The first time I ever got fired from a job, I felt carefree enough to just enjoy it for about six months. I did a lot of different things to make money and keep myself afloat including building sets for the local opera theater, and digging quartz crystals in the Ouachita Mountains to sell.
Which led to an interesting proposition.
One of my old buddies had been going with a friend to hunt an old Confederate camp in south Arkansas with metal detectors. They had found a place down there that yielded up a very rare bullet that went for around $90 apiece at that time, nearly twenty years ago.
Of course this spot was completely secret and each sworn never to reveal to another. But somehow they came to the agreement to let me in if I would show them where I was getting the quartz crystals.
So I take them down into the Ouachitas and we dig crystals all day and I come home with my hands completely swelled and blistered from poison ivy roots. I felt that I had upheld my end of the bargain.
So, a few weeks later we all pile into Joe’s truck and take off about six a.m. for L.A. (lower Arkansas), getting there about 8:30 or so. It’s cloudy and sort of misty, but veteran treasure hunters know that this makes for better sensitivity in locating objects, and easier digging to retrieve them. So off we go into the forest.
More like a long series of swamps and bogs with intermittent thickets of briars and thorny locust trees. So, where are the bullets?
“Oh,” they tell me, “we decided to check out a new place.”
And about thirty minutes into the trek of finding nothing, it starts to rain. Earnestly.
Joe says, “We better head back to the truck,” and whips out his compass. I hadn’t noticed before then that he didn’t bother to check the compass when we left the truck. This turned out to be a crucial bit of information. “It’s this way,” he said.
We thrashed through unfamiliar underbrush and waded a few low spots before realizing that we weren’t really getting any closer to seeing the truck. And there being no sun to judge by, there was no way of knowing if we were going the right way or not. We slogged on.
Some of the swamps are starting to get chest high, and being that wet in a November downpour gets to be mighty uncomfortable, even if you’re wearing G.I. boots and field jackets. It was even more disheartening to find that all of my cigarettes were wet.
On and on and on we trudge. A check of my watch shows that it’s been four hours since we left the truck. Over rises, through sloughs, and scratched by briars of every description, we trekked on and on. Finally, about four o’clock, we come to a narrow, muddy jeep trail. So, which way do we go?
First instinct says go right, but after about a quarter of a mile I saw a sign nailed to a tree. Soggy Bottoms Hunting Club, No Trespassing. “Look fellas,” I said, “the sign is facing this way so that must be out.” Agreed. And, we start hiking down the jeep track.
An hour and an half later we arrive at a gravel road. This is an improvement, but which way? We walked about half a mile and came to a rise from which we could see to the horizon and no end in sight to this road. So, we went the other way.
We walked for about thirty minutes in a driving rain, the hoods on our field jackets pulled tight around our faces, our metal detectors draining rivulets from the speaker holes, when we came to the dead end of said gravel road. That was disheartening to say the least. And a cigarette would have been a great relief but they had all been left disgustedly in a soggy mass at the terminus of the jeep track.
So, off we go on the trail to infinity trying to while away the time talking about how stupid Joe was to not check his fucking compass until it was time to go back and how fucked up it would be to have to spend the night, wet and cold in the woods.
Sometime really close to sundown we started hearing the sounds of a highway in the distance. We quickened our pace and finally came to a beautiful two lane black top with brightly painted amber stripes. Not giving a shit, we flagged down the first vehicle to come along, which in Arkansas is 99% sure to be a pick up truck.
“Say, how do you get to Mount Elba from here?” we asked. “Mount Elba!” he replied, “Hell boys, you’re twenty miles from Mount Elba. Jump in and I’ll give you a ride.”
Welcome words to be sure and one of us had to ride in the back of the truck in the wind. I figured dumbass Joe would volunteer, but when he didn’t, I was just so grateful that I climbed in back and relished the fact that I wasn’t walking in the rain any more.
He whipped a giant u-turn in the middle of the highway and we barreled off to where the truck was parked. It was a silent ride, in the dark, wet and miserable with the heater blasting, back to Little Rock. As far as I know, I have never spoken to Joe again and don’t reckon I ever will. Curt and I have remained friends and I only partially blame him.
But hell, I didn’t even get a t-shirt. I spent ten hours in the rain and all I got was this crummy story…