Category Archives: Other Stuff I Like

Big Thanks to the Folks at Kisatchie National Forest and the US Forest Service

Kisatchie National Forest-2As anyone who reads my books, my website, or knows me personally, my family has been "inextricably intertwined" (a legal term that applies in other situations) with Natchitoches Parish and the Kisatchie National Forest area in Louisiana since settlers began appearing in the area. I kicked around an idea for a book for years before choosing to set The Bottle Tree in a turpentine camp that actually existed in Kisatchie in the early 1900s.

Every time I visit Natchitoches I can feel the woods/forest calling and I love hitting the back trails and roads in there, walking occasionally and riding the rest, and visiting place I've been going to since I was old enough to walk for a while and then be carried by my grandfather or uncle the rest of the way.

On my last visit, my Uncle Mike and I were driving the back roads and a turkey suddenly darted out of the woods and then slowed to amble across the dirt road in front of us. He stopped the car and I shot a short video of the hen while waiting for others to appear since she acted like she might have been a part of a larger flock following her. We didn't see any more but did get to watch her for several minutes (video coming soon!).

I had heard the wild turkeys were making a comeback in the forest and then I spoke to my uncle again last week and he said he had seen a Bobwhite Quail not far from there just a few days before. I remember when I was a kid, many, many years ago, and we'd go out there with a relative of ours, Bud Gandy, who loved quail hunting and he'd always find plenty. It wasn't unusual for us to bust a covey during our walks through the woods (and when you're always expecting rattlesnakes, a covey of quail busting out from under your feet is a truly exhilarating experience) but over the years the Bobwhite and the turkeys had virtually disappeared. 

During one of our exploring trips last year we'd walked up on a section of the forest where there were a number of pine trees with large white painted sections on them, metal strips nailed around the tree (to prevent climbing animals) and holes drilled a ways up the tree with sap running down. Not far from those we found what we originally thought might have been a small trap on the ground with fencing running in four directions leading into it. We thought it might have been a quail trap so someone could take a count of the numbers.

What we found out was that the trap was actually one designed not for quail but for "America's Rarest Snake", Louisiana's Pine Snake, a number of which were released back into its natural range there in Kisatchie by the Forest Service (for more info on this see this article).

Red-cockaded Woodpecker NCM11002

The holes in the trees were part of an effort to improve habitat for the Red Cockaded Woodpeckers in the area (see article here). Interestingly, the Red Cockaded Woodpecker has significantly less red on their head than the other species in the area but to anyone who sees one flying, they still fly in the distinctive up and down woodpecker flight motion.

Those are just a few of the huge number of animals the good folks at the forest service are doing such a great job of protecting.

As I stop by various lookout points and springs, many of which most people don't know anything about, I was struck by the fact that I could have been standing on an area that my grandfather worked on when he was living at the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp located near where the Kisatchie visitor's center is now located since many of the roads, trails, and other feature were created by those men trying to work their way out of the Great Depression.

I'll be back in Natchitoches for the NSU Folklife Festival on July 17-18 (if you're in the area stop by the festival and say hello), but I suspect that I'll either get there a day early or stay a day or two afterwards to hit the woods again. I'm a lot older, a lot fatter, my back hurts, and my knees ache from all the motorcycle wrecks I had back in my youth (many of them in Kisatchie) but I always feel a little better no matter how tired I am, how out of shape, or how hot it gets when I get back to my roots.

I want to thank the US Forest Service and particularly those people who work out in the Kisatchie National Forest area for what they are doing there. I know that when I have grand-children I'll be able to take them to the same trails, eat huckleberries off of the same huckleberry bushes, and fish in the same fishing holes as my family has been doing for two hundred or more years. The turkeys I see, the Bobwhite Quail I hear whistling, and the rattlesnakes I watch out for, will likely be the descendants of the same ones that roamed the woods and my ancestors saw. 

Without people choosing to be the stewards for the rest of us, working hard, not making enough money, but caring about the area and the environment all of those things might not be here now or might not be here in the future.

Thanks.

Another Great Bit of Storytelling – American Horror Story

I've been writing away on my true crime book…well…researching a lot and writing a little (writing is hard work and this is even harder than usual).

Unlike many writers I prefer to listen to the television or movies playing while I work. Even though I am a music nut (Ha! A prophetic pun!) I find it easier to write with that in the background, probably because music always awakens strong memories and I get distracted.

But I digress.

Several years ago I watched the first season of American Horror Story and thought it was one of the greatest television shows ever made, limited as it is by the fact it is on a network as opposed to cable. I'd put off watching the next seasons because I missed the first few shows and knew I'd catch them when they were released online.

Recently Netflix added Season 3 so I thought I'd get started again and have been listening and semi watching Season 2 before advancing on to the next. Season 2 is set in an asylum and is good, not quite as much as Season 1 in my opinion but still very good. I listening to Episode 10 when the scene in the video I've posted below began to play. The utter incongruity of this song popping into this show makes it an absolutely fantastic piece of writing/setting.

I would have already recommended Season 2 if you're into these kinds of things but with this addition I now ENTHUSIASTICALLY recommend it.

I now present The Name Game:

 

A Great Set of Lyrics

I'll start out by saying I'm not a huge fan of country music, particularly the kind that plays on the radio and on CMTV. Waaaaaaay back when Willie and Waylon and the boys were making outlaw country I liked that and I still like some others but I think Country has pretty much gone the way of Pop, with lots of awful lyrics, autotuned voices, and little to no originality.

However….

Occasionally you come across something that reminds you never to judge a particular genre of anything too quickly.

For some reason I was clicking through some YouTube videos and happened to accidentally click on a song by Hal Ketchum called Small Town Saturday Night (written by Pat Alger and Hank DeVito). I remembered the song from the early 90s when it was released and I let it play because I am, after all, an advocate of small towns (in most ways).

As the tune was headed into the third verse I happened to be paying attention and was astounded at the lyrics. I'll put them here:

Bobby told Lucy, "The world ain't round

Drops off sharp at the edge of town

Lucy, you know the world must be flat

'Cos when people leave town, they never come back"

The rest of the song is good and accurately described life as a young 'un in a small town "back in the day" but I can't think of anything that sums up the way some people look at the thought of life on the inside and the outside of a small town.

Excellent, excellent, bit of writing.

Here's the video:

 

 

Fixin’ to Get Writing Again

Leaving out the discussion concerning "fixin' to" being a renowned Southern colloquialism which often draws curious looks from people around the world (and up north and out west, North being anywhere above Shreveport, Louisiana to me) I recently noticed the majority of my writing gets done during the fall and winter months for some reason.

I finish books in the Spring and Summer but write the majority of the pages during the cooler months (again, cooler being a relative term since we're often in short sleeves in the middle of winter). Maybe it has something to do with that being the time of the year I used to hunt and my body is just inclined to be doing something when the leaves fall.

In anticipation of that I obtained the Southern Writer's Kit, pictured below. I actually got one in this flavor and one in Apple Pie flavor but apparently my better half believed the latter was actually liquid apple pie of some kind because I've only had a few sips but the bottle is about 3/4 gone. And she's not a drinker. 

moonshine-1The Apple Pie version is 20% alcohol (40 proof if I have my math right) while the original version pictured here is 50% alcohol (100 proof) which is more my style. I am under the firm belief that a cocktail means you put ice in the glass with the Bourbon and anything more than that is approaching a sin. This particular beverage is best sipped straight from the jar.

As a side note, one of my great grandfather's brothers was a moonshiner in Louisiana back in the day so my taste for the mash drippings may be hereditary. In addition, My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, the founder of my home town Natchitoches, La., cited the number of wild grapes growing in that area and their potential for winemaking as one of the reason he chose to place the fort and settlement at that location.

So with all that being said, I'm about to put my nose to the grindstone and start spinning the tales again.

A Reading Suggestion in Light of Russia Acting a Fool – Alas Babylon

alas babylon

There are a few books that I read over and over again. One of these is Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank.

I first read it while in Junior High School, which you have to remember was during the 70s so war with Russia was a very real possibility, at least in our minds.

The Amazon description of  Alas, Babylon is:

"Those fateful words (Alas, Babylon) heralded the end. When the unthinkable nightmare of nuclear holocaust ravaged the United States, it was instant death for tens of millions of people; for survivors, it was a nightmare of hunger, sickness, and brutality. Overnight, a thousand years of civilization were stripped away. But for one small Florida town, spared against all the odds, the struggle was just beginning, as men and women of all ages and races found the courage to join together and push against the darkness."

The book is short. Amazon lists it at 352 pages but I can only assume that is some version with some type of fluff added in since the book is easily read in a day or two by a casual reader and less than a day by an avid one.

Although dated in many ways, the original year of publishing was 1959, the characters in the book still ring true and it does a good job of pointing out ways people find to cope and survive in a disaster.

I would rank  Alas, Babylon in my top ten books and it should still be required reading in all high schools. To show how much I think of it I actually have several copies around the house, purchasing a new one every time I couldn't find a copy here, and recently bought it again on Kindle so it would be available whenever I got the urge to leap back into it.

While I realize a book about a nuclear war in 1959 isn't as sexily terrifying as some of the Apoc-lit or Zombie Apocalypse (Zompoc) books that are out now, to those of us who wtill remember the duck and cover drills the potential for a man-made nuclear disaster is still real and just as terrifying as the walking dead.

 

Video of Kisatchie Falls, Kisatchie National Forest, Louisiana

 

Most of you know that my book, The Bottle Tree, is set in a turpentine camp which really existed just south of Bellwood, Louisiana in what is know the Kisatchie National Forest.

Many people believe that all of Lousiana looks like the area where Swamp People is filmed, but actually the northern part of the state is filled with hills and pine forests with just an occasional swamp thrown in.

This is a video I shot on my Droid smartphone of one part of Kistachie National Forest. This section of the creek is called Kisatchie Falls and consists of a sand and rock bottom with trees arching over the creek.

Unfortunately, many people who go there have still not learned that you should leave the place better than when you found it and so on this trip I picked pieces of broken beer bottles from the creek bottom and next time I'm going to take a trash bag to pick up some of the beer cans and cigarette butts that the asses leave there.

However, the place is still beautiful and here is a short video to enjoy.