The Pineywoods Manifesto: Keep Your Powder Dry

Bo in the Hole.
Bo Smith standing in “Pothole” on African “Highway.”

A word from Curt

My summer project is a small book entitled The Pineywoods Manifesto. It’s for my four grandsons and is my attempt to pass on the qualities and values of my home area of western Louisiana.

Also, at our website, you can currently download for free a copy of my first novel, The Wayfaring Stranger. Click here for your download.

You can view the cover of all thirteen of our titles at our Creekbank Book Table. 


The oldtimers had a term for it. “Keep your powder dry.”

It’s a term for being prepared.

Ready for the expected as well as the unexpected and unforeseen.

I call it good planning.

In the day of muzzleloaders, a hunter loaded the gunpowder and ball/bullet separately. I have a hollowed out deer antler tip that was the powder horn of my great-great-grandfather, John Wesley Wagnon.

If your powder got wet, your gun was useless. So keeping it dry was a supreme priority.


I’m an Appalachian Trail hiker and there’s an adage often repeated,

“Rain, rain.

Appalachian Trail is your name.”

Most of the Southern trail is along the ridge of the Blue Ridge and Smokies where it is always humid. You learn to hike and camp, in the rain. Matches become soggy and useless on the first day. Clothes that become wet with rain or sweat stay damp until the occasional sunny day when you can hang them out to dry.

Deep within my backpack, I keep a dry bag. It contains my sleeping bag and night clothes. The bag is waterproofed and my items are wrapped in several trash bags inside the outer bag.

I’m keeping my powder dry.

There is no more miserable night than shivering in a wet sleeping bag at four thousand feet.


Our three-year sojourn in Africa taught me so much about keeping my powder dry. We described it as “keeping your Go Bag ready, back to the wall, and your Land Cruiser pointed out.

We carried a Go Bag. I called it my “Get Out of Dodge Bag.” It contained items I’d need if we needed to make a quick getaway. It was a small daypack of essentials that I couldn’t afford to be without and would keep me safe and moving in the event of an unexpected move.

In the land of coups, disasters, and tribal unrest, you’d better have a Get Out of Dodge Bag.

I still keep one here in Alexandria. You just never know, so it’s best to be prepared and keep your powder dry.  My grandson, Jack, a fellow outdoorsman, keeps a Go Bag replete with a change of clothes, fire starting items, a compass, and flashlight.  He’s keeping his powder dry.


My African mentor, Bob Calvert, had spent his adult life on the Continent and was the master of preparation, especially as we traveled into the wild west called South Sudan. Two of his best lessons were: keep your back to the wall and back your vehicle in.

Two more ways to keep your powder dry.

In Juba, South Sudan’s capital, there was a wonderful pizza joint on the western bank of the Nile. As you can imagine, it was a popular place for Westerners. We always carefully chose our table so no one could slip in behind us, and made sure we had a clear view of the Nile. If I was a terrorist, I’d see that pizzeria as a soft target, easily accessible from the River.

We were keeping our powder dry. Trying to anticipate trouble.


After the horrible Nairobi Westgate Mall terrorist attack of 2014, I began the habit of always locating the nearest fire extinguisher in both buildings and planes.

The Westgate Mall was a favorite Saturday location of ours for the months we lived near Nairobi. I remember thinking as I entered its wide front doors what an easy target it’d be for Al Shabob, the Muslim Terrorist cell that eventually pulled off the attack.

We had friends trapped in the Mall on that terrible Saturday. I am so grateful they survived. I often wonder what I’d do in a situation like that. I’d probably run like a scalded dog, but I hope I’d first protect my family, then run in while others ran out. A fire extinguisher is no match for an AK-47, but it’d be my way of keeping my powder dry.


Missionary Bob Calvert was also the expert in how to park your vehicle. We all drove Toyota Land Cruisers that were loaded to the brim for the Bush.  Whether in the city or at a refugee camp, Bob always backed his Cruiser in with an eye for a quick getaway.

A refugee camp can be a dangerous place for a Mzungu (White Man).  They equate us as being with some form of the United Nations and if they’re hungry, thirsty, or neglected, they’ll take it out on the first Westerner they see.  That’s why we never ventured into a camp without a trusted national who spoke the language and knew the lay of the land.

Several times during refugee encounters, I eyed our Land Cruiser and felt for the keys in my pocket. Once a camp leader went into a tirade beginning with, “If we starve here, it will be the fault of you whites.”  The crowd murmured while my partner interpreted his accusation.

I explained to the angry leader and crowd around us that I had been there before.  “I promised you two things on my previous visit. First, we would return. You said that most Whites show up, promise the world, and never return.  Mzee (Elder), I am standing before you today. I’ve kept that promise.

“Secondly, I told you we could never supply food but would return with God’s Word. We have brought Dinka language Bibles and audio players to you.  I also promised to try to drill water wells at your camp.  God willing, we will return soon with a surveyor and later with drillers to supply fresh water to your camp. Your women are walking miles now for dirty water. We hope to help with that.”

As our translator repeated my words, the murmur of the crowd turned happy.

Several months later, through the support of Baptist Global Relief’s World Hunger Fund, we drilled two wells in Ulua Refugee Camp.  I’ll never forget the moment with the drillers hit paydirt and a huge spray of water came surging from the hole. The Dinka began squealing, the women dancing high in the air and singing. I stood beside the happy camp leader as we both were soaked.

From that day on, we were welcomed with open arms at Ulua Camp. The wells led to a church plant in the village.  I thought about Jesus’ words to the woman at the well when He promised “Living Water.”   Ulua Village got both.


Back in America, I still keep a Go Bag and whether at Fed Ex or the Post Office, park for a quick getaway.


Next month, I’ll return to Ulua Refugee Village. Sadly, the South Sudanese Civil War has continued, and thousands more have crowded into camps like Ulua.  I hope to drink a dipperful of cold water from a deep African well with my friends and thank God again for His provisions.

And when we arrive, I’ll ensure that our driver parks the vehicle headed out.

Just in case.

It’s called keeping your powder dry.

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