Nearly all of my friends, acquaintances and even my wife are die-hard sports enthusiasts. Having said this, I must admit that for the rest of you folks whose interests revolve around other non-athletic activities, you should feel fortunate.
No March Madness — at least not the basketball kind we’re accustomed to — as well, as no baseball, soccer, high school basketball, or even NASCAR could cause more illness than the coronavirus, at least mentally. What are we supposed to do? There are only so many past basketball and football highlights or re-runs that I can take.
Ever the optimist, allow me to make a few comments and include some suggestions for those of you who are sports nuts and even others who are sitting around wondering when all of this craziness will finally come to an end.
Spring has arrived. In days past when usually harsh winters had taken their toll on the sturdy mountaineers who came to these hills, this part of the year would be an exciting time. Not only were the birds returning and certain flowering plants poking their heads through the ground, soon, as our forefathers knew, Nature’s blessings would be abundant. It also meant plowing time, which was an absolute necessity.
Even though there is very little of what I like to refer to as “bottom land” in these wondrous hills of Logan, Mingo and Boone counties, there was a point in our history when men, women and even children participated in the preparation of garden spots, many of which were on mountainsides that had been cleared from trees and brush several years prior.
Although the early settlers in our region used mostly oxen for plowing and some heavy work — like removing large trees after they been cut down — horses and especially mules later became necessities for what was called “turning” a garden, a term referring to tilling of the soil, or plowing it. In most places in southern West Virginia, even the few who much later owned tractors could not plow steep hillsides. Mules were an absolute must.
Growing up in a Verdunville coal camp valley that, like most other communities in Logan County, separated two mountains, I remember my grandfather (Amos) and his brother (Albert) leasing each side of those two mountains for something like $10 a year from a land company, either Island Creek Coal Company or Aldredge Land Company. Later, my father gardened those same hillsides where houses now stand, the exception being a hollow near Verdunville Grade School. Of course, other people had hillside gardens all around the coalfields.
In that Verdunville hollow near the school where my wife is now the principal, there can still be found large piles of rocks that I assume my father stacked when clearing the land for growing food. I often accompanied him to the garden spots where a small stream ran down the mountain and continues to do so today.
I also recall going with my mother and father to that same area each spring to pick wild greens. Each with a large paper grocery store bag, my parents would separate and maybe even compete in finding what I still today consider a delicacy — a combination of such things with mountain names like shawnee, poke, butter weed, snake’s tongue, white top, sour doc, and butterweed, to name a few of the edibles. As an adult years later, my mother and I would frequent the same location, Mom even raising a garden there, after Dad had passed and her seven children had become at least teenagers.
Every year, I continue the tradition of visiting the narrow hollow to pick wild greens in springtime. The sounds of birds chirping and the fresh-air feeling one gets, combined with sweet memories of years ago, provides me with a tranquil peace of mind, even during difficult times.
I honestly believe we Appalachians may just be the luckiest people in the world. Just think about this. We may not have the best of everything in these once secluded hills, but we have exactly that — hills — and creeks. I think we too often take these heavenly gifts for granted.
Can you imagine being stuck in an apartment in places like New York and other even smaller cities and towns? After all, trail riders come to these parts of our world for good reasons. There is a certain amount of earthly freedom to be found in Appalachia, in addition to springtime beauty that masks the often rugged terrain.
Very soon, as Easter is likely celebrated this year in a never-in-this-lifetime fashion, the hills will come alive with their springtime beauty, something people in other places would pay dearly to be able to enjoy. Take advantage of it, while you can.
I’m not advocating that everyone should plant a mountainside garden, nor do I expect anybody to pick wild greens, especially if you do not know what to pick. Some greens (or weeds, as some people prefer to call them) are quite poisonous. However, for those few of us who remain “wild greens educated” and desire to continue the mountain tradition, the combination of the right greens cooked, then fried in good ‘ole iron skillet bacon grease, not only makes for an utterly delicious meal, but it also rids the body of all of winter’s collective body poisons. I like to refer to it as simply a good bodily “spring cleaning.”
In a book written about the Williamson genealogy, there is a quote describing one of my ancestor’s thoughts when he arrived in Appalachia during the 1700s, after crossing the Cumberland Gap:
“There was game in the woods from the bear down to the squirrel, wild honey to be found in hollow trees, fish in the streams and no game laws. Gardens would soon grow and in the meantime wild greens was plentiful. Range for the livestock in the summer and mast for the hogs in the fall and winter. With all this, the family was mighty proud of a good crib of corn in the fall of the year. It meant bread, meat, milk, and eggs for the family through the winter, also feed for the workhorse.”
How ironic. Bread, meat, milk, and eggs. Did you notice there was no mention of toilet paper? Lord, maybe there is hope for mankind, after all.
My point for this article is to emphasize the fact that kids, as well as more adults, need to get outside and away from television and the internet. Now, with school virtually closed and really nowhere safe for kids to go, reintroduce yourself to nature and take the kids and your grandchildren to a park, if nothing else. If at all possible, indulge the younger folks into nature. Have you ever watched a youngster when he or she eyes a ground squirrel zipping around somewhere?
God only knows what lies in store for us in the next few weeks, or even months. Nonetheless, we should find our way back to nature, even if it is only in your back yard, or a creek nearby. Mother Nature has blessed us and we should take advantage of it.
I’ve said it before and I shall say it again: “We may not own these hills, mountains and streams, but they have always been and shall remain — ours.”
May I suggest purchasing more onion sets and other vegetable seeds this spring for planting?
Unfortunately, you can’t plant toilet paper.