Thursday, October 2, 2008
Much Ado About Nuttin'
My cousin Bub picking up hickory nuts.
Every fall on the mountain, my family used to get together and we’d go on a nuttin’ trip. We’d gather hickory nuts, which are by far my favorite nut, and black walnuts. We knew which trees would be good bearers and we went to those trees. We sought out the nuts with the best kernals and with the thinnest hulls. Over the years, the best nut trees were left alone and the poor producers were cut for other uses. Along the way, we’d just have a pleasant afternoon and look at the land and changes on the old Burns homeplace.
The foundation of the old Burns Homeplace.
A couple of years ago, we walked all the way up the mountain to the site of the old Burns Homestead, and picked nuts all along the way, and left them in sacks to pick up on the return trip. We walked up around the mountain, and up through the Burns Family Cemetery, which is situated on top of a narrow ridge line. If you’ve ever wondered why old family cemeteries are built high on ridges and on hilltops, it all goes back to those are the area’s that proved to be marginal farmland. In the old days, especially in the mountains, you had to maximize the potential of your good flat land in order to make a living, and putting a cemetery on your best land would certainly not be the wisest decision.
The narrow ridge path leading to the homeplace.
After passing through the cemetery, and visiting the graves of loved ones, we continued on up the narrow ridge, which has a trail that meanders right on top. The land itself exudes a sense of timelessness, the trees are old and gnarled, and you can feel it in your soul that this is home. If you’ve never experienced this phenomenon, then I really can’t adequately convey it to you but suffice it to say, it is quite palpable. No wonder Appalachian people never want to leave the land, and even in death, they want to be buried on the land from which they sprung. The old Appalachian sense of place is very real, we are part of the land and the land is part of us. We are inseparable. We may leave from time to time, but the old homeplace keeps calling us back.
Soon, the ridge cut out around the hill and you could see the meadow that contained the old homeplace. I believe it was the first time the younger kids had ever been to the old homeplace, and they were excited and ran ahead to “discover” the site of the house before the rest of us got there. It really was funny to me, I remembered doing this very thing when I was their age, and I’m sure my Dad did the same when he was that age too. While the remnants of the past are rapidly fading, you can still see the old foundation, and a few farm implements, like an old plow that sits in what used to be the yard. The old homeplace is situated right under the North Mountain rocks, and it is quite high up on the mountain, right at the frost line. Above the frost line, the growing season is too short to grow any crops so all throughout the fringes of Germany Valley, that land was left forested. Even to this day, you can pretty much discern the frost line by looking at where the farmland stops and the timber begins. I can’t help but think it must have been very cold living this high up on the mountain, even on that pleasant autmn day, the air had a bite to it. From the site of the old house, which is all gone except for the foundation, you have a remarkable view of Germany Valley. I can certainly see why my ancestors chose this spot to build their home.
The old plow at the homeplace.
Old family stories maintain that my Grandpaw George Burns owned the land for as far as the eye could see. They say he was rich in land but not in money, and he would sell entire sections of land dirt cheap. For example, there are tales of him selling North Mountain for a bottle of whiskey, and he sold the North Fork Flats for a wagon and a team of horses. It never fails to hearten the family to recount these old stories, and for a few moments we hold out heads up higher than usual, but then someone inevitably asks, “Why, if our family owned all of this beautiful land, did we sell all the good land off and keep the rock pile?” Everyone gets a good laugh out of it, and we again tell stories of family members who have passed away. I wonder how many generations have taken part in nuttin’ trips just like this.
Bub, Me and Mernie showing off our hickory nuts.
There’s just something about a nuttin’ trip that triggers that walk down memory lane.
Me, my aunt Six and her daughter Mernie, pose in front of a hickory tree.