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NEWS FROM THE HILLS - SPRING TIME

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Alice Faye BraggSpringtime weather seemed to explode overnight in our hills, with trees on the mountainside bursting in bloom almost instantly. It seems too early for redbud to bloom, but the delicate pink of its blossoms shine in the warming sunlight. Sarvis (serviceberry) limbs hang over the road bank with its lacy white blossoms. Old folk lore reminds us that spring won't come to stay until there is snow on the sarvis bloom. Wonder if we will still see snow?

The magnolia blossoms are magnificent this year. They came out so suddenly that daughter Patty remarked, "It seemed as if the buds just humped up in the cold until the first warm day and then they burst forth in all their glory. "Forsythia is full bloom now, long fronds of bright sunshine yellow that my dad called "showers of gold." Sunny yellow dandelions are dotted everywhere. The lawns are full of these solid gold medallions, which are an affront to some people, but I love them. The common purple violet peeks its head up, modest and shy, along the creek bank and through the grass at the edge of the garden.

Although the winter was not as harsh as some bygone years, it seemed long and dreary. Farther south, a lot of shrubs and flowers have already burst into bloom, but spring was slower in coming to our area. Lilacs have budded and the forsythia is blossoming out in golden sprays. Wildflowers are beginning to appear, with the tiny white chickweed being the first to appear. The ever—present ground ivy is blooming with their purplish-blue flowers, and will continue blooming until freezing weather.

This mint grows everywhere, and was particularly invasive in our strawberry patch last summer. In fact, it choked out the strawberries and left us with a nice patch of ground ivy. It is also known by the common names of "gill-over-the-ground," "Lizzie-run-in-the-hedge," and other folk-lore names. It is not useless however, as it is used as a home remedy for stubborn coughs, as a bitter tonic and as a nutritive tea.

The best way to take ground ivy is as "gill tea" which is an infusion of the freshly picked plant. Use ¼ cup of the chopped whole herb for each cup of tea. Cover with boiling water and keep it covered while it is brewing, to keep the volatile oils from escaping. If it is being used for a cough due to a common cold, give it very hot, sweetened with honey, a cupful four times a day. (Think I'll try it!) As Grandpa O'Dell used to say, "Do you no good; do you no harm!"

There is nothing like springtime in the hills of West Virginia. We are awakened at daybreak by the chorus of songbirds, which seems to increase each morning. Later, their joyous melody will dwindle way when full daylight comes, and they go about their daily duties of hatching their eggs and feeding their young. Right now they are concentrating on the intricacies of courtship and attracting a mate.

An old song always comes to mind when I hear the songbirds, "I want to wake up in the morning where the rhododendrons grow/Where the sun comes a'peepin' into where I'm sleepin' and the songbirds say 'Hello'. . . " When I was young and enjoying summer vacation from school, it seems as if it was the scent of rambler roses that awakened me each morning. They grew up the side of our old ramshackle house and vined around my bedroom window. What sweet memories!

After all the spring seasons I have seen come and go, it is still a marvelous thing to see spring appear. It is a miracle that never grows old. It is a promise from God that we will always have springtime as long as the earth remaineth. After the flood, and the waters had dried up, Noah made a sacrifice unto the Lord.

Genesis 8-21 records, "And the Lord smelled a sweet savour, and the Lord said in His heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living as I have done. While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease."

My late friend Dave, who was also my faithful chauffeur, and I used to have a running debate about the seasons. Dave contended that the Bible said that it will come a time when all seasons will be alike—that you can't tell winter from summer." I would counter with, "Tell me book, chapter, and verse and I will believe you." He never did find it!

Morel mushrooms are abounding now, with the first dark ones being found. We haven't found any of the later light ones. Patty and Bob scours the woods every day or so, and share their bounty with us. There are numerous recipes for these wild mushrooms, but I think sautéing them in a little butter with salt and pepper brings out the natural goodness of these delicacies. Patty coats them with flour and fries them in oil, and they are delicious also.
I get a hankering to cook wild food this time of year. I spied a nice patch of dandelion greens and aim to cook some of them. They are only good early in the spring, before the bright, cheerful flowers appear. After this plant has flowered, the leaves become tough and bitter. They can be used in spring salads when they are very young and tender.

My late Aunt Addie would walk a country mile for a mess of dandelion greens. She enjoyed them as a pot herb, which is how I planned to fix them. However, I found a recipe that sounds good, and I may try that if the leaves are tender enough.

TRADITIONAL DANDELION SALAD
Fry a few strips of bacon until crisp, then crumble and set aside. Drain off some of the bacon grease, leaving two tablespoons. In the hot skillet, lay a great mound of fresh, washed, wet young dandelion leaves (they will spatter) and stir over the heat until the leaves are coated with the fat, just one minute or so. Add the crumbled bacon and one or two chopped hard-boiled eggs, and serve at once. The salad should be barely wilted.

There are extra benefits to the lowly dandelion plant. Dandelion leaf tea was drunk by the Native Americans as a spring tonic, and it does contain large amounts of iron and vitamins C and A, which the body needs after months of diminished sunshine. The hollow stems exude white bitter latex which is supposed to ease bee stings, dissolve warts, and heal sores. Isn't it wonderful that the Lord has provided us with so many wild plants that are good for food and have a multitude of benefits?

LINES WRITTEN IN EARLY SPRING
By William Wordsworth

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sat reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And 'tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure—
But the least motion that they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure,

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature's holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?

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Alyce Faye Bragg
About This Author
She writes the "News From the Hills" column. Born and raised in the country, and still lives on the same farm where she was raised. Has a sincere love for nature and the beauty of the hills. Began writing in 1981 & currently has three books published.
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