Whiskey Slough is a magical place for me. It’s filled with mystery and mosquitoes, memories and moccasins, alligators, allegories and the cool green shade of summers past. When life begins to weigh upon my soul, I often find myself journeying back some forty years or so to a memory nestled beneath the outstretched arms of the cypress. As is evident by the previous sentence, I find myself waxing poetic about the place from time to time as well. In my mind’s eye the dappled morning light reflecting off of its coffee colored water puts me in mind of the deep bronze of my Granny Tharpe’s face. By mid-summer Granny’s Creek roots were in their full glory, and that deep reddish brown native face of hers counterbalanced by an ever present smile will forever live in my mind’s eye.
Granny loved Whiskey Slough.
For those unfamiliar a slough is a bit of a river that has decided to take a break from the daily grind. Being less flighty than the rest of the water, it finds itself a little depression to the right or left of the river and, making a detour, calls that depression home. The quieter water and ever-present shade is an irresistible calling card for every critter imaginable, including small boys and old ladies with a bit of swamp in their souls and mud in their veins.
It was mid-July as I recall, and for some reason Granny and I had the old rented jon boat to ourselves. Where Grandpa was, I can’t recall. Perhaps, being one month into my summer’s stay, Grandpa needed a break. Just why that would be the case I have no idea, but his whereabouts on that mid-summer’s day remain a mystery.
The sun was blazing down upon us as we paddled down the river that morning. Though it was early in the day, it was easy to trace the sweat as it traveled from armpit to waist only to pause there for a moment’s reflection before continuing on its way. I could go on, but you get the idea. It was hot enough to give the Devil pause.
As we paddled on, a familiar crook in the river appeared through the morning mist, and we quickened our pace a bit, for Whiskey Slough and its deep green promise lay just around the bend. I back paddled to turn us while Granny sculled to guide us, and pretty as you please, we slipped into a little boy’s dream.
As the boat slowly drifted to a stop, a medium sized gator watched us from the bank with little interest. It would appear that we caused him no concern or he was just too hot to move, either way suited us, if it suited him; or perhaps he recognized Granny from a previous encounter and remembered that just below the gunnel Granny kept a stout, short handled paddle with which she would dissuade any gator who appeared to have unprincipled thoughts. One way or the other there was an uneasy détente at play between Granny and the gators, for it would be a sturdy gator indeed who would risk being on the business end of that paddle when Granny’s aim was right.
We had a couple of favorite fishing spots in the slough, and Granny headed left so I could tie the bow up to an old familiar friend. To the left of the gator was a particularly tall cypress knee about eight or so feet off of the shore, with a groove worn into it from decades of fisherman’s knots. Granny pushed the little boat up against it, and from years of practice, I deftly tied us up while Granny dropped the old Maxwell House can filled with concrete over the side, and we set to fishing.
Whiskey Slough appears for all the world like it could have been the primeval birthplace of the piscine Adam and Eve. It’s perfect. It’s cool and inviting. The water is that ideal shade of blackish brown that portends a great day of fishing. The breeze is gentle and carries with it the faint aroma of wisteria, and the fish are plentiful, ever-present and experts at mocking fishermen.
Every fisherman knows that given the right set of circumstances, a fish can make you look like a fool.
You know they are there. They know you are there. They know their place in the food chain as do you, but there are days when they just won’t cooperate. They’ll show themselves. They’ll seductively sidle up to your bait; and just when you think that bobber is going down, they look up, give you a sardonic smile, and it’s off to the races.
That’s the kind of day Granny and I were having. After an hour and a half of being toyed with, Granny and I were both disgusted and ready to try something new. Even the gator looked bored.
So, while Granny was pulling up the anchor I worked my way to the front of the boat to untie us. Being partially freed, the current caught the boat and swung it in the direction of the gator who began to show renewed interest in the two of us and me in particular, since I was closer. This served as a bit of a distraction, so I failed to notice that while there had been only a single manila rope tying us to the knee initially, now there were two, and a lively rope it was. As I reached out to loosen us up, a streak of light brown greased lightning flew past my cheek, ruffled my hair a bit and then disappeared into the depths beyond with barely a ripple to indicate his visit.
To this day I don’t know if Granny witnessed this. I believe she did though. As I recall her bronze face took on a slight brassy hue and she was quieter than usual for a while. That being said she asked me what I was waiting for and calmly watched me untie us, all the while keeping an eye on the gator and a hand on that paddle of hers. Meanwhile I was thanking God that somewhere beneath that old jon boat swam a cottonmouth with astigmatism.
I know I was supposed to tell this story, but as I wrote it I kept wondering why. I understand that memories are more valuable to those to hold them than they are to others, but I felt compelled to put pen to paper and write this down.
Perhaps as the New Year dawns it’s simply a reminder to pay attention, for like that gator given a chance Satan can be awakened and spurred to action. Simply put, be sure to keep yourself from drifting in his direction, for like the snake when he decides to act he is swift, but unlike the snake he often hits his mark. So be careful out there.