Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Bayou Des Arc

Flying objects make noises. My bud Bill’s cousin, Nathan, could “whiz” rocks in a way that made them sound like a fat girl’s vibrator. Bullets really do sound like angry bees when they go by. And once in my lifetime I heard a meteor. That sounded something like a volkswagon beetle downshifting on a clay road.

That was the night of the wolves on the Bayou Des Arc.

My parents weren’t rich by any stretch of the imagination. We always felt like we were middle class, but I think we were humoring ourselves. The neighborhood I grew up in is one of the worst “hoods" in Little Rock now, and I never realized it at the time, but it was then too.

Somehow in a fit of straightening out the prodigal son, they found a way to send me to reform Catholic boarding school. This was a bucolic old red brick complex on a self sustaining dairy farm run by Franciscan Friars. I got kicked in the nuts the first day I was there.

During my second year at the school, a new Brother arrived (they call the Friars “brother”) that was the smartest man I ever knew. Brother Quentin taught science, but if you could find a word in the dictionary he didn’t know the meaning of, you were dismissed from class and free until Brother William “Tank’s” class started. He knew the name of every plant, every bug and every rock we could bring him. And, he enjoyed camping.

We would go in groups of 10 or 12, however many could fit in the Chevy Carryall with stacks of olive drab army blankets and boxes of food and skillets. We learned skills like stripping the dead branches from the bottoms of cedar trees, when all the woods were wet, to start a fire. Mostly we slept in a bluff shelter right on the Bayou Des Arc, across a gravel bar from a clear, deep swimming hole. There were Indian arrowheads in the nearby fields.

Tom Turney was a miscreant lad from St. Louis who loved to regale us with stories of sleeping in the jungles of Panama while his dad was stationed there in the service. Of course, we adolescent boys found these stories only interesting from the standpoint that we had to find a way to make him look stupid because of them. And somehow, the conversation around the campfire that night turned to wolves.

Surely wolves would be nothing after exposure to lions and tigers and bears, oh my. But Tom showed a particular interest in the wolves as we unfolded tales of horror and depredation and warned him to sleep with his boots on. “Pay particular heed to this, if the wolves come, do not get up and try to run. Lay as still as possible until they go away.”

Tom seemed a little nervous as he gathered an empty Seven Up bottle, a fork and put a long stick in the fire. Nobody seemed to notice Mike Lueck slip away from camp into the darkness. The wolf stories continued and someone casually mentioned having heard the cries of a wild cat. “They sound like a real woman screaming, you know.”

That was when we heard the growling coming from the creek.

Alarmed, Tom snatched his flaming stick from the fire and held it overhead. I think everyone except Tom could see Mike creeping on all fours in the firelight, grunting and growling in the most un-convincing manner I’ve ever witnessed. I was already doubled up in laughter when he sprang at Tom who immediately whirled around and stabbed me in the knee with the fork.

The entire camp erupted into pandemonium culminating in Brother Quentin shutting down the festivities and insisting that everyone go to bed.

It was while laying there on my wool army blanket, looking up at a black and endless sky, that I saw the large shooting star come low and fast across the trees making that ominous rumbling/buzzing noise and disappearing somewhere in the darkness.

And, to this day, I still have a scar on my knee the exact width of a fork’s tines.

1 comment:

Holly said...

Hey, just lettin' you know I found you through acidman! He's awesomely (is that a word?) funny! See ya!