By Larry Dablemont
The Joplin Globe
The Lightnin’ Ridge I mention so often is the ridgetop where I live and work.
It is supposed to be the highest point in this county. I have my home and office here and 20 acres of big mature trees of all species, which comprises this separate parcel of land since the 1850s at least, according to the deed. There are deep ruts here on this ridgetop made by the cannons and wagons of union forces during the Civil War passing through here toward a crossing on the Pomme de Terre river a mile or so below me. I have about 12 inches of a broken saber blade that was found here, and a few other items I think may have come from that time.
I’ll bet those soldiers ate a few deer and turkeys with poke greens and wild onions and wild raspberries along this ridge when they camped here in 1862 and ’63. And I’ll bet there were a few Yankee soldiers buried here, because far more of them died from disease and malnutrition and exposure than they did from battle. I have seen a few ghosts up here on this ridgetop late at night but I never got a good look at them because they always are adorned in white sheets, as you would know if you ever saw any ghost movies.
It would be a beautiful place to be buried, because you can see the most beautiful sunsets from my porch, and when it storms I watch the rain and dark clouds roll in from the west and streaks of lightning stabbing at the earth, knowing soon a bolt or two will clobber something here on this ridgetop with a violent flash of light and a great roar of thunder perhaps much like a blast from one of those cannons 150 years ago. Buried soldiers wouldn’t see that of course, but their ghosts would because they have holes cut in their sheets for eyes!
On a quiet morning I like to sit out on my porch and watch the birds. There are so many species I am fascinated with — doves, bobwhites, rain crows, orioles, mockingbirds, brown thrashers, warblers and a half dozen varieties of woodpeckers. You see things you wouldn’t imagine would happen.
The other day I watched a red-bellied woodpecker drink out of hummingbird feeder by finding a precarious way to perch on it and drink from it nearly upside down. I have a bluebird house just off the perch where a pair of bluebirds raised some young ones and coaxed them out into the dangerous world. Squirrels chewed the opening out to twice the size you are supposed to have for bluebirds, and a couple of those squirrels used it for refuge in the winter, but the bluebirds didn’t seem to object to the expanded opening.
Just down the road from my place last week on a neighbor’s land, I watched an old gobbler strutting in a field of high grass at the edge of some timber. You could see nothing of him but that big spread tail fan. The grass was so high his head was hidden. It was a reminder that turkeys mate all summer and you can go out and call up a gobbler even in June and July. I called to that one, and he never moved a muscle for a time. It looked as if someone might have just stuck the fanned tail out there in the grass. But I could hear him booming and spitting, and I called several more times. Finally a big white head stuck up above the grass. Shortly after, a few yards away, a blue head of a hen stuck up above the grass, too.
The most amazing thing I ever saw here on Lightnin’ Ridge was a rooster roadrunner in the middle of a cold December day, and I haven’t seen him since. When you realize that roadrunners feed mostly on large insects, lizards and snakes, you wonder how he could survive a winter up here. Maybe he didn’t. It wasn’t long afterward that I heard Wiley Coyote out in the field howling for help.
Great horned owls, screech owls and barred owls live on this ridgetop, too, as do whippoorwills and their cousins, the chuck-wills-widow. The latter bird is a couple of inches longer and a couple of ounces heavier than the former. There are countless numbers of Ozark folks who have heard those two birds but have never seen one. Their call is similar, but different. They are the only bird I know named after the calls they make.
Another interesting bird is the woodcock, which actually nests here on a little marshy open spot in my woods where there are some earthworms. If you have never seen the spring mating flight of a male woodcock, which spirals high into the air as part of his courting dance, you have missed something.
Here on Lightnin’ Ridge, rain crows fascinate me this time of year. Known to bird watchers as the yellow-billed cuckoo, the rain crow is in the same family as the roadrunner. They are long and slender with a curved beak and a white belly, but just try to get a good look at one, let alone a photo. They nest in trees around my house, and I hear their loud “kalk-kalk-kalk” and soft clucking often, but they are so elusive they hide in thick foliage and behind large branches, as elusive as any creature I have seen in broad daylight.
A couple of days ago a huge swarm of bees concentrated on the branch of a large tree just a ways off my porch, making a loud buzzing and humming sound you could hear a good distance away. They usually swarm a little earlier than this, hundreds of worker bees in a ball bigger than a bushel basket at times and then they all move to some hollow tree not far away, where they surround the queen bee and produce a hive full of honey. My grandpa used to find those hives by sprinkling white flour on individual bees that would visit his garden, then following them until they led him to their hive. Then he would cut the tree in the fall and have sometimes gallons of honey.
another 17-inch crappie
In the interest of journalist integrity, I must report that the night fishing at Bull Shoals beneath the lights was disappointing, although the editor of my magazine, Sondra Gray, caught another 17-inch crappie. It was the second one of that size she has caught in three years! That is amazing. Seventeen-inch crappie are as rare as honest politicians.
Once again she out fished me and her husband, because we had a hard time getting shad for bait and he and I kept giving the good ones to her. It is something like those times when I open the door at the post office for some lady and then she gets in line in front of me.
But I can report that early morning and evening fishing for bass with topwater lures around the flooded bushes on Bull Shoals was very good, and Sondra’s granddaughter, Maddie, caught a bunch of big white bass when they found them schooling one calm, still evening. If you fish night-crawlers or jigs tipped with minnows during the day, you can catch lots of walleyes, though the majority will be under the 18-inch length limit.