March 2018

THE MESMERISM OF MARCH

For me, the month of March has always been a bit of an enigma. Falling at the end of winter and the cusp of spring, one day it can invigorate and the next exasperate.Taken in the balance though, I have to reckon that the first hints of greening-up time outweigh the last vestiges of cold, and if nothing else longer days bid fair to bring the miseries of cabin fever to an end.

Beyond that there’s early garden truck—Kennebec seed potatoes, onion sets, cabbage and broccoli plants, Swiss chard seeds, and much more ready to go in the ground as soon as it’s dry enough to till. There’re turkeys to be hunted and trout to be caught. There are walks in the woodlands to search for morels and joy in the earliest wildflowers. Most of all there’s a bit of renewed pep in your step and pertness in your spirit. Mind you, I’ll have to offer some caveats in connection with that last sentence.

That relentless adversary we war with constantly—time—has taken its inexorable toll on me of late. Last month, just as I was about to “enjoy” the decidedly dubious delights of a colonoscopy, the anesthesiologist gave me some unwelcome news. The pronouncement was simple and to the point. “You have afib.” That makes me two for two in my most recent colonoscopies, because the previous one revealed a heretofore unknown heart murmur at exactly the same time.

A hectic half hour ensued, with phones to the office of my primary care physician to get approval for the procedure, me worrying that all the familiarity with a commode which had marked the previous 12 hours was for naught, and the agony of uncertainty. Finally they got the “go ahead” and things went smoothly enough. Of course since then there have been visits to the cardiologist, a battery of tests, and a fair degree of anxiety. I really can’t report much other than that the electrocardiogram and nuclear stress results were okay and that I’m now on a blood thinner, Eliquis. Hopefully it is working but one side effect, at least short term, is a decidedly reduced level of energy. I’m trying to fight through that and indeed, as these words are being written, it is mid-afternoon and I’d love to be napping.

Enough of that mess though, let’s get back to the writing life and the rather uncertain road I’ve traveled to reach the point where I am today, with far more book ideas than I have years remaining but with an undoubted desire to continue to be as productive as possible.

THE FORMATIVE YEARS—PART 6

In last month’s newsletter I mentioned, merely in passing, that my first piece of published work was a history of the 48th Virginia Infantry Volunteers. It appeared in a local journal of history and until that newsletter I hadn’t thought about it in years. However, the visit at Woodmont (see “Jim’s Doin’s”) and a talk there with a fine fellow named Scott Cole who had written a full history of a Virginia cavalry unit (the 34th), along with the discovery that there subsequently has been a much fuller history of the 48th, led me to check on whether my first venture into published authorship was available anywhere. I found a single copy on offer for well over $700. I was paid precisely nothing originally and I can assure you that someone has to have a bad case of Civil War collecting fever to pay that kind of price for my inaugural effort.

That piece of work, produced in the course of my master’s degree studies at Virginia Tech, soon lay behind me. Summer of 1968 found Ann and I moving to Nashville for me to commence doctoral studies at Vanderbilt University. I had been awarded a fellowship which included all tuition costs as well as a decidedly modest stipend for work as a teaching assistant. Ann found a job as secretary to the head of a downtown bank (I think the name was First American) and we swapped one stage of near starvation for another. Over the next three years I ate enough tuna casseroles and Hamburger Helper dishes to last several lifetimes. The monthly high point of our culinary existence was Ann’s pay day, when we would go grocery shopping at a nearby mall (100 Oaks was the name). The grocery store had a sort of meat and three vegetables buffet for $.99 per person, and we would enjoy that “dining out” experience while exerting the utmost frugality in buying foodstuffs.

Fortunately we had a small rental home where the owner, the then father-in-law of a boyhood buddy, Jackie Corbin, who had just finished a doctorate at Vanderbilt (he would become part of the team which discovered Viagra), gave us a break on rent in return for my performing basic maintenance chores on the property. Moreover, the lot backed up to a large expanse of woodland and abandoned fields where there were squirrels, rabbits, and quail. I hunted all three with some regularity and in warmer months picked blackberries and wild raspberries. The game and bounty from nature formed welcome supplements to our diet.

The years at Vanderbilt were a time of intensity in a variety of ways. The work load, what with research papers for seminars, two or three books a week to read, preparation for weekly sessions with freshman World Civilization classes, the necessity of selecting a dissertation topic, and the ominous clouds of preliminary examinations for a doctorate ever looming on the horizon, was extraordinarily heavy. Other than less than exemplary study habits my first two years of undergraduate school (I was busy getting a social education rather than an academic one), a staunch work ethic has never been a problem during my adult years. That being said, I’ve never worked harder than those 39 months I was in residence at Vanderbilt.

I don’t know that I really learned a great deal about writing during these years, although a few of my research papers eventually wound up in scholarly journals and a number of books emerged from my dissertation research. My dissertation dealt with “The Imperialism of Exploration: British Explorers in Africa 1856-1890.” To some degree the nature of any doctoral-level study is to learn more and more about less and less until eventually you are a leading authority on the subject matter AND virtually no one cares. That’s perhaps a bit of an overstatement but I’m pretty sure none of the scholarly books I wrote on explorers (Dr. David Livingstone, Sir Henry Morton Stanley, Harry H. Johnston, and Sir Richard Burton were among those covered) ever sold as many as two thousand copies.

What all this research and these books did eventually do, however, was establish a solid foundation for me to become an outdoor writer. Many of the great Victorian explorers of Africa were also mighty hunters, and over the years I’ve made plenty of literary hay out of their adventures. Indeed, my first popular magazine article would be on an explorer/Nimrod, Frederick C. Selous, and by good fortune that piece opened wide for me a door which has been a shaping influence in my career. The article on Selous appeared in a newly established magazine, Sporting Classics, and it would be the first of scores of contributions to that highly regarded publication. In due time I became a masthead presence, moved up the ladder a bit to Editor at Large (I continue in that post today), and assumed responsibilities for the magazine’s book column.

I also acquired a small interest in the magazine and have, under its publishing umbrella, been an integral part of two book series, the Premier Collection and the African Collection. You can find extensive offerings from both of these beautifully produced series on my website. In addition, I’ve edited and compiled several anthologies for the magazine including a pair of Ruark books, a pair of Jack O’Connor collections, and most recently an exceptionally well-received quail anthology with the embarrassing title of The Greatest Quail Book Ever. I emphatically DID NOT select the title and was dismayed when I saw it; however, the publishers justified the choice saying they were seeking to sell books. I will acknowledge the work contains a whole bunch of delightful quail tales.

All of those developments lay a decade and a half down the road, but what Vanderbilt did was instill a sense of discipline, hone research skills, and through several of the key professors under whom I studied provide various types of insight. In the ensuing years I have written and published far more than the two individuals under whom I took the most courses, Dr. Paul Hardacre and Dr. Fred Schneider. Indeed, Dr. Schneider, who presented lectures which were wonderfully written and dully delivered (he tended to lecture to the ceiling in terms of eye contact), never published a book. He was too much the perfectionist and, I fear, too timid when it came to pushing to get published. Yet he was a wonderful human being, warm and caring in graduate seminars (always held at his home), and a truly devoted mentor.

When I completed course work at Vanderbilt and passed my written and oral examinations for the doctoral degree (the former with distinction), it appeared that a standard academic career lay ahead of me. I needed to get to England to complete research for my dissertation, and, of pressing importance, find a job. The latter were scarce as hen’s teeth in the early 1970s in my field of specialization, and I managed to garner precisely two interviews. Fortunately one of the two resulted in a job offer, and by the late spring of 1971 we moved to Rock Hill, SC and Winthrop College (now University), bought a house with a down payment of just under $2,000 (the newly built 1400 square foot home and an acre lot sold for $17,800), moved in our few possessions, and left almost immediately for a long summer of research in the British Isles. I was at the threshold of a new stage in my life, and at that juncture the thought of communicating on the outdoors was possibly more distant than at any time from when I reached the age of 14 onward.

Next month we’ll pick up with me in my newly minted role as assistant professor, living in a new home, and facing challenges of all sorts.

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THIS MONTH’S BOOK SPECIALS

For some time, a dozen or so volumes at a time, I’ve been putting together an extensive list of books on deer hunting. Most come from my personal library. I’ve reached an age where common sense, a quality with which it could be argued with considerable justice that I’ve never been overly blessed, dictates some efforts aimed at reducing a lifetime accumulation of “stuff” in various categories. Books are right at the top.

I no longer write a great deal on deer hunting, have no plans for anything other than an anthology of great deer-hunting tales which I’m in the process of compiling right now, and don’t read in this field as much as I do in others. Accordingly, disposal of my deer library, other than some key items and research volumes which I’ll retain, seemed logical. You can access the list HERE. Many of the volumes are signed and inscribed, and even more have press releases and other material tipped in. This means they are especially collectible (what the book trade calls “association items”), and I think you’ll find the prices quite reasonable. There are some real treasures but even more book with very modest prices.

profiles of turkey hunting masters

Since turkey season is at hand, I’m also making a special offer on a book I’m quite proud of and which has enjoyed positive comments from pretty much everyone who has read it. This is Remembering the Greats: Profiles of Turkey Hunting’s Old Masters. The work consists of 27 chapters devoted to biographical coverage of icons of the sport, all of whom are now deceased—individuals such as Dick Kirby, Neil Cost, Henry Edwards Davis, Archibald Rutledge, Gene Nunnery, Tom Turpin, and a host of others. I knew a fair number of the men and each chapter includes photos, a note on sources at the end, and insight into the man and his accomplishments. I’m offering signed, inscribed copies of the award-winning hardback for only $25 postpaid. Payment only by check or money order. Remember that any overseas order must contact me first because of the high shipping prices. Postage is $5 for the first book and $2.50 for each subsequent book up to a maximum of $12.50. If you have questions, feel free to contact me at jimcasada@comporium.net. For orders, my mailing address is Jim Casada, 1250 Yorkdale Drive, Rock Hill, SC 29730.

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JIM’S DOIN’S

Over the past month, with a single exception, I’ve stuck pretty close to hearth and home. I did make a trip to Hancock, MD for a speaking engagement and some fine fellowship at the venerable Woodmont Rod & Gun Club. One of the individuals I cover in Remembering the Greats, Henry P. Bridges, was for many years a key figure at this grand old sporting establishment, and it was a real joy to walk in his footsteps for a weekend. Mind you, there were gale-force winds for a day and the power was out for 18 hours. Fittingly though, given that the gathering of sportsmen featured men with a keen interest in and devotion to not only sport but Southern history in general and the War Between the States in particular, the power came back on in an almost eerily timely fashion. Performance by a dandy group, the Unreconstructed String Band, a five-member group specializing in traditional Scotch-Irish tunes and songs from the era of the late unpleasantness and its immediate aftermath (you can check them out and listen to some of their songs on You Tube), was featured one evening. Just as they got into the second verse of “Dixie” (“There’s buckwheat cakes and Injun batter . . .) the lights came back on. Call it a sign or what you want, but rest assured it got the attention of everyone in attendance in a breathtaking way.

By the time you receive this I’ll either be into the first days of our South Carolina turkey season or else eagerly anticipating opening day. There was a time when I traveled extensively during the rites of spring, often hunting 10 states of more, but those days belong to a time when I was younger and a world I have lost. I’ll join my good buddy Larry Proffitt up in east Tennessee in early April, and while there I’ll attend various functions associated with the Dogwood Festival (Homecoming) at my undergraduate alma mater, King University. I’m on the institution’s Alumni Advisory Board and care passionately about the educational opportunities offered by this small, Presbyterian-affiliated college.

Otherwise, I’m reluctant to get far from home. Much of that reluctance focuses on Ann’s ongoing decline. I visit her in the nursing home almost daily, almost always at meal time so I can be sure she gets one good meal, and even though she can no longer communicate and at times likely doesn’t know who I am, that closeness is important for me. An individual in another family who visits infrequently said something to the effect: “They don’t know you aren’t there and don’t notice when you fail to visit.” My reply was to agree and then add, “But I know and it’s important to me.”

The other activity which will take up a good many of my hours in weeks and months to come involves the pleasures of gardening. Blueberries and cooking pears are already in bloom; pruned muscadines are “bleeding” a bit from pruning (as they always do when the sap begins to rise); birds are well into their mating rituals and bluebirds have already checked out the house Dad made at least a quarter of a century ago; and bluets, violets, dandelions, and other early wildflowers are in bloom. There’ll be plenty of cold yet—blackberry winter, dogwood winter, catbird squall, and the like—but as soon as the ground is dry enough to till I’ll be busy indeed.

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RECIPES

In discussing my years at Vanderbilt I mentioned the manner in which small game and wild berries featured prominently on our decidedly modest table, and in memory of those days this month’s recipes all deal with that type of fare. Of course it wasn’t anything new. Small game and the delicacies nature had to offer had loomed large in my boyhood. Our family ate plenty of rabbit and squirrel, enjoyed quail and grouse when they were to be had, and berry picking was one of my favorite ways to earn money as a boy. As some indication of how youthful experiences can shape all of one’s subsequent  years, I might note that I still thoroughly enjoy small game dishes, picking berries, and small game hunting.

BERRY CRISP

1 cup uncooked oats (regular or quick cooking but not instant)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup packed brown sugar

¼ to ½ cup chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, or hazelnuts)

½ cup butter (cold)

3 cups fresh or frozen berries (blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, or blueberries)

½ cup sugar

½ cup sugar

Mix oats, flour, and brown sugar. Add nuts. Cut in butter until crumbly. Grease or spray an 8-inch square pan. Place half of crumb mixture on bottom. Mix berries and white sugar and pour over crumb mix. Top with the remaining crumb mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes or until brown and bubbly. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.

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BLACKBERRY DUMPLINGS

1 quart fresh or frozen blackberries

1 cup sugar (or to taste)

Sufficient water to then berries enough to cook dumplings

To make dumplings:

1 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

1 cup milk

Place blackberries, sugar, and water in a saucepan and heat to boiling. Meanwhile, mix dumpling ingredients thoroughly and drop one tablespoon at a time into boiling berries. Cook for 15 minutes or until dumplings are cooked through the center. Serve hot with cream.

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HASH BROWN POTATOES WITH SQUIRREL

2 cups chopped, cooked squirrel

3 medium potatoes

1/3 cup bacon drippings

½ cup finely chopped onion

½ teaspoon salt

Few dashes freshly ground black pepper

Remove squirrel from bones and chop into small pieces. Peel and coarsely grate potatoes. Put drippings in skillet and heat. Slide potatoes into heated drippings. Sprinkle onion, squirrel, and seasonings over potatoes. Cover and cook moderately fast until potatoes are browned on bottom side. Turn over, stir, and continue cooking. Total cooking time is approximately 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

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BACON SQUIRREL OR RABBIT

Strained bacon drippings

2 rabbits or 3 squirrels, quartered

½ cup flour

½ teaspoon garlic salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon paprika

1 ½ to 2 cups dry bread crumbs

Cook bacon and strain drippings. Pat squirrel or rabbit pieces dry with paper towels. Roll meat in flour mixed with garlic salt, pepper, and paprika. Dip in bacon drippings and completely moisten. Dredge in bread crumbs. Place meat in a baking dish and bake at 375 degrees for 30-45 minutes on one side; turn and bake other side for 30-45 minutes more or until well browned and tender.

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FRIED RABBIT (OR SQUIRREL)

1 rabbit or 2 squirrels

½ cup flour

Salt and pepper to taste

1 egg, beaten

¼ cup milk

Vegetable oil

Cut meat into jointed pieces. Season flour with salt and pepper. In a separate dish, combine egg and milk. Dip meat pieces in seasoned flour, then egg mixture, then flour again. Fry in deep, hot vegetable oil until browned and tender. Drain on paper towels and serve hot. Gravy can be made from the pan drippings if desired.

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