Hunting Stories

Worm Ridge
[Adventures of a Woman in the Woods]

By:  Brenda Presnell

I looked across the breakfast table at Kenny, the man who brought me to these piney woods miles from nowhere.  He sipped his coffee.  I sipped mine.   Our attention was soon drawn to a sight outside the kitchen window.    A ray of sunlight, which had been a long time coming, beamed through the pines to rest on a box turtle wading through one of the many puddles that streamed along the sandy soil through the hunt/fish camp.  I was fascinated by the speed of this little fellow as he scurried over the water and tree roots into the edge of the woods.  I knew the turtle would return sooner or later.  Kenny would hand feed him the grasshoppers he would catch from the yard.  My hubby had become quite a “turtle whisperer” as he bonded with these living yard-art companions. 

It was nice and sunny outside.  A welcomed sight after the heavy rains every single day for almost two weeks.  The woods of North Florida were saturated and soggy from the summer rains and the camp was no exception.  As I looked past the turtle to the vegetable garden, I was reminded that a friend had said earlier that the only thing growing in his garden now was mold.  I was sure we were growing the same crop.  

“Maybe we should get out of the house now while there’s a window of opportunity from the rain,” I said. 

“Maybe we should,” he replied.

We sat in silence, contently drinking coffee and eating our country favorites: grits, bacon, and eggs.  I watched through the window as the sunbeam traveled on to the burn pit, which was more like a mini swimming pool after the rains.  Drops of water glistened on a pine branch that had fallen and landed on the cinder blocks of the burn pit.  It appeared almost enchanting with its sparkling beauty.

More coffee.  More breakfast.  More gazing through the window. 

“What time is it getting to be?” asked the hubby.

“I don’t know.  What day do you think it is?” I replied.

Sounds a little bit idiotic, doesn’t it?  But it really isn’t.  We’re retired.  We’re old.  We eat our breakfast slowly and don’t worry too much about the time.  Sometimes we even remember what day it is.  But not too much worry there either because we’ve got a handy-dandy wall calendar.  I looked at the calendar.

“Is today Wednesday or Thursday?” I inquired. 

“Not sure,” he said.  “When did we go to town last for groceries?”

“Don’t know.  I’ll have to look in the checkbook to see what date we wrote a check to the Piggy-Wiggly.”

“Don’t worry about it, Hon, finish your breakfast.”

I ate with delight, as did Kenny.  The last bite of bacon is always just as good as that first bite.  Bacon is always good.  Come to think of it, the grits and eggs were pretty good, too.  As a matter of fact, I was beginning to think that everything was good.  The man across the table from me was good.  I was good.  Life was good.  I felt better than I had in a while of gloomy-cloudy days.  The sunshine really worked miracles. 

“How about a drive?” I asked.

“Where to?” 

“Let’s ride to the river and see what flooded from the rain,” I suggested.

eing the hunting and fishing kinda man that Kenny is, he’s always up for a drive in the woods.  And being that we’re already in the woods, we didn’t have far to go.

Before we set out on our little journey, we decided that the day was indeed Thursday.  We had gone to the Piggly-Wiggly last Friday.  And that was seven days ago because we had gotten a box of 12 donuts and it had seven missing.  So seven days forward from when the check was written is today – ta-dah!

Finally, I sat in the truck with my little straw hat atop my head to keep the sun’s rays out of my sensitive blue-gray eyes.  I had my bottle of survival water handy.  Kenny had the camera as always.  I was ecstatic to be going someplace after being cooped up at camp during the monsoon.  We were ready to rock and roll.

It had been quite a while since I’d been out of the house.  My cabin fever was beginning to subside as we drove down the highway through a long stretch of pines and palmettos through Tate’s Hell Forest.  I searched the thick woods and underbrush for any signs of movement in this haven for the Florida black bear.  I knew that bears could suddenly appear out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly. 

Most of the time, though, a person can drive for miles without seeing another soul.  However, it wasn’t long before we came across three souls.  They appeared to be worm grunters.  A rusty-white 1959 pickup was pulled into a two-rut forest road off the highway.  A man, a woman, and young boy were worm grunting in the remains of a controlled forest burn from a few days back.  Kenny and I, too, had grunted worms from time to time in the past for a little fish bait but not for a living like the rugged, hardworking worm grunters do.

Being that Kenny is the sort of friendly fellow that he is, of course we stopped to say hello.  The man greeted us with a smile and a handshake.  Weather-beaten lines that crisscrossed his leathery dark skin were a testament to many years of working in the hot Florida sun.  Kenny and the man conversed for a while.

My attention turned to the woman and the boy, who was about the age of 14.  They were bending and stooping in the woods.  The Worm Woman wore a white bandana on her head and black rubber boots.  She placed a flat heavy metal bar on top of a wooden stob that she had hammered into the rain-softened ground.  Then slowly, she rubbed the metal bar over the wooden stob.  Like magic, the vibration caused by the metal rubbing against the wood made the worms wiggle out of the ground.  Along came the boy toting an old rusty tin can.  He stooped to the ground and rose up with a fist full of long, slimy worms that he dropped into the can.  It was just like magic and as always is amazing to see.

In fact, it was so amazing to see that I could contain myself no longer.  I needed to be involved in this wonder on the worm ridge close up.  After introducing myself, I inquired if I could join them picking up worms.  The Worm Woman, who appeared to be a little amused with my request, politely consented with a nod and a smile.  She wiped the sweat from her dark brow with a blue and white checkered handkerchief and then continued her work.

The grunting sound of the metal across the wooden stob rang through the woods and mingled with the orchestra of frogs and crickets.  Sharp staccato pecking from a red-cockaded woodpecker and the stringing calls from jet-black crows joined in song.  My heart sang, too, at the beauty in which I was engulfed.  There is beauty in the natural ole-timey way of doing things.  There is beauty in nature.  There is beauty in the presence of souls sharing and working together.  There is beauty in the wonderful fragrance that filled my nostrils from the lighter pine which still smoldered after the recent burn.  There is beauty in the tiny green blades of grass that peeked through fresh fallen pine needles which lay on the ashes that were spread over the ground.  I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a glimpse of heaven.

Then came the miracle.  Worms wiggled up through the ashes and pine needles.  I quickly reached here for one and there for another.  The worms, like a wiggly wad of spaghetti that had been dragged through dirt, tickled my hands as I gathered them to be placed into the rusty tin can.  

“We only need 75 more to fill up a can of 500,” said the Worm Woman.  She laid into the metal bar once more as her sturdy arms pushed and rubbed it across the wooden stob.  The low grunting sound rumbled through the woods once again. 

We waited just a short while.  Then more worms found their way to the surface.  Being careful where we stepped, we tiptoed through the burn and continued picking up the ones we saw.  The young boy chuckled aloud with each worm that was put into the rusty tin cup.  Like excited children spotting Easter eggs, we scurried to pick up each one.  Soon the can of 500 worms was complete.  

By this time, the Worm Man and Kenny had finished conversing about guns, huntin’, fishin’, and the ways of the woods and drew their attention to the matter at hand.  As she proudly waved the can of worms in front of him, the Worm Woman confirmed to the man that they had the needed worms.  He grinned and nodded his head in approval as he looked at the tangled wad of worms.  A rebel worm was pretty near making his escape.  But with one smooth stroke of his hand, the Worm Man quickly stopped him in his tracks and returned him to the can.

“Good job. That outta do it,” said the Worm Man.

The Worm Woman and young boy headed for their truck and a much needed drink.  The boy took a hardy swig from the bottle and then splashed the remaining water across the back of his neck.  The liquid quickly ran down his back and cooled his sweaty body.  This brought a sigh of relief and a huge grin to his face.

Kenny handed me a towel and water when I got to the truck.  I carefully wiped away the gooey worm slim and dirt.  I began to think that there was something wholesome and comforting about dirt being on my hands.  It was almost like a communion or connection with our God who created it all.  God, earth, sun, sky, humans, worms, birds, crickets, frogs, flowers, fragrances, trees – it was all right here.   I was, indeed, in heaven.

"Earth to Brenda," said Kenny, nudging me from my contemplation.  "Time to go."

“Yeah,” I agreed that it was.

We then said our good-byes, and I thanked our new friends for letting me join in.  As I basked in the enjoyment and beauty of the day, I was reminded once again of why I love the woods.  There is always an adventure and you never know what or who will cross your path.

[By the way, we did make it to the river.  But that’s another story for another day.]

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