Grace, Blue, Okefenokee
“The best survival kit in the world is right between your ears, son.” My father used to tell me as we slogged through knee-deep black water on one of our many hunting trips. He carried a small backpack, filled with things like waterproof matches he had made himself, a small jar of petroleum jelly and some cotton balls, a couple of plastic trash bags, the big ones. He carried an extra pair of socks and a snake bite kit, extra shells for the rifle and a compass. He always had a mess kit in there too, and I liked nothing better than to watch him cut open a can of Brunswick stew with his Swiss Army knife and heat it over a small peat fire, while the coffeepot bubbled away merrily. Those were some suppers, I can tell you.
We got caught out too late more than once, and while my Mama figured we were alright she didn’t much appreciate our doing it. My father grew up in the swamp, and I never met another who had the knowledge he did of it. The lessons learned while we were out together encompassed things like what kind of logs were best to make a raft out of. He patiently showed me time and again how to find the constellations and navigate by them. He showed me what plants to eat and which ones to leave, how to catch a rabbit and cook it, how to make a dry bed in the swamp by lashing logs together to make a small platform over a stand of cypress knees. He taught me how to do these things with my hands but it’s how he taught me to think that resonates even now, thirty some-odd years later.
He explained why a man needed to lose a fight with dignity as well as the importance of winning one with grace. He taught me to have patience when waiting for things that I wanted, not jumping the gun and ‘wasting ammo” so to speak. It was by his example that I learned how to pray. My father always had a bible with him in his backpack too, wrapped tight in a zip lock bag; he never went anywhere without it. It was by firelight that I learned the trials of Daniel in the lion’s den and of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Lessons that brought home how to glorify God and of the pure strength of Faith. Standing up for what you know is right. How your word has to carry your honor.
I try to pass on these lessons to my sons as I show them how to melt wax onto wooden match heads to make their own waterproof matches. If they think that’s cool, wait until I show them how to get a small fire going using a little petroleum jelly and a few cotton balls. The jelly burns well and long enough to catch your moss and kindling. We have taken day trips to the Okefenokee Swamp many times, since we live nearby in Fargo, Georgia. I hope to do an overnight soon, but I’ll have to do some serious talking to get my wife to agree to it. She’s not from the swamp but understands my need to escape into it every now and again. While I may only do it once in a blue moon these days, I always take my bible with me too.