Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Fantastic bowling neon sign from Hot Springs Arkansas. This sign cycles three phases - first is just the red neon "Bowling", second is just the white pin and ball, and the third is both of those lit along with "Snack Bar" in white on the bottom. The cycle flashes back and forth for in about a 10 second series. I love neons like this. This is a super-cool art form. Beautiful.
One popular sport in the country has always been coon hunting. Raccoons are plentiful, destructive and a nuisance in general, so it makes good sport to go out and give the dogs a thrill by rustling some up and letting the dogs go in for the kill.
Grandpa bred blue-tick coon dogs and won lots of trophies. These dogs were brought from several regions of France in pre-colonial era, and in the early 20th century breeders would travel to the Ozarks and remote areas of Louisiana to buy coon hunting dogs of the most pure bloodline from the original Gascogne. They were grandpa's abiding passion and he devoted countless hours to breeding and training these ultimate hunting machines. Intrepid scenthounds, even blind blueticks make masterful tracker/hunters suffering no deficit in competition with sighted dogs.
These dogs are beautiful animals with a deep baleful howl that must be terrifying to raccoons. To me their bark is by association the right sound to hear reporting through the hallowed columns of the forest on cold dark nights. Grandpa also had several redbone hounds which were larger, and truly magnificent dogs, but the blueticks were his specialization.
Invariably sleeping on the sofa at Grandma and Grandpa's, I remember staring out sleepily from under my quilts as dad and Grandpa made ready to go out hunting in the middle of winter nights. They'd be pulling on hunting boots and attaching the wires on the carbide lamps they wore on their hats, attached to wet-cell batteries worn on their belts. Grandpa always had the wet-cells in plastic Ideal brand bread sacks, which grandma never threw away, along with twist-ties. I remember the smell of those lamps too, the vaguely sulphuric tang of the odor that wasn't unpleasant to me.
Anyway, he told a story that painted such a vivid picture that I wish I had a photograph of the scene he witnessed.
Out with the dogs one winter night, the air was incredibly still, and the trees and the dead grasses were all encrusted in a thick layer of ice. He said the moon was so bright you could almost read a newspaper by it, and it illuminated a scene of enchantment in the cold silence of the night forest.
The dogs had treed coon after coon that night, and in his words, "I decided to honor the dogs by letting them catch this coon." The coon was treed, the dogs howling at it, and Grandpa pulled out his hand axe and set about felling the tree.
My dad said once that Grandpa was so remarkably efficient at felling trees that there was no wasted motion and you'd best stand back, because the wood chips would be flying.
Anyway, down came the tree and the coon was on the ground and was off, dogs in hot pursuit. As they progressed through the woods-- coon, dogs and man-- all the frozen grasses in their path shattered sending diamond fragments up into a glimmering shower in the still night air.
He said it was one of the most beautiful visions of his life. I can well imagine it's precisely this sort of moment that a sportsman lives for. Who says men have no appreciation of aesthetics?