As most of the country prepares for a harsh winter and enjoys a few months of relief from the summer heat, Southern Louisiana and Mississippi have a very different atmosphere. The sweltering summer heat gives way to milder days, monsoons of rain, and the traditional hunting season. Hunting is a staple of the culture and folklore of this region. As regular as church on Sunday, families and friends gather for weekend hunting trips. Trucks and cars are packed to the brim with guns, 4 wheelers, and coolers full of beer. Wives and mothers alike allow the traditional Sunday Mass to be missed for the chance of deer meat on the dinner table and a different form of church to be attended. This time of year church is held around a large campfire. Old grey bearded men, chewing tobacco with nicknames like “Poppy” and “Paw-Paw” become the preachers. Pews are replaced by tree stumps and rocking chairs. Wine becomes a cold beer or two fingers of Tennessee whiskey and the Eucharist is deer sausage in jambalaya. Just as in church, life values are learned, family bonds are built, and the faith is strong. It’s an experience unlike any other and a true blessing to have in my life.
Recently I was lucky enough to make the journey south to visit family and friends. Starting in my hometown of New Orleans, we drove north towards St. Francisville, Louisiana. As the cities and busy highways tapered off into two lane winding roads, barely big enough for one full size vehicle, beautiful oak trees draped with Spanish moss rose up over the rolling hills. The modern concrete and steel homes transformed into rustic tin roofed shacks with wrap around porches. These homes surrounded by 100 year old trees and rickety rocking chairs dotting the front porches, seem virtually untouched since the 1800’s. In this part of the world, these beautiful homes are called “The Camp.”
The young and old flood these woods in search of that once in a lifetime buck. The entire ride to Camp, I visualized myself drawing back my bow and taking aim at a legendary buck. This trip with friends was going to be a little different than trips of the past. Although I was there to shoot my first deer with a bow, there was important work to be done first. This time of year, the camp was preparing the food plots. These football sized fields are planted with radishes, clover, random field greens and everything else to keep deer healthy for years to come. Just like most days in Mississippi, there was no shortage of rain. As the rain poured down, the tractor plowed the field and the warmth from the freshly dug up dirt hitting the cool rain created a light fog that hovered over the field. The fog swept across the food plot into the surrounding oak and magnolia trees. For a brief moment it felt as if I was thrust back in time. I imagined Confederate and Union soldiers cutting through the fog with musket and cannon fire. While I wondered about what history these woods have seen, I was abruptly snapped back to reality with the roar of the passing tractor and whistle of my buddy signaling to load another bag of seed. Soaking wet, covered in mud and one flat tire later, the day was finally coming to a close. As we headed back towards the camp, my buddy, knowing I love photography, said, “Do you want to see something cool?” Already knowing the answer to his own question, he turned the razor sharply off the nice dirt trail we were on, straight into the thick high brush. Crashing through each thorn bush I pictured us flying off a ridge into a deep creek bed. To my surprise, the thick underbrush seemed to part like the Red Sea as a massive oak tree took over the landscape.
This 300 year old oak tree rose off the forest floor as if a giant watching over us. At the base, laid a small, barely visible graveyard from the 1800’s. The headstones blending in with azalea bushes and western yarrow, as if naturally in place. Large limbs stretched 100 feet into the air creating a canopy like a spider web that was a natural shelter from the steady rain. Small columns of light and rain drops were able to navigate their way through the canopy, gently tapping the forest floor with each drop. Each falling rain drop, a domino, taking 10 other drops along, dancing through the limbs to the forest floor below. Each drop casting a different refraction of light, bringing the tree to life in a tranquilizing light show. The gentle pitter-patter of the drops striking the forest floor seemed like the tree was making its own musical rhythm. This tree was inspiring as I imagined it standing the test of time. Hurricane force winds, pounding rains, and even modern man haven’t been able to take this giant down. Just like man today, we lay deep family roots built on a strong foundation of morals and values. Over time, we grow strong while being faced with the adversity life throws at us. Once we have established our place in the forest, we will create more life and provide shelter to those smaller than us.
With the light of the long day fading away, cold, tired and drenched in rain, my buddy and I laughed about how lucky we are to experience days like these. When most people would feel sorry for themselves or miserable, we rejoiced in the simple things in life most people never experience. We quickly headed for the warmth of the camp fire and the aroma of jambalaya on the stove. Lounging near the fire, comatose from a belly full of jambalaya, feet up and wrapped in an ole wool blanket, my buddies and I showed each other love the only way true friends know how. Laughing for hours, we joked, made fun of any small mistake each other had ever made and reminisced of the glory days nearly forgotten. Although I came up empty handed on my bow hunt, the experience enjoyed with friends as close as family, out weighed any trophy buck.
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