In paperback it’s a tiny book—it measures just 7 inches by 4 inches to be exact with about 150 pages including all the epilogue and author’s bio. Yet for me, it’s the book that started it all. And, in a way, it’s also one of the seeds from which Under the Big Pine grew.
I first read Run Rainey, Run by Mel Ellis when I was in sixth grade; 11 years old. We had a long bus ride home each afternoon, and to make it pass as quickly as possible, I read a lot.
It was during that long bus ride one day I read the following passages from chapters 6 and 7 of Run Rainey, Run.
“As outdoor editor of the Milwaukee Journal newspaper and associate editor of Field & Stream, my travels took me to many hunting and fishing places across the length and breadth of North and sometimes South American countries … .
“I packed the station wagon with guns, ammunition, waders, field boots, sleeping bag, decoys, dog cages, typewriter, axe—the necessary—the night before and then when the still air was busy icing the world with frost at two o’clock the next morning, said goodbye … .
“Then this is how it was:
“Out onto the highway as if we were the only car in the world, speeding through a white tunnel, the dogs sleepless from excitement, and a Quebec girl singing French on the radio.
“Over rivers white with moon, down and down into the kettle moraine cuts, mysterious in sheltered gloom, and then up again to come out on the flat, flat land with only barns and lights in the chicken coops … Through the sleeping towns to where the road turned down the field of stubbles winding back alongside the corn with silvery dust trailing. Up a little on a rise and under five hickory trees to stop, and down there is the skiff …”
Ellis goes on to tell the tale of an extended trip with his dogs, hunting from the Canadian prairie provinces on down and filing newspaper stories along the way. He shares his bag of ducks, geese, pheasants, partridge, grouse and more with orphanages and old folks homes which are grateful for the bounty.
When the school bus doors opened at the end of our long farm driveway, I ran from the road to the house as fast as my legs could carry me. I threw open the front door and came face to face with my pa who was sitting on the hallway bench pulling on his boots to go do chores.
Pointing at the little book, I shouted, “Dad, Dad, Dad! This is what I want to do!”
He was justifiably puzzled as to what all the excitement was about until I made him sit there on the bench with his barn clothes on and read these words. When he grasped what I was talking about, he looked up at me and sincerely, seriously said, “Okay. Then just do it.” With that he got up and walked out of the door to go take care of the horses and dogs in the barn.
From that day forward I geared my ambition, education … everything … with one career goal in mind—being an outdoor writer like Mel Ellis.
Rereading Run Rainey, Run for the umpteenth time, I realize it’s not a literary masterpiece. It’s an easy, easy read in one morning’s sit on a slow deer stand, but for anyone who has known the companionship of one or more good hunting dogs, getting to know Rainey and Ellis is definitely worth the time!