Columns » Bob Lancaster

Spring break Out driving in the early spring


The barpits are spilling over with runoff so murky it's might near opaque, so these early fishermen know they're not going to catch anything. A fish couldn't see that topwater lure unless it hit him in the head. But you've got to get started fishing sometime, and fishing isn't an activity that will admit of much abruptness, so you can't just wait till the game-and-fish graph peaks on the 10 O'Clock News and jump into the stampede to the new launch ramp. You have to ease your way into fishing and ease out of it again when the time comes. Patience is a virtue that requires a lot of practice to acquire. Fishing is like baseball in that respect, and fishing in such unlikely early-spring water is like the preseason baseball of the Hot Stove League. You don't really keep score; it's just a kind of warming up. The turtles are out, sunning on logs, and I always feel a little bad for them because of all the animals I think they'd be the most appreciative of having some reptilian equivalent of a TV. Lined up on the log there, they are nature's original couch potatoes. The traffic passing on the highway yonder - i.e., us - is their poor substitute for the big screen. And probably is no more interesting to them than the TV fishing shows are to us. Sunning turtles also have a forlorn look about them, like they sure could use a turtle equivalent of some chips. This year's fustest-with-the-mostest prize goes to the japonicas. Not only pretty but maybe the toughest of the plant-world hombres. I know that because my mother spent much of her last decade trying to kill a japonica bush that volunteered just outside her parlor window there at the Home Place. She subjected it to every torture in the gardener's inquisitor's kit -- chemical, chopping axe, shovel, post-hole diggers, everything short of dynamite -- and over every winter she built scrap-lumber and pine-straw fires on top of the stobby butchered remains. And it always came back the following spirng as jaunty as ever. She characterized its annual return differently, of course -- "it came slinking back like an old dog." I never knew why she hated it so passionately. I've come to suspect that she just didn't want it to have the satisfaction of outliving her. It was tougher than she was, though. She died in 1991, and it bloomed out again two weeks ago, as proud of itself as ever. People are still raking and burning last year's leaves. I think the trees of Arkansas must've set an all-time record last year for leaf production, perhaps in anticipation of the coming environmental ruination that the Bushman's re-election would signify. I've been raking the sons-a-bitches at least once a week since September, and every time I think I'm done for one more year, and go in the house and open a brewski and put my feet up, a new batch of them blows in from a secret cache that Mother Nature keeps hidden somewhere just for purposes of annoying humans and quietly reminding us who's in control. Where could they possibly be coming from - magnolia leaves like Chinese fans, sycamore leaves skittering like giant tarantulas? I have a notion the answer might lie in analogy. For thousands of years, dust particles from the painted desert, carried aloft and across half the continent by the jetstream, settled upon a stretch of the middle Mississippi Valley in minute quantities that in time were sufficient to build Crowley's Ridge. There's also the Yellowstone rainwater that percolates 4,000 years through the American underbelly before bursting forth as the Hot Springs hot springs. As with the dust and water, nature must hoard leaves and distribute them according to a formula beyond our ken. It was also a banner year for gumballs, the dratted little spiked fruit of the sweetgum tree that resembles the medieval weapon called the mace, used by the knights to bash each others' heads in. Gumballs have an interesting geometry, but tell me what they're good for, absolutely nothing … unless you count punishing incautious humans too eager for their first barefoot backyard romp. They don't rake or blow well, and they mostly defy the devices that intend to keep you from having to bend over to pick up your golf ball. Stoop labor of the old cottonfield variety is about the only effective method of removal. One afternoon last week I got out the pitching wedge and lofted nearly 1,300 of the rascals from my back yard into my neighbor's, and I suppose he'll return the favor when he gets back from his spring vacation -- either that or he'll try some new version of his old retaliatory trick with the cement mixer. There was a time not long ago the one essential status symbol if you were building a new house in the suburbs was the driveway basketball goal. These stately structures seem to have fallen into disrepute -- I read somewhere that they got crossways with the feng shui masters who rule now -- and are fast disappearing. They became a leading target of control-freak property owners' associations, our newest guardians of conformity -- and I suppose the ongoing poor showing of the Arkansas Razorbacks basketball team, with no light at the end of the tunnel, had something to do with their decline in these parts, too. The backboard finally rotted off the one at my place, but the iron pole is still there, planted in concrete, and I guess my only option is to paint it bright red and designate it as an objet d'art. I'm pretty sure it'll qualify because, once I get the red paint on, it will be identical to the one that Mrs. Rockefeller paid a million dollars for, or some such fantastic amount, and erected just outside the entrance to the Arkansas Arts Center for all of us connoisseurs to enjoy.

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