Robert Hitt Neill Column
The Brownspur Swimming Hole is fairly well known in this part of the country, and we’ve had people come driving by who have slammed on their brakes as they passed by on the blacktop, then backed up to ask, “Is this the Swimming Hole? We’ve always wanted to see it!” So they have.
A lot of wonderful times have been enjoyed by a lot of folks young and old out there – some of which I don’t know about, and some I likely don’t even want to know about!
Betsy and I made a list a couple of years ago, and took over a month doing that, coming up with the fact that over a thousand kids that we could actually name have visited the Swimming Hole over 30 years, which means there probably been close to another thousand we can’t name who have been therein.
By the very nature of it, a Swimming Hole doesn’t get used very much once cold weather gets here, but there have been a few cold-weather activities out there.
I was sitting in the den by the warm fireplace one day when it had dropped down into the low teens outside, then snowed the night before. Suddenly I heard yelling, laughter, and a racing motor, all of which demanded my immediate attention. The group of boys featured in my novel “The Jakes” had commandeered not only the jeep, but two sets of ski ropes and not one, but both, of my wheel chairs. Yes, there was a time in my life when I was confined to move on wheels.
The boys had discovered a new recreational use for wheelchairs: as ice-ski platforms being pulled on the iced-over snow of the pasture by ski ropes behind the Jeep. Just as I arrived on the scene, Deadeye got caught on the outside of the loop in a pop-the-whip maneuver, and his wheelchair ramped over the bank and landed on the icy surface of the Swimming Hole.
He valiantly held on for the first bounce. There was not a second bounce. Fortunately, Deadeye was able to wade out, breaking the ice. The wheel chair remained submerged until we pumped out the Hole the next spring. It was fit for scrap metal after crashing through the ice.
One winter when we had teens-or-lower temperatures, our water well began to freeze up. With a 500-gallon tank – bless Billy Schultz’s heart! – our water consumption in the house wasn’t enough to keep the check valve from freezing. I ran out and opened the valve to the Swimming Hole, knowing that a steady flow thereunto would keep the tank cycling enough to prevent freezing. But there was an unexpected bonus, too.
With temperatures that cold for several days, all the potholes, ponds, lakes, creeks, and rivers froze over, so that there was no open water for the considerable population of ducks we’d been shooting so successfully that year. Yet the next morning as I went outside for firewood, I caught a movement overhead: a flock of bluebills – big bluebills – was circling over the pasture. I went to investigate.
The running water of the Swimming Hole was the only open water for miles around. The bluebills were flocking into the Hole, quacking and splashing merrily, although I can’t imagine what they were feeding on. Maybe they were just tired of flying. At any rate, it was too much of a temptation.
I went back inside and took my shotgun from the rack, along with a handful of shells. Bundling up to prevent frostbite, I headed back outside to the huge cypress tree which shades the south side of the Swimming Hole, pulled over a beach chair against the trunk, loaded my gun, and sat down.
I didn’t have to wait long. The ducks which had flushed when I walked out there were soon returning, for as I noted, there was no other open water. I didn’t need a call or decoys, although I had thrown one lone decoy out there that the kids had for some reason had out there during the summer.
The first flock to return came in like bluebills often do – you can stand in the blocks waving a bedsheet, and they’ll drop in anyway – and I picked out two drakes with my first two shots. Then I unloaded the gun and watched, just enjoying the sight of ducks pouring into the open water. When I got too cold, I picked up my two-duck limit and walked back to the house. Not many folks can say that they’ve actually shot ducks in a Swimming Hole!