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The Digressions of dr sanscravat

The Way of All Frogs
(e-pistle: 3 December 97)

This is one of those stories that must be reserved for a time long after the statute of limitations on inhumane-adolescent-behavior has expired. The cognoscenti among you are already aware that adolescence, if not adolescent behavior, is part of ancient history for your reporter -- hence the willingness to confess this tale of youthful depravity.

Long ago, in a distant galaxy (Cisco, Texas -- if truth be told), your faithful correspondent and two of his cousins (Truly Earl Clark and Terry Mason) were loitering on the peanut farm owned by Truly's father Alton.

I know you're anxious to read this story, but I must stop for a moment to tell you about Alton.

Alton was everything you'd expect a Texan to be: tall and squinty-eyed (like me), with the cracked-leather complexion that ordinary farmers have on the back of their necks -- only Alton wore it on every exposed surface. He was a peanut farmer, but the government was, at the time, paying him not to grow any peanuts. He was a slow-talking, serious kinda' guy.

When he told us a sure-fire way to catch fish, we listened.

His method was ingenious, drawing on his keen understanding of the predatory instincts of gamefish, combined with the sort of unorthodox make-do approach to primitive technology that most farmers practice. His reasoning was as straight-forward as one would expect: fish -- especially those inhabiting murky waters -- hunt more by sound and felt vibrations in the water than by visual stimuli. What one needed to attract these fish was a way to simulate the rapid buzzing of a large juicy bug that has accidentally fallen in the water. Alton -- and here was where his real genius became apparent -- made the conceptual leap to Alka-Seltzer.

According to Uncle Alton (and I am translating, for he would never have expressed himself as I do now), the plop-plop-fizz-fizz of the Alka-Seltzer was like Pavlov's bell for the bass and catfish in the tanks ("tanks," BTW, are small man-made ponds made for watering range cattle in Texas; they're everywhere, and they've all been stocked with fish; Texans take their fishing very seriously). Now he realized that you can't just stick an Alka-Seltzer tablet on a hook. What was needed was an appropriate delivery system. His solution: a spring-loaded clothespin. All that was needed was a method to affix the line and the hooks.

The size of such a rig seemed a bit awkward (at least to those of us who were more accustomed to fishing for Bluegills and Crappies), but he said it was not a problem with the really big fish that were attracted to this unusual bait.

Having been given this blueprint for piscatorial success, we prepared for a massive slaughter of fish. We bought a whole bag of clothespins, a box of large treble hooks, plenty of extra-strong snap-swivels, and several tall light-blue-labeled jars of the secret weapon. We spent much of the night before D-day preparing our equipment. We drilled holes in the clothespins, affixed the treble hooks (which had been carefully sharpened, far exceeding ordinary factory specs) and snap swivels. We tested our lines for weak spots and knots that might fail under the strain of a truly large fish. We oiled our reels (after rinsing them in gasoline to make certain that no grain of sand or grit could cause them to seize during the blistering run of a big channel catfish). We packed everything carefully, omitting only our food -- which we added, just before dawn, as we headed out to the nearest tank.

Now, grand-dad had once caught a 45 pound channel cat (and an itty-bitty 20 pounder) and served them in a kind of fish fry for the whole town. He lived in Clyde, Texas -- and Clyde wasn't a very big town in those days. Our plan was to replace that feast in the town's memory with the most outrageous feed the mind could conjure. We had adolescent appetites and they fed adolescent dreams of grandeur.

Alton had watched somberly during our preparations and departure. I thought he might have been ashamed at the fish-killing monster he had unleashed upon the world. His ability -- in retrospect -- to refrain from laughter is still an amazement to me.

We chucked a great many fizzing clothespins into the tank before deciding that there must not have been any truly big fish there. We moved on to another, larger tank. Same results. As the fact of our monumental dupery became apparent, we tried harder to make the contraptions work -- the addle-headed idea, I suppose, being: "We'll show HIM!" It, of course, did not work. We thought to switch to more tried-and-true methods (with the amended plan of lying about the success of the Alka-Seltzer) -- but in order to make room for as many of our home-made lures as possible, we had emptied out our tackle-boxes at home. There was to be no fish-fry extravaganza.

Oh yeah, now I recall what it was that I was going to tell you (the tanks reminded me).

Another time we (the fourteen-year-old cousins) were laying about on the peanut farm with nothing to do, Truly suggested that we go out and shoot some frogs. You thought that I was never going to get around to talking about frogs, didn't you? Anyway, we filled our pockets with ammo, each one armed with a .22 rifle. Now, I'd never actually handled a real gun before, but that's not important to this particular story. As we headed out to the tank, Truly warned us about the snakes. He didn't think we needed to worry much about rattlers or water moccasins, but he did say there were a lot of copperheads around. He said that if we smelled something like copper ore, we should watch out and be ready to shoot.

Two of the guns came off safety immediately.

We got to the tank where many frogs were to be found. One by one they were blown to satisfyingly small (by adolescent standards) fragments. Many of these frogs were resting in the water, with their heads just above the surface. A rifle bullet, fired at or near the level of the water's surface, tends to skip wildly (this is one of the reasons why ducks are hunted with shotguns instead of rifles). Even a .22 has a range of over a mile. I have no idea where all those bullets went that day.

Eventually, the frogs were either depleted or prudently withdrew to some sanctuary less frequented by armed teenagers.

We decided to take our guns into the woods to see if there was anything else we could destroy. As we walked along a dry creek bed, Truly Earl repeated his warning about the copperheads.

Now, I must tell you that I did not then -- nor do I now -- have any idea which kind of copper ore he meant, or for that matter, how those ores smelled. Nor did I then -- or now -- have any reason to suppose that serpents of the species Akistrodon contortrix smelled like any of those minerals. I never got to find out -- although, as he was warning us, we did notice a snake right next to us.

Literally three feet away.

It had the characteristic brown, cream and pink coloration of copperheads. I can't say for sure whether it was actually a copperhead (there are other snakes with similar coloring), because we would have to have had a good look at the head (pit vipers have a broad triangular head).

This was not possible because there was no head.

It had been vaporized, in seconds, by about a dozen rounds fired at point blank range. The snake looked like it had been the loser in a head-on confrontation with a power mower. There were small smoking fragments of unidentifiable reptile spread all over that dry creek-bed. Dispassionate scientific investigation was not an option.

I am not proud of what happened to that snake. I am even less proud of the great frog-slaughter, in which I had been an eager participant. I am horrified to think that dozens of bullets may have been plummeting from the sky on some neighbors down the road. I'm just telling you what happened. If ever there was an example of terrifying understatement, it is the phrase, "Boys will be boys."

Sans "Not cut out to be a redneck" Cravat

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