Sunday, October 16, 2016

Yakin’ …

Yakin' down the White River outta Norfork, Arkansas last month; an annual trip that almost wasn't.  It was much needed R&R ... God is good!
     I didn’t think I’d be writin’ this-here entry, but I'd actually got the green-light pert-near last minute to go on my annual kayakin’ trip on the White River in northern Arkansas.  My partner in crime Ty Johnson and I were the token Texan’s (by locale, not by birth) who joined 20+ “Arkies” last month for a few days of fishin’, drinkin’ and much needed R&R at The Riverside Retreat just outside of Norfork, Arkansas.  This trip may be a last hurrah for some of us, and I was blessed to be able to attend.  A few of us are gettin’ a bit long in the tooth and some have acquired health issues; others of us have problems on the job or family responsibilities that have taken precedence on our yearly Hell raisin’.  But evidently, none of us could pass-up an excuse to get together & fish!  On top of that, our host for several years has put the place for sale, so who knows if we’ll be able to do this again next year.  It was do or die time; so this-here "standard redneck" chose to live it!  My job would just hafta wait ‘cause my ass was cashin’-in on some much needed PTO (Paid Time Off, not “pick the orifice” as some employers seem to do).

     I began this adventure at 8:45 P.M. on a mid-September Tuesday evenin’ for a 4hour drive to Plano to pick-up Ty.  Early Wednesday mornin’ … not tryin’ to beat the ambulance to the wreck, we cruised along at a good clip until we hit the Ozarks.  Trust me, when you see a sign that says, “Curve 15 MPH” you’d better not be doin’ any over … unless you want to literally make an impromptu trail down a friggin’ mountain!  During our journey we both discussed our work issues, but soon decided that the subject was a friggin’ mood killer ... other than the fact of bein' blessed that we were both currently employed.  We stopped here & there for gas & grub, and hit a few antique/junk shops to break-up the tedious drive … arrivin’ shortly before 6:00 P.M.  This year, I had made it a point to travel as light as possible … even though I’d brought all of the fixin’s for a 22-quart chicken, deer-sausage & egg gumbo.  Yeah, that’s right … I said eggs!  Don’t knock-it ‘til you try it; my cousin George Jones had taught me that lightly-forked hard-boiled eggs will soak-up all of the flavor of your gumbo.  On top-of that, I didn’t wanna test whether or not fresh Gulf seafood would keep safely on ice for a 12-hour+ friggin’ drive.  And NO, I don’t consider anything that comes from a friggin’ “Y’all-Mart” actual fresh seafood.  Period.  The only overkill were my coolers full of Lone Star Beer, which insured me that I wouldn’t be runnin’ out!  Them dang Arkies ain’t too keen on drinkin’ Lone Star.  Yeah, it’s a Texas thang, y’all; however, I’ve got ‘em likin’ the Robert Earl Keen and Pat Green music that I bring for the porch.  Oh, and a big thanks to Buzzard Mike’s son-in-law “Nick the Greek” for helpin’ out with the gumbo!  It’s a big task … so, thanks fer steppin’-up, Nick!  And, as usual … no one went hungry.

Rest & relaxation, with beautiful scenery around every bend. The ridge to the right is of particular interest to me ... read on for further details.
     The water was down this year, so I figured yakin’ would be less dangerous and I could actually concentrate on fishin’ and not dodgin’ rocks & trees.  Last year, that water was so friggin’ high that the 10-hour trip only took only 4½ hours!  Not much time to fish when you’re worried about tumpin’.  And yes, y’all … “tump” is a word here in the South.  Our host had told me last year that if I’d have tumped, my yak & gear would most probably not be retrievable.  He’d also said to look-out for submerged trees while tryin’ to swim to a shoreline … ‘cause even wearin’ a PFD (personal floatation device) I’d likely get hung-up and drown.  Well, Ty had never kayaked before, so I’d convinced him that this was some genuine bucket-list sh¡t and he abso-friggin’-lutely had to try it!  Keith Mathis and I would be on him like ducks on a June bug in case he had any “uh-oh’s” along the way, and we made dang-sure he wore a PFD as well.  Now, did I mention that beer was involved?  Even though I’ve joked about not (yet) bein’ able to get a BWI (boating while intoxicated) citation in a kayak, Ty and I are the most probable culprits for that friggin’ scenario; thank God that Keith don’t drink!

Keith Mathis (left) with Ty Jonson on his very first kayak trip; he did good & had fun, so maybe now he'll catch the bug & get a yak of his own!

The bluff just past the mouth of Goose Creek, which splits at Gather Hollow and becomes
Twin Creek.  Just north of here was a Class 3a report taken by Tal Branco back in 2002 ...
     Well, if you’ve actually read this much of this entry, some of y’all are probably wonderin’, what in the Hell does this redneck road-trip have anything to do with sloughstalkin’ or “Bigfoot”?  Well, lemme tell y’all that this-here area is prime wood-ape territory.  There ain’t that much difference between this terrain and that of the Ouachita’s … which are only a mere 150 or so miles away (as the crow flies).  And if you happen to visit the North American Wood Ape Conservancy’s Website, they have this great feature called “report explorer” which is an interactive map of actual reports taken by actual NAWAC investigators.  And if y’all click HERE you can read about a Class 3a encounter that happened in the fall of 1988 … less than 3 miles from our lodge!  So, last year when I told them Arkies about my personal experiences while in the Ouachita Mountains … only a couple of ‘em joked about it.  This year, I’d decided to do a nighttime hike through the woods … up and into a rock quarry that is off a rocky road close to the lodge owner’s property.  My main objective was to get remote and try to illicit a response to wood-knocks in that area.  So, here's how it went down ...

This rock quarry was about a fifteen-minute walk from the lodge; the elevation and seclusion captivated my curiosity enough to explore it ...
     A couple of them younger Arkies, Drew and Spencer nutted-up and joined me on my 11:00 P.M. hike.  Just hours prior, Drew and I had scouted the area shortly before dark, findin’ a trail on a ridge off to the right with a large dyin’ tree.  This looked like a good place to knock … and the sound would echo throughout the quarry and surroundin' woods.  I noted that not only would someone need 4wd to traverse the trail in, but also that the trail itself was overgrown and looked fairly unused for quite some time.  The full moon aided our navigation, and I remembered that both weeks I'd spent in the Ouachitas back in 2015 were full moons as well … with lots of activity.  I had a feelin’ that this full moon might be special, due to the rare lunar eclipse the night before.  The quarry was 300-400 yards long by a hundred yards or so wide.  I explained to them that once I knocked, it was imperative that no one talk or make any noise so we could listen closely for any possible response.  Well, we heard no responses or any other “monkey business”.  The woods were alive with the sounds of coons, frogs & other critters; but after I knocked … all of 'em shut-down for several minutes on both occasions.  After no responses, we traversed the steep, rocky and thickly-wooded terrain back to the lodge.  On the walk back, Spencer suddenly jumped when he heard what he thought was a low, loud growl!  Upon closer observation … it ended up bein’ the echo of distant thunder through the mountains to our west.  I kept waitin' for Buzzard Mike to jump out from the woods and try to scare someone, but evidently the talk of wood apes in the area kept him on the porch.  By the way, Buzzard Mike has had a huntin' lease in the Ouachitas for a few years.  In conversation, he'd claimed that he's both heard and seen some pretty strange things out there, but attributed them to people or pranksters.  After listenin' to my experiences, he'll now hafta think a bit more about these peculiar instances, and be a bit more observant while runnin' 'round out there in them woods!

Here are the remnants of my "basket of deplorables" on the mornin' of our departure.  What a great bunch of guys! Ty obviously wasn't sober
enough to put his shirt on correctly ... as Buzzard Mike (front right corner) duly noted!  I'd list everyone, but a few may still have warrants ...
chuckle-chuckle, comedy club! Seriously, these guys are a fun group to be around, and everyone had a blast. Hope to see ya'll again next year!

     I’ll try and pin Buzzard Mike down to post more details about what-all he's seen & heard on his lease at a later date.  Like I said, I didn’t even think I’d be able to write this entry or even go on this trip due to my work commitments.  And I just cain’t wait ‘til my next trip, which will be a chance to see my fellow NAWAC investigators and meet our new associate members in Oklahoma.  I’d be willin’ to bet that their experiences in the Ouachita’s this past summer will make my trip to the Ozarks seem pretty insignificant, but only where the wood ape experiences are concerned.  My time with them Arkies, however brief … was nothing short of awesome!  Many memories were shared, and as usual much fun was had.  Those boys will always remain in my thoughts and prayers, and hopefully, we shall all meet again next year; that is, if God’s willin’.  Take care and y’all come back now, ya hear?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Rats, Buzzards and Other Distractions …

Alpha male at Disney's Animal Kingdom; hope to get as clear of a shot on
a wood ape, 'cause ya'll won't see any "blobsquatches" on this-here blog.
     Howdy!  I know that my last post was several months ago, and there is no excuse for neglect.  Lotsa drama on the job, lotsa honey-do's & projects around the house, some huntin’, some much needed family time, some fishin’, a couple of North American Wood Ape Conservancy outreach events and an auto accident involvin’ my parents have all since transpired.  Yeah, much has happened … so, no excuses; I simply should’ve made the friggin’ time to post.  Period.  Excuses are like assholes, and everybody has one; Lisa just happens to have me.  My beautiful bride has reminded me on numerous occasions that there are abso-friggin’-lutely no “buts” after an apology.  So for those who still read this, I sincerely apologize and thanks to all of y’all for comin’ back.  "But" ... those of you who actually know me should already know by now that I ain’t technically a butt, but more of a hemorrhoid … ‘cause I tend to irritate most assholes.  And over the past few months, it seems that I’ve done quite a bit of that!  Lately, I’ve been distracted by rats & buzzards, all while still bein’ haunted by my memories of last summer in Oklahoma.  So first off, let’s talk about the rats & buzzards …

     I have worked for the same business for over 20 years.  Over that period of time, I have met some truly amazin’ folks, some of whom have become like my family away from home; however, work will always be a four letter word.  While I am truly blessed to be employed, at the same time I’m cursed to find myself in an environment where I simply no longer enjoy what I do.  My creativity has been quelled by too many cooks in the proverbial royal kitchen.  You’d think that after 20 some-odd years I’d be the king of this thing; however, my reality is that I’m just a pawn … evidently expendable in the endgame.  Upon my last performance review (which was supposedly good) I was told to simply play the cards that were dealt.  Really?  Dodgin’ bullets in the workplace is the easy part, but dealin’ with rats and buzzards was never part of the master plan.  Y’all know that I’m Greek, right?  Well, the Greeks have lots of sayin’s … such as, keep yer friends close but yer enemies closer.  I refuse to become the friggin’ sheep that is eaten by the wolf … ‘cause lately, the best defense is a good offence.  I have a tendency to come-off a bit offensive at times, but I’m sure that it’s due to becomin’ a product of my work environment.  The Greeks also say the walls have ears, and one shouldn’t wash dirty linen in public.  Well, I simply don’t give a rat’s ass about what’s considered public.  All I know is, I’ve been a very loyal soldier and expect to be treated as such.  Period.  My absolute favorite Greek sayin’ is “Κόρακας κοράκου μάτι δε βγάζει.” (which translated means, “Hawks will not pick-out Hawk’s eyes”).  But, instead of soarin’ with majestic raptors, I seem to be dealin’ with friggin’ rats & buzzards.  What fresh Hell?  Lately, this paradox called work seems like it’s all just Greek to me.

I checked-out the gut pit on a friend's huntin' lease in The Big Thicket
on New Year's Day, which was the first day of open carry here in Texas.
     Incidentally, I did find me some genuine down-to-earth buzzards on a huntin’ trip this past New Year’s Day.  I finally ventured to the gut pit on my buddy’s deer lease out in The Big Thicket.  If y’all remember, I’d written about my friend who’d had an experience with what was most probably a wood ape in this very spot about a year or so before … which backs-up to the Nueces River.  Well, that whole river has been well outta its friggin’ banks quite a few times since January.  Just gettin’ to the gut pit was a slow cruise in 4WD with rushin’ water close to mid-door in some spots.  I didn’t find any evidence of apes, but it damn-sure looked-like prime ape territory to me!  I’m gettin’ a little long in the tooth to be settin’-out all night in 30° temps in the wet, even though I feel confident enough to spend the night out there alone.  And, even though I friggin’ blew a no-brainer shot on a doe from a box-blind … I did score big when I got back to the lease.  I had promised not to divulge their identities, but two of the lease members I met were both very familiar with these mystery primates.  One is an employee in the forestry/lumber industry, who said that just talkin’ about these animals was a sure-fire way to get fired!  Even though he had not personally seen any of these critters, he’s seen the barefoot tracks and heard things such as wood-knocks, mouth-pops, grunts, growls & howls that could have come from nothin’ else.  He also said that he had heard stories from other employees who had seen ‘em, but that’s second & third hand info, so I won’t go into that here.  The other feller however, is now officially retired.  He told me that he’s seen ‘em up-close & too dang personal, but said they never showed any aggression towards him.  Let’s just say he was both a forestry service and parks service worker who’s been around in them woods for quite some time.  Oh, and both of these southern gents have personally seen black panthers!  One feller told about how he shot one, trackin’ it for a couple of miles ‘til he lost the blood trail.  I wouldn’t ever rat either of these men out, and I’m ever-so appreciative of ‘em bein’ so candid with an outsider like me.  I’ll try and get a bit more detailed about what-all was said in an upcomin’ post …

The Landrum's 2016 winter vacation ...
     And speakin’ of rats, evidently the world is not so bleak if yer rat is actually a famous mouse in a Magic Kingdom!  My queen arranged a quest for her king, the princess and reluctant prince as a family Christmas gift.  In mid-January, the Landrum clan took a trip to Orlando’s Disney World and Universal Studios for a wonderful week’s escape!  If anyone thinks that place is just fer the kiddos, they’re sadly-friggin’ mistaken.  Our 23 year-old daughter was in heaven, although our 20 year-old son wanted to be elsewhere; that is, ‘til he finally got there.
The Yeti exhibit naturally
caught my eye; Hmmm ...
  We all had a blast, and that trip will rank-in with one of our more memorable vacations.  Kudos to “Mrs. Incredible” for all her hard work in makin’ the “Magic” happen for all of us!  There was nothin’ disappointin’ about Disney, especially Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  Baloo got a ‘lil offended when “the old silverback” wanted his picture taken only with King Louie, and I even found a cool exhibit of all things Yeti on the Expedition Everest ride.  Now, it wasn’t near as excitin’ as the Ouachitas last summer in Southeast Oklahoma, but it sure was fun!  Probably the best memory that I have is watchin’ the gorillas, which were awesome.  Observin’ the females carin’ for their young was absolutely fascinatin’; however, everyone backed-up as the alpha-male stood-up and knuckle-walked past the crowd.  I don’t know how sturdy that glass was, but I was in no rush to find out.  I knew right then and there that what I’d had under me in Oklahoma one June night last summer surely dwarfed this alpha-male.  I was terrified and truly outta my element as far as bein’ a hunter was concerned.  It also made me realize that I would do everything humanly possible to never see a wood ape bein’ paraded around in captivity like this.  Period.

The gorilla exhibit at Disney's Animal Kingdom had me in awe; these animals are in captivity due to the onslaught of poachers.

Jared Alphonso, "bassmaster"!
     On top of all the honey-do’s, cleanin’, limb-cuttin’ and such ‘round our place, I actually got my boat, the Sloughstalker ready and put it through its paces on Clear Creek.  After cleanin’ everything up, the only 2 items I had to replace were a couple of switches in the foot-control on my Minn-Kota trollin’ motor.  Shortly thereafter, my buddy Jared Alphonso and I entered a bass tournament at the last minute, and ended-up placin’ 5th outta 19 boats!  That ain’t bad considerin’ we only pre-fished for less than 4 hours the day before. 
Sahil tryin' to comfort the rescued Bo.
The very next weekend, my buddy Sahil Dilwali and I fished a 45-50 lb. dog we found tangled-up under some tree roots from the risin’ tide in the not-so friggin’ “Clear” 65° water.  It had a collar & tag, so we contacted the vet, who contacted a couple of different police departments to track-down the owner as well as an animal control officer.  Accordin’ to the owner, Bo the shepherd mix, was 12 years old and had been missin’ for a day-and-a-half.  Although we all tried, sadly, Bo had to be euthanized that evenin’.  The
Sloughstalker was s’posed to accompany me & Lisa on our annual week on Caddo Lake, but that trip was cancelled due to the recent, historic 50-year floods.  The locals are still devastated due to flood damage, and my buddy The Goob has said that the Giant Salvinia is worse than he’s ever seen it.  Y’all be sure to keep those folks in yer prayers, ‘cause they’ve been through a bunch!  Makes me wonder where all the wood apes & other critters went after gettin’ displaced …

The North American Wood Ape Conservancy doin' some community outreach
at The Baytown Nature Center. Josh Hall, Tommy Gilley & Jay Southard field
 questions from the crowd. Inset is Tod Pinkerton, Jay Southard, Josh Hall &
Dusty Haithcoat, who are just a few of the members volunteering their time
to educate the public about this yet undocumented species.  We hope to try
to dispel any myths or misinformation given about these mystery primates. 
     For the first couple of weekends in April, I had the privilege to help-out with the North American Wood Ape Conservancy in doin’ some community outreach at a couple of local wildlife events.  First, we were at The Texas Wildlife & Woodland Expo, held at the Lone Star College Montgomery Campus in The Woodlands.  This free, family event is held annually and the NAWAC has had our presence known for a few years now.  Our goal at these events is to educate the public on these yet undiscovered primates and our efforts to scientifically document the species, as well as the protection of its habitat.  I urge y’all to visit our Web site at and see what-all we do.  There is a free PDF download of the NAWAC’s Ouachita Project Monograph … detailin’ several years of study performed by our members.  Now, the second event I mentioned was The Baytown Nurture Nature Festival held at the Baytown Nature Center.  This venue is top-notch in my opinion, and we had 4,200 people attend!  Both the children as well as the adults flocked to our enclosure, and the crowds were evidently pleased.  Not only did we get to educate the public, but a few attendees shared their experiences with us, such as one hunter finding barefoot trackways durin’ deer season well off any trail.  One lady told of actually seein’ one of these critters face-to-face!  This happened in the Caddo Lake Wildlife Management Area by a National Park Service associate.  Again, I will divulge more details in an upcomin’ post.

Angels, airbags & seat belts, y'all ...
the collision was center from the rear
and catapulted them into the divider.
     Sometimes, life will just up and blindside ya; back in mid-April, my parents were simply headin’ to church for a Greek Orthodox Easter service.  While goin’ up the Galveston Causeway, they were violently hit from behind by some friggin’ idiot who felt the need to do well over 90 mph durin’ rush hour traffic.  Lisa and I got the call from my father that they were bein’ transported by ambulance to the hospital, and I cain’t remember ever hearin’ Dad sound like that!  It was a miracle that they weren’t killed.  All airbags deployed and did their job, and it's a miracle that they were not catapulted off the bridge. They both suffered from the effects of whiplash; we initially thought that Dad got the worst of it with 3 broken ribs and a fractured L1.  Dad went to a specialist in Austin and is now doin’ much better.  Mom, however is still in physical therapy but is finally off the pain medication.  She had a shattered T-12 finally got the same procedure from that same specialist in Austin.  Both are doin' better and are finally on the road to recovery.  Again, thank God ‘cause it could’ve been much worse.  My family and I have been helpin’ ‘em with anything they might be needin’ no matter how menial the task.  Keep in mind that my parents are both in their 70’s and were basically robbed of their independence.  My wife’s been an absolute angel, but I’ve been kinda feelin’ the exact opposite.  I’ve done everything in my power not to have any more thoughts of exterminatin’ the rat that hit ‘em.  It seems that this upstandin’ citizen has a long rap-sheet and had just been released a day prior to causin’ the wreck from, get this … a criminal evade charge!  I know that I ain’t been havin’ very Christian thoughts towards this f-tard; God help me, I’ve been tryin’ ‘cause them buzzards ain’t circlin’ ‘round that rat’s grave just yet.  Again, thanks for all the prayers!

     So as y’all can see, much has transpired since my last post.  That’s life, and I’m obviously blessed enough to still be livin’ it!  Albeit rats, buzzards and other distractions, I will dang-sure make a better attempt to update this blog in a more timely fashion.  Due to my current work situation and personal schedule, I still don’t foresee that I’ll be able to take off to Oklahoma anytime this summer.  My annual kayakin’ trip on the White River looks like it’s shot as well.  However, as promised … I still need to share with y’all about my second full week spent in the Ouachita Mountains with two fellow NAWAC investigators last summer in Area X.  I wish to spend some long fall weekends in The Big Thicket, The Sam Houston National Forest or maybe take a trip back to Caddo Lake, but we’ll just hafta see.  So until next time, y’all be real careful while runnin’ ‘round out there in them woods … especially, on yer travels to and from as well!  Remember, the main thang is to always try and have ya some fun!  Life’s too short to worry about the rats, even with them dang buzzards a circlin’ ‘round overhead.  Now that I think about it, I’d much rather deal with the chiggers & ticks my own-self!  Y’all come back now, ya hear?

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Spendin’ …

Livin' large yakkin' the Ozarks last September ...
     Howdy y’all!  It sure was a busy year for me, and an expensive one at that!  I just got finished tallyin’-up all the road-trips I went on and realized how much I’d been spendin’!  Good Lord, for just the cost of my fuel alone, I was really thankful that gas prices were down.  I’ve been to Caddo Lake & back … twice … pullin’ a boat for a total of 1,100 miles; to the Ouachita Mountains and back … twice … for a total of 1,700 miles; and then went to the Ozarks and back for another 1,500 miles; and finally, to the Bowman Lodge for the NAWAC’s Annual Retreat for another 975 mile round-trip.  That comes to a total of 5,275 miles since May, which means spendin’ a minimum of 90 hours of time just drivin’ my truck.  Now, if I averaged about 15 miles per gallon, it means I must’ve been spent about $900 in fuel on just these 5 road-trips alone; and, that don’t even include all the extra crap I bought runnin’ in and outta gas stations!

     For example, here in Texas we got these huge super-stations named Buc-ee’s.  If you’ve ever passed one you’d definitely know, ‘cause everybody goes and their parkin’ lot is always full.  Goin’ in and outta one of these places is kinda like wanderin’ around a friggin’ “Y’all-Mart”.  Hell, all you need is a beverage or a bag of ice; but then, maybe a snack … or maybe some new road music, or, hmmm … maybe I’ll even get me one of them-there Yeti cups everyone’s been braggin’ about.  Before you know it, you end-up spendin’ almost $90.00, and that didn’t even include any friggin’ gas!  How in the Hell did that happen?  I don’t know, but I’d bought $75.00 worth of crap at that exact same Buc-ee’s the trip before!  I seem to remember that included more Texas road music CD’s and some t-shirts for my kids.  And then, there’s the Buc-ee’s Beaver Nuggets … OH, MY GOD!  My inner fat-kid is kept at bay unless it comes to Beaver Nuggets.  And if I really wanna binge, I’ll mix ‘em with a bag of Crunchy Cheetos.  Hey, don’t knock-it ‘til you try it, ‘cause it’s damn-near as good as a Lone Star Beer poured over a couple of scoops of Vanilla Blue Bell Ice Cream in a tall frosty mug!  The downfall of mixin’ Beaver Nuggets & Crunchy Cheetos (besides all the friggin’ calories) is gettin’ a mess of sticky nugget-shards and artificial cheese-dust on the black upholstery of my truck!  About the time that my sugar-high counter-balances the carb-crash is about the time I start to wonder, “Hmmm … I thought I’d just vacuumed them dang seats?”

     And then there’s road food.  I usually try to stick with somethin’ simple that I can eat while drivin’, such as a Whataburger with cheese & jalapenos.  This always seems to end-up drippin’ mustard down the front of my shirt or, of course, on my dang seats!  On this last trip to Oklahoma, I stopped at this place called Bigfoot’s Barbeque.  It was this ‘lil shack on the side of the road which had at least three big-rigs parked out front … so I figured the food just had to be good.  I walk in, and there’s this 7’ Chewbacca-lookin’ “Bigfoot” prop standin’ just past the entrance, and the TV was blarin’ on H2 with Giorgio Tsoukalos spoutin’-off about everything bein’ friggin’ “alien”.  So me bein’ the other weird Greek with effed-up hair, I sorta felt right at home … sat-right down and ordered me a full-rack of pork ribs with an ice-cold beer!  Actually, I wasn’t disappointed; that is … until I went to the men’s room to try and wash my hands.  The sink had tape across it, with a crude hand-written sign on the mirror that said, “Please use the sink in the Ladies Room” … and yes, I knocked first.  To my disappointment though, that sink looked backed-up as well.  As I paid, I reported this to the woman at the register, who quite frankly replied, “Yeah, I just saw that; but it kinda looked to me like someone had just gotten sick.”  I sh¡t you not, I won’t be goin’ back to that friggin’ place, no matter how good them dang ribs were!

Loggin' miles after my White River trip!
     Seriously, I estimated spendin’ at least another $100 per round-trip on food & drink while travelin’ … but that ain’t countin’ all the stuff you have to buy to eat while yer actually at yer destination!  I try to pre-cook the majority of all my meals a few days before and then freeze ‘em.  Blasphemy, you say?  Yeah, I like to grill-out myself, but there’s a big difference between grillin’ while chillin’ at Caddo Lake than there is while tryin’ to hunt in Area X.  Out there, your need to sustain is usually immediate, and then it’s back to business; I’d rather heat & eat than spend valuable time preppin’ & cookin’.  On top of that, it’s kinda hard to observe or watch yer dang back if you have to concentrate on cookin’.  I guesstimate I spent just under $150 on food for each week that I had spent in Area X … includin’ all the ice, water, coffee and Gatorade.  But then, there are your essentials, such as propane, batteries and back-up batteries for fans, flash-lights, etc., bug repellent, toiletries & hygiene products, specialty ammunition, clothes & gear.  If I added it all up here, I might as well start diggin’ a friggin’ hole, ‘cause my beautiful bride reads this blog as well, even though she won’t admit it …

     In retrospect, it’s been an expensive year for me so far … so I may wanna watch my spendin’.  That is, unless it’s spendin’ more quality time with my wife, our family or friends as opposed to spendin’ any more of our hard-earned money road-trippin’.  It is pretty-dang expensive doin’ all the things I do … and my beautiful bride has told me on numerous occasions that I am an expensive habit!  I really do love that woman, but the final nail in my coffin will most probably be the new Cabela’s that’s been built less than 5 miles from our place.  I just cain’t imagine what-all sorts of new stuff I might possibly find in there; however, I am sure of one thing … and that is that any future visits there will most definitely be supervised.  Come to think about it, I’d simply be better off usin’ all the friggin’ gear I’ve already got  … and concentratin’ on spendin’ more time on some local waters or somewhere out there in them closer woods.  Hmmm … both The Sam Houston National Forest as well as The Big Thicket are not that far of a drive, and both are rumored to possibly harbor wood apes.  Truth.  Right?  As a matter of fact, David "Big Sexy" Riojas and I are fixin' to head out shortly.  No tellin' what-all has been flushed outta them bottoms with all this dang rain.  Hopefully, I'll be able to report back shortly; but 'til then, y'all have a Happy New Year!  Be safe, take care … and y’all come back now, ya hear?

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Huntin' ... Part 3

Those lush, thick Ouachita woods remind me of a tropical rain forest ...
     This is the third installment chroniclin’ my time spent in the North American Wood Ape Conservancy’s research area in the Ouachita Mountains of southeastern Oklahoma.  Again, these are just a few of the things that I personally experienced while there, and these were just from my first trip.  I would spend yet another week in late July to hunt the next full-moon ... but I’ll get around to that trip later.  As for now, I had left-off with me sittin’ in a cabin just before 6:00 A.M. and not the best state of mind.  I had just spent the past 3½ hours in a tree-stand, where I was s’posed to be the hunter for an animal that had basically turned the tables on me.  I had one of the most powerful big-game rifles cocked and tightly clutched while these animals were basically right under me, and I friggin’ blew-it.  I knew all along that these animals were real, even before it got way too friggin’ real while sittin’ up there in that tree.  That night was like a carnival ride; I was strapped-in and could not get off until the ride was over.  But this was why I was here; so now it was time for me to tighten-up, ‘cause losin’ it any further would just be too costly for everyone involved.  This is how it went down:

     After Alton recorded what happened, I felt something crawling across my left cheek.  I scratched and removed a large unfed tick, mashin’ it between my fingernails then grindin’ it into the floor.  Travis broke the silence and said that he was goin’ out on patrol, so I asked if I could go.  I thought to myself, Hell; you just got bucked-off so the best way to remedy the situation was to hurry-up & jump back on ... and I immediately asked to go along.  He agreed and said he wanted to do a very slow stalk, but for me to stay at least 20 to 30-yards behind him at all times, lookin’ in all directions.  I quickly crawled outta my tree-stand harness, guzzled a bottled-water … buckled my fanny-pack over my holster and waited for Travis to get well ahead of me.  No talkin’ and no noise, so it was goin’ to be a slow and quiet hunt as we headed west towards the creek.  I waited for Travis to get well ahead of me, then cocked the .45-70 … placin’ my index finger over the trigger-guard.  It was eerily quiet without the usual chorus of Carolina wrens or the hauntin’ serenade of a wood-thrush to break the silence.  The mornin’ mist hung low as we began our scout …

My vantage at trail's bend ... although it was much darker that mornin' on my stalk.
     After a hundred yards or so, the ATV trail made a bend to the right and then back to the left.  At that point, I briefly lost sight of Travis for a few minutes until I finally wound my way around the bend.  By the time that I got to the property gate at the creek, I was immediately overcome by a very strong “zoo smell”.  In my opinion, that meant that somethin’ was close.  I remembered thinkin’ to myself, Holy sh¡t! This animal just made its way between Travis and me, and neither one of us heard or saw it.  After crossin’ the creek, I finally caught up with Travis who, to me … had looked like he was motionin’ me to go to the right.  He stood there for a while, and then eventually proceeded to stalk to the left down the creek.  I headed to my right, along a trail that paralleled the base of the mountain.  I quietly walked through a shallow-water crossin’, pausin’ for a couple of minutes.  I was almost to the next shallow-water crossin’ when I heard somethin’ way off in the distance … ahead and above me to my right … possibly even up on the mountain.  What I heard was a faint but long yell, which sounded like someone screamin’, “Aaaaaahhh …” that seemed to continue for at least 30-seconds until it faded-out.  I could not even begin to explain what this was.  It sounded as if I were in a stadium and heard someone yell; However, due to echo I could not quite tell exactly where it had come from.

     At that exact moment, Travis radioed me … and I just about squirted a friggin’ grape!  The ear-bud was still in my front right breast pocket, but the sound startled me.  He asked where I was, and I whispered that I was headin’ towards the trail that went up the mountain.  He then asked, “Why?”  I responded that I thought that he had signaled me to go right; in which he responded, “Nope … I signaled you to stop.”  I asked where he was, and he said that he was along the creek headin’ to the cabin.  I asked if he had heard that yell, and he replied, “Nope … all I can hear is runnin’ water.”  He said that he was gonna follow the creek and then head-back to the cabin, so I told him that I would turn around and start the slow walk back.  At this point, I was probably about 300-yards away from the cabin, but was basically on my own.  Unlike hours earlier, at least now I could see ...

     I slowly made it to the gate within a few minutes, but smelled nothin’.  I started makin’ my way around the bend on the road when I noticed somethin’ standin’ in front of me.  Not 40-yards ahead was a solitary doe … just standin’ there eatin’ the grass growin’ between the ruts on the ATV trail.  We just stood there starin’ at each other, and she didn’t seem to even care that I was there.  She continued to feed, standin’ there chewin’ as her tail swished from side to side.  At that moment our silence was broken; I heard what was either a rock shift or a dull stick break off to my left, and that doe immediately looked to her right.  She immediately froze, puttin' one front hoof down two to three times in succession.  Her tail flashed and she bolted past me at a dead-run into the woods to my right!  My heart-rate accelerated as I stood there tryin’ to see what had startled her.  She didn't mind in the least that a man with a gun had just walked-up on her, but whatever it was that she saw caused her to flee for safer grounds!

My view into those thick woods from the trail ...
     I stood there for at least 5-7 minutes, but could see no movement nor hear anything further.  I continued my slow stalk back to the cabin where I saw Travis sittin’ there watin’ on me.  I asked him if he had smelled anything at the gate, to which he replied, no.  I elaborated about the yell/cry that I heard, and he said that he did not hear that, either.  Then I told him about the doe.  Tired, Travis said that he was goin’ to try and get some sleep and that I should do the same.  After he went into the cabin, I sat in front of my tent for a while to try and decompress.  I was too keyed-up from the events of the past several hours … so no matter how I tried, I could not sleep.  Alton finally came out of the cabin and told me to get some sleep as well.  I tried eatin’, thinkin’ I would carb-crash, but that didn’t happen, either.  I forced myself into the tent and lay down on the cot, but my mind was still racin’ so I tossed & turned for at least another hour.

     The rest of my teammates were now up and had gathered in front of my tent to discuss the previous events.  The wood-knock was definitely heard by all; however, Mason was the only one besides me that heard somethin’ smashin’ into the pile of rocks behind their tent.  I again told of what I experienced while sittin’ in my tree-stand, as well as what-all I had observed out on patrol.  I confessed to my teammates that I had failed; I had the perfect opportunity to possibly take one of these animals and I simply was not able to do it.  At that point … fear, anger and regret hit me all at once and I emotionally lost it.  I was both embarrassed & ashamed of myself, and don’t remember when I finally went into my tent to crash.  I evidentially dozed-off for a short while … gettin’ at least an hour-and-a-half’s worth of actual sleep.  I awoke sometime after noon, and we discussed our plans to go to out of the valley to get ice, water and check-in to folks via our cell-phones.  The plan was for me to drive, due to the fact that I had the largest vehicle, but more so because I needed to drive in and out to better learn those roads.  I had a few loose items that needed to be secured in the bed of my truck, such as the come-a-long, a chainsaw, extra fuel and tools, etc. but instead opted to leave them on the porch of the cabin.  We loaded our ice chests and containers for potable water, as well as a few bags of trash and headed-out.

Our Oklahoma road-block; was this simply a coincidence?
     Shortly after 2:00 P.M. we departed the valley; however, sometime after the second creek crossing, the trail was completely blocked by a large tree-fall.  I thought, how odd; Alton & I came in on Saturday, the women on Sunday and Travis on Monday … and now we mysteriously have a large tree over the road.  I suddenly remembered that I had left the chainsaw, bottle of bar-lube, fuel, tree-strap and come-a-long back at the cabin, but I did have 2 brand-new tow-straps under the back seat.  The tree was semi-rotted towards the base, but strangely it fell perfectly perpendicular across the road, which I felt was very suspect.  All of the trees on that particular side of the road had a slight lean down the mountainside; however, that tree mysteriously “fell” the opposite way.  I tried not to dwell on this, but it was what it was so I didn’t feel the need to stir-up any friggin’ drama by bringin’ it up.  After we hooked-up to it, I used my Chevy’s front tow-loops to pull the trunk in reverse to one side of the trail, and then it took all five of us to roll it to where my truck could finally pass.

     Shortly after we finally got about halfway to the highway, we all saw a very large turkey runnin’ down the gravel road just in front of my truck, and ended-up seein' a couple of roadrunners as well.  We finally made it to a gas station to get some food & ice.  While we decompressed … we each called friends & family and I made it a point to check the weather.  As per Weather Underground, storms with the high probability of rain would approach the followin’ evenin’ … and it was forecast to most likely rain through our departure on Friday.  We left “civilization” about 5:30 P.M. for the long, slow & bumpy ride back.   At a deeper creek crossin’ we stopped to refill our potable water, makin’ it back to camp about 7:00 P.M.  After we unloaded, I immediately went to the tree-stand and repositioned it … movin’ it to the left and about 2½’ higher up the tree.  Once bitten, twice shy; I was still unnerved from the previous night’s encounter.  After chow, I was told to get some sleep; however, I could not force myself to do so.   Alton made the call that I would not be gettin’ back into any tree-stand that night.  Disappointed with my head still spinnin’ … I remember bein’ awake in my tent ‘til well after midnight; but then, I don’t really remember much more until later that mornin’.

A deeper spot in the creek to the right of the frame made a nice 8' x 10' impromptu bath tub, complete with seating.
     I had first awoke at 7:00 A.M., dozed on and off ‘til 9:00 and didn’t wake again ‘til almost 11:00.  Travis and I went to the creek to bathe.  As soon as we got there, I sh¡t y’all not … there was a distant but very distinct wood-knock off to the east.  Obviously, these friggin’ animals had eyes on us the entire time we were there, watchin’ our every move.  Everything else that day was uneventful.  Alton and Graham went out to still-hunt while Travis went out on patrol, makin’ lots of noise, dischargin’ his sidearm and yellin’ loudly.  I opted for a quieter approach, slowly strollin’ back into the woods to where we had bathed earlier at the creek, and sat on a boulder for the next 2½ hours.  Via my radio, I learned that Travis would be sittin’ on the side of the mountain, about halfway back on my walk to the cabin.  I did not see him upon my return, but he said that he had watched me stalk past.  When Travis and Alton finally returned, Travis sighted-in 2 of the .45-70’s … and then we all sat in the front of my tent from chow until we would retire for the evenin’.  Knowin’ of the approachin’ rain, I had pre-packed as much of my gear as possible.  Everyone had said that I’d probably get more sleep if I stayed in the cabin, but stubbornly I wanted to be in my tent for my last night there.  My mistake …

My rock huntin' perch between the creek and the mountain ...
this spot didn't offer much cover, but gave a panoramic view.
     I had my Olympus recorder on, sittin’ on top of a storage bin in the middle of my tent when I heard what I thought was a rock hittin’ tin on the top of the cabin around 10:00 P.M.  Upon reviewin’ this recordin’ … you could plainly hear me yell, “Now, that was a f_#in’ rock.”  My teammates said otherwise, but due to the stress and sleep deprivation you could not have convinced me any other way.  My sudden burst of insubordination was obviously due to sleep deprivation, but I could do nothin’ about it at that point.  I was a wreck, and as far as everyone, includin’ myself was concerned it was time for me to get outta there.  It then started rainin’ like Hell, but by 1:00 A.M. it was friggin’ game-on again!  I began to hear movement all around me, but due to the rain … it was hard to pin-point exactly what was going on.  But even in that drivin’ rain, I could hear snorin’ comin’ from the cabin, meanin’ that everyone else was zoned-out.  At one point, I heard the approach of “splash, splash, splash, splash, splash, splash, splash” as ... in my opinion, somethin’ on two legs had just run past my tent.  It came from the east and ran west past the front of the cabin.  Shortly afterwards, I heard the same friggin’ thing, but this time from behind my tent … runnin’ from the east to the west behind the cabin.  Again I thought, how in the Hell could somethin’ do that in complete darkness … in hard rain … and not friggin’ trip over anything?

     But the most excitin’ activity for me to observe was yet to come.  Somewhere between 3:30 and 4:00 A.M., I started to hear that same loud breathin’ that I had heard directly under me while sittin’ in the tree-stand.  This time, however … it was between my friggin’ tent and the cabin … mere feet from my head!  Clutchin’ my cocked Henry with my .357 at my side, I knew better than to even attempt to fire any shots with my teammates sleepin’ just a few feet away.  As loud as the rain was poundin’ on my tent … I could distinctly hear this friggin’ animal breathin’ in and out.  I was paralyzed with fear, but at the same time abso-friggin’-lutely amazed that this was actually happenin’!  Either this animal was purposely jackin’ with me; or, because of all the noise from the drivin’ rain and the sounds of my teammates snorin’ … it did not think that I was awake or could hear it.  I nervously and repeatedly pressed the call button on my radio, but got no response from anyone in the cabin.  After what seemed like several minutes, I finally nutted-up and forced myself to sit straight up on my cot.  Although I never heard any movement outside … the breathin’ immediately stopped.  I got off of the cot and sat in a camp chair in the middle of my tent.  I was facin’ the rear of the tent when suddenly somethin’ was flung … either water or mud, very forcibly across the back wall of the tent.  I actually saw the moment of impact; the whole back wall of the tent moved almost 1½’ inwards!  Needless to say, I did not get any sleep after that.

L to R; NAWAC investigators Shannon Graham,
Alton Higgins, Shannon Mason, Travis Lawrence
and myself before our departure from Area X ...
     Except for the rain … I heard no other activity from my nocturnal visitors.  By first light, the rain was subsidin’ so I began breakin’ down my camp.  This was a very tedious process, because I was on-guard and constantly lookin’ in every direction with every trip to my truck.  I was the first team member to be completely packed-up and loaded and was ready to ex-fill before 9:00 A.M.  My early-bird reward was to be able to take an impromptu “bird-bath” with the remains of some potable water, and then dried-off and changed into some shorts and a t-shirt for my drive home.  Waiting for the others to depart, I stared through the drizzle at the mountain … still wonderin’ how these animals could navigate such steep, rocky terrain at night.  As I stood there, I prayed in solitude and thanked the Lord that everyone was safe, askin’ that He watch over us on our journeys home.  Selfishly though … I caught my self askin’ God if I could please just see one of these animals before I left.  Almost immediately I caught movement comin’ down the side of the mountain, and could see a brownish-gray figure emergin’ through the thick, wet, green vegetation.  I could hear nothin' as the animal moved down the steep incline and out of the cover of greenery.  Dumbfounded, I was only granted the sighting of a deer that made its way about 30-yards from me, hastily retreatin’ back up the mountain as soon as it caught sight of me.  I took that as a sign for me to count my blessings and to not ask for more, especially after I had just been given so much durin’ the past week.  I realized that I was blessed to experience things that most ordinary people would never get to experience.  We all safely departed shortly afterwards …

     While I estimate that I only got between 1½ to 1¾ hours of sleep the night before, I’d only stopped twice between Oklahoma and League City, Texas … arriving home by 7:15 P.M.  Once there, I unloaded and unpacked, fixed a Crown & Coke … shaved and finally took a long, much-needed hot shower.  After finishin’ my third cocktail, I was still wired from my trip.  Wide awake, I couched-it in front of the TV and was up ‘til at least 2:30 A.M. … only to be awakened before sun-rise on Fourth of July.  Our family had previous plans to join some good friends in Crystal Beach for food, fun & fireworks.  Thank God that my wife drove, even though I rarely sleep in a vehicle.  I would still not fall asleep until well after 1:30 A.M. or so that Sunday.  After everyone else had retired, I had found myself starin' at the moon through a cloudy night on the upstairs porch of that beach house.  The couch on that porch was deep, and a stiff gulf breeze kept the relentless skeeters at bay.  I again found myself awakened before sun-up … and my lack of sleep pattern continued on that track for the next week or so.

     Folks, this was the final installment of my first trip to a place the North American Wood Ape Conservancy calls “Area X”.  Again, I urge everyone to visit our Web site at and read the NAWAC’s Ouachita Project Monograph … detailin’ several years of study performed by our members.  Remember, we ain’t sellin’ y’all nothin’.  Period.  No guided trips or “Bigfoot” related merchandise … no phishing, ads or pop-ups.  We all volunteer our time and personal finances to try and provide definitive proof of the existence of this yet undiscovered mystery primate.  Once that is finally accomplished, we will work just as diligently to fulfill our goal of protectin’ this species and its habitat.  Meanwhile, I’ll be postin’ what-all happened to me on my second trip in “X” … and to say that things got hairy that trip is a bit of an understatement!  Folks, let me clarify somethin’ here; this ain’t some exercise in creative writin’ …‘cept for maybe typin’ all this in “redneck-eze”.  Not in my wildest friggin’ dreams could I even begin to make any of this sh¡t up!  It has definitely taught me that there are things out there in this world that we don’t yet understand, and we shouldn’t take anything for granted.  Hell, this old man’s just been schooled, so remember … the truth is still out there!  Until next time, try and keep yer eyes & ears open while runnin’ ‘round out there in them woods.  Y’all come back now, ya hear?