• Dale Bowman

Salvation, coots & Jamie Coots: Ramble with the Lady

Jeanie Chung and I used to both work the agate desk for the Sun-Times years ago. Both of us did some writing on preps sports, too.

I thought of Chung yesterday morning when counting coots on the north old clay pit.

Well, actually, I thought of her afterward when I was back home writing a Ramble with the Lady and was Googling to find a video of coots taking off in that goofy splashy fashion that they do.

And videos of Jamie Coots kept popping up. Coots was the snake-handling Pentecostal preacher who was killed by a snake bite a couple years ago.

How does that connect to an urbane person like Chung?

Well, one of her side jobs used to be doing book reviews for various places. (FYI, doing book reviews is rarely a lucrative pursuit, it is more a labor of love.) For some reason, she received Dennis Covington's brilliantly honest book on snake-handlers and belief, "Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia."

One night, as we sat down at 5 p.m. to starting working agate (rather mundane mind-numbing work but excitingly close to the action in a vibrant sports department), she flopped a copy of the book on my desk and said she thought it was my kind of book.

She was absolutely right.

I am convinced that the drive to understand the other, the beyond, faith, is as powerful or more powerful than the drives for love and sex.

What made Covington's book special was that he did not slip into the casual dismissal of snake-handlers as crackpots, though they certainly trend toward that end of the spectrum.

At first yesterday, I thought Coots kept popping up because Google was reading coots as kooks. Then I realized and remembered who he was.

Faith is such tenuous and personal thing.

Brilliant spring morning as Lady, our family's mutt, and I rambled off.

Lady had been watching a squirrel marauding under and around our bird feeders on our front porch and when I opened the door she sprinted off so hard in pursuit she nearly ripped my right arm from the shoulder socket.

But I reined her in safely.

Again dozens and dozens of robins hopping around and short flying. I am betting that finding worms is getting harder as the earth keeps drying more and more each day.

Thoughts of Coots, Chung and Salvation on Sand Mountain kept distracting me and I did not pay as much attention to the wildlife and birds of a vibrant spring morning as I probably should have, especially considering blue jays squawked and woodpeckers hammered.

But for the fourth morning in a row I found coots on the north pit, after I crossed the side rail separating the town from the wildness of the town pond.

The previous three mornings I counted 16 coots on the north pit. This morning I counted 22 coots swimming around one Canada goose.

Where the extra six came from I have no idea? I am tempted to be smart-alecky and say they were converts.

It is easy to dismiss ideas of faith, easy to be snarky about salvation. Some of that is brought on by believers themselves, who cling to unnecessary factual takes on something as nebulous as faith.

A lone wood duck flew off silently from the south pit. I am guessing the mate was on a nest.

Back in town, a Eurasian collared-dove croaked and flew around the alley by the bank. The chef/cook, who runs a food truck for nursery and migrant workers, appeared to have his truck ready to roll. I am betting with this brilliant spring weather that the nurseries are running 12-hour days, six days a week.

Back home, Lady flushed the usual half dozen doves off from under the feeders on the front porch.

Even now, wrapping up writing the Ramble, thoughts of faith and salvation worm into my skull. I am vaguely troubled, befuddled.

Sometimes I think believing something as kooky as snake-handling is easier than trying to process the meaning of faith.

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