Our hills open up their arms to the month of May, as she comes strolling in with her hair full of violets and golden dandelions at her feet. April departs, and takes with her the unpredictable days we have seen.
Sometimes the sun shone brightly, but most of her days were wet and drippy. If April showers bring May flowers, we should have an abundance of them.
The Jack-in-the-pulpit is blooming now in woodsy places. He stands, erect and dignified, preaching his silent message to the woodland creatures. It is also called an Indian turnip, but don’t try to eat one. One taste will do you for a lifetime. A thousand needles will pierce your tongue, and your whole mouth feels paralyzed.
There are so many things we tasted in the woods when we were children. I still test many things by tasting, and there are some things that I wish I hadn’t!
We chewed birch twigs and spicewood bark. I still like to chew the tender sprouts that come out on the sassafras bush. I can remember the oily taste of the spicewood berries, and the berry on King Solomon’s seal is sweet and sticky. The pokeberry tastes sick, and sumac berries are sour as whiz. Mountain tea (wintergreen) is very tasty, and so are the red berries that ripen on it. There is a vine that has similar red berries, called the partridgeberry, but they are tasteless compared to wintergreen berries.
We kids called them “deerberries” and gathered them to eat as we prowled the woods. May apples were savored by us, and of course paw paws were greatly relished. I can’t remember anything we ate that made us sick, or maybe our guardian angels were protecting us.
Some of the folk medicines used on us were not so pleasant to the taste buds, such as yellowroot or goldenseal. I still think yellowroot is one of the best remedies for sore throat and other ailments. We kept the dried yellowroot to use all year long.
Slippery elm was often used for the same purpose (sore throat, etc.) and we used to chew the inside bark because we liked it. Criss’ mother, Peach, used to make a concoction from yellowroot, black oak bark, honey and various other herbs that would really cure a cough. By the way, her name was really Peach, with no middle name. She had other sisters named Plum and Prune.
I was talking about this with my late Aunt May, and remarked that they had no middle names. She said, “Well, what would you add to Peach, Pie?”
No, I think Blossom would actually be a pretty name! Plum Blossom would be too, but I don’t know about Prune. They are all gone now, but they were sweet ladies. When Criss was in high school, his football coach asked him what his mother’s name was. He was too embarrassed to say Peach, so he blurted out Rachel!
How I wish I could walk through these woods now, since May brings such pleasure to the senses and soothes the soul. In these pandemic days, we need our soul soothed!
I remember one walk I took some time ago, and I still think of it with longing. A pair of indigo buntings, incredibly blue, flitted from limb to limb, and a flash of yellow and black revealed a goldfinch darting from the hemlock tree. We always had a robin to nest in the grape arbor, and I peered in to look at her babies.
She nested there year after year, and we could approach the nest without her getting alarmed. The ungainly, fuzzy little creatures opened their bills wide, anticipating a worm, and I went on quickly to keep from disturbing them. The beady-eyed mother watched me carefully, but she was scarcely an arm’s length away. I always wondered if she was Henrietta, the robin we raised from a baby.
I remember crossing the creek, which was rimmed with spring beauties and blue violets. The delicate white wood violets, with their sweet, elusive perfume peeped shyly from the mossy, wet crevices in the rocks. The dry, brown leaves crunched as I crawled under the barbed wire fence and climbed up the bank. With the wide, blue sky stretching overhead, the sun warm on my back, and all of nature bursting forth at my feet, I was so content.
There is food for the body in these hills, and food for the soul. My heart still swells up in gratitude to our Heavenly Father who has made all things well.
Yet, I know that nature itself does not bring lasting peace to the soul. There was a time when sin made such a turmoil in my soul that I could look upon “each little flower that opens, and each little bird that sings” with unseeing eyes and a frozen heart.
When God puts peace in a soul, it brings a contentment as warm as His sunshine and as serene as the blue sky above. This might be a hard way of life, carving out your living out of the rocky, hillside garden patches, but it is a satisfying life. The hills always reach out to claim their own.
While we are enduring this pandemic and stay-at-home kind of life, it is a soothing thing to go back in memory and remember the pleasant times we enjoyed in the past. The sun still shines out of a blue sky and the songbirds flock to the bird feeder. We have the fat, little mourning doves, red cardinals and redwing blackbirds feeding together. It is a good lesson for us.
Let us hang in, keep the faith and pray for a better tomorrow.
By David Bumbaugh
The seasons are shifting, the winter shades lifting,
The springtime is filling
Earth’s children with mirth.
The daffodils yellow, the south wind so mellow
The gentle rain falling
Upon the green earth.
The song sparrow singing, new life quickly springing,
All nature is telling
A tale of rebirth:
The deep wells of being, beyond each day’s seeing
O’er flowing with new life,
Restoring the earth.
Finally, in last week’s column I included a recipe for homemade lye soap. I got a call from Wilford Bird, who cautioned about using Drano. It could be dangerous as there are other ingredients in it besides lye. The product you can use is a drain cleaner named Roebic, which is pure lye. I hope nobody experimented!