Saturday, June 24, 2006

Ditching Out Mudholes

Carolina mountain farmers depend as much on spring rains for their living as they do their own hands. Growing up in the Carolina mountains I learned early in life to appreciate and enjoy the weather and know that it is all just part of life. As far back as I can remember I looked forward to the rains. Mama said that as soon as I could walk good I would be two steps behind Daddy when he went out the door. I know why of course. There was always something to look forward to when going anywhere with Daddy, especially after a heavy rain.

We lived up a hollow (holler we called it) and had a narrow dirt road to the farm. When we weren't too busy farming and milking we would travel in Daddy's old "52 Chevy pickup over to Spruce Pine to get a load of spar from a mica mine. It was free for the taking and all that was required was the truck, shovels and muscle. We would haul this back and spread it on our road for gravel to help keep down mud and erosion. Sometimes we would take Old Dan and Buck, our farm horses, hook them to a sled and load up rocks that we had piled at the edge of fields we were to plant later. We would spread these rocks in the biggest mudholes and "tamp" them in with heavy locust poles. Gradually, with traffic they would sink in and make it somewhat smoother. When heavy rains came those holes would stay filled with water and Daddy didn't like that. He didn't drive but he liked to make it easy for our visitors, which were plenty, to have a decent drive.

After a rain Daddy would start for the door and grab his shovel from the basement. I'd carry a little short-handled hoe (Daddy had broken the handle and smoothed it down) given to me around the age of two. Down the road we would go and clear away any brush that might be lodged in the creek, and I would find the most magical things. Crawdads (crawfish) would be swimming backwards in the creek and Daddy showed me how to catch them without getting pinched, or scare them and watch them scoot through the mud.

Big night crawlers, good for catching the best trout would be seeping up out of the wet grassy areas on the creek bank. We'd collect them in a tin can Daddy had in his overall pocket and save them for later. He would ditch the mudholes so the water would drain from them to the creek and I would help with my hoe. I had rubber boots so I wouldn't get too muddy, but I always managed to splash mud on my overalls. Mama never fussed.

There was always such a special smell in the air after a rain, kinda like God has washed all the dirt from the trees and grass just so we could see how green it really was. Sometimes in hot weather we would see snakes lying on branches jutting into the creek and I would throw rocks to see if I could shake them off. We could catch lots of frogs hopping in the roads enjoying the "steam bath" from the warm dirt after a cool rain. Heavy rains always uncovered new rocks in the creek bed and Daddy would help me collect some of the pretty ones for Mama's flower beds. I would usually end up with a couple of small frogs in my pockets to catch bugs out of her flowers. Well, I thought that would be a good reason to put them in my pockets. They were fun but Mama was scared of them.

The creek was a most interesting place. "Skimmers" as we called water spiders would skim across the water with ease as their long legs stretched way out. Water weeds in full bloom would droop, heavy with raindrops, over the creek and black, shiny dragon flies, (snake-feeders Daddy called them) would flit from bloom. I never knew what they fed snakes but they were beautiful. Once in a while we would see big mud-turtles laying in the edge of the water in the mud. Daddy said if one were to bite you that it wouldn't turn loose 'till it thundered. I wouldn't catch any of them.

Among weeds near the creek a "writin spider"( I believe the argiope spider) dangled near its message written in code as its web glistened with rain droplets. In some of the Queen Anns Lace blossoms, soft and tiny, glistening cup-shaped, cotton webs waited patiently for some juciy morsel to fall into them. In the warm mist the cup-shaped webs appeared ghostly and of course with a child's curiosity, I would have to touch one. To my surprise it melted away as if it really had been a ghost. Down lower on the plant there might be a large deposit of white slimy spit attached to a branch. Daddy said it was from a "spittle bug".
Having never actually seen the bug and judging from the size of the spit it must have been big so I decided I did not want to see it. I could barely spit that much as big as I was.

The rains came and went giving life renewed energy, and Daddy and I had given our road the once over. We headed home a little damp and muddy but refreshingly happy. Daddy stopped to cut a birch twig for us to chew and I felt good; like I was part of something very important.

Daddy always thanked God for the good rain to help our gardens and crops. I always thanked HIM for Daddy.

By Freda Kuykendall