Saturday, June 18, 2011

From Where the Lilies Bloom - A Novel by Vera and Bill Cleaver

Spring is a wondrous necessity. I thought it would never come. I thought the hoary winter would never leave us. At night, after the others had gone to bed, I would go outside and stand in the snow and look out across the hard, white fields and think. This year it won’t come. Only a miracle could bring it. It’s such an old story, spring. Surely the earth must be tired of having to produce it year after year. These mountains are reckoned to be two billion, five hundred million years old. Surely the earth must be tired of supporting them. Spring won’t come again. How can it? Everything is so frozen. Romey was right; this is forgotten land. The Lord has forgotten us. We are forgotten people.

Shivering, not so much with the cold as with my thoughts, I would walk around the house and out to the gate and stand leaning against it and look up at Sugar Boy and Old Joshua. And I would think, They’re never going to be green again. It had to come to an end sometime. This is probably the year for it.

Such childish thoughts those were and wasted ones. For the spring came as it always did, silently unfolding, pushing, pulling, budding, splitting.

Flushed with this rebirth Trial Valley turned tender green. The air softened and the warblers came, a great, showy wave of them, flashing down into the valley, singing, darting, flitting from tree to bush and back again, all so curious and alive and glad to be home.

The juncos came out of their hiding places in the woods and perched on our fence and trilled their sweet bell-songs. All of the birds came back; the flickers, the robins, the goldfinches, all of them.

Before the trees put on full leaf the wild flowers bloomed: bloodroot, lady slippers, trillium, trout lilies, fawn lilies, and the dainty, nodding lilies-of-the-valley. The “sarvice” trees—correctly known to some as shadbush or service trees—flowered downy-white on the slopes of Old Joshua and Sugar Boy.

This was spring in Trial Valley, the season of the bountiful bud.

On a Saturday morning Romey, Ima Dean, and I went across the fields to Trial Creek and followed it up to where the balm of Gilead trees grew sixty to one hundred feet high. Ima Dean held our basket and Romey and I hooked the branches with our rakes, pulling them down, to reach the oblong, waxy buds. The oozing wax from them turned our fingers sticky and yellow. The sun was in our eyes and in our mouths. We went from tree to tree and filled the basket. In the way of mountain people Romey and Ima Dean persisted in calling the buds “bammy Gillet.” They wouldn’t heed my correction, just laughed at it and said how stuck up I was.

We talked about the days to come, how busy we would be with our harvesting. Across the creek in a marshy hollow there was a patch of skunk cabbage, green and shinny, its ovate leaves already a foot high. The roots and rootsticks of these plants were worth money. On another day we would be back for them. And yet on another we would follow the stream down to where the graceful black willows grew. The fluffy catkins of these yield pollen.

In the days to come we would gather blue pimpernel, wild indigo, mayapple, maypop, sweet elder, horse nettle berries, catnip and sassafras leaves. We would go out with our wagon and our book and our digging and cutting tools and bring home boneset herbs and red clover flowers. We would dig for hellebore, hydrangea, butterfly, and blue cohosh roots. We would gather log moss and dry it. We would harvest sumac and black haw and fringe tree bark. There was so much of this we would do and so many different names I cannot tell them all here. The mountains and valleys of North Carolina are rich in these wild medicine plants. We discovered them and it was a fine education.

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