This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book: GIGGING FOR ROADKILL, scheduled for release in 2012:
... Growing up in rural America, there are certain things a part of everyday life that you just don't find in suburbia. For example, suburbanites can walk through a grassy field, (what they were taught to term a "meadow"), without ever looking down. This is fine, when that field ... er, "meadow", is located within a suburban, (read as: livestock-free), setting. Out here in BFE, however, we know that you never, ever traverse a FIELD without keeping your eyes to the ground. Those who walk forward, enjoying the scenery or with their head tilted toward the clouds looking for rainbows, will find themselves furiously wiping their shoes in the grass very soon.
But alas, there are other turds that are common in rural life, yet never found within the confines of societal dwellings. Yes, I'm talking about Skoal Turds. Skoal Turds are the tapered-ended, cylindrical-shaped little balls of spent chewing tobacco ejected from the lip of the user. The moistness of the user's spit holds the finely shredded tobacco together in its shape, leaving a little scat-like dropping upon the ground where it lands. Often times, if undisturbed by human hand or the elements, this little turd can ultimately turn as hard as a rock - its odd shape fitting nicely into the catch of a slingshot band and capable of leaving a huge welt on the back of the head of an unsuspecting victim. This means that Skoal Turds have a purpose other than just their initial life of providing a nicotine delivery system to the original user. They can be recycled as a great weapon against those who are annoying on the school bus ... at least, that's what we found out as kids.
Of course, Skoal Turds can be elusive. To find a really great one, you have to search long and hard and, more importantly, you have to know where to look. You're not likely to find a perfectly-hardened ST lying around on the floor of the woods, ("forest," for you suburbanites). In fact, the likelihood of finding a preserved Skoal Turd out in the elements is very slim, indeed. Chances are it would have been stepped on long ago, or washed away by a good rain. No, perfect Skoal Turds can only be found in a protective environment such as gym floors, or under the seat of a school bus, which is, of course, why we first learned of their value as slingshot fodder.
Of course, things are different these days. Finding a spent Skoal Turd on a school bus floor - even one with a rural route, I'd suspect - is probably impossible. And, even if you found a perfectly-preserved Skoal Turd somewhere, my guess is that having a slingshot of any sort is probably considered a terrorist act - even by a ten-year-old.
However, Skoal Turds can still be fun in this day and age, when you observe an unsuspecting Suburbanite encountering one for the very first time. Point in case: I was with a friend not long ago, whom I'd invited to my farm. This friend was a lifelong Suburbanite with literally no outdoor experience, though he fancied himself a well-read expert on wildlife and the art of tracking animals in the forest (woods). As we stood outside my newly-constructed "MAN CAVE," listening to me give detailed descriptions of the construction process, my friend bent down and began poking at the ground with a stick.
Watching, (somewhat in hilarity, somewhat in horror), I barely contained myself as he broke apart a hardened Skoal Turd on the ground and sifted through the flaky contents. Growing up rural, I'd certainly never witnessed this behavior before and it really quite intrigued me.
"Hey," he said in a high-pitched, surprised voice. "I've seen this on the web! You've got a Star-nosed Mole here!"
"A what?" I asked, more interested now in hearing his thoughts than in telling him the truth.
"A Star-nosed mole!" he exclaimed. "It's usually just indigenous to the Southern swamp and marshlands. You've probably seen pictures of them ... they have 22 protuberances - finger-like things - coming out of their nose. They look like they'refrom outer space!"
I just looked at my poor, confused friend as though his eyebrows had just caught fire.
"Anyway, they're totally cool! They're the only semi-aquatic mole on the planet and use a higher brain function than any other of their species. They actually feel around with their snout to find food, even sensing slight disturbances in water. I had no idea that they could be up this far North!"
"Well, if that's what's been tearing up my yard, I need to put out some mole killer. They are a huge problem here. But, what makes you think it's the Star-nosed mole?" I asked, now wondering if this actually had anything to do with the Skoal Turd he'd just picked apart, or if he was just thinking deeply while he played with the spent chaw?
"This scat I just found! These moles are known for defecating on top of the ground rather than in tunnels. You see, this contains only finely-chewed leafy material - roughages, basically. The Star-nosed mole is known to occasionally digest only roughages to cleanse it's system, purging it of any undigested remnants of the things it normally eats. Usually grubs in this area, I would guess. If you want to get rid of them, kill off the grubs - don't kill off the moles! These guys are one-of-a-kind, things of beauty! They should be protected! In fact, you should get the Conservation Department out here to do a study! This might be a huge scientific find!"
For more of this chapter, as well as the other great tales from growing up rural, look for my new book "GIGGING FOR ROADKILL," due out in-stores in 2012! Also, check out my column in the (now FREE!) Sullivan Journal Tabloid, on newsstands every two weeks!