Outdoor adventure . . . the mystical hoop snake, how the chipmunk got its stripes, trout fishing, hunting possum and rabbits, the wrath of a mama buzzard protecing a nest of babies, and pet iguanas . . .
Twelve stories from a bygone South vividly bring the past alive. Renowned outdoorsman and storyteller Jimmy Jacobs recalls the tall tales and folklore and his own outdoor adventures as a boy growing up in Georgia.
His brand of storytelling, particularly appealing to junior high and high school audiences, keeps Jacobs speaking engagement calendar full. It was the inevitable requests from his young audiences for more stories that prompted him to compile his Moonlight anthology.
Table of Contents
Adventures Afield 11
Bocephus And The Truffle Hunt 13
Bodie And The Trout 23
The Art of Eating Crow 33
The Bushy Eyebrow 41
Cherokee Tales 49
Family Lore 57
The Marvelous Hoop Snake 59
Possum Tradition 69
Turtle Grabbing 77
The Battle of Pegimore Creek 89
Peach State Rabbit Tales 97
Loose Ends 103
The Cultural History of Grits 105
A Boy And His Pet 111
Read an excerpt
Some of my earliest recollections of childhood center on open fireplaces piled high with blazing logs. My family's periodic wintertime, weekend visits with aunts and uncles invariably ended in an evening of staring dreamily into such fires. My 10-year-old imagination searched among the glowing embers for images to match the stories the grown-ups swapped in the dim light.
My father and one of our uncles often sat in overstuffed chairs on either side of the fire, while my brother and I lounged on throw rugs covering pine floorboards. The winter winds rustled the bare tree limbs outside the window, mingling its whistling rush with the clatter of supper dishes being cleared from the table by our mom and aunt in the adjoining dining room.
The heat from the hearth broiled our faces, while our backsides remained slightly chilled. Between the two extremes we were filled with a warm glow, brought on as much by fatigue and a big meal as by the fire. We often were dressed in flannel and denim from a day of hiking in the woods, having shed only our shoes to allow toes to wiggle as the flames warmed our socks.
The room was filled with the tart smell of a golden delicious apple that one of the adults was peeling with slow deliberate strokes of a pocket knife. Quite often that adult was my Uncle Clyde and on those nights there was no shortage of entertainment to be found in the conversation.
My thoughts were recalled from their wanderings among the glowing orange embers by the sounds of an innocent enough question aimed at our uncle.
"Uncle Clyde," my brother asked, "Weren't you afraid that there was a snake down in that hole you dropped your knife in today? You didn't even look in before you reached after it."
"Well, I didn't exactly think about that at the time and I've had this old blade for 30 years. It was given to me by your grandpa and I wasn't about to leave it down in that hole," Uncle Clyde began. "And besides, there wouldn't be a snake in an open hole like that when the weather is as cold as it was today. He'd be buried up in a covered den at this time of year."
While my brother considered the explanation, I leaped into the conversation, moving it deeper into the subject.
"What's the biggest snake you ever saw, Uncle Clyde?" I asked.
My uncle paused from coring the apple and rubbed his grizzled chin as he stared for several moments at some invisible registry of personal history in front of him, through which he mentally rifled for the correct answer.
"I reckon that would have been back when I was a boy just about your age. Your grandpa and I were taking a wagon load of cotton through Brush Bottom over to the gin at Dry Trestle. We were coming through that bottom on the way home about sundown when we saw this snake up ahead. The mules pulling the wagon froze up at the sight of the snake and wouldn't budge another step in that direction.
"Now I can't say exactly how long that critter was since its head was in the bushes on one side of the road and its tail was in the grass on the other side, but I'd guess that the road must have been a good seven or eight feet wide."
"What kind was it?" I asked, as my brother and I leaned in Uncle Clyde's direction.
Knitting his brow and munching a slice of the apple, the man hesitated another long moment as, in turn, he peered into the eyes of each of our young faces. Finally, having apparently seen what he was looking for, he resumed speaking.
"Well, there were several kinds that got mighty big back in those days," he began, "but this one was as black as midnight under a skillet, so I imagine he was a coach whip."
"What did you do?" implored my brother, fidgeting from side to side at the thought of such a monstrous reptile.
"Did you get down and kill him?" I asked.
"No sir!" retorted Uncle Clyde. "It wasn't bothering us, so we just let him take his time and crawl on out of our way. Anyway, you couldn't have paid me to get down on the ground with a coach whip. They're just as likely to chase a man as to look at him.
"Why, I heard of a fellow who met one in a pasture one time and the snake refused to let him pass, so he finally had to just turn around and go back the way he had come. Of course, as soon as he turned his back on the snake, that coach whip lit out after him and chased him across the field. The only way he could get the snake to stop chasing him was to turn and chase it a while. They stayed out there taking turns running each other back and forth across that pasture until it got dark. Then the old snake slipped away, but the man was so tired he just dropped from exhaustion and they found him out there the next morning sound asleep, laying in the grass."
We boys glanced at each other in silence, unsure whether to be amazed or skeptical. We were quickly saved from the situation by our father.
"Humph!" Dad snorted in amusement.
"What's that, Buck?" asked Uncle Clyde.
"I'd wager that whatever was chasing that fellow probably didn't come out of a hole in the ground," Dad said with a trace of a grin. "Sounds more like it came out of a whiskey bottle and was an excuse for not coming home the night before."
"Ahhh, it's a fact," protested Uncle Clyde. "I knew some of the boys that found him."
"Is a coach whip poison, Dad?" I asked over my bother's half-suppressed giggles.
"No, son, the only poison snakes around here are cottonmouths, copperheads, and an occasional timber rattler."
"And the hoop snake," interjected Uncle Clyde matter-of-factly.
"What's a hoop snake?" I asked.
"Never heard of that one!" added my brother.
"Doesn't surprise me that you haven't," answered Uncle Clyde. "You only find them in the piney woods of west Georgia and east Alabama and they've never been very common. And as ornery as they are, it's a good thing that there aren't many of them left."
Dad smiled and shook his head slowly as he settled a little deeper into his easy chair.
"Now, Clyde, you're not going to fill these boy's heads full of any trash, are you?" he chided.
"Nary a word, but the truth," returned Uncle Clyde, trying his best to look offended.
"Clyde, you wouldn't know the truth if it slapped you up side of the head!" Dad shot back with a laugh.
After a moment of silence, I could stand it no longer.
"Tell us about the hoop snake, Uncle Clyde."
"Yes, Clyde, why don't you tell us about this hoop snake," baited Dad.
Uncle Clyde paid no attention to his brother's skeptical tone as he munched another slice of apple before launching forth with his explanation.
"Well, boys, the hoop snake's not like most reptiles. Usually, if you leave them alone, they just naturally don't bother you either, but the hoop snake is so mean that he seems to take pleasure in bedeviling folks whenever he gets the chance. I once heard a preacher say that although it wasn't scriptural, he suspected that Eve's serpent in the Garden of Eden must have been a hoop snake."
"Did you ever know anybody who was bitten by one," asked my brother.
"Oh, the hoop snake doesn't bite. He has a poison spike right on the top of his head that he'll sting you with. See, when he gets mad or just full of mischief, he'll raise up, take his tail in his mouth and go rolling off across country like a barrel hoop. Of course, that's how he came by his name. When he's ready to strike, he'll get a rolling start and spring at you head first."
Uncle Clyde paused for another slice of apple, surveying his audience with a studied and somber expression before continuing.
"He's a black snake and probably related to a coach whip in some way, since he enjoys chasing folks, too. Your grandma had a brother who got chased by one once."
"Did it get him?" I asked.
"Nope. He managed to climb up a tree to get away from it. In fact, I've never known anybody who was actually hit by one, but old man Jim Harris came about as close as you can."
Uncle Clyde halted his narrative for another slice of apple and fell silent as though he planned to drop the subject right there. The ploy quickly produced its desired effect, getting the expected reward from us boys.
"Tell us about him, Uncle Clyde!"
"Yeah, what happened?"
"Well, it was back when your dad and I were young fellows and the family lived on the Lee Place out by Buzzard Mountain," Uncle Clyde began again. "It was the spring that your dad fell off the porch and got his knee busted and your grandpa was down with a bad back. That left me to do all the plowing, so Pa hired old man Jim to come over and help out. One day he was plowing one of the mules on a patch of bottom land between the Seaboard railroad tracks and Clear Creek, where there was a big old black gum tree that stood in the middle of the field by itself. At one end was a bluff that overlooked the bottom. You remember that field, don't you brother?"
Dad shook his head in the affirmative.
"I remember the field, Clyde," he answered, "but that's all I'll vouch for in your tale."
Uncle Clyde plunged ahead with the story, not the least bit deterred by his brother's lack of support.
"Well, about noon old man Jim decided to eat his lunch in the shade of that black gum. He had just got settled down when he looked up on the bluff and saw this hoop snake raise up. It formed a hoop and down the hill it came, straight at him. Now old man Jim was pretty near 70 then, but was still mighty spry and he just managed to get out of the snake's path as it let go of its tail to strike. That snake went right past him like an arrow and drove its spike into that tree. Old man Jim started looking for a strong stick to kill the snake while it was dangling there, but before he could, it worked its way loose and went rolling off across that plowed ground faster than a horse could run."
"Would it have killed him if it had hit him, Uncle Clyde?" I blurted.
"Well, that's hard to say," replied Uncle Clyde. "I don't know if you boys have ever been around any black gums, but those are the hardest trees in the world to kill. In fact, this one had been struck by lightning two or three times without losing a leaf.
"Anyway, old man Jim said that by the time he had scared that snake off and finished eating his lunch that the leaves had already begun to fall off the tree and by the next day it was dead as a doornail. And I know for a fact that after the tree fell over, nothing would ever grow on that spot again."
With that, Uncle Clyde leaned back in his chair and finished off his apple with the confident air of having cleared up all questions concerning the history of the hoop snake.
"You know, Clyde," Dad began, "I believe old man Jim was the one who told his wife he was carried off by a will-o'-the-wisp and held prisoner all night one Halloween."
"Well, yeah, that was him," admitted Uncle Clyde. "He did have a tendency to stretch things a mite from time to time."
"Uh huh," Dad mused. "I never knew of him stretching the truth except when he could get someone to listen to him."
"Ahhh, Buck!" scowled Uncle Clyde good-naturedly as a ripple of laughter emerged from us boys.
Outside the wind continued to rustle the tree branches, while inside the flames still crackled warmly in the fireplace. The talk passed on to other subjects and other times, and for a while I tried to listen. Finally my eyelids grew heavy beyond control. I could hear talk no more as I nodded off into a sound sleep in search of hoop snakes and other wonders.
" . . . about as close as you can get to having your own personal storyteller perched on your bed post . . . should be on the reading list of every Georgia child . . . "
award-winning children's author,
and former Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist
"Wise, witty, winsome, and consistently entertaining, this is a book every lover of hunting and fishing, every lover of the sporting South, should read . . . it will become a treasured bedside companion."
Jim Casada, educator, editor, outdoor writer,
and president of the Outdoor Writers Association of America
About The Author
Outdoorsman and writer Jimmy Jacobs is a lifelong resident of Georgia and the award-winning author of four fishing guide books and a story book of folklore and outdoor tall tales.
With a degree in journalism from Georgia State University in Atlanta, Jacobs turned his love of the outdoors into a career, working for Primedia, Inc. as editor of Georgia Sportsman, Alabama Game & Fish, and Florida Game & Fish magazines. As a free-lancer, his writing has also appeared in more than 20 general interest, travel, entertainment, and outdoor publications.
As an accomplished after-dinner speaker and storyteller, Jacobs is asked to perform at a number of festivals each year and has
appeared on local television affiliates in Atlanta and Chattanooga, TN, on Georgia Public Television's nine-station statewide network, SportSouth Cable Network, and WCNN-TV nationally.
His writing and photography have won 18 Excellence in Craft Awards from the Florida Outdoor Writers Association, Georgia Outdoor Writers Association, and the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association.
Books by Jimmy Jacobs:
Moonlight Through The Pines
Trout Fishing In North Georgia
Trout Streams Of Southern Appalachia
Tailwater Trout In The South
Bass Fishing In Georgia
Awards & Recognition
Georgia Writers Association - For Moonlight Through The Pines, his first work of fiction, Jimmy Jacobs was nominated Author of the Year for 2000 in the short stories and anthologies category by the Georgia Writers Association.
National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame
"Well-known outdoors author and editor Jimmy Jacobs added his name in two categories . . . author of several Georgia-specific outdoors books, including the recently released Moonlight Through The Pines, Tales from Georgia Evenings, set fly-fishing records, catch and release, for shoal bass. He caught a 15-inch fish on a 6-pound tippet and a 13-inch shoalie on a 4-pound tippet. Both were caught April 1 on the Flint River. Jacobs also is editor of Georgia Sportsman magazine."
Author Jimmy Jacobs, already a two-time winner in the Excellence in Craft competition, hopes for a third with Moonlight Though The Pines: Tales From Georgia Evenings.
Jacobs won the second place Excellence in Craft Award in 1998 for his book Bass Fishing in Georgia. In 1997, his book Tailwater Trout In The South captured third place.
About Illustrator Cal Warlick
|Award-winning illustrator Cal Warlick's playful and expressive characters in Moonlight Through The Pines jump off the page and grab the reader by the imagination.
Warlick's resume includes stints in print media as an editorial cartoonist and creative director and television news art director resulting in eight Emmy awards from the Georgia Press Association. As a free-lance artist, Warlick's client list includes Peachtree Publishers, Franklin-Sarrett Publishers, Home Depot, and WXIA Television in Atlanta, and Kraft Foods in Toronto.
Besides the moonlit-drenched forest on the cover of Moonlight Through The Pines and the free chapter illustration, Warlick's talent highlights each story in the book.