Casita de Coco
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Turkeys, Turnips and Trout

How was the Ozark vacation?
Picture “Winter’s Bone” with Flooding.

You’d be wrong. People are proud to be from the Ozarks. It's a place of great natural beauty. It’s got big trees, big springs and it’s thick with wildlife. It’s full of remote rolling roads, cattle pastures, creeks and old mills. For someone who inhabits the high-desert, it’s a fabulous break from moisturizing.

It was the annual family deer hunt. Twelve days. The new baby boy grew a lot in that time.  I sang to him my made-up tunes that, like him, I can’t get out of my head now, a week later. I brought back more frozen venison than the TSA guy had ever seen before. And a new word.

A guy had a huge frozen ham with him last week. That weighed a ton. Frozen solid.

A real thooster huh?

Huh?

The two year old caught her first trout - and then another and another. We ate them at the restaurant above the huge spring that feeds the trout ponds and creek at The Trout Ranch at Rockbridge, Missouri.  The epic flooding that week had damaged that old mill and others.

Aldo Leopold’s son did ground-breaking work on game management near here - reestablishing the population of native turkeys. There are a lot of turkeys in the Ozarks but I didn’t see any. The wild ones are around. The domestic ones are in big thooster barns.

The local turkey farm is run by family. But it is a turkey factory. So it’s a factory family farm. A family runs the farm for a corporation under contract. The line between factory farms and family farms is blurry. Really blurry.

We tried not to talk politics but things came up. Like the straightforward view of how it’s generally easier to trust the corporation that pays you than the government that taxes you. People align with who they believe gives, not who takes. Trust who pays, not who taxes.

Years of misinformation and fear spread by television is taking a toll on general civics. But I kept that to myself.

The 4,000 acre Caney Mountain Conservation Area is where Leopold did his work. The Ozark hills stretch as far as you can see in any direction from view spots up there. They plant food plots for the deer and turkeys. Among them, turnips. Gorgeous fields of beautiful turnip greens and perfect firm round roots peeking from under them. You can smell their freshness driving slow up the narrow road. I grabbed several for dinner - Poached turnips! (Braised in butter, actually. With greens cooked in bacon grease.)

Best Christmas present: big Bald Eagle Christmas day. The woods are also thick with bright red Cardinals,  blue Jays, yellow finches, falcons and everything else. Bird feeders were always full outside the cozy sun room with an old fashioned rocker for baby rocking and remotes for the cable TV and gas fireplace. But that was later in the week.

At church on Christmas Eve the preacher took the children aside and told them red stripes in candy canes represent the blood of Christ. Our two-year old turned from him and farted, a real loud thooster. Then she smiled and ate the candy.

About the longest night of the year I spent alone and terrified deep in the woods. The charming tiny log cabin in a hollow by a pond is always reserved for me - the aunt - in part because no one else wants to brave the outhouse. Who can blame them? The pack rats that shred the toilet paper for their nests and watch you when you sit down on that dark hole. But they never really scared me. Neither did multiple mammals that danced and squealed in the eaves above the bouncy loft bed. Ear plugs.

But when the weather boomeranged from balmy to biting and storm “Goliath” hit I was huddled in bed like the kid from Poltergeist, watching looming trees out the window and counting seconds between lightening and thunder. The storm got closer and closer until wind shook the cabin and inches of rain hit that tiny tin roof all at once.  It moved off more quickly than it arrived. I waited, wide awake, for dawn then packed up and moved to the big house. They called it Goliath. I call it Thooster.

My nephew shot a young buck that had been previously shot with an arrow through the head. A scar ran down his back and the arrow was sticking out of the roof of his mouth. It had missed his brain and he’d lived like that long enough for the wound along his back to heal. Ouch.

There is a thing called “noodling.” I thought they were kidding but it’s a kind of fishing where they make feeding nests for cat fish in shallow ledges along the banks of lakes then swim under the ledges and grab whatever they can grab … or whatever grabs them. Thooster catfish will latch onto your arm. Noodling is nuts.

There seemed to be more lights visible from the big house at night and I suggested more people might have moved into the county. I was corrected: it’s the same people, just more fear.

Other things I learned on my winter vacation.  You can’t tell a bacon eater not to eat bacon. Similarly, you can’t tell a coffee drinker they won’t know the difference when it’s “half-decaf” in the pot.  Yes I’ll know the difference. I’ll have a thooster headache that’s hard to miss.

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