Kittie Howard

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fun Challenges; A Lion Lives in an Oak Tree (Louisiana Stories)

You may not know this about me but I rarely enter contests.  Today, though, I've entered Rach's Second Crusader Challenge, a fun writing challenge as I had to weave the post's opening phrase (in italics) and three specific words into today's story.  Can you find the three words??

What you do know about me is that I love sharing links.  Madeline's got a fun link-up post at Scribble and Edit.  If you've got a sec, please drop by and join in!

A big hug for Marieke, a YA writer, at Marieke's Musings for being my 200th Follower!  Whoot!

And, now, today's Louisiana story:
* * * * *
The four of us huddled beneath the Live Oak tree and stared at the spoors.  We worried a lion had hidden among the tree's massive branches and would see us, but were too curious not to look at what had to be lion droppings.  We whispered because we didn't want Mama to hear us.  She was working in her flower garden. It overflowed with mounds of fall chrysanthemums.

Word had spread along the bayou that over a million lions had escaped from the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. The ferocious animals had taken up residence along our twenty-five mile stretch of country road in South Central Louisiana.  Parents wouldn't allow kids to play outside unless chaperoned. Farmers, like my grandfather, had moved cattle to different pastures.  Fences had been checked, repaired and re-enforced where necessary.  Dogs had been let loose at night to sound the alarm.

Since Sugar Bowl now had to sleep in the open and not in his doghouse, I worried a lion would eat him.  Not everyone loved Sugar Bowl like I did.  My black mutt ran in circles and howled until we kids shared sugary treats (which wasn't often in the 1950's). Maybe a lion would think Sugar Bowl looked like a treat.  He'd eaten a lot of sugar yesterday.  The ornery dog had snuck into the house, somehow toppled the sugar bowl and licked the kitchen table clean.  Mama had been really mad at the mess she said he'd made.

Louis, Jr. scoffed at my worry.  His lofty attitude had become an umbrella response to everything now that he'd entered first grade.  My neighbor's son didn't think a lion would eat Sugar Bowl because Sugar Bowl was a boy.  Lions feared boys.  At the slight, I narrowed my blue eyes and scrunched my nose.  Louis Jr. laughed at the pugnacity, but bolted from the group.  Baby Joe, also my age, five-years-old, ran toward his friend, all the while daring Sarah and me to catch them in the open pasture.

The chase began as my mother dropped her gardening trowel into a basket.  The clank of metal upon metal caused Sarah to stop.  My three-year-old sister wanted to help Mama gather stems of orange and yellow chrysanthemums for a vase in the living room. Mama preferred that Sarah played and got some exercise.

Crocodile tears gushed from Sarah's big blue eyes and rolled down rose-petal cheeks. I tugged on her hand.  Again, Mama encouraged Sarah; they'd gather flowers later.  A bit peeved, Sarah shook her mop of sandy curls, then snuggled into me to ponder the options while Mama walked to the porch.  Sarah's brown Teddy bear dangled from her hand and brushed my bare legs.

It was one of those corn silk afternoons when birds chirped, bees buzzed and sunbeams blurred time.  October's pumpkin sun had muted South Louisiana's searing heat and softened long afternoons into an autumnal skeleton that danced on gentle breezes.  Mama's shoulder-length blond hair shimmered like golden topaz in the porch's reflected light.  My mother, a city gal from New Orleans with a German, not Cajun heritage, settled herself into a white rocking chair.  The view overlooked an expanse of flat delta and bayou she had yet come to love.

When Sarah refused to leave my side, Louis, Jr. and Baby Joe laughed that she couldn't run with a Teddy bear.  To everyone's surprise, Sarah dropped her beloved companion and lurched forward.  The boys, who had sisters, knew how to play into the game. They allowed Sarah to catch them, then impersonated defeated roles to much applause and good-natured laughter.

After Sarah joined Mama on the porch,  Louis, Jr., Baby Joe and I played tag.  Sugar Bowl chased us as we ran barefoot across flat-lying sticker plant without fear of being stuck by white pincers.  We ran and ran, from one side of the pasture to the other, from my grandparents' house to my parents' house.  We ran and tagged each other for the sheer joy of having fun.

When our little legs grew tired, we returned to the porch.  After Mama tethered Sugar Bowl in the backyard, she surprised us with homemade sugar cookies and cold milk.  (Yes, Sugar Bowl received a treat later!)  Louis, Jr. and Baby Joe then walked home, along the country road that fronted our fenced-in farm, but both houses within easy sight.

That evening, after supper (Kartoffelpuffer or German pancakes topped with applesauce) and after Sarah and I had prepared for bed, Mama said that we couldn't leave our bedroom (except to go to the bathroom.)  A Louisiana Black bear, sometimes called a Honey bear, had wandered out of the densely wooded area at the deep end of the farm. 

Men, including my father, would lie in wait for the bear to appear that night.  A veterinarian would sedate the bear with a dart.  The bear, thought to be a grown male, had been seen during the previous week, always at dusk.  He hadn't appeared malnourished and was thought to have a serious infection.   The veterinarian wanted to check for festering sores, also the bear's teeth.  The possibility existed the bear had contracted rabies and would have to be put down.  But the men who'd seen the bear didn't think the situation would come to this.  The bear hadn't exhibited rabies-induced behavior.  Still, the men would be armed.

Parents had spread the rumor about escaped lions because most of us kids had a Teddy bear.  Parents worried that kids would think the bear was cute and harmless and try to pet it.  Although the bear hadn't entered front pastures during the day, the mature animal had learned to navigate front pastures during the night.

Sarah and I slept through the excitement.  Around midnight, the bear had appeared in the pasture behind the Live Oak tree where we kids had huddled, was sedated and found to have an infected cut.  After cleaning the infection and injecting the bear with antibiotics, the men left the bear to sleep off the sedation and returned home.

No one saw the bear or any spoor in the pastures again.

When winter came and leaves had fallen, my father and others searched the skeletal forest.  They discovered the den where the bear hibernated.  They let him be.

In the spring, my grandfather allowed some cleared acreage that bordered the forest to return to its natural state. 


The Louisiana Black Bear, a sub-species of the American Black Bear, inhabits parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, southern Arkansas and Eastern Texas, though in greatly diminished numbers today.  It is now listed as 'endangered', the result of habitat lost to cultivation.  Louisiana's Department of Wildlife and Fisheries works with farmers and others to restore forested land (as do departments in Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas, a multi-state cooperative effort, actually).  Some (but not enough) progress has been made in the four states. 

Within Louisiana, statistics are encouraging in the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge (as they are within protected areas in neighboring states.)  If you've got a few minutes, you might enjoy surfing this site.  The entire Atchafalaya River Basin area is one of Nature's crown jewels.

And, yes, you will encounter the 'lion' in today's story again.  Within our family, the 'lion' came to mean What doesn't exist can get you if you let it, the result of us kids having active imaginations and playing fun tricks (so we thought) on each other, a popular form of entertainment in an era when television and gadgets didn't dominate lives.

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