I am usually, if not always, financially stressed, but I almost always manage to make ends meet, although with not much left over for entertainment. Fortunately, I've finally discovered that there are women out there who amuse very easily, and inexpensively. Don't ask me who. You can go out and find your own.
The rural areas of Louisiana offer quite a few exciting opportunities for the fiscally-challenged romantic adventurer. There are several keys to making this sort of thing work: 1. Never announce your destination until it's too late for your companion to jump out of the truck; 2. Be sure your date has a sense of humor; and 3. Bring beer. Even without money, I have a pocketful of gasoline credit cards, and I can usually scrape up enough to afford a few Milwaukee's Bests, even if the "good stuff" is often beyond my means. After the first couple of cans, they don't taste that bad.
Saturday afternoon, mid-October:
"How about some adventure?," I ask, striking a rather dashing pose of outdoorsy roguishness.
"What kind of adventure?"
I look at her sternly. "Exciting adventure!! Are you in or out? Please decide quickly, so that I may extend this wonderful invitation to some other woman, should you decline."
"Harrumph!," she says (I just hate to be harrumphed by a woman), "you couldn't find any other woman who would put up with your exciting adventures. I, however, would be both charmed and pleased to take you up on your most intriguing and stimulating offer." (I told you to go out and find your own. She even talks like I do.)
"What should I wear for this adventure?"
"Something durable and rugged, of course. We'll be slogging through terrain where few have gone and fewer will follow, testing ourselves against all sorts of dangers. How many beers do you think I can fit into this little backpack?" The answer is "eight," with a loaf of French bread lashed to the outside. She wanted some wine, but I knew that would mean I'd have to leave several of the beers out, so I pretended not to hear.
We jumped into the GMC and headed west through northern Louisiana, past wild, untamed towns with wild, untamed names--Calhoun, Ruston, Grambling, Simsboro. As we drove through the latter, I put on my sunglasses, hoping the citizenry wouldn't recognize me and line the avenues, cheering their town's namesake, and strewing rose petals in my path. I needn't have worried.
Far to the south, and way out in the country, I pulled off the road at a little country church. "This is it. Saddle up," I ordered briskly, slinging the vital provisions over my shoulder and gazing heavenward. "Let's see what you're really made of, Woman." She whimpered somewhat, until finally calmed by my steely demeanor. "Don't worry. You're with me. Remember, 'Adventure' is my middle name."
"I thought 'Garver' was your middle name."
"'Adventure' is my other middle name."
We were at the base of Driskell Mountain, preparing to attempt a climb to the Highest Point in the Whole State of Louisiana. She was, as I'd hoped, simply delighted. Really. As you'd expect, no other human life was visible for miles. We passed a graveyard behind the church, probably filled with less rugged individuals who'd tried, and failed, to scale the unholy heights.
"Follow me," I barked, as she nodded bravely, her lip quivering only slightly, but obviously drawing great comfort from my presence.
"Do you have the wine?"
I pretended not to hear.
Upward and upward we rose, not pausing until we stood at the pinnacle, marked with a rock cairn.
"Here we are, my love," I announced proudly, as we gulped the thin air of the peak. "Just think, at this moment, we are higher than Every Single Person in the Entire State of Louisiana. Way, way below us (16,306.83 centimeters, to be exact), lies the Gulf of Mexico, and the entire state must lift its head in salute and tribute to our accomplishment." I sat down, my back to the cairn, and unlashed the bread and broke out the beer. The evening was fast approaching, and we searched around for a couple more rocks to add to the pile. An old mountaineering tradition, I'm told. We signed our names in the guest book, sealed inside a waterproof container, and she wandered about, taking pictures, and having a grand old time. We could see forever.
Another Saturday afternoon, mid-November:
"Ready for another adventure?"
I like this girl.
We drove south this time, generally following the east bank of the Ouachita River into Caldwell Parish, then turning east for a ways. We crossed the river on the Duty Ferry, taking us over into Catahoula Parish, I think, then meandered through Harrisonburg and on toward Sicily Island on Highway 8. I got lost a couple of times. Hadn't been here in several years. Don't bother to stop at the little store and ask for directions. The lady there has never heard of the place. The lady on the riding lawnmower at the brick house does know the way. Thanks.
We turned off the highway and began to drive upward into the hills. The road is one-lane, and dirt. It goes up and up and up. When we reached the destination, there is a little sign. I think it says "Hiking Trail," or "Scenic Trail" or some such. There was also another pickup truck parked there. I didn't have the little backpack this time, but I emptied out an old gym bag. An old gym bag will hold a bunch of beer, but I only had six. No bread this time, either. Got to allow for a little variety from adventure to adventure.
We followed the trail as it wound through the autumn trees, around and down the hill. As we hiked, I announced, "To the best of my knowledge, we are approaching the Highest Waterfall in the Whole State of Louisiana. I haven't been here since '97." She followed behind as the creek came into view. On the flat ground near the top of the falls, I could vaguely see flashes of color--a tent, or perhaps a blanket. As we got closer, I could see that two other adventurers were lying on the blanket, oblivious to our approach.
Reassuring myself that the couple was fully dressed, yet still unaware of our presence, I decided to announce our arrival in a casual manner.
"Hrrrraaaakkkkkk! Hack, hack, coff, coff, hrrraaakkkkk!," I bellowed.
"What the hell is the matter with you?," she asked, not having seen the lovers. "You sound like you escaped from a TB ward."
"I am trying to be discreet," I said, reaching even deeper into my abdomino-thoracic region for more disgusting noises. The pair quickly sat up and immediately began eating fried chicken and potato salad.
We apologized for the intrusion, then descended into the creek bed, where we watched the trickle of the falls over the mosses, worts, and lichens. We marveled at the grooves the water had chiseled into the sandstone as it cascaded down. I opened the gym bag, and we lazed on the boulders, taking in the wilderness around us, and enjoying the sounds of the near-silence. We introduced ourselves to the picnickers, who climbed down to our level for a couple of pictures, then retreated, out-of-sight, to their former perch.
We sipped the beer, basked on the rocks, and Life Was Good.
Sunday morning, November 18, 3:15 AM:
She wasn't at all surprised when I suggested she be dressed and ready to leave at 3:15. I loaded two folding camp chairs into the truck bed, got her settled into the passenger seat, grabbed two cups of coffee, and off we drove. No beer this time. That part felt weird. So much for all that "variety" business. We turned off the main road onto a minor highway, then hung a right onto a farm road. The sky was moonless, and clear, clear, clear.
I backed the truck over a culverted driveway, where a locked gate block our access to pasture. "This should be just perfect." The weather was cool, probably in the lower 40s, and I set up the chairs in the truck bed, facing south. In the distance, we could just see the glow of Greater Metropolitan Rayville, but the glare wasn't too intense to ruin our outing. I pulled an old Army surplus blanket from behind the truck seat, and we sat there, she in her jeans, a sweater, and a mink coat, for Pete's sake, underneath the blanket, drinking coffee and waiting.
I counted. We waited for 17 seconds. Then we saw the first one, just out of the corner of our eyes. Then, two more. Zip, zip. Just like that. This was the Leonid meteor shower--tiny bits of cosmic detritus flaming brilliantly as they entered the earth's atmosphere. A pause. Then a big one, streaking across the sky, from one end to the other, slicing through the dagger of Orion like a Roman candle, and burning its trail onto our eyeballs for a couple of seconds.
"Wow! I've never seen a shooting star before!" I was amazed.
"Really? Never, ever? I used to see them when I was a kid, camping out, lying on an old Army cot out along Beouf River."
"Nope. This is the very first time I've ever seen one. This is great!" "Worth getting up at three in the morning?"
"Oh, yeah. I just wish we'd brought a Thermos with some more coffee."
"That'd be cool. Do you have a Thermos?"
"No, I think I lost mine in the community property settlement."
We sat there, in the back of a six-year-old pickup truck, in the early morning darkness, looking up, looking south. Sometimes two, or three, or four fiery trails would come in a staccato burst. Zip, zip, zip, zip. Sometimes up to a minute would pass before you'd catch a flashing glimpse, just at the edge of your peripheral vision. There was no place we'd rather be. I just love a woman who amuses cheaply ... er ... easily.
Once you've been sitting outside, in the cold, craning your neck for an hour, until about 4:30 in the morning, the only thing left to do is drive northward all the way across the parish to the truck stop for breakfast. Should you ever try this, you should know that the truck stop doesn't open until six. Steak and eggs and grits and hashbrowns and toast and coffee. I think I spent 18 bucks. I can live with that. That averages out to $6 per date. The French bread on Driskill Mountain was a leftover from the breadbox, and you can't count the cost of the gas nor the beer. Those are necessities, and included in the basic trip.
"What are we going to do next?," she asks, excitedly. I steal a line from Ignatius Reilly, in Confederacy of Dunces. "Your job, my dear, is to silently serve when called upon." She seemed satisfied, although I did get harrumphed.
I'll think of something.
Since this story was written, Amanda and George have married, produced Su san, now six years old, and moved to the Missouri Ozarks. George Sims can be contacted at Bonne Idee Farm, Route 2, Box 237-3, Mansfield, Missouri 65704-9564, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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|Title Annotation:||The hapless homesteader|
|Publication:||Countryside & Small Stock Journal|
|Date:||May 1, 2009|
|Previous Article:||"I'm gonna need a tow".|
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