"Briar Legs"

Briar Legs

“Shane, if you ever get lost, the moss always grows on the north side of the tree. On a starry night you can always tell north by findin’ that north star, it’s at the end of the Little Dipper. That star never moves, it always points north.”

“If it’s a rainin’ and you need to start a fire, find a holly tree. Holly has a kinda’ oil in it and you can start a fire with it even when it’s wet. The sticks that drop off below the tree are better than them green sticks.”

“You always know west, unless it’s really cloudy, because you can always see a little light in the west long after the sun goes down.”

For serious fishermen the real problem is you fish too long. You know fishing has impaired your decision-making ability when you tell yourself the hundredth time, “This is my last cast.”

On fishing trips with Moon, we regularly fished until you could no longer see to cast. I don’t know why we never thought to bring flashlights along. I guess that would have pre-conceded the day’s fishing was going to be so bad that you were going to still be at it way past dark-thirty. With Moon, fishing past dark wasn’t a one-time experience. It was the norm. Many times, I found myself lost in some snake invested thicket, water on all sides, somewhere two miles from the car. Trails formerly visible in daylight, had now completely disappeared.

One of the problems with being lost is you must first admit, “I’m not ‘kind of lost, I’m totally lost.”

Once able to concede that, I attempted to recall Moon’s instructions. Problem was, most of his instructions were for worse-case scenarios, like if you had to camp-out somewhere in the woods that night. On these inevitable recurring occasions, I could never remember exactly how a particular lake was oriented on the north-south axis.

“Is the levee, which most of time I couldn’t see anyway, facing east or south?”

It was always almost impossible to determine. What to do then? Make your best calculated guess and strike out in some direction that didn’t require swimming. If you were off by one degree it usually meant you encountered briar patches only penetrable to rabbits, while slapping hordes of mosquitoes who were enjoying your sweet blood for dinner. Saw briars and short britches don’t mix. The mosquitoes didn’t even have to bite you, they could just feast on the warm blood already streaming down your legs from the cursed briars.

What appeared easy thirty minutes ago, now seemed impossible. I regularly found myself lost and entangled in an inescapable prison of briars. At which point, I tried to regather my senses and discern my whereabouts. In the darkness, trying to choose the least obfuscated “obfuscated path”, most of the time I recognized I was headed in the absolute wrong direction. Now, the immediate goal to escape briar prison without any more flesh wounds.

That’s when you yelled and listened hoping to hear a reply or the faint honking of the car horn somewhere in the dark distance. Recalculations, off again wading through muck and mire in another hopeful direction. That’s how I got ‘briar legs’.

Most of time my legs looked like they had been subjected to a meat processor. My legs were often so bad; Farrah had to take me to the doctor.

Sitting in the waiting room in Dr. Pennington’s office I resembled the poor children on the UNICEF posters plastered on the walls.

“When did he have his last tetanus shot? Yeah, Farrah he’s got a bad case of impetigo. You’ll need to fill this prescription and completely coat his legs twice a day with the antibiotic ointment I’m going to prescribe. It’s important to apply the ointment twice a day, once in the morning and once before bedtime. Are we ever going to get this boy raised?”

Next morning, “I said, sit still”, an overly generous application of the antibiotic ‘salve’ was meticulously applied to my ‘briar legs’.

Off to school, my britches sticking to my skinny legs like I had just received a fresh application of Elmer’s glue. At PE class when I had to put on my gym shorts and display my skinny legs for the rest of the world to see, I wondered, “Why hadn’t I thought to ask Dr. Pennington for a written excuse?”

Reluctantly I pried my sticky scabby legs from my jeans attempting to hide my briar legs from the other kids for as long as possible. Other kid’s legs looked completely normal. Mine? Very abnormal, like they had encountered an angry wildcat.

Inevitably I would get the question, “What happened to your legs!?” I knew any explanation proffered would be met with complete misunderstanding. What do you say?

“I’ve been a fishin’ with Moon?”

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When I first penned Moon and Sunn I included a truck load of chapter endnotes. I felt I needed to verify just about every historical detail of the entire book! After endless research editor Bobby Ha