My latest and probably my last CD recording, “Ginseng, Golden Apples and the Rainbow Fish” recently received special recognition. Of my 10 recordings, it is special in many ways. It was a live concert recorded at the National Storytelling Festival where it got a standing ovation. My fiddler son Todd and our guitarist friend Keith Ward accompanied me musically. The story I tell is a fun, wide-ranging true tale that covers everything from ginseng hunting, possum sex, and the fungal web of life to an Appalachian Jack tale, ancient Greek myths, as well as a personal mythic journey where I meet three strangers on the road and catch a trout by hand. This has been a fairly popular CD but it just received a new appreciation from an individual whose proper name is Neotoma floridana.
It all started in our cluttered shop, a portion of which I call my “fulfillment center.” This is where I store and ship out my various books and recordings. One evening I thought I heard some rat-like scurrying sounds.
Occasionally woodrats will come down off the mountain and move into one of our sheds or buildings. The woodrat is a native animal. Unlike the invasive, gray, scaly-tailed Norway rat, woodrats are rather attractive creatures — colored like deer with brown fur on the back and sides, pure white belly fur, and delicate pink toes. The tail is bi-colored with brown fur on the top and white underneath. Woodrats are also known as pack rats because of their propensity to build large nests where they assemble heaps of leaves, sticks, and pieces of bark. They also like to decorate their nests with interesting treasures such as bones, feathers, mushrooms, and shiny things such as bullet shells, bottle caps, and pieces of metal or plastic. Neotoma floridana is the eastern woodrat’s scientific name.
I baited a live-trap with peanut butter and walnuts, but had no luck after two nights. So, we investigated a little further and climbed up into the loft. There we found the classic big pile of debris: a few sticks and leaves, but mostly cardboard, paper, rags, plastic fixtures, pencils, etc. foraged from around the shop.
There, tucked in with all the other junk were two of my CDs! The woodrat had stolen them out of the carton and hauled them up to decorate its nest. It didn’t open the CDs. (It turns out woodrats are not technically advanced enough to operate a CD player.)
Good taste in recordings or not, we had to get rid of this pack rat. The trap with peanut butter and walnuts had not worked so this time I baited the trap with one of the CDs. Sure enough, next morning there was the culprit, wistfully leering out of the cage, holding on to my CD! After a brief photo session, I took the little rascal down the road a few miles and released it near an old abandoned house.
So, you too can have one of these special CDs. They’re on sale here this month. Not only are these recordings entertaining, inspiring, and educational, but they’re also good for rat bait!
Doug Elliott visits Appalachian storyteller Ray Hicks, who is famous for his tales about the mythical folk hero Jack. Along with Jack’s exploits, Ray tells a few of his own hair-raising adventures, like when he was followed by a panther. He also recounts colorful folklore about the love life of ‘possums, bloodsucking owls, and tips for successful ‘seng hunting.
Driving home with his head full of wild tales, Elliott embarks on a true modern-day mythic journey where he catches a trout by hand; harvests wild apples, ginseng, and mushrooms; ponders Greek myths, Biblical verses, and the fungal web of life; meets three strangers; and finds himself living out his own folktale.
You’ll hear a poem by William Butler Yeats, quotes from the Roman poet Ovid, and a risqué herbal ballad by the great botanist Jim Duke. You’ll find out what happens when Artemis (aka Diana) gets caught skinny dipping and when Atalanta loses a foot race, as well as what happens when Jack leaves home to sell a cow and comes back with a rock. In this live recording of a standing ovation performance at the National Storytelling Festival, Elliott is accompanied by guitarist Keith Ward and his son Todd Elliott on fiddle.