With summer in hand, not to mention fresh from a shower after a morning of gardening in the heat and humidity, my thoughtsturn to the age-old question: “What’s a sportsman to do during the summer?”
Lines from songs run through my mind – “There ain’t no cure for the summertime blues,” “It’s too hot to fish, too hot for golf,” or the lyrics of Brad Paisley’s humorous “I’m Gonna Miss Her.” So do thoughts about the shady days on riverbanks I spent as a boy; running trot lines, throw lines, and limb lines for catfish as well as fishing in the comparative cool of the night.
Yet thetruth of the matter is I have neither the energy, nor the willingness, to fight the heat that characterized my youthful approach to sport.
And, I grew up in the Great Smokies, where it was easy to escape to the chilling comfort of a trout stream, I don’t have a single recollection of being troubled by the heat until after I was grown.
Even then there were rainy, stormy days when the weather or high waters dictated staying indoors. My escape then, and it remains unchanged to this day, was to get comfortable with a good hunting or fishing bookor indulging in the simple pleasures of daydreaming.
Literature that is both a pure pleasure and enjoys the advantages of being “close to home” is abundant. Regional authors with a cure for the summertime blues include:
▪ Robert Ruark. Born and raised in the coastal region of North Carolina, Ruark was a bestselling novelist and was nationally recognized newspaper columnist. Yet it is three of his books on the outdoors which have best stood the test of time – “Horn of the Hunter,” “The Old Man and the Boy,” and “The Old Man’s Boy Grows Older.” The first is set in Africa. The other two books, and especially “The Old Man and the Boy,” are widely acknowledged as the finest material on the outdoors ever produced by an American writer.
▪ Havilah Babcock. A longtime English professor at the University of South Carolina, Babcock was an avid bird hunter and fisherman. He wrote delightful stories about outdoor experiences as a way of combating his chronic insomnia. Anyone who is a quail hunter, or likes bream fishing, has a treat awaiting in books such as “I Don’t Want to Shoot and Elephant,” “My Health Is Better in November,” “Jaybirds Go to Hell on Friday,” and “The Education of Pretty Boy.” Or get a good cross-section in “The Best of Babcock.”
▪ Archibald Rutledge. South Carolina’s first poet laureate, a position he held for well over three decades, Rutledge wrote dozens of books on the outdoors. Almost without exception they were collections of hunting stories, mostly set in his Low Country homeland. While originals of his sporting books are rare and expensive, some have been reprinted Those works include “Hunting and Home in the Southern Heartland,” Tales of Whitetails,” “American’s Greatest Game Bird,” “Carolina Christmas,” and “Bird Dog Days, Wingshooting Ways.” All but the last listed work are in print through the University of South Carolina Press, and the one book which is out of print is presently in press.
▪ Henry Edwards Davis. If you are a turkey hunter, reading “The American Wild Turkey” is a must. Davis, a Florence lawyer, was an avid and highly skilled turkey hunter. Davis fans might also want to read his memoirs, “A Southern Sportsman,” edited by contemporary sporting writer Ben Moise.
While Babcock, Rutledge, and Davis must be reckoned as the grand trio of sporting letters in this state, many other writers have produced interesting and noteworthy books. Ben Moise, a retired game warden , wrote a dandy memoir of his years in the field of wildlife law enforcement. Jim Mize is a first-rate humorist who has written several books with outdoors themes.
Palmetto writers from yesteryear include Herbert Sass, Eddie Finlay, Art Carter, and William Elliott (one of the earliest of all American writers on outdoor subjects). While not a mainstream hook-and-bullet work, Jim Kilgo’s “Deep Enough for Ivorybills” is a delight. Even this ink-stained wretch has managed to produce a bunch of outdoor books and they can be found at www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com.
That’s enough to get you started, and for anyone wanting more, just get in touch with me through my website. I’ve been an inveterate reader since boyhood, and the focus of much of that reading has been squarely on the outdoors.