Commentary: Echo from the Hills

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The leaves on the mulberry tree are turning their mellow shade of yellow as cooler weather descends on our hills.

This is a mild September day, not quite summer and not quite autumn. It is as if September is reaching one hand out to fall, while holding on to summer with the other. It reminds me of a song my mother used to sing as she worked around the house on a day such as this.

All that I can remember of it is this, “’Twas on a pleasant summer day, The sky was blue, The air was mild, The little birds sang in the trees, And everything in Nature smiled.” There is a pleasant breeze blowing some of the yellow leaves from the mulberry tree, and scattering them across the grass on the lawn. The heart sings on this September day.

On a day such as this, my mind wanders to the childhood joys of autumn. We would meander through the woods and meadows, foraging for berries and nuts, and gathering anything edible. Our principal, who taught the “big room” at Hagar Grade School, introduced us to the meadow mushroom, only he called it a “Bradley mushroom.” They should be appearing now after a rain shower, popping up at the edge of the garden and other places.

They are a small brown mushroom with pink gills underneath, and are delicious. Some years they are bountiful, especially during a wet season. I remember one year when they were plentiful and Mom made and canned mushroom soup. Our hills abound with wild food if you know where to forage for them. My brother Ronnie used to bring me ripe Mayapples he found while squirrel hunting, and I relished them. Ripe persimmons are delicious too, after they are touched by frost or cold weather.

We used to have a favorite game that we played while the children were still home. When went for a hike through the woods and fields, we would pretend that we were lost, far from civilization, and would have to exist by living off the land. One Sunday afternoon, after a big meal of fried chicken and all the trimmings, we went for a long walk through Ash Camp. The game got so real that a couple of the boys almost fought over a lone blackberry that they both spied.

By the time we got home, we felt as if we were literally starving. We finally amended the game to allow ourselves to carry one cooking pot, a box of matches and a knife – although we never tried that game. It would be too much to expect a person to carve out a cooking pot, especially without a knife. And no matter how much we tried, we were never able to produce fire by using some soft wood and a sharp stick. I think we must have imagined ourselves to be like “The Swiss Family Robinson.”

Sometimes I think my boys were born a hundred years too late; they were frustrated Daniel Boones – Andy in particular. One lazy Sunday afternoon, when he was quite a bit younger, he and his loyal sidekick and younger brother, Matthew, decided to go out in the woods and build a wild animal snare, (I don’t know what kind of a wild animal they hoped to snare in the hills of Clay County, but they had high hopes.)

They bent over a couple of supple saplings, and fashioned a snare with a loop of rope anchored by a large rock. They were hoping that when an unsuspecting animal came running, hopping, crawling, or slinking by, it would stick its neck or foot in the loop of the rope, the trap would spring, and the hapless animal would hang suspended in the air. It was successful beyond their wildest dreams. Andy stuck out his toe to test it, and before Matthew’s astonished eye, Andy was hanging by one leg from the top of the sapling.

Matthew brought him to the house, tattered and bleeding, and somewhat reluctant to discuss the matter. It was almost as bad as the time their tree house fell out of the tree with them in it. Andy seems sort of accident-prone. One time, at this time of year, he was scouting around Hick’s Holler, when he looked down at his feet and realized a big copperhead was coiled up there. As he reached around behind him for a stick to protect himself, there lay another copperhead. He got home in record time, breathless and sweating. No wonder he jumped out of the barn loft when a loop of rope scared him!

It was summer one day and autumn the next. The sultry, scorching weather was swept away by the soothing rain that that fell all night long and  most of the next day. There is change in the air, as the cry of the katydids grows slower and slower as the nights get cooler. The songbirds are restless as they, too, feel the urgency in the changing season.

Whippoorwills swooped and circled aimlessly overhead yesterday evening, much like a crowd of anxious young matrons sorting out their respective youngsters after school is over for the day. Soon our trees will be putting on their festive autumn garments, as there is a yellow haze already spread over the mountains. It is a glorious time of the year; to be thoroughly enjoyed.

 

SEPTEMBER

By John Updike

“The breezes taste
Of apple peel.
The air is full
Of smells to feel—
Ripe fruit, old footballs,
Burning brush,
New books, erasers,
Chalk and such.
The bee, his hive,
Wild-honeyed hum,
And Mother cuts
 Chrysanthemums.
Like plates washed clean
With suds, the days
Are polished with
A morning haze.”

 

“When I would beget content and increased confidence in the power and wisdom and providence of Almighty God, I will walk the meadows by some gliding stream, and there contemplate the lilies that take no care, and those very many other little living creatures that are not only created, but fed (man knows not how) by the goodness of the God of Nature, and therefore trust in Him.”—Izaak Walton

(Enjoy these early autumn days – they are beautiful, but fleeting … in the words of Seneca, “As for old age, embrace and love it. It abounds with pleasure, if you know how to use it. The gradually [I do not say rapidly] declining years are amongst the sweetest in a man’s life; and I maintain, even when they have reached the extreme limit, they have their pleasure still.”