Sunday, October 2, 2011

Home Again and Reflections on the Past

The drive home today was beautiful--a wild, windy, rainy cold October day that felt like late November. These mountains can be at their loveliest at such times, with fog hanging on the mountaintops and the creeks and rivers running full. I took no photos because I was focused on getting home this time, but I think you can see these hills in your minds, in their spooky October guise of mist, fog, half-naked trees and shadows of the past clinging to barns and roadsides.

Black walnuts are dropping everywhere, all that good nut protein going to waste in most cases. We have some picked up in feed sacks, and some in the driveway to be run over so the hulls come off. But so many go to waste. In years past a hulling machine would come to each county and set up for a few days. It was an opportunity for children and retired folks to make a little money, picking up the walnuts and hauling them to the hulling station. Roane County began their Black Walnut Festival to celebrate the arrival of the hulling machine, but now the festival lives on even though the machines stopped coming some 15 or 20 years ago.

It's odd how some things disappear, like the hulling tradition. We scarcely note their passing until one day we realize with a jerk that something special has passed out of our lives. Like the molasses cooking that used to be a regular part of the fall traditions in this area. Calhoun County, WV has always had a molasses festival but how long will molasses cooking remain part of it? The cooking relies on people growing sorghum and hauling it in for pressing and cooking. How many people still grow it? I think this tradition may soon become a thing of the past, sadly. Next year I hope to grow some sorghum and take it to the festival to be cooked into molasses. We used to grow it when our sons were young; now we're retired, maybe we'll have time for this labor-intensive crop again.

Putting up hay used to be different too. When we moved here everyone used square balers, the "newest thing" after pitchforks and horses. Now the round balers are the popular thing and kids have lost another income opportunity. Square baling required hands to pick up the bales and stack them in the barns. Round bales can be left in the field and require no one to do anything except drive the tractor and baler across the field.

I remember days of driving our truck across our steep ridge meadow. The 4-wheel-drive pickup would be in "low-low" ( low gear, and low range on the 4WD) and it would crawl across the hill. I'd have to hold onto the door to keep from sliding across the seat because the truck would be at  45-degree angle as it crept across the hillside. It would go forward 3 feet, slip downhill 1 foot. It was a physics lesson, really, in gravity and motion because if the truck stopped? I shudder to think where it might have ended up. But I was young and confident and didn't consider the danger then.

Some of our boys would be in the field, grabbing bales by the strings and throwing them up on the truck to another son who would stack them carefully, again obeying physics so that the load stayed on the truck and didn't tumble down the hill. Of course, when we drove out of the meadow and down the driveway the load might shift and bales fall off, along with a couple of the boys riding on top. They were so tough and nimble they would roll right off and miraculously no one ever got hurt.

Now that meadow is growing up in weeds because I do not want Larry or anyone else to endanger themselves that way. Such steep land should really be forested, not cleared and planted in hay. The meadow was a remainder from the past days of farming in this county when almost all the land was cleared for meadow or pasture. Those old-timers didn't know about erosion or conservation; we know now, but it's hard to let land just go when it's been cleared.

Times change; we change. And yet there are times when I want change to slow down, even pass me by so that these times and these ways remain frozen in place and in memory.


Rowan said...

It's sad to see so many of these old country traditions dying out, we have fields full of round bales these days too but I'm old enough to be able to remember haystacks - harder work of course but building a stack properly was a real skill that is all but lost now. So many old country crafts and skills are disappearing but in the UK at least there's a resurgence of interest and the few elderly people who still have these skills are passing them on to a younger generation so perhaps there's a hope that the knowledge will survive.

Granny Sue said...

We once built a haystack, Rowan, with our neighbors showing us how to do it---they were puzzled as to why we wanted to, though! There is certainly a technique to it. Pile it, stomp it down, rake down the sides, pile it, stomp it, rake it-- it seems like you're just re-doing the same hay over and over but the stack slowly grows. I am glad to know that the old ways are being preserved in England. I've always been fascinated by the hedging process, and thatching too.

Marie (once The Tile Lady) said...

I have enjoyed this Sunday afternoon perusing your blog's been a while since I came by. I too feel such sadness over the loss of the old ways. I attended a fair a few years ago that featured home grown sorghum, something I knew from my days at my grandmother's knee, and I wish the art of growing the cane and making the molasses was not disappearing. These days we are in AZ...a far cry from my native Alabama and my husband's native Virginia, and I am drawn to remembrances of those earlier days. All my best--

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