Creekbank Blog

The writing blog of Curt Iles and Creekbank Stories. Our mission: To connect hearts to God by using stories of encouragement and inspiration.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Evening Holler

I’m sitting in Crooked Bayou swamp on a cold still October morning. I love this time of year when the weather becomes cool and the sky is usually clear. As daybreak comes, a mile through the woods I hear a neighbor’s roosters crowing and in the opposite direction, I hear my brother-in-law’s loud voice scolding his dog. I’m always amazed at how sound carries so clearly and distinctly in the woods.

As it gets quiet again and I shift on my deer stand, a lone owl gives his eight-note song. Soon he is joined by another sentinel way across the swamp. These two barred owls converse back and forth in their unique eight-note call:
“Hoo hoo-hoo hoo, hoo hoo-hoo hoawww”

Always when I hear this owl, I recall old-timers describing his call as,
“Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?”

Even when you know it’s an owl there’s something spooky about its eerie cry. Listening, I’m drawn back to my favorite story told about our community’s first settlers. I recall the story of "The Evening Holler” as told by my great grandparents, Frank and Dosia Iles. This unique call, a tradition going back to the pre-Civil War settling of the Dry Creek area, was a primitive means of communication among these early settlers.

The first white settlers in Dry Creek lived in the woods along the creeks and streams, surrounded by vast tracts of pine forests. This area of Southwestern Louisiana was a neutral strip claimed by both Spain and the United States. Initially, there was no law, and later on when there was, the nearest officer was in over seventy miles away in Opelousas. Indians, though friendly, stilled roamed the woods and bears and mountain lions were common in the swamps.

Because these pioneers were homesteading tracts of land, they seldom built homes right next to each other. By necessity, they learned to depend on each other, so they developed an ingenious method of checking on the welfare of neighbors.

Late in the evening at dusk, each man would stand in the yard or on the porch of his home. Just as the sun dropped behind the wooded horizon, the ritual would begin. Each man would begin hollering his own individual yell. Each of the pioneers had his own unique hollering style—easily recognized by his own pitch and voice. The closest neighbor would answer back and the next neighbor down the creek would then join him. As the evening holler passed down through the woods, each man was assured as to the well-being of his neighbor as he heard an answering yell.

In spite of the distance between home places, the hollering carried for long distances. Remember, this was a time before televisions, air conditioners, or vehicles. There were fewer artificial sounds to drown out the evening noises. If you have ever really been out in the woods, you’ll understand what we mean when we call it “an eerie silence.”

My ancestors told me of how if a man did not hear the call of his neighbor, he would holler several more times at different intervals. If these echo calls didn’t receive a reply, he'd go check on his neighbor. My great-grandmother told of seeing her father saddle up his horse to go check on a neighbor who hadn’t answered. Even though things were usually fine at the neighbors, he went each time to double check. It was simply a matter of being a good neighbor. These early settlers took care of each other. The “Evening Holler” was kind of an early version of today’s “Neighborhood Watch.”

Sometimes when I'm enjoying the quietness of a fall sunset, I'll hear the owls begin calling to each other across the woods. Or in April, I'll listen to the whip-poor-wills as they answer each other with their own version of the evening holler. It's at times like this that I think about the evening holler and what it meant.

It reminds me of how our ancestors took care of each other. They truly considered a neighbor . . . a neighbor. In our modern busy crowded life, we seldom know our neighbors—much less check on their well-being. Even with all of our marvelous modern communication tools—from telephones to fax machines to e-mail, we usually know much less about our neighbors than our ancestors did.

Back home, sitting on the front porch thinking about these things and how much we’ve lost in "neighborliness,” my neighbor drives by in his truck. He honks as he sees me sitting on the porch and I see his truck is loaded down with firewood. All fall and into winter, he cuts firewood for the widows and needy of our community. He's on his way with a load to give someone right now.

Then the thought hits me: maybe the evening holler is not as dead an art as I think it is.

Then I recall another neighbor who daily checks on an elderly woman who lives alone.
I think of my parents who have always picked up the mail for another homebound senior adult.
I then remember the times, when after a house fire in our community, people have banded together to supply needed items and help rebuild the home.
I recall the time-honored Southern tradition of supplying food to families who have had a death.

Thinking of each of these, and many more I could name, I realize how much good and caring there still is in people.
Yes, times have changed. We don't live in as close contact with our neighbors as we should. As humans, we need to take ownership on the care of our neighbors. It is a decision that each of us can choose to do. It is a positive decision that many of my neighbors have chosen to make.

Taking time to look around, I still see the spirit of “The Evening Holler” alive and well in a small community I love called Dry Creek.

Visit or call 1 866 520 1947 to learn more about stories by Curt Iles.
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Friday, February 15, 2008

From the book, Stories from the Creekbank by Curt Iles

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A Pair for Life

Clay, Clint, and I crawled over the wet leaves to the bluff bank on the small stream called Dry Creek. We were just west of where the creek runs into Bundick Creek. As we crawled along, I kept looking at the boys reminding them to stay quiet because I knew I'd heard wood ducks on the creek.

As we slid along up to the cliff edge, we saw them‑ a male drake resplendent in the beautiful colors that make the wood duck my favorite bird. He was swimming along beside his drab‑colored hen companion. They were aware of something being wrong but couldn't quite place where we were as they nervously swam in circles.
It was a special moment in my life‑ one of my sons on each side lying on the high bank as we watched the pair of ducks swimming about.

The boys kept looking back at my shotgun which was leaning against a nearby tree. I kept shaking my head no when they imploringly looked at me. We lay there about 10 minutes just enjoying watching them. Eventually the ducks swam down Dry Creek and out into the stronger current of Bundick... and then they were gone.

My sons upbraided me pretty bad about not shooting the ducks. I tried to explain that they were a pair. If my understanding of waterfowl was correct, they were a couple just the same and me and their mom. I just didn't have the heart to shoot. I'm not sure the boys understood, but one day they probably will.

I thought about that pair of ducks when we buried my Grandmother. As I sat with my Grandfather at the hospital before her death and then was with him at the funeral, my mind kept returning to those two ducks in the creek‑ a pair for life.

Grandpa and Grandma Sid, as we called them, were married over 62 years when she died. Throughout my memory, they only existed together... inseparable. During my childhood I always looked forward to their visits. I recalled summer weeks spent in Shreveport with them. Whenever and wherever I saw them, they were together‑ My Grandpa and Grandma Sid.

Now as I thought about it, they were no longer together. How it hurt my heart to see him alone. How lonely it must have been after spending practically every moment together over the last twenty years and sharing life together for over sixty.

I thought about my own wife, DeDe, and how close we are. And I thought about the loneliness one of us will one day endure. And once again I could see the wood ducks swimming off together... and it occurred to me how long 62 years must be and how quickly 62 years must seem to pass. Then my grandfather's words came back to me, "Well, if I'd had her 92 years, I still wouldn't have wanted to have given her up."

There are so many things I don't understand about life. Life is full of so much happiness and sadness. We live and love the same person for a lifetime of happiness, in this case 62 years worth, and then it must end sadly - and alone.

There is so much we just don't understand but we must choose. We can concentrate on the happy memories and joy shared together... the intertwining of two lives wrapped together by love. Or we can dwell on the sorrow and loneliness that comes to us when "death does up part."

I choose to think about those two happy wood ducks swimming off into the current together... and those wonderful memories of my grandparents together.

This was my first published writing. Without my knowledge, my mother sent this essay to Home Life Magazine and they printed it in their February 1992 issue. I naively thought "This publishing business is a breeze." (I now have a thick folder of rejection letters to counter that view! I also have six books and best of all, thousands of new friends, made through my writing. I am most fortunate, and grateful to God, for what I get to do each day.)

The original "A Pair for Life" from Home Life Feb. 1992

Click on image for larger view/printable version

Coming next: The Evening Holler


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The two maps (above) are in the second edition of The Wayfaring Stranger. The first map is sketched by my special Dry Creek friend, Debra Tyler. I think it is great.
The second beautiful map is by my good friend, Peyton Freeman of Wise Publishing in Sulphur.
Thanks Deb and Peyton! click on maps to see a larger view.
The ad shown is from this week's edition of The Baptist Message.
To visit our Wayfaring Stranger blog, click here.


Friday, February 01, 2008

The Old House in Dry Creek. First constructed by my great great grandparents circa 1892, this family home is my favorite spot in the world, source of many of my stories, and my best writing muse. Below is the opening story from my second book, The Old House. Pen and ink drawing is by my uncle Bill Iles.

The Old House at the End of the Road

If it’s possible to love a house like a person,
Then the Lord knows I love this old house.
It’s a place reminding me of family,
And the things in life that really mean the most.
It’s a place I return to when I’m lonely. . .
. . . Or it seems I’ve lost my way.
A place where I always feel welcome,
As I sit down and think for a while.
This old house is more than boards and nails
Because it tells me of our past . . .
As I walk through it, I’m reminded that
The special people in our lives never last.
Although they’re gone, I will remember
How they still live on inside of me.
Because this old house reminds me of who I am,
And everything I ever want to be . . .

There it sits- surrounded on the east side by tall long leaf pines and along the west fence line by oak and hickory trees as the land slopes down to the swamp. Out in front is a dilapidated old barn, and behind this house to the south are overgrown fields- once bearing tall field corn and purple hull peas, but now grown up in a tangle of briars, tallow trees, and weeds.
In the middle of this sits the most special place on earth to me- The Old House. Built by my great-great grandfather in 1892 on land he and his wife homesteaded, it is now vacant, and slowly deteriorating the way homes do when not lived in. However, to me it is a beautiful place of peace, reflection, and solitude. As the above poem states, it is the place where I go to get my bearings and remember what is really important to me.
Recently, my sister frantically called me at work. “A woods fire is burning close to the Old House!” I ran to my truck and quickly drove to the Old House which is next to the home of my parents. As I turned down their gravel road, I could see the dark smoke billowing up above the tree line. The one-mile drive down the road seemed much longer as I hurriedly drove, wondering how close the fire was to the most special house I know. I’ve always lived with the fear that the Old House would burn.
I sped by the homes of my parents and two sisters, and parked in the driveway of the Old House. I breathed a sigh of relief seeing that the fire was much further away than my sister, Claudia had thought. I was both relieved and thankful.
As I sat in my truck looking at this original log house, built onto by five generations of my family, I was once again reminded why this is my favorite place in the entire world. I’ve gone far away over the years but invariably I return, in body and spirit, to the Old House at the end of the road.
You see, the Old House is where I come to write. On a beautiful spring day like today, when the world is once again alive with the dazzling greens of early spring mixed with the colors of the azaleas, dogwoods, and honeysuckle, my heart yearns to sit here and write.
On days like today, I write on the porch, sitting in the same rocking chair that “Pa,” my great-grandfather, sat in as he read Louis L’Amour books during the last years of his life. It’s the same porch where his son, my grandfather, would call up to our house, two hundred yards away, “Come on down. I’ve got a fresh pot of coffee.” Out front is the same yard where he would yell out his “pig call” each evening and woods hogs would come tearing out of the swamp for the shelled corn they knew awaited them.
During the chill of winter it is often too uncomfortable to sit on the porch, so I move inside to the middle bedroom. There by the double fireplace, I attempt to stay warm by sitting right up near the fire and doing what I love best- writing.
There’s an art, which I’ve never quite mastered, of being up close to a fireplace without getting too hot. The trick is to get warm and toasty on the front of your body, while your backside is freezing to death. The most important thing is to remember is not to let your front side get too hot. Nothing burns worse than the front of your jeans sticking to your legs as you move away from the hot fire.
During these cold days of winter, my fingers become numb as I type on the laptop, but I still love being here. The warmth and companionship of a fire, whether it is a blazing campfire in the Arkansas mountains, or this fireplace, gives comfort and security to anyone fortunate to sit beside its warmth.
Often, when I’ve camped in the woods, it has amazed me how a campfire unites a group of men- physically as they huddle together, and emotionally as they begin to open up. Something about staring into a fire causes us to lose our inhibitions- somewhat like being under the influence of alcohol. I’ve seen tight-lipped men, who normally would never show outward emotion, gaze into the fire, and begin telling their deepest secrets. The eyes of a man staring into a campfire as he shares deep feelings from his heart, is a scene not easily forgotten. As this man talks, the warm reflection of the fire in his tear-filled eyes create a reverence in those of us as we listen.
It seems a good fire has the same effect on my writing. Stories seem to just appear and burst forth, as I stare into the December fire and hear the cold wind moaning through the cedars in the front yard. Sitting here, I’m accompanied by the popping and crackling fire. From time to time, a hot ember pops out of the fireplace against the fire screen. In the same way, ideas for stories just seem to be conceived and spring forth as I sit bundled up in this room.
This middle bedroom is where some of my older ancestors died and where others in my family were born. It’s the same cozy room where I always best loved to sit and visit with my grandmother. It was peaceful as we would sit there visiting, just rocking back and forth.
Sitting here today, there are still two rocking chairs by the fireplace. The one next to where I’m sitting is empty now. My, what I would give to spend another evening rocking and visiting with Mama in front of this fireplace.
When I sit bundled up by this fire in the middle bedroom, I know a telephone is not going to ring for two reasons: First, there is no telephone in the old house which is just fine with me. Secondly, my cell phone won’t work here deep in the woods. A cold day at this old house with no ringing phone is worth the frozen toes and numb fingers. This room becomes my hideout. I can well understand this quote from Susan Allen Toth:

“A closed door, a comfortable chair, a view out a window- maybe that’s all that a hideout requires.”

However, true winter days are rare in Southwest Louisiana, so most of my writing times are on the front porch. The outside sounds of nature motivate me just as winter’s fireplace flames. Pausing from writing, a nearby red cardinal flies by as a reminder to write about him. A green lizard scurries by on the porch railing, stops, and puffs up the red sac under his neck. As he “shows us his money,” I laugh at the absurdity of this great ego in a two-ounce body. Just like me, mister lizard thinks he is the king of all he surveys, when in fact we are both just travelers passing through and enjoying the pleasure of being here on the front porch.
All of these gifts of God through nature prompt future stories to be written. There’s something about sitting on a porch in the woods, alone and silent, that causes a peace to settle in my soul, and the ideas for stories just seem to naturally come to the surface.

So from the front porch of this log house, in the edge of Crooked Bayou swamp,
is a good place to begin this book. A book of simple stories of the people of six
generations who’ve lived, laughed, cried, and died here. A book of stories about the
lives, experiences, and special people of my community. A collection of stories from my
heart, written in the setting of a place I love: The Old House . . . at the end of the road.

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