Category Archives: The Way I See It

The Closing Chapter for Outdoors Down South

Jim boat river

Writing this column and the associated blog has been on of the more interesting things I’ve ever done, even in the context of a life that has been pretty doggone interesting. Though I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words for publication during my career, most were under someone else’s byline. Outdoors Down South is different because it was my own creation, for better or worse, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed writing it for three years now.

My Shirttail Buddy


I’ve known Charlie Cook Bridges for as long as I’ve known anyone or anything, so it’s a little hard to get my mind around the fact that he recently passed away.

More than just a friend of my father’s, Charlie Cook was an important influence on me from my early childhood, through my teen years and on into adulthood. In my life, he was a friend, a teacher, a boss and an occasional partner in crime. No matter the circumstances, Charlie Cook was someone I was always happy to see.

Some of my earliest memories are of Charlie Cook calling me over to a card table and sliding his winnings into my hands. He and Mrs. Mary Kathryn played cards with my parents pretty regularly, so I have no idea how much he gave me over the years, but it seemed like a fortune every time. I even remember my father coming in once from a game at Charlie Cook’s house and handing me a small paper sack full of change. He said, “Charlie Cook sent this to you.” On the outside of the bag was written, “For my shirttail buddy.”

For all the years he called me that, I never knew exactly what it meant. But there was never a question in my mind that he was someone I could count on to be on my side, pulling for me and wishing me the best. He never said any of those things to me outright, but I always knew they were true.

When I was 13, Charlie Cook hired me to work with him in the bees. I was never sure if he actually wanted my help or if Daddy just goaded him into giving me a job, but it didn’t make any difference. I learned a lot about life and work during those few weeks. Even at that age, I remember wondering how anyone could work all day at his job and then come home and work most of the night in the bees. But what impresses me still is that no matter how long or hard we worked, Charlie Cook managed to crack jokes, laugh and have fun the whole time.

Of course, he had to have a sense of humor and loads of patience to deal with my father all his life.

For one thing, Daddy had a four-wheel-drive and a winch, which meant he would try to drive all over the swamp. When he got hopelessly stuck, which was fairly often, he had only one reliable backup plan: Call Charlie Cook.

My brother Hentz remembered one occasion when Daddy buried his old truck on the old road to the camp. He sent Hentz out to the Capps’ house to call Charlie Cook. But when the two of them got back to Daddy’s truck, Daddy was nowhere to be found. After a lot of work, they finally freed the truck. When they found my father, he was back at the camp in front of the fire.

Charlie Cook was livid, but he got his revenge.

A couple of years later, it was my brother Bill who was with Daddy when they got stuck. Daddy said, “Charlie Cook was going fishing this morning at Iamonia Lake. He ought to be headed home in a little while. Walk up to the highway, flag him down and tell him to come down here and pull me out.”

Sure enough, Charlie Cook came driving by and pulled over. When Bill told him what was wrong, Charlie Cook told him to hop in the truck. But they didn’t go down to the camp. Instead, Bill said they went back to Charlie Cook’s house, watched television for a while and then had some lunch.

After a brief nap, Charlie Cook finally said, “Alright, now let’s go get your sorry Daddy out of the mud hole.”

It speaks volumes about Charlie Cook that these are just two of many, many stories and memories I have of him, all of which bring a smile to my face. And I’m just one of many, many people who have them.

But what’s more important is that he was the kind of man who inspires us to remember those stories and tell them now and for many, many years to come. Not everybody has a shirttail buddy, but I did and I won’t ever forget it.

Book Report: Read The Unknown Journey by Spessard Boatright

The Unknown Journey

In the years since I served as his aide-de-camp, all my phone conversations with retired Brigadier General Spessard Boatright have begun the same way: “Jim, this is your friend, Spessard. How are you?” Of course, he’ll always be General Boatright to me, but that alone should tell you that he is a humble man from a humble background who rose to the loftiest heights of military and public service.

Making the Pioneers Proud

Yon House

I found myself wandering through Walmart last Friday night in search of a blanket. That’s not because I’m suddenly concerned about the color choices in our bedroom, but because I was in Marianna and my sleeping bag decided to stay behind in Pensacola.

“Glamping” Misses the Point


A few years ago, my father-in-law suggested the whole family take a vacation. He wanted to do something original and started soliciting ideas for something out of the ordinary, something other than a standard tourist trap. My sister-in-law, Leslie, came up with a plan that would involve a beautiful, rugged landscape with plenty of outdoor activities for kids and adults alike.

Another River Rant

Courtesy of State Archives of Florida

I don’t do politics any more. I spent a long time working in the political arena and I look back on it like a bad habit that I quit successfully. Now that I’m not being paid to promote or oppose issues, the only ones I spend any time thinking about are the ones that are close to home, and especially ones that affect the Apalachicola River.

A Cool Breeze and Some Hunting, Please


I’m not complaining. Really, I’m not. This has been a wonderful summer. I’ve caught plenty of fish, the frogs were out in force and most of the time it wasn’t as blistering hot as it could have been.

Drama in a River Swamp at Night

swamp at night

I’m always curious when I hear people say they want to spend more time outdoors for the “peace and quiet.” I’m not sure where they go to find those two conditions, but I can tell you that it’s not in a river swamp and it’s definitely not at night.

My Home on the Run

Catfish Crawl

I ran track for Blountstown back in 10th grade, but only because our track team was really just the football team minus the baseball players. Coach David Pitts didn’t want us sitting on our thumbs before spring training so you had to do one or the other. While other teams had all-volunteer squads, ours had been mostly conscripted into service – and it showed.

It’s All About Priorities

Gone Fishing

I just want to put everyone on notice that I’ve made plans for every weekend for the rest of my working life. If you need me, I’ll be fishing or hunting or otherwise spending my time in the woods or on the water. Obviously, I’ll make exceptions for urgent events, but otherwise I’m officially booked right up until the day I can retire.

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