Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

December 14, 2008


I have got to find time for another walk in the woods


      Today we live about a half mile off Rifle Range Road in Elmore County. That is the road we use when driving the eight miles to Wetumpka by way of Redland Road and Highway 231.  The road got its name from the US Army Rifle Range used to train solders in World War I.

          As I near the turn to my home I pass by a densely wooded area that connects to property once owned by my parents. I never glance toward those woods without feeling a tug on my heart to take another walk under the canopy of those tall trees.

          Growing up I had many occasions to walk in those woods. In wintertime I went there to hunt ducks that flew into the swampy areas. There was no big lake but enough water to attract a goodly number of mallards and wood ducks. Bagging a mallard was my fondest dream. Bringing home a mallard made you quickly forget even the most miserable weather. Showing off a mallard – especially a colorful male – made you feel like a real hunter.

I understand that the most common duck killed in Alabama now is the gadwall, or gray duck. I never heard of a gadwall when I was a boy. But back then coyotes had not found their way to Alabama either. Occasionally I saw geese flying over during duck hunting season. I wasted many shells trying to knock one down but never hit one. I think they were always flying too high.

          Winter was also the time to hunt rabbits and squirrels. Rabbit-hunting was more fun with three or four other hunters. Sometimes we hunted with dogs. At other times we simply used noise and sticks to scare a rabbit out of hiding. I preferred to go squirrel hunting alone. It was quite a challenge to stay still and quiet long enough for a fox squirrel or a flying squirrel to flit out of its nest and allow you a good shot.

          James Porterfield, who worked for my father most of his life, was a crack shot. If he took 12 shells on a hunt he usually came back with 10 or 11 squirrels or rabbits. My marksmanship never equaled his.

          In warmer weather we went to the woods and adjoining fields to hunt quail and doves. During recent years the coyotes have made such bird hunting more difficult. Deer hunting has become popular in recent years but when I was a boy there were no deer to hunt in Alabama, at least not in central Alabama. Now the woods are full of white-tail deer, so full they make driving dangerous on many of our back roads.

          Sometimes we worked on fences during the summer and the fences took us into and alongside the woods. Snakes were a constant concern since they enjoy the warm weather. It was no surprise to run across a rattlesnake or a cottonmouth moccasin when water was nearby. I have always been nervous around such poisonous snakes although I learned to appreciate the value of chicken snakes that feed on rats and mice.

          On other occasions I journeyed into the woods in search of a missing cow or calf. During the years when I milked two or three cows every day occasionally I would find them browsing in the woods. On winter days, when it got dark early, I would sometimes be startled by a hoot owl whose shrill voice seemed to be saying, “What are you doing in my woods?”  My steps always got faster.

          I enjoyed walking deep into the woods until I was not sure how to get back home. But that was never frightening. Instead it was comforting. I was always confident I could find my way back. There was something wonderful about being “lost” in the woods, alone with the earth’s creatures – and God. The towering trees seemed like my friends and their shade was welcome relief from the heat of the day. Sitting on a stump, or across a fallen tree, I was at peace, free from the worries of the busy, hectic world outside. I was alive and all was well.

          Looking back I treasure those rare moments of forest contentment. Inside I have a yearning to feel again what I felt long ago. Somehow, before the end comes, I have got to find the time to walk in the woods again. + + +