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Stories From Under The Sky

John Madson

Publication Year: 1998

In Stories from under the Sky, John Madson salutes the outdoor life. These thirty-six essays display his healthy respect for the forces of nature, without diminishing his wry awareness of the foibles of beast, bird, fish, and human.
In sections on mammals, the river, and birds, Madson acquaints readers with some real characters—not all of them four-footed! Some are old favorites: the raccoon, the otter, the fawn, and the badger. Others are less familiar—the demonic shrew, the indomitable dogfish, and the exotic blue heron. Even the “unloved” come in for their share of attention: toads, waterbugs, wasps, and turkey buzzards. Madson has a yarn to spin about each one. Where else would you find an essay on “Snake Liars”?

Whatever the topic, Madson’s love of nature shines through, be it coon hunting or an explanation of the incredible bird machine. His obvious affection is tempered with the recognition that not everything “natural” is a pretty sight. All of which leaves readers with a better understanding of life under the sky. 

Published by: University of Iowa Press


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The author wishes to acknowledge several sources from which many of these stories were drawn. Although a number of the articles in this . . .


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The Thimble Mill Fox

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pp. 11-16

FROM FAR DOWN the valley came the first trail cry of the pack.
For a long time there had been only muted hunting noises from the Walkers as they cast through the creek . . .

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Little Brother to the Bear

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pp. 17-23

SHAMBLING THROUGH our dense river forests in the easy, flat-footed fashion of the bear, goes an American legend.
He was the reluctant haberdasher . . .

A Songdog at Work

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pp. 24-25

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Half-ounce Heller

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pp. 27-36

IN SOME OF the quiet places, where leaf mold is heavy and old logs decay on the forest floor, lives the world's most savage mammal. It's a ravening . . .

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Sleepers and Snoozers

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pp. 37-42

THE OLD WOODCHUCK labored slowly up the hill, breathing heavily and stopping often to rest. He was hogfat now that late September . . .

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The Fighting Doormat

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pp. 43-48

WHEN OLD SKIP, our favorite feist dog, began hollering his head off on the other side of the pasture hill, we didn't pay much mind. Skip was . . .

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Than a Barrel of Monkeys

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pp. 49-54

A TRIBE OF ACCOMPLISHED killers, most of the weasel clan take life seriously. There isn't much slapstick in the daily doings of a mink, ferret . . .

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pp. 55-60

UNDERGROUND, IN THE dark cool world of roots, grubs and earthworms, lives the Digger. He is dedicated - heart, tooth and nail - to tunnelling. He is king of the miners, this . . .

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pp. 61-63

GOBLINS AND ELVES have lost ground in most of today's forests.
The electric light and the picture tube have frightened them all away, driving them back into . . .

The River

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Old Man River's Shell Game

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pp. 67-80

WHEN JOE MARTELLE stepped out of his cabin door the night mists were still hanging over Harper's Slough and the first rays of . . .

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Outlaw of the Dark Sloughs

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pp. 81-86

JOHN A. GRINDLE is a stupid, vicious thug. About the only good things you can say about him are that he fights to the death, takes care . . .

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The World of Charley Gibbs

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pp. 87-96

THE OLD BURNISHED richness of October was on the land, flavored with woodsmoke and tempered with frosty nights. That morning the western . . .


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The Gloomiest Bird

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pp. 99-102

THE CREATURE called the turkey buzzard hovers over the land like a fallen angel. A great carrion bird with a naked, raddled head and . . .

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The Grand Passage

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pp. 103-106

AN OLD GANDER raised his head from a meal of three-square grass and stretched his wings in the warm Louisiana sun. Nearby, other . . .

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Man and the Mallard

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pp. 107-114

LIKE ALL LIVING things, the mallard duck is the fruit of its environment. As that environment frowns or smiles, the mallard fails or . . .

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The Bird Machine

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pp. 115-122

A BIRD IS A flash of color, a burst of song, or a high, aloof vigilance. It can be all gentleness and soft appeal, or baleful, raptorial harshness. It may . . .

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Child of Adversity

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pp. 123-126

THERE WAS THIS dude duck hunter at Big Wall Lake who'd just come ashore and was loading his new hunting gear into his new . . .

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Heron Summer

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pp. 127-132

THE ROOKERY WAS somewhere just ahead in the dense tongue of lowland forest between the Nishnabotna and Missouri . . .

The Unloved

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Br'er Toad's Secret Weapon

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pp. 135-138

AN OLD HOP TOAD isn't a very mean customer. He doesn't have much in the way of muscles, almost nothing in the tooth and claw line, and . . .

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pp. 139-141

YOU'RE NOT ALONE, fishing. Skating around your bobber on the quiet water are water striders, and that commotion on the inlet is their . . .

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The Turtle Hunters

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pp. 143-150

IT WAS EARLY JUNE and for ten days the south fork of the Skunk had been in full flood, drowning the bottomlands around Coons' Honey Stand . . .

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Beware the Paper Cities!

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pp. 151-156

My MORBID ATTRACTION to bugs that bite and sting may stem from that day on Squaw Creek nearly thirty years ago when I was sitting . . .

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The Locks of Medusa

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pp. 157-164

HUNTING POISONOUS SNAKES - whether for sport, profit, or out of some dim sense of ancestral outrage - is a tense . . .

Short Arrows from the Long Bow

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The Abashed Savage

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pp. 167-168

AMONG MODERN Americans there are two sharply divergent views of nature. At one pole is Thoreau, who declaims: "In wilderness is . . .

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Snake Liars

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pp. 169-170

OF ALL the unvarnished liars in this world, the snake liar is the worst.
It's pretty hard to beat a fishing liar or a grizzly-hunting liar, unless you ring in . . .

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The Little Sports

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pp. 171-174

WHEN THE BASS go off their feed or the squirrel hunting slows down, I turn to the little sports.
They aren't much, but I've never managed to outgrow them and they give me homey . . .

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A Wilderness of Light

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pp. 175-178

NOT so LONG AGO, between the eastern forests and the buffalo plains, there was a sea of grass and flowers.
The midland of the continent was open, rolling, . . .

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pp. 179-180

THERE's LIFE and purpose to a river.
Lakes are fine but they never go anywhere; they just stay at home and sleep in their basins until they die. But . . .

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The Unforgettable Feists

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pp. 181-183

LET'S TALK about hunting dogs. Not the blooded champs of stately grace and high birth, but those bandylegged heroes of a million squirrel and rabbit . . .

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Knife Talk

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pp. 185-186

POKEY CHARLEY" Thompson was a leathery, dehydrated old prospector who had dug up the landscape from British Columbia to Sonora, and . . .

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Froze Fer Meat

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pp. 187-188

IT STARTED at a high school picnic when we were teasing the girls with a big bullsnake. One of them screamed: "Why did you catch . . .

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On Crows

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pp. 189-191

EVEN IF you don't care much for the crow, you have to give him his due. I've always had a deep, almost reverent awe for the raucous old . . .

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Romany Rides Again

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pp. 193-198

IT HAS BEEN SAID that an outdoor life creates either monsters or poets. I wouldn't know about that, for I've met neither in my ramblings around . . .

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The Small Brown Bird

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pp. 199-200

WHEN I'M TOO RICKETY to hunt, and find more pleasure in polishing my guns than shooting them, I have many things to . . .

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Outdoor Wishbooks

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pp. 201-202

SOME MEN escape reality by chewing snoose, watching girls, or practicing their fast draw. Me, I'll take sporting goods catalogues every . . .

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A Place To Loaf

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pp. 203-205

IF MY INCOME ever exceeds my outgo, I'm going to have a special room.
It'll be in a house just below the crest of a hill that breaks the . . .

E-ISBN-13: 9781609380304
Print-ISBN-13: 9781587295621

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 1998