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NEWS FROM THE HILLS

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Dear Cousin,

 

Spring can come in earnest now that it has snowed on the sarvis (serviceberry) tree in bloom. It is an old country saying that it will always snow on the sarvis bloom, a prediction that was repeated every spring by Uncle Clarence Brown. Our good friend Gerald Braley inherited his position as country weather prophet until he too passed away. No one has rose up to fill their shoes, as this younger generation relies on radio and TV to predict the weather. I like the old-time way.

This year we had a spectacular snow that came in the night and spread a fluffy covering on our springtime hills. Each twig on bush and tree, dry weed and broomsage sported a cottony ball of snow that transformed them into a thing of fairyland beauty. It melted almost as quickly as it came, as the snow covering loosed its grip on the trees and fell to the ground with a soft splat. The sarvis tree blooms unhindered now, the very first tree in the woods to blossom. It is also called a "shadbush" or "shadblow" due to the fact that the star-shaped, showy white flowers tend to bloom during the time that the shad ascend the rivers in early spring to spawn. Another older name is "sarvis," the common name that we use.

The fruit ripens in early summer and resembles a tiny apple, sweet and juicy. A handful of these little purplish-red berries is an unexpected bounty to a hungry youngster who is out scouting the woods. Springtime was sweet when we were kids at home. We couldn't stay out of the woods when the weather got warm. We found the first bird nests (don't breathe on the eggs or the ants will eat them), holding our breath while gazing on them in wonder. We picked the earliest flowers, fragile wild anemones, scented white violets and star chickweed, and brought crumpled bouquets to Mom.

We hunted for delicate wild strawberries and found ripe dewberries as they trailed their vines along the ground. We dug "Adam and Eve" roots from the ground and ate the gummy globes. We ate the tender sprouts of the sassafras bush and chewed twigs of spicewood and sweet birch. The woods were full of good things. Spring is still sweet. As we watch God awaken the earth, it is a source of renewed wonder to see spring unfold once more. I hear the joyous "What-cheer! What-cheer!" from a cardinal high up in the maple tree. I saw him yesterday perched in the rose of Sharon bush, a handsome fellow in his bright red coat. Sometimes he calls, "Purty-purty!" and I echo his sentiments.

The woods are still full of good things. The morel mushroom has been found in many areas, and the season is just beginning. Our friend Butch Painter called from Drennen to predict a good mushroom season. He says that this is a "mushroom rain," and they will pop up as soon as the sun shines warm on the earth. I hope he is right. Our son Andy found about half a gallon in Roane County.

The showers of April have spread a greening carpet over our hills, turning the brown and barren countryside into lush fields of grass. The golden dandelions are strewn with a liberal hand all across the green, and clumps of blue and purple violets peep shyly through the grass.

The woods are awakening with a scattering of buds and bloom, while an aura of hazy green shimmers above the treetops. The dogwoods are beginning to show their greenish-white petals, and all up and down the hillsides the redbuds are bursting forth in glorious pink array. The redbud tree is also called the Judas-tree. According to a myth, Judas Iscariot hanged himself on the related Judas-tree of western Asia and southern Europe. The once white flowers then turned to red with blood or shame.

The lovely little flowers are edible and can be tossed into a mixed salad or fried. The beanlike green pods that appear later can be made into a tasty stir-fry, but they must be harvested while very tender. To try them after they have passed the young and tender stage is like eating a mouthful of hay.

The woodland plants and flowers are beginning to emerge from the rich humus of the woods, and it is a joy to explore the outdoors now. Delicate yellow violets and the long-spurred pale blue ones decorate the woods, along with the trembly wild anemones. The waxy white flower of the bloodroot is blooming now, and pink spring beauties appear in masses along the damp creek bank. It's not just the aesthetic quality of these flowers and plants that attract me, but I am drawn to the edible side as well.

I found out from Thursy Baker that the spring beauties (she calls it "tanglefoot") makes a wonderful spring salad when fixed raw with a hot bacon grease-vinegar dressing. The cleavers, or goosegrass, is tender now, and makes good greens. According to the old herbalists, cleavers should be cooked in mutton broth with or without oatmeal, and when used as a reducing diet will ". . . keepe them leane and lank that are apt to grow fatte."

They cook quickly in a small amount of water, and I seasoned them with butter.

The common stinging nettle makes a delicious green, but must be gathered with gloves and handled carefully when washing and preparing. Cooking them destroys the stinging properties, and is one of the most healthful greens to be found. I love experimenting with various wild foods, but jewelweed, or touch-me-not, was not one of my successes. I read the recipe in one of Euell Gibbons' wild herb books, and it sounded delicious. Yuck - it would peel your tongue. The orange cooking water made an effective dandruff rinse, though, and also was good for poison ivy and itchy rashes.

When I look at the wonderful world of spring and the beauties of nature that God has made, I can say with David when he wrote in Psalms 96:11-12, "Let the heavens rejoice, let and the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof. Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein; then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice." Spring is a rejoicing season.

 

Love,

Cousin Alyce Faye

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