OUTDOORS COLUMN: ‘Pretty’ isn’t always that important

Bob Kornegay

Bob Kornegay

I’ve long had a soft spot in my heart for some of Mother Nature’s not-so-pretty creatures. That comes natural to me, I guess. Being no oil painting myself, I understand better than most that ugly things need love, too. I just hope the less-than-beautiful critters I love appreciate affection like I do.

Consider the ’possum, for instance. Bless his heart, North America’s only marsupial is forced to go through life being both ugly and stupid (a true kindred spirit). When you talk about him, though, be sure you add “successful” to your list of descriptive terms. I challenge anyone to find this adaptable wildlife survivor on a list of endangered species. Granted, it takes some effort to love him, but I do, especially when he shows up at night on my back porch and terrifies my wife. It’s refreshing to hear her scream and cuss at something besides me for a change.

Then there’s the flathead catfish. The big old slimy flathead is ugly even by catfish standards. But, oh my, what a beauty at the end of a fishing line. To an angler attempting to bring a 20-pound flathead to the net, the cosmetic attributes (or lack thereof) of this worthy opponent is the least of his concerns. The flathead’s clean, discerning dietary habits (he’s a predator, not a scavenger) make him a quite attractive food fish as well. One bite and he’s every bit as “pretty” as the loveliest rainbow trout you ever tasted.

The bowfin is another fish that has earned my genuine affection over the years. True, he’s ugly, belligerent, and none but the hungriest human would ever consider him table-worthy, but there’s something about the old mudfish that endears him to me. Forget his unique appearance and his more-than-considerable fighting ability, his true beauty lies in his history. Or, better, his prehistory. The bowfin has prowled Southern waters from time immemorial and catching him always makes me feel like I’ve done battle with a dinosaur. Forget the fact that he has a penchant for destroying expensive fishing tackle and possesses a face even a mama bowfin would be hard-pressed to love.

Strangely enough, I also have an abiding love for snapping turtles, giant, moss-backed alligator snappers and the smaller common snappers as well. These ancient armored reptiles have a well-documented nasty attitude that pairs well with their sublime ugliness. I once watched a pretty, pampered poodle (for which I had a deep-seated dislike) take on a snapping turtle. The pooch’s doting mistress was quite upset over the ultimate outcome. Personally, I thought justice was well served. To me, there’s a certain sense of fairness involved at the sight of an uppity canine trying in vain to remove a ticked-off snapping turtle from its nose. After all, if God sees fit to make something that ugly, it’s only fair to throw in a little meanness for good measure.

As might be expected, that was my last date with the young lady who owned the doggie. I sincerely hope the guy she married likes poodles better than snapping turtles.

And what about big, fat, warty toads? Not a beauty contest winner among them. Yet, I’ve loved toads since I was a small child. My mother didn’t share that attitude, probably due to my fondness for chasing her through the house with a toad in each hand. I’ve since thought about trying the same thing on my wife, but, considering her attitude toward ’possums, I always stop short of actually doing it. Besides, unlike Mama and the poodle girl, My spouse has a divorce option. And a gun.

Be that as it may, I still harbor deep affection for the lowly, ugly creatures of the world, even those that might be looked down upon by the less tolerant among us. I am not ashamed of that and admit it with no small measure of pride. In fact, I think right now might be a good time to go over to Cletus Monroe’s and tell him how much I love him.

Questions? Comments? E-mail Bob Kornegay at cletus@windstream.net