November 28, 2023

On Having Enough

He might just be the richest man I have ever known.

I first met Scott in the remote mountains of my native Southeast some years ago. There was no cell signal near his home, and if you tried to navigate to his address by GPS you would find yourself at the dead end of a rough single lane dirt road, which, by the most generous definition, appeared to be the last vestige of civilization. And that dead end was still quite far from where he actually lived.

We first met when I was attempting an eight-point turn of retreat back out of that road, and he just appeared like an apparition out of thin air. I imagine that is commensurate with his ability to suddenly disappear too, which no doubt came in mighty handy over the years. When I shook hands with him, it was like gripping the gnarled fork of a Hickory branch wrapped in 220 grit sandpaper.

Scott didn’t have much. He drove a rusty mid 60s one ton flatbed Ford and wore overalls and hobnail boots. He worked third shift at a sawmill and in the fall he would load the bed of the old truck with firewood and pumpkins and sell them in town. Rumor was he made some of the finest moonshine around, but I wouldn’t know anything about that… (I’ve heard my friend Mark Alexander knows a bit about mountain whiskey too, but only for medicinal purposes.)

I wanted to put in a bid on an old Caterpillar bulldozer he had on his place. That would have to wait as he and a friend had to complete some work on his old flatbed Ford — more specifically, removing the transmission for some much needed work. I suspect it had been out a few times before. Both men were wearing grease covered white sleeveless t-shirts and neither had the time nor interest to come out from under the old truck to talk about that dozer. Our entire conversation consisted of me bending over to look under the truck to ask a question and Scott answering either “Yep” or “Nope.”

The Scotch-Irish who have inhabited the remote mountains of the Southeast for centuries are very clannish, and outsiders are not generally welcomed. The Mountain Folk are not rude, mind you, they just don’t offer up very much.

At the time I met Scott, I was working in an industry that was more populated by hunters than golfers. Being a hunter myself, I tend to notice the common trappings of the pursuit. Scott had five Catahoula Cur dogs housed in an enclosure shared with his shop and that alone made him a relatively wealthy man among his peers. Keeping this breed also pointed to him likely being a bear or wild boar hunter, and likely both, although that pack would hunt anything that moved.

The mid century 30-30 Winchester rifle I saw leaning in the corner of his shop seemed to confirm my suspicions about his penchant for hunting. It was simply a tool like every other laying around, meant to provide solutions to an otherwise spartan life.

Over the years, our relationship grew — probably inspired as much by the talk of hunting and his dogs than anything else. When I would find my way back to his homestead, the Alpha of his pack of Catahoulas finally accepted me without snarling and would actually curl at my feet in Scott’s shop. If I reached down to rub his ears he would roll his lips and emit a low growl that sort of sounded like an old Evinrude outboard motor.

Acceptance only goes so far with that breed.

I never met Scott’s wife but often saw her at the screen door of their old cabin with a couple of young children peering out from the corners of her apron. Scott never paid much attention to the game laws of the land when providing for his family. I doubt he ever possessed a hunting license. When his family needed food on the table he turned loose his pack of Catahoulas and went hunting.

The state game warden of that region was a friend of mine, and he knew of Scott’s “situation,” which was not unlike many other generational mountain folk. In what is perhaps the most intelligent and compassionate response from any government employee I have ever heard, the warden said to me one afternoon: “Man’s got to eat and feed his family. We don’t go up that way very much.”

At that point in my career, I was surrounded by friends and colleagues that drove expensive pickup trucks and hunted exotic locations with custom-built hunting rifles, had game cameras set up on land they owned or leased and some even had live camera crews following them recording their exploits. For too many of them, it was never satisfying enough.

My last visit with Scott before moving to North Dakota was two weeks before Christmas. “Ben,” the Alpha Catahoula dog, had moved from his spot next to the coal fired stove in the shop and had jumped into my lap. His hardscrabble existence and many tangles with wild animals and other dogs in the pack was starting to show in the dimming of his eyes. He would let me rub his neck but not his ears.

Seeing this, Scott said, “Ben there never took to many. Nobody ever touched his ears. Not even me.” He then placed a small glass of clear liquid in my hands and said, “Son, you welcome here anytime.” And I knew then and there we had become kindred spirits, friends for life regardless of the miles between us.

Scott never had a fraction of the material things most of us have, but I think he might just be the richest man I have ever known.

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