by Lee Reaves
Christmas 1985 was a typical South Carolina winter; freezing one day and been like the next and I remember this one well.
Just like the year, it was probably 85 degrees, and I remember I bought a new pair of mud boots for Christmas. Santa had called me over, as Mr. Clower might have said.
Now anyone who knows the author knows that 9 out of 10 times he would be wearing boots. It was just his style. But they weren’t just any boots, they were mud boots.
Don’t get ahead of me, they weren’t specially ordered from Maine (LL Bean) or Missouri (Bass Pro Shop), no, they were from a little closer to us; Promotions from Sam Walden (Wally World). But they were mud boots and they were “mine.” I was as proud of them as if they came from one of those fancy stores and they kept my feet dry; for less money I could add.
Well of course I had to try them. Even though we were in a period of drought and heat, I knew where the mud would have been and I was ready to take on the task.
After all that wrapping paper explosion calmed down and the cat got off the ceiling, I thought I was going to slip out of the house, with my new mud boots on my feet, and go try them on. .
Long before I left the satellite location at the North Pole, I went looking for the JC Higgins Dads 12 gauge shotgun and a pocket full of shells.
Oh, you’ve never heard of a JC Higgins shotgun. Dad got this pistol from Sears and Roebuck in the late fifties, and believe me, he had his share of powder and shot. It was a clumsy weapon at best with a long eject / charge stroke. It took arms much longer than the mind to be comfortable with, but my only other option was a sharp stick, so the awkward kick was fine.
So after grabbing the shotgun, I doubled the time to the stable to meet Ginger, a beautiful auburn haired woman.
Now I know exactly where your mind has gone; Ginger was my horse.
Ginger was not a big horse; some called him a May horse because of his size but I’m not sure about this nomenclature. Regardless, I have followed many bird dogs on her and she never got tired.
Now Ginger was a little nervous, but not grumpy. I had birds and deer jump in front of her and she never flinched. However, she paced all the time; mostly in circles, but she was not difficult to catch. Sweet feed is a magnet and the great equalizer. So after seeing the scoop, she was mine.
I already had the bridle, blanket and saddle ready, so once she started eating I could start saddling her for our big Christmas adventure.
Now my saddle and the blanket were the same quality as my new mud boots but like I said earlier I was proud because they were mine.
In fairness to my lady Ginger, I restrained her last so she could eat as much as she could before we left to give her energy for our hike.
Now my bridle was truly one of a kind. Granted, no one had one like this far because it was made especially for me.
Forgive the bunny trail, but you have to hear this story and I assure you it is true.
Mom and Dad grew up with a man in Alcolu, South Carolina who was the most accomplished and passionate outdoorsman I have ever seen. Now I’d rather not use names, but as I’m describing this person, if you knew anyone at Clarendon Cty, you knew them or at least had heard of them.
He was the oldest of a large family and everyone in that family hunted and fished and of course being from such a large family they ate what they harvested (killed).
You should have heard them sing; Oh My Gosh what voices and harmonies, yet I digress.
Several months earlier my dad, brother and I were in the stable and this gentleman stopped because he heard we had another horse and he stopped like the country people have tend to do it to see Ginger.
After his verbal approval he asked me how she was driving and I told him I was not sure and he looked very puzzled. So I told him I had a saddle and a blanket but didn’t have a bridle yet. Unfortunately it wasn’t a matter of time, it was because I couldn’t afford a right then.
Without saying a word he turned on his heels and walked back to his truck which looked a bit like Mr. Haney’s truck on the Green Acres show where he had a bit of everything on it and in a short minute he walked out with it. a little bit and some kind of strap that I had never seen before and it started to give me a bridle.
Well, I don’t know who was the most shocked; me or my horse. Both of our jaws dropped as he slowly put the bit into Gingers mouth and slid the custom head over and behind his ears and it fitted perfectly. He said now go ride a horse and I did so after I thanked him profusely. He was an incredible man.
Now let’s go back to Christmas 1985.
I saddled Ginger and jumped Indian in the saddle with the shotgun in my right hand and a piece of hand and reins in my left. A feat I would never try again.
I asked Ginger to get up and we left to check the mud in a quick minute and as always she was ready.
Now, like I said, it was one of those hot, dry winters, but living in this area all my life, I knew my surroundings were “purely good” so headed for the fish pond. ‘Uncle Bob, about 20 minutes from the stable. Yes, it was the same “Uncle Bob” who had the Bob White Shooting Preserve that I mentioned earlier.
This pond was a spring fed irrigation pond used to water the tobacco beds in late winter / early spring before transplanting the plants to the field in mid to late spring.
Well Uncle Bob had fry in there and the fish were plentiful and the squirrels, deer, coons and opossums loved this area so I was heading to the back pond because I knew I could find some mud. and squirrels, but what I did found changed the course of my day.
When I got to the back of the pond I hiked Ginger around the woods a bit along a wide deer trail and tied him up where the trail narrows. We were probably 300 feet in the woods, not far, and I tied her comfortably to a sapling or something quite substantial where she would be safe.
As I dismounted and my feet touched the ground, with my new mud boots on, I had to lean against her to get my knees straight.
After completing this necessary stretching exercise, I removed the shotgun from the saddle, stowed one in the bedroom, and after checking safety, I backed up this old friend and made my way to the muddy surroundings looking for squirrels.
Well, all of you who have ever hunted squirrels know that you can’t find these furry talkers on the ground, they set up in the high perches forcing you to stare up at the treetops for them; hardwoods and pines.
Well, I was doing exactly as I was taught. Keep the tip of your gun barrel up and look into the treetops for movement and / or nests. In addition, my father taught me to walk quietly in the woods so as not to frighten the game.
I was doing all this when I felt cold water starting to run through my boots and I realized at that point that I had gone as far as I wanted because more away, I would have as much water on the inside of my boots as I did on the outside.
Now here’s where things went downhill quickly.
Throughout my ramblings on this article, I’ve dropped hints as to what could have happened, but I’m sure only the most accomplished outdoor enthusiast would have guessed the ending.
Tips: hot weather, mud, water and the edge of the pond.
As the mud deepened and I turned to turn around and not ruin my new mud boots, about 10 paces from my retreat my heart stopped and I was frozen with fear. Now keep in mind that I am literally walking in the same footsteps that I followed when the good Lord said “Hey, stupid, look down”. People, when I looked down I saw the biggest pile of coiled fury I had ever seen. This serpent was coiled up and pulled back, ready to strike at any moment. I was literally three feet from the biggest, nastiest Cotton Mouth I had ever seen. I grew up in the Black River swamps, but I had never seen one this big before. Coiled up, it would have covered the lid of a 5 gallon bucket.
Like I said, I was frozen with fear as I was so close to this huge reptile, not only could I see the glowing white of his tonsils, but I could hear his death hiss and he was staring straight at me. in the eyes.
At that particular moment I remembered the shotgun I had on my shoulder, but feared that a sudden movement of any kind might trigger his attack response and he hit me. and I knew if that big skutter bit me, I would be dead there in my new mud boots.
So all of a sudden now I told you this gun was clumsy, I tried to knock it down on him by letting that shotgun do what shotguns do to snakes. But the attitude of my body towards this monster and the awkwardness of this gun, when I pulled the trigger I saw the fire of the muzzle explode and simultaneously the snake leapt towards me with the fury of the gates of hell.
At that point, I literally felt like levitating and was carried to my horse. I have never experienced anything so intense and to this day I don’t know what happened this Christmas in particular.
I jumped on Ginger and she and I out of those woods where we had business. She apparently sensed my fear and that wide deer trail that I talked about earlier, well, as fast as we were going it was getting really narrow. When we got out of the field I jumped out of her because we were both panting, I collapsed into a big pile of muddy boots and unbelievably scared.
After a long time, I got back in the saddle and came home very shaky and exhausted.
In 1985 I was 24 and this month I will be 60 and to this day the only explanation I have is that this monster hit me and one of the angels of God came down and m literally ripped jaws out of slow death.
God is good and he is our protector and he certainly protected me that day.
And the moral of the story is, don’t follow your feet in places where you have no business being there to begin with.