Tag Archives: turpentine camp

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.

Thanks to Everyone at the Natchitoches – NSU Folk Festival

 

What a great time at the Natchitoches NSU Folk Festival! There were tons of people that came by to visit, many of them who were familiar with the turpentine camp that I wrote about in The Bottle Tree and one gentleman had even been there and we talked about what it looked like! It turns out that my great Aunt who had first told me about the camp had taught him in school when he was a kid.

Many, many thanks to everybody that came by and special thanks to those of you who bought the books! We almost sold out of The Bottle Tree and quite a few people bought Junebug and the Body and No’ Chance as well.

I hope you enjoy the read and please let me know when you finish them.

We were invited back for next year so I’ll have to get to work and finish a couple more books to have there!


Turpentine Blues

As those of you who have purchased my novel,  The Bottle Tree , know the setting for it is a turpentine (pronounced turp-m-time by the black workers) camp in the early part of the 20th century.

Working and living in a turpentine camps was a hard way to live and a harder way to make a living. The work was hot and brutal and the workers stayed in debt to the "company store" never making enough to pay the bill and live on for long enough to find other work.

While I was getting ready for my table at the Natchitoches-NSU Louisiana Folklife Festival this weekend I came across a couple of blues songs about life in the "turpmtime" forest.

This song by legendary bluesman Tampa Red  will be playing while the PowerPoint presentation runs showing pictures from that life.

Enjoy!

My Favorite Book I Have Written

One of the questions i get asked a lot is "Which one of your books is your favorite?"

That is an extremely hard question to answer because the simple fact is that I have written a couple of books that I will likely never publish because I don't like them that much so, inherently, when I publish a book I like it.

I absolutely love both Junebug and The Body and  No' Chance. Each of them have such unique characters, settings that I love, and they have so much potential for the future. I still laugh every time I read portions of  Junebug  and still get anxious at certain scenes in  No' Chance.

But, I guess I would have to say my favorite is also the book that I wrote the fastest, The Bottle Tree.

If I had to pick a reason I guess it would be because while it was the last book I wrote, it is also one of the oldest ideas I had. The turpentine and logging camp was real, and I can still remember when my Uncle Mike and I found the big resin pile that juts into the creek. Not long after that I found out from my Great Aunt that she had actually lived there as a child, and the story was greatly influenced by what she told me of her life in the camp.

There is also a lot of emotion in The Bottle Tree, probably because the characters in there are so real to me.  Junebug  and  Noah  and his friends are real too, but the characters in The Bottle Tree are all modeled on people that I know rather than being characters created with bits and pieces of different people.

My Book – The Bottle Tree

 

A couple of people have asked me about the book The Bottle Tree and how I came to write it. Since it is about to be available in print (fingers crossed) I thought this might be a good time to address it.

A long time ago in a land far, far away (Louisiana) I was out with my uncle looking for a cave back in the Kisatchie National Forest. The cave was rumored to have once been the hideout of the outlaw John Murrell during his days when that stretch of Louisiana was claimed by both (and neither) the Spanish and the Americans. It was known as "No Man's Land" or the "Neutral Strip". Since neither side policed it and the major east-west trail, the El Camino Real, ran through it outlaws were having a field day.

The cave was supposed to have horse troughs carved out of the rock and legends of hidden gold are rampant. During my days off I'd take my metal detector and a shovel and we'd wander the hills. If you know me then you know, obviously, I never found the hidden gold but one day while crossing a creek I used the shovel to steady myself and banged it down on what I thought was a rock. A piece of it chipped away and the rich scent of pine wafted forth.

A few minutes later I began finding rusted and, with the exception of a piece off of a wagon, unidentifiable iron parts in the area. We had no idea what the mass in the creek was and mentioned it later to my great aunt. She told us we had found the site of an old turpentine camp that she had lived at when she was a little girl.

There are excellent articles describing the turpentine camps in Texas, Louisiana and Florida here and here.

That is when my imagination kicked in and the result was "The Bottle Tree".

The name itself has been in the back of my mind as a great title for a book for 20 years or so and one day the story just fell into place.

The Bottle Tree is about a simple life and friendship. It also addresses head on the issues of race.

Leesie, the character in the book, was very loosely based on my great-aunt, Thelma Leach, who was a teacher in the Kisatchie area for all of her life. The "colored boy", Johnny Robinson, was named after a childhood friend of mine who attended Provencal School. Provencal is a very, very small town in Natchitoches Parish and when I was a kid had about 300 students, total, in grades from Kindergarten through 12th grade. The kids were bussed in from a huge area spread across Kisatchie Forest.

What is a bottle tree? If you've driven through the south then you've probably seen one. It's a tree or pole with bottles stuck all over it. There are a lot of legends surrounding them, but one in particular is prominent in this story.

The book is a little shorter than I would have liked because I really, really liked writing it. I wanted to stretch it out more but, believe it or not, the book didn't want me to and evaded my doing that at every turn.

I hope you'll get a copy and read it. The story has both funny and sad parts and even though I wrote it and have read it a number of times, I still love it.

You can buy the book at Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com.