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Today is October 4, 2022

Outdoors

Crawling things and other apparitions

Crawling things and other apparitions

While not as celebrated as the stinging snake from my childhood, some might consider this critter from the woodpile a monster. Photo: Tony Kinton

    With apologies to those readers of last month’s column, I wish to continue in similar thought here. It seems that folklore and often bizarre occurrences are common in the alluring hinterlands we country dwellers call home. The stories available can be quite grand.
    As referenced last month, snakes play a key role in the scheme of monsters lurking about the countryside, or at least they did in my childhood. The ghost-like and ubiquitous stinging snake received a great deal of commentary. This is the one that buries in the mud and waits to be disturbed. Said disturbance was sure to evoke a violent attack that led immediately to the victim’s demise. That harpooned tail with barbed stinger never missed its intended target, and the only way to avoid such a hideous thing was to simply avoid the muddy spots along creeks and ditches. That avoidance, however, was the overriding problem.
    Muddy spots very much capture the attention of young country boys, so much so that the advised avoidance was not an option. Feeling that glorious oozing of mud between bare toes was sufficient reward to risk an encounter with this grave monster.
    Let me be clear here: It was the old men of the area who were constant in their warnings regarding such matters. And allow me to add that those old men were not then as old as I now am. Years have a way of changing one’s perspective. Still, the old folks knew with certainty that the stinging snakes were there and even knew someone who had fallen to them. But never were there any names that could be attached. “I don’t recollect the name; he was just some feller that used to come through these parts off and on. He was from somewhere else.”
    Oh, the ambiguity and intrigue that filled my young mind. A vagabond, a free spirit who simply came through from time to time. And from some distant locale—perhaps as far away as Kosciusko. I grew up in the Carthage area and had heard of Kosciusko, but could neither spell it nor had I been there. This added a surety to the stinking snake myth. Somehow all us managed to escape this angry adversary’s wrath and grew to adulthood with a bit of that swamp mud still residing between our toes.
    And there were the whompass cats! They, like the stinging snakes, resided in woods and tangles along the creek several hundred yards from our houses and had this sinister and disagreeable habit of creeping into more civilized environs for the express purpose of waylaying lads who dared sleep under the stars on musty quilts. We never saw nor were molested by one, but we were regularly reminded that they were present in prodigious supply. “I hear ‘em squalin’ like a woman down there all the time.” Again, the old men.
    Before I completely abandoned the naiveté of adolescence, I grew enough courage to broach the subject of whompass cats with one of the neighborhood sages. I asked if perhaps what he and others referred to in quivering tones of impending disaster as a whompass cat could possibly be the shy and retiring bobcat. I was severely chastised, reminded fully of my ignorance. And by the way, he knew another one of those hapless travelers who was never seen again, this no doubt a result of the area whompass cats.
    And we must not forget quicksand. None of the elders could show it to us, but it was there. They knew a guy who, already up to his chin, managed to grab a long, heavy stick and use it for support, thus enabling the extrication of himself from a prescribed doom in some unknown world beneath the muck.
    Now that I look back on all this, I realize that the only monster any of us encountered was one of my dad’s 2-month-old bull yearlings. We were going to camp in my green canvas tent in the pasture, and with camp set we wandered off. As we got back near the tent, it began undulating and swaying, its poles popping like firecrackers. The apparition that had obviously inhabited it was much troubled and seeking escape. This apparition turned out to be no apparition at all but the yearling. He had stuck his head through an untied flap and elected to investigate inside.   The return of noisy country boys caused him too much angst to find that open flap, so he made a new opening—several in fact. My tent destroyed, we had to close camp. That yearling was a real-life country monster!

    Tony Kinton has been an active outdoors writer for 30 years. “Uncertain Horizons,” book two in Kinton’s “Wagon Road Trilogy,” is now available. Order from your local bookstore, Amazon.com or Kinton’s website: www.tonykinton.com.

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