course, later we read Charlotte’s Web.

  ’Web author E.B. White also studied spiders for quite some time before he wrote the famed book. He even said of it, “Once you begin watching spiders, you haven’t time for much else.”

  I haven’t gone that far, but I do visit our spider daily conveniently at our front door.

  And of the book, well, to this day one of my quotes (and I have a lot of ’em) is:

  “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” – Wilbur (the pig).

  I have shared that quote with many of my friends, that, like me (most are better than me honestly), scratch out words for some sort of pay. Admittedly, I share the quote primarily to tell them simply that they are a rare commodity—good writers and true friends.

  Of course, the spider in ’Web was a wonderful writer, saving the pig Wilbur from the smokehouse with such great words as: TERRIFIC, RADIANT and HUMBLE.

  Another quote I like is where Charlotte A. Cavatica says, ““People believe almost anything they see in print.” And well, today, that may have more implications than when the quote appeared in the book. Genetically, we have to have words, maybe for sustenance, why else would so many of us paste newspaper clippings to our refrigerators!

  It is noted that Hollywood came looking for the rights to ’Web soon after it was written. But White held out. Eventually, the film rights were sold (more than once), but the author was a stickler that his book would end as nature plays out. Charlotte lays her eggs—and dies. Her death was central to the story. And one article claims, that White held out at great financial cost to himself, for years and years, because the Hollywood people wanted a “happy ending.” But he stuck to his story like a fly to a web. And in the end even the movie versions had to let Nature run its course.

  So all said, I have this big yellow and black spider above my doorstep. Partly because it’s fun; partly because it reminds me of my mom and our shared love for words; and partly because it reminds me too, that hey, we better create what we can, while we can. A cold season comes to us all.

  Of course, my spindly-legged friend and fellow hunter also reminds that there are always threads of hope in Nature as well, like the silky, sticky ones that hold spider eggs in the corner north of my front door.

  Taylor Wilson is an editor at Bill Dance Publishing, he can be reached by email at