Our Heavenly Father has poured molten gold upon our hills, while here and there a maple stands out in scarlet glory. This past week has been full of glorious October days, warm, sunny days with the leaves changing rapidly into a kaleidoscope of breath-taking beauty.
My mind goes back to the October camping trips that we made when we were youngsters at home. It was our annual ritual to go during squirrel season, and we looked forward to spending a week at Hickory Knob.
It all comes rushing back now, and I am again helping Mom pack for a week in the woods. Daddy is going over the huge tent, making sure all the holes are patched so it won’t leak. He hunts the grate, the Coleman lantern, the axe to chop firewood and things necessary for survival.
There was no modern camper for us—we really roughed it by sleeping in a tent, cooking over an open fire and enjoying the whole outdoors. Mom packed up the iron skillets, the Dutch oven and cookers needed for outdoor cooking. The big aluminum dishpans were indispensable, and also a couple of zinc water buckets.
The morning comes, and we are eager to go. We are packed in the truck like sardines in a can, wedged in the back between camping paraphernalia and boxes of food. Nothing could quell our excitement, however, and off we go.
After we turn onto the dirt road that leads to Hickory Knob, there are several creek crossings that we ford. Although not that far from home, it is like a different world. Huge boulders line the creek and sometimes are in the creek, so we have to be careful while crossing through the water.
The water is clear as ice, and almost as cold. It is clean, as no one lives in this virtual wilderness. (Daddy’s Uncle Homer and Aunt Bertha lived there for some time, but the last time I was up there nothing remained of the house. All that was left to show that a family once lived there were some cut rocks from the cellar. It was sad.)
The dirt road that meanders along the creek is sandy and smooth. Rock cliffs hang over the creek, and masses of rhododendron crowd the hillsides and border the creek. It is wild and beautiful. Vines of deer berries (or partridge berries) cover the big rocks and wait for small hands to gather the red berries.
At last we reach the big beech tree where we usually camp. The leaves are turning a bronzy-gold, and some have fallen to the ground. Daddy spreads hemlock boughs over the ground under the tree, and pitches the tent over them. The tent has a canvas floor, and when covered with homemade quilts, it makes a passable bed. Mom would spread three quilts across the floor, and pin them together with big safety pins. Somehow it was always my luck to sleep under the gap where the quilts were pinned together. There was no danger of getting cold, as we were crammed in there, pig and tail.
As soon as we pitched the tent, the younger children ran to the creek where the water was so clear that you could see every tiny pebble and the minnows that swam there. What I miss the most is the indescribable smell of that place. It was a rich, brown, nutty fragrance, perhaps compounded of warm sun on dry, fallen leaves, rich soil and pine needles.
Camping out food was the best. Mom would fry potatoes over the open fire, and bake biscuits in a Dutch oven. She would bury the cooker in the hot coals, and dump some on the lid. They would come out perfectly brown and delicious every time.
The old camp percolator bubbled merrily, and we were allowed to drink a little coffee while we were camping. Mom never permitted us to drink it ordinarily; telling us it would stunt our growth. We didn’t really like it, but felt so “big” being allowed to drink it.
Daddy would cut us a grapevine swing and we spent hours swinging over the creek. (Even after we were married women, and went camping with Mom and Daddy, he would cut his girls a grapevine swing. We swung on it too.) Then he would take his gun and go squirrel hunting.
His favorite meal was squirrel and gravy; sweet potatoes baked in the coals, hot biscuits and sliced tomatoes. We always had ripe tomatoes until late in the fall, and he loved the yellow ones with pink stripes. He called them striped tomatoes, and we always packed them to use while camping.
The memories come sweet and unforgettable of a long ago time that can never be again. It is burned in my mind—that vast expanse of heavy forest, yellow maple leaves falling everywhere, covering the tent and table–with the family all together and love covering us all. Love and appreciate your family while you can.
We had a request from Mary Walker of Charleston who is looking for a recipe called “End of the Garden Kraut.” She said her mother-in-law used to make it, and since she is gone the recipe is lost. I wonder if it is like the tomato kraut that we make, using cabbage, green tomatoes, sweet peppers (and a hot one thrown in.) If anyone is familiar with the recipe, Mrs. Walker would love to have it.
We received a poem from Alice Hensley Church, which is good for this season.
THE MASTER PAINTER
As I sit looking into the distance
The leaves seem to be turning right before my eyes.
The steady hand of the Master is busy
Painting at this time.
The brush strokes slow and easy
Make the mountains look sublime.
The colors of the rainbow,
The flowers fading in my yard,
The blue sky just above us,
Were painted by our God.
Oh, that I could be a master painter
And paint just what I see,
I see His glory all around us
And His love for you and me.
How could I paint this?
Would be impossible for me to do.
Because His love outshines the world.
We cannot imitate or recreate
The talents of our Lord.