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NEWS FROM THE HILLS

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ALYCE FAYE BRAGGSOMETHING TOLD
THE WILD GEESE

By Rachel Lyman Field
Something told the wild geese
It was time to go;
Though the fields lay golden
Something whispered, -'snow'.
Leaves were green and stirring,
Berries, luster-glossed,
But beneath warm feathers
Something cautioned,-'frost'.

All the sagging orchards
Steamed with amber spice,
But each wild beast stiffened
At remembered ice.
Something told the wild geese
It was time to fly-
Summer sun was on their wings,
Winter in their cry.

We are counting out each golden day of autumn, as a miser counts out his gold pieces—one by one. Pilot Knob is studded with the gold of poplar trees, shining against the green of other trees that have not turned yet. The scarlet splash of a maple bedazzles the eye with its flaming color.

The entire landscape is a kaleidoscope of color, resembling a giant patchwork quilt spread across our hills. It is comforting, yet fleeting. October in our hills is something to be absorbed, and not merely viewed.

October can be an eerie month when gusty wind picks up the fallen leaves and sends them through the air; scattering them underfoot to crunch and crackle during a nighttime walk. Dark, misshapen clouds drift across the moon and queer night sounds are heard in the underbrush. No wonder we hill people have grown up with omens and superstitions.

I remember one late autumn night we were camping at "Ha'nted Lick" on Hickory Knob. We were sitting around a roaring campfire, retelling the old stories of tokens and other family superstitions. Daddy would recite his memory of Buzzard Rocks, and how there were carved steps leading down into a cave there. No one had ever gone completely down into it, but one of the boys of his childhood had left a shucking peg on the farthest step that anyone had gone.

By the time we were old enough to explore the cave, it had fallen in and the steps were obliterated. Daddy usually embellished this story with a creature of his own imagination that had "eyes as big as saucers and a nose as long as your arm!" The story of the cave was true though, and I've often wondered what relics it might contain.

We were all absorbed in these old stories, especially the ones about the "Ha'nted Lick" and the strange occurrences that his mother (my Grandma Ellen Mullins O'Dell) encountered when she lived in that area. Just then we heard the crunch, crunch of footsteps coming nearer and nearer. It was near midnight, and we knew that no one would be coming by then to pass the time of day—or night.

The fire flickered, and the footsteps came closer. When "It" stepped closer to the fire, we saw it was Criss' nephew who was coon hunting there and saw our fire. We decided it was time for bed, and the safety of our tent.

The next day we decided to explore the "Lick" as it was broad daylight and not so scary. Along the trail we found scattered pictures of dead people in their caskets, a "reserved" banner for a family pew and several other items. Matthew was so leery of our find that he wouldn't touch any of it. It is still a mystery how it came to be there.

I think Mom's family (Samples') was probably the most superstitious of any of our kinfolk. My mother really did possess "ESP" and there are many occurrences that cannot be explained. Grandma Alice believed in signs and omens, and had a remarkable record in her predictions.

My cousin Bobby related to me an incident that I'd never heard. Grandma Alice and one of her daughters were cleaning house when the string that held Grover's (her oldest son) picture broke. Grandma was sweeping, and swung the broom and trapped the picture against the wall before it could hit the floor.

She turned to our teenage aunt and said, "Run down to the oil field, for Grover just fell off the derrick!" When her daughter arrived, she discovered that Grover had indeed lost his balance at the top of the derrick but managed to stop his fall by catching a cross member about halfway down. Those old derricks were about 60 feet tall, but he was unhurt.

Regina Thornton wrote that her aunt in Kentucky recalls picking blackberries in the summer, and "something" followed them. It was unseen, but would stop when they stopped, and go when they went. I remember Daddy telling us one time of walking home in the dark, and something on the bank above them followed them—also stopping when they did, and then crashing through the brush as they walked on. I expect they got home in record time.

It is curious that we never encounter such things, but it may be because we are not likely to go rambling around in the dark. It's hard to see a "ha'nt" through a car window.
Since the weather has turned cooler, it inspires the cook in the family to dig out the old recipes and fire up the oven. Alice Church sent us a recipe which looks easy and sounds delicious.

DELICIOUS APPLE CRISP

2/3 cup brown sugar
½ cup self-rising flour
½ cup oats
¾ tsp. cinnamon
1/3 cup softened butter or margarine
Handful of raisins (optional)
1 can apple pie filling
Stir all together except pie filling. Spread ½ the mixture in bottom of greased pie pan. Dump pie filling on top. Cover with remaining mixture. Bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes, or until brown. Serve warm with milk or ice cream.

June Cox of Winifrede came to the Book Festival Saturday and presented me with a jar of "different" kraut. She cooks a pot of Great Northern beans (no seasoning) until barely tender, drains off the water, and cools it. Then she mixes chopped cabbage and chopped green tomatoes with the beans and covers with this brine: Heat one gallon of water, one cup of canning salt and one cup white vinegar.

After this cools, she pours it over the vegetables. (Chopped green peppers would be great in this too.) She says she uses this brine for pickled corn, salt pickles, sauerkraut and pickled beans. (She doesn't cook corn for pickling, but cooks string beans until tender.) You may have to add additional brine if it sinks on your kraut or corn. This is a different pickling method than any we have used, but the beans and kraut are delicious.

Our boys have found several "Hen of the Woods" mushrooms this year, and they are a super edible. We received a letter from Fern Joyce of Blacksburg, VA, and she included a recipe for Chicken of the Woods mushroom casserole. She is the former Fern Davis, and a Clay County native. The picture she included looks like Hen of the Woods, but whatever you call it, it is a delicious mushroom.
I could be wrong about the name of the mushroom Fern described, as it is orange in color, but it is shaped like Hen of the Woods. I think both mushrooms can be used interchangeably.

The notes on this recipe stated, "A good, young Chicken of the Woods is soft and tender. If the mushroom is older it will be hard and woody. You can still use the tips of the mushroom as these are usually softer. After cleaning the mushroom you should be able to tear it into small pieces."

The "chicken" casserole is made by simply sautéing the mushroom pieces in olive oil. Mix the mushroom into cooked pasta, toss in butter. Shredded jack cheese, Parmesan cheese, fresh chopped garlic, salt and pepper. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. This could change your mind about eating wild mushrooms!

God be with you in the Autumn,
When the birds and flowers have fled,
And along the woodland pathways
Leaves are falling; gold and red,
When the summer lies behind you,
In the evening of the year—
God be with you in the Autumn,
Then to fill your heart with cheer.
From "Through the Year"
by Julian S. Cutler

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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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