If you don’t believe a story
Can stay with you in the background
Like a picturesque tree you pose before
For all of your life, witness this:
I loved the baking powder can
That Billy saved his money in to buy
Those two redbone coonhounds.
The Clabber Girl with her shy smile
And plate of biscuits sits in my cabinet
And empty on the shelf beside the sink
Where I put twisty ties and pennies.
I brought home a rescue dog named Brandy,
And Dad promptly renamed Ida Red
After the Woody Guthrie song. A year later,
I brought home Clifford, so I have
A male and female redbone coonhound.
Ken and I followed Lost City Road
Last Sunday, one of the first warm days
In late winter and I discovered
A red fern growing in oak leaves
In Spring Valley, Cherokee County,
At the base of a bluff that Billy
Or Wilson might have crossed some
Summer afternoon when he had a biscuit
In his overall pocket and a dream
Of dogs that would change his life.
All you have to do is consider,
What story has followed me around?
And you will see it. What does it mean?
For me, it is this: Humans need dogs
And vice versa. Humans need ferns
And vice versa. Humans need dreams
And dreams need humans. Humans
Need each other. Amen.
Of course, I’m talking about Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows, required reading for any Oklahoma child (should be required for any child!). The story is set near where I grew up and live, and people from our town of Locust Grove were involved in the making of the film version. A local boy, Rex Corley, played the story’s villain (quite well, I might add). This is not a book I consciously think about that often, but it is one that has obviously followed me around in this world.
On another note, I am putting together a collection of poems and stories about Oklahoma wildflowers. I will have a poem or story about one wildflower that grows in each of Oklahoma’s 77 counties. The red fern, which is actually only red when it first comes out of the ground and is not a fern (!), will be Cherokee County’s offering.
On yet one more note, Tahlequah, the Cherokee county seat, has its annual Red Fern Festival in April. Red ferns are for sale, and hound dog field trials will be happening. You ought to come.