Of Canoes and Bullfrogs: A Prized Summer Memory
Somebody asked why, in last week's post-Aurora column about guns, I mentioned "bullfrogs" along with rabbits and deer and other creatures I've shot in my time.
Good question. One doesn't normally include that particular bass-singing amphibian among game animals. But therein lies a bit of a tale - one that I treasure, even if it won't mean much to anybody else. Indulge me, please, in a summer memory.
I should start with a bit of a digression: My father, who was often ahead of his time, got interested in canoes long before canoes were cool. This was way back in the early 1950s, when we were of rather modest means and lived in one-half of an old Victorian house on unpaved Prospect Avenue on the edge of little Carthage, Mo.
I don't know how my dad, Raymond Opal Bouser (don't ask me how my grandmother came up with that middle name), got ahold of a set of plans for building a canoe. But he took a notion to construct one in our backyard. I can still picture my older brother Jon and me helping him do it over several weeks of spare time one summer.
First we had to lay some kind of keel, I suppose, and build a frame with gunwales and all. After that came a seemingly endless process of fashioning dozens of ribs from thin wooden slats, which had to be painstakingly steamed in a charcoal-fired section of water-filled clay pipe, one at a time, to make them pliable enough to be bent into the desired shape.
Once this graceful skeleton was ready, we stretched a tough canvas skin over it and glued it in place. Finally, my artist father (he was a display advertiser, or window decorator, by trade) transformed the finished product in a magical way by painting the hull in a birchbark pattern, with the ship's name, "The Wild Goose," encircling a stylized red waterfowl totem on each side of the bow.
That canoe, as you can imagine, attracted quite a bit of attention among the more conventional rowboats and outboard-motor craft that then plied Spring River or Shoal Creek.
I'm not sure what happened to The Wild Goose. It had been replaced before the end of the decade by a less distinctive but more practical green fiberglass job. But the point is that my dad had imparted to the menfolk in our clan a love for river floats. I passed it along to my kids, and it continues to this day.
Anyway, flash forward to the summer before my last year of high school. My cousin Mike and I had embarked on an ambitious canoe trip that involved putting in over in Kansas somewhere and then floating the Spring for two or three days until we had arrived back in Carthage. It turned out to be quite an adventure, as I recall, making us feel a bit like Huck and Jim journeying down the Mississippi on their raft.
On the first evening, we set up camp on a sandbar and kindled a fire over which to heat up our dinner of canned food, about which we were none too excited.
That was when, just as that peaceful night was falling, we began to hear something that intrigued us: the loud croaking of a colony of bullfrogs proclaiming their existence to the world from the muddy banks of an adjoining slough. Soon, hatching a plan, we had relaunched our canoe and begun silently moving up the still waters of that little bayou.
Mike managed to wield a paddle with one hand and a flashlight with the other, while I, making like a military sniper while peering through the telescopic sight of my Remington Model 514 .22 rifle, managed to pick off a half-dozen of the frogs. You could spot them easily by the red reflected glow of their eyes.
Back in camp, we made quick work of removing and skinning their hind legs, wrapping them in strips of bacon intended for breakfast, and placing them in a covered mess kit, which we buried in the hot coals long enough for them to become roasted to a turn. They practically melted off the bones.
I'm sorry those poor froggies had to die. They might not have even been in season. But, man - does that improvised supper there on that Midwestern riverbank ever rank up there with the memorable meals of a lifetime.
Steve Bouser is opinion editor of The Pilot. Contact him at (910) 693-2470 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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