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THE BIG THICKET; An Introduction BY FRANCIS E. ABERNETHY I guess the Big Thicket is as much a product of the imagination and wishful thinking as it is a geographical area. It represents the Great Unknown to the mind cluttered with trade names in a society labeled and categorized. It is a happy hunting ground for the mind, and in man's fancy the cool green womb to which he can retreat from the hot panic of concrete and glass in the industrialized brick jungles we call cities. It is the individual's final fortress against civilization. To those who talk about it, the Big Thicket stands for something else too; it is the lair of the mysterious. According to the stories about the place, there is no telling what a man might come across, in the shape of man or beast, if he wanders deep enough into those woods. Before I had ever seen the Thicket I had been told that if I walked into it out of sight of the road I would get lost, and I have found out since then that this statement was pretty close to right. On a cloudy day or when the sun is at the top of the sky, the mind's compass pOints are easily shifted around; and panic tries to get hold of a man when he starts wondering whether he is walking deeper into the Thicket or out of it-or when he hits a trail that he doesn't recognize. A man by the name of Hendrix one foggy night strayed off a Thicket trail that he had been walking for forty years, and 3 4 2. Sunrise on Village Creek. searchers didn't find him till eight days later. It hasn't been many years ago when a young fellow got lost and the fright of the Thicket scared him out of his head. His rescuers had to rope him to bring him in. Governor SuI Ross got lost in the Thicket in the eighties and spent the night and a couple of days in the woods until Fount Simmons found him and led him out. At the present time Henry Overstreet, the sheriff of Hardin County, keeps a pack of bloodhounds ready to go to the aid of those who get confused in the Thicket. 3. Claude Davenport and the Hardin County Sheriff's Department bloodhounds. 6 4. Water moccasin. They also said down at the barber shop that a man couldn't walk a hundred yards into the brush without being snake bitten. That was an exaggeration; no more people are bitten in the Thicket area than in other places that have large snake populations. But thece are some good chances to get snake bitten in the Thicket if a fellow is looking for the experience. Scattered throughout the Thicket are small weed-choked ponds, the frogging grounds for stump-tailed cottonmouth moccasins. They lie in the coontail and spatterdock with just their fist-sized heads protruding, the mean eye gazing over the smiling white lip. Or roll a log in the early spring; the canebrake rattler hibernates late and lies in a tight coil of black chevrons on shiny grey, waiting till he thaws out enough to shake his rattles before he will come forth to hunt. A small but distant 5. Coral snake. 6. Canebrake rattler. (Courtesy Ernest Tanzer) 7. Copperhead. 8. Pigmy rattler. THE BIG THICKET cousin of his, the pigmy rattler, can winter under a pine knot. Lift the loose, thick bark of a fallen and rotting oak tree; the long secret that feeds on the insects and larvae of this tree-trunk world is banded red, yellow, and black, and is the coral snake. Lying flat on a golden-brown blanket of pine needles is the golden-brown copperhead , the cottonmouth's cousin who can blend in with his surroundings as well as his kinsman. These are the snakes you are warned about; there are other reptiles of the same build that can materialize under your feet in the dark water-soaked leaves of the Thicket floor. They are good for the jump effect. A lot of reports of bear and panther come out of the Thicket, and everybody who has hunted there has considered the possibility of one or the other coming over his stand. As for me, I have yet to see a sign of either. In fact, I'd give a panther one free jump at me...


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MARC Record
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