Out on a Limb's Re-Post Open Call sent me back to the end of May, 2010. I chose this story because it sounds like summer.
Today, I saw these carcasses hanging on fence posts along the road. It is my understanding they signal a bounty animal has been killed on the property. Throughout the year, I might see a dozen such carcasses, usually coyotes, hanging on fences along the roads I travel. I stopped today to photograph them, and was surprised to find they are catfish! How would catfish ever be categorized as bounty? Maybe they are a pest to be eradicated? Maybe the one who put these heads on the poles was a braggart?
Their skulls were the size of dinner plates, indicating to me the fish weighed no less than 25 pounds. I feel sure the meat was harvested before displaying them here, there's real good eating on a catfish. (See a close-up photo at the bottom of this post.)
These big cats remind me of a time spent in Arkansas, when my new husband and I had gone to the Ozark Mountains to see his family. Uncle Waylon woke us up in the middle of the night to go fishing on the Ouchita River. We snuck out of the house and climbed into the cold pickup truck. It was an old one, with split windshield, a big gear shift that I straddled, crowding in for the warmth. Uncle Waylon was a little frisky as he changed into second gear. I thought, "Hey, he's my uncle now too!" and then as he groped for third gear, "And! I'm a married woman!" Thankfully, I was delivered from further embarrassment when we pulled up at someone's yard.
Uncle Waylon told us to sit tight and make no noise. He was going to go into his pal, Litchleiter's barn to "get something." Dogs barked, a light went on in the house, and we could hear Uncle Waylon crashing around a little in the dark. Pretty soon he slipped back in the truck with a bottle shoved in his shirt. Moonshine! All those bible thumping Baptists were real strict about drinking. My own husband's grandfather had been an employee of the Internal Revenue Service, and broke up stills every time he found one. Mrs. Litchleiter was probably giving her husband some kind of righteous hell already, so he not only lost a bottle, he had lost the barn as a hiding place.
We made it to the river, and unloaded the little skiff and gear, including net and trotline, but no fishing poles. Uncle Waylon handed me some Coca Cola in cans as if it were some prize to guard. After shoving off, Waylon instructed us to open the Cokes and to drink about half. Then, he filled it back up again with the 'shine. "Shake it gently, now try it." My, my, my! Smooth as silk, slick to swallow, with a kick like a mule. What were we doing there? Oh yeah. "Fishing."
Uncle Waylon and my hubby stretched the net across the Ouchita River, which was highly illegal! So that's why we were there in the middle of the night. The net was large, with holes at least 6 inches across. The only thing we were gonna catch in that was gonna be huge! Channel cats! We worked then, pulling at the net every few feet, feeling for anything caught in it. We went back and forth across the river for hours. Drinking as we went. I would work the prow, and they would hang the catfish on the trotline off the side of the skiff.
As I pulled on the line, I felt a weight, and lifted the catch up over the prow to land at my feet. It had two bright eyes! "What IS that?" I asked from the back of the boat, apparently having instantaneously levitated over two men and their gear. It was a young beaver, still alive, thank god. It must have just been caught, otherwise it would already be dead by drowning. We let it go, pretty quick, and it swam off unharmed. Following that fright, we all felt a little deflated and morose.
So, we packed up our gear and our catch, and as dawn rose around us, went into town to have breakfast at the diner. The floozy waitress making eyes at Uncle Waylon, and the way he patted her when she topped off his coffee, spoke volumes. Married life must have opened my eyes and I was becoming enlightened.
(click on images to enlarge)