Her father and grandfather farmed in the summer and trapped in the winter, and when she was 9 Dorothy Gooch learned the fox will run the ridges, the possum will stay in the dumps. She learned to find skunk, mink or weasel, to wade the rivers and the creeks and to set traps in the slides of the beaver and the muskrat. This was the message of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Make do. Use a light at night and the deer will stand still before you. Learn to can, learn to pickle. Learn to clean, stretch and dry your hides and learn to do it quickly, time being money.
She was married early, became a mother early, a divorc�e at 17. She moved about. She worked all night in textile mills and learned to drink beer at daybreak. When she was 35 or so she met a man named Frank, a good provider, and they were married in the north Georgia valley where they had grown up; Dorothy Gooch choosing to be married in blue jeans, Frank Gooch choosing to buy her a dress.
Frank built them a cinder block house on a gashed-out mountainside, just beyond a trout farm, 15 miles north of Suches, 20 miles south of the North Carolina line, and Frank went to work cutting timber for a living. Dorothy was to stay home, to be a woman, be a wife, be a mother to Frank's daughter by an earlier marriage. Her own daughter was married and gone. Dorothy Gooch went crazy, she said. She could not stay in the house. "Housework," she said, "is for maids and ladies." Three years ago she bought 600 steel traps and returned to the business she had learned from her father. She did well for two seasons, earning $1,500 the first, $2,000 the second. But the third was bad.
It looked to be a good winter on Nov. 20, 1975, the opening day of trapping season, and Dorothy Gooch was ready. The traps were rusted, the way they should be, having been left in the rain. A new trap, a well-oiled trap, assaults the animals' senses. Her four-wheel-drive Bronco was tuned up and running sweet. Her father, who is 72 and too old to trap, would serve as her driver, letting her out at one point on the Toccoa River, picking her up a mile and a half downstream. They would run 150 traps a day, ranging 75 miles from home, starting before light, ending in darkness. Finding her catch, she would drown the beaver, the muskrat, the mink; club the possum, shoot the fox, the bobcat, the skunk. Shoot the skunk quickly before it sprays. Then run to it, pull its tail up tight and spread its hind legs so it will spray on the ground. The pelt will bear no odor that way. "If you don't like the smell," Dorothy Gooch says, "you're in trouble." Frank Gooch says, "Skunk don't like the smell no better than you do."
But before the season was well along she took a spill on her fresh-mopped living room floor and suffered a concussion. The cold weather made her head hurt; her sinus acted up. Frank Gooch stopped his wife from wading the waters. She had to be content with a few traps in the woods. There were bobcats ($25 a pelt), a few red fox ($30), fewer grays ($18). She was not fit to trap. And, woe upon woes, a bill was introduced in the state legislature to outlaw steel traps.
This is the fight Dorothy Gooch talked about as she sat before her fire, the mantel adorned with a symmetrical arrangement of bobcat paws. "Those damn Humane Society ladies don't know a damn thing about what they're talkin' about. Excuse my language. There ain't no way I can tell you the thrill of trappin'. There ain't nothin' to compare it with. There's makin' love. And fishin'. And gettin' high on somethin'. And trappin'—well, trap-pin' kind of stands alone, I'd say. Can I get you a drink?"
Dorothy Gooch, an attractive woman though nail-hard, went to the kitchen for a 16-ounce glass. She poured an inch and a half of vodka, topped it with three inches of orange juice, topped that with an inch and a half of vodka. "I'd be willin' to bet you ever' damn one of them damn ladies got a damn fur coat in their closet. Pardon my damn language."
Dorothy Gooch said she and the other trappers were getting flack from the coon and fox hunters, who are supporting the steel-trap ban. The hunters' dogs, the well-trained blue ticks or red bones or other hounds, are forever getting caught in the traps. "I got one little dog out there been caught in a trap dozens of times," she said. "Now, ever' once in a while, when you're lookin' at him, he'll hobble around just for sympathy. He ain't hurt." (For two days it was observed that Dorothy Gooch's dog is a three-legged dog.) "The damn thing wrong with this bill is that there ain't no way in hell I can hide a two-foot-high cage. I can't trap with those damn cages that they want us to use. You excuse my language. I didn't have much schoolin'."
She made another drink and said, "I'm about to die being cooped up in this house."
She headed outside and climbed into the Bronco. Driving down the serpentine road, negotiating switchback after switchback, the mountains high and bare on one side, the Toccoa River running along the other, she said, "We got no wild turkey left. The grouse is gone. You don't hear the red songbirds or the blue songbirds anymore. The animals got 'em. Ever'body in this county lost corn to the beavers last year. They dammed up the rivers and flooded a lot of the crops. You stop anywhere along here and ask any man that's got chickens if he minds me trappin' fox. He'll say, 'Hell no, woman, you go right ahead and get as many as you can.' "