Red Fern

The Red Fern

by Joshua Heston

If you search the internet carefully, you’ll learn the truth. Truth that red ferns exist only the realm of cryptobotany.

What does that mean? It means the red fern is a figment. Made-up. A bit of literary imagining. A myth.

Sort of like bigfoot. But prettier.

That’s if you search the internet carefully.

But if you are willing to actually get out and be a part of the world we tell ourselves we study, you just might find something amazing.

Like the truth.

The red fern on this page isn’t a true fern. That much is obvious from the bract (or leaf) structure. But it’s frilly and fern-like. It’s color is unmistakable, if muted by the February chill.

To native Ozarkers, it is nothing more and nothing less than a red fern.

A plant smart folks say doesn’t exist.

May 11, 2009

Book Excerpt:

In 1961, Wilson Rawls would write a book about a boy, his coonhounds and the Ozark hills.

Generations of school children would be touched by his work. Included here is a short excerpt as it includes the old Red Fern legend:

“Papa, would you mind waiting a few minutes?” I asked. “I’d like to say good-bye to my dogs.”

“Sure,” he said smiling. “We have plenty of time. Go right ahead.”

Nearing the graves, I saw something different.

It looked like a wild bush had grown up and practically covered the two little mounds.It made me angry to think that an old bush would dare grow so close to the graves.

I took out my knife, intending to cut it down.

When I walked up close enough to see what it was, I sucked in a mouthful of air and stopped. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

There between the graves, a beautiful red fern had sprung up from the rich mountain soil. It was fully two feet tall and its long red leaves had reached out in rainbow arches curved over the graves of my dogs.

I had heard the old Indian legend about the red fern.

How a little Indian boy and girl were lost in a blizzard and had frozen to death.

In the spring, when they were found, a beautiful red fern had grown up between their two bodies.

The story went on to say that only an angel could plant the seeds of a red fern, and that they never died; where one grew, that spot was sacred.

— pages 245-46, Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls, Bantam Books 1961

Plate 1.

Redfern Detail

Plate 2.

Redfern Detail

Plate 3.

All photo credits: J. Heston. SOTO © Archive 02/18/09, Turner Spring on the Eleven Point River

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