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Woodland Lore

My dad had always lived on the farm and he really enjoyed hunting. His favorite game
meal was fried squirrel. I remember him telling about following the thresher crew up
into the Texas Panhandle one year. At that time the farmer who owned the grain being
threshed furnished the meal for all the hands. At one farm they had one long dinning
table for everyone to sit around. They had several platters of meat laid out on the table
along with some vegetables.

All the serving bowls and meat platters were passed around and everyone took out a big
helping of each. The meat reminded dad of the squirrel he was used to eating back
home. He finished his first helping and thought it tasted pretty good. He asked for the
platter of squirrel meat to be passed back to him.

One of the men sitting by the meat platter started laughing and said, “Squirrel? That’s not
Squirrel meat, that’s prairie dog.” I think dad lost his appetite for his second helping.

Now, back to my original story. Every autumn when squirrel season opened, dad would
go squirrel hunting. He would try to go every weekend if it wasn’t raining. By the time I
was 4 years old I was going with him.

The ranch where we lived had several hundred acres of woodland. One section of woods
started about 200 yards from the back of our house. This is where dad usually went to
hunt squirrel.

As we walked through the woods dad would point out different things to me such as an
old stump where a large oak tree had been cut down, a pile of rocks or maybe just an old
dead tree. I really didn’t pay very much attention to this until one day after we had made
several trips through the woods, dad got down in the woods about where he usually
started back to the house and just stopped.

He looked around for a little then looked at me and said, “I’m lost. Can you find the way
back home?” Well, I had been in those woods enough that I thought I knew them pretty
well, so I said, “Sure.” and took off down the trail.

Dad followed along behind and every now and the would ask questions like, “Are you
sure you remember crossing this gully?” or “Do you remember this log laying across the
trail?” If we came to a fork in the trail and I seemed hesitant about which way to go, dad
would say something like: “Take your time and look both trails over good an see if you
can remember anything about them.” If I still seemed hesitant after a few moments dad
would say, “Son, don’t you remember walking around that big rock in the trail to the
left?” With this little prodding from dad I was always able to get us back to the house.

After a few trips like this I learned to watch for the land marks because I knew that dad
would ask me to take us back home. Dad would always go a different way, with several
hundred acres, that was easy to do. In fact, after a while I got to where I would want to
go down into the woods without going hunting just so I could get practice finding my
way around.

Along about the same time dad started teaching me the directions. The sun always rises
in the east and sets in the west. When you are standing facing the east your right hand is
pointing south and your left hand is pointing north.

His instructions to me were to always remember what direction you are going when you
enter the woods, then if you get lost, to get your bearings note the time of day and then
look at the sun to see its position in the sky and get your direction from that. Once you
have your directions fixed, you can then start walking in the opposite direction that you
were going when you entered the woods.

By making note of landmarks along the way and keeping up with the direction by
watching the sun, it is almost impossible to become lost.

Now, before any of you ask how you can tell the direction when the sun is straight up
overhead, this indicates noontime and if you have anything with you to snack on just find
a clear spot under a tree and have a snack. If you do not have anything with you to eat,
just find a comfortable site and take a nap. After the sun starts lowering in the west you
can put your back to the sun and be facing east to get your directions. (If you are lucky,
you will have a compass with you.)

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