Appalachia Appalachian Writers

An Ode To October


An Ode To October by Jim Casada (copyright 2010)

Not long ago, in one of her daily blogs Tipper mentioned an old-time mountain writer, John Parris, who has long been a favorite of mine. He knew the mountains intimately and from the perspective of an individual who was not only in the mountains but was of the mountains. The distinction is an important one, because it has long been my view that the surest sharing of the lure and lore of the high country, literature which sears the soul and goes to the heart, comes from those whose roots reach deep into the soil of Appalachia. Certainly John Parris was such a man.

Yet this guest blog is not about the man, but I felt these introductory remarks were necessary for two reasons. First, like Parris I am a son of the Smokies with a deep and abiding love for the region, its people, history, and ways. Second, Parris had a pronounced penchant for writing columns which captured the flavor of a season, and it was memories of his offerings of that type which inspired the idea for the offerings which follow, a tribute to the beauty and beneficence of the marvelous month which is October.

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October is fodder in the field waiting to be stripped, corn to be pulled for storage in the crib, and pumpkins dotting that field like splashes of orange scattered by fairies.

It’s leather britches dried and ready to store; October beans pulled and ready to thresh.

It’s pumpkins, kushaws, candy roasters, and butternut squash, all gathered and stored with their rich promise of pies and other treats in months to come.

It’s pantry shelves groaning with the bounty of summer and the quite satisfaction of knowing that a summer of hard work has produced a comfortable buffer against the coming hard times of winter.

It’s the juicy tang of a Golden Delicious apple, fresh pulled from the tree—cold, crisp, and providing tasty fare beyond compare.

It’s juice oozing from cane as the traditions of molasses making are renewed yet again, yellow jackets half drunk from feasting on the skimmings, and kids savoring a sampling of syrup as it nears finished perfection.

It’s molasses on the family table, wonderfully paired with home-churned butter to give a hot cathead biscuit a college education.

October belongs not only to the farm and garden, for it is a month giving welcome relief from summer ‘s hard work through the ageless joys of the hunt. This is the time of the aptly named hunter’s moon, a golden-orange orb which, in its gibbous fullness, seems so large when first clearing the eastern horizon one feels a long reach would let you touch it.

It’s a wide-racked old buck, neck swollen with the rut, easing along a woodlands trail while a hunter hopes against hope shifting winds don’t betray his presence.

It’s bushytails working high up in those golden sentinels of autumn, hickory trees, raining nut hulls to the forest floor in staccato-like regularity.

It’s a youthful hunter, carrying a little .410 shotgun passed down from his grandfather, sitting atop a log with barely contained excitement as he waits for a squirrel to show itself for a clear shot.

It’s that same boy roaming in the gloaming, a brace of squirrels in his pocket and a chest bursting with pride at having done it all on his own. He whistles or sings as he walks by a graveyard on the way home, or shivers involuntarily at the eerie eight-note call of a barred owl. He knows there ain’t haints but nonetheless takes comfort as sounds he produces breaking the silence and soothe his worries.

It’s a hook-jawed male brown trout on the prowl, answering the ages’ old call to spawn in late fall.

It’s a fleeting glimpse and thumping heart as a pound of feathered dynamite in the form of a grouse takes flight from beneath your feet as you walk an old logging road.

It’s a hen turkey and her brood of half-grown poults busily working the edge of a remote pasture as they feast on grasshoppers chilled and stilled by the morning dew.

It’s a young boy and his doting grandfather searching patiently for a perfect dogwood fork from which to make a slingshot.

October is the benison of fresh venison, grilling over the coals and carrying the hunter and his family longingly back into a world we have largely lost as they celebrate a successful hunt by consuming nature’s rich bounty.

It’s squirrel and dumplings on the country table. This dish, long an important part of mountain culinary culture is often served, baked sweet potatoes so loaded with goodness that sugar oozes from them to offer a caramelized smell of indescribable wonder, on the side. Joining them will be a mess of greens cooked with several pieces of streaked meat and bits of turnip chopped amongst them, along with a bowl of freshly cooked apples, and a dish of pinto beans with chowchow to complete the feast.

It’s wandering through a sere field on a sunny day, watching dust devils dance in the distance while snacking on ripe ground cherries or the tangy pulp of withered and yellowed maypops.

October is fall flowers and seeds in their jubilant splash of colorful finery—the vivid purples of ironweed, pokeberries, and devil’s club; the rich yellow of goldenrod; the varied orange and gold hues of touch-me-nots; the eye-catching lavender of asters; the vibrant pink of smartweed seeds; the reds of seeds on dogwoods, mountain ash,  partridge berries, and jack-in-the-pulpits, and other blooms adorn fields and road edges, catching the knowing eye with every bit as much visual appeal as fall foliage.

It’s mountain woodlands painted by a masterful brush with more hues than any artist’s palette could ever offer.

It’s persimmons turning from yellow to gold, ripening as the nights lengthen and the grip of cold weather strengthens.

It’s the heady aroma of a patch of pawpaws, ripe and inviting as their fruit falls to earth.

The month means hazelnuts littering the ground along the banks of branches and creeks, promising a full measure of natural snack pleasure as they invite squirrels and humans alike to savor their rich flavor.

It’s a young school boy rich as only someone who has found a hillside covered with chinquapins which sprang up in the aftermath of a fire a decade or so ago can be. A pocketful of these aristocrats of the nut world brightens his day and lightens his way, and he is heedless of the fact that a few years down the road he will be nuts about a fetching young girl adorned by dark, shining eyes which match those chinquapins.

It’s a frosty morning late in the month, with a field of golden broom sedge transformed to a world of wonder as a million diamonds sparkle in the early morning sun.

Come afternoon on one of those bluebird sky days of Indian Summer which are part and parcel of October’s bounty and a blessing , a steep hillside adorned with the selfsame broom sedge, now dried and slickened by a day of warm sun, provides youngsters wild but joyous rides as they “sled” on a piece of cardboard.

The month is a time to fatten hogs with ample helpings of imperfect pumpkins, armloads of red-rooted pigweed, and special rations of Hickory King corn shelled from the cob by hand.

—-

These are but a sampling of the sights and sounds, smells and sensations, of a month of fulfillment. Whether you view October as a time to look back in longing to the splendor of summer, to look ahead to the challenges of winter, or merely thirty-one days which find weather in the southern Appalachians about as pleasant and predictable it ever gets, I would hope you derive some of the same satisfaction this time of the year has always provided me. It’s a grand time to celebrate life in that world of wonder we call the high country.

by Jim Casada

—-

Jim Casada grew up in Bryson City, N.C.  He retired from his position as a university history professor after twenty-five years to devote his full energies to writing. He is the author or editor of more than fifty books. For more information on his background or to sign up for his free monthly e-newsletter, visit his web site at www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com

Tipper

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28 Comments

  • Reply
    Dee from Tennessee
    October 12, 2010 at 12:09 am

    Late on commenting and don’t know if Jim will see this but he nailed it. We live on the “other side of the mountains” about an hour from Sevierville and we live an hour from Johnson City. We have dear friends of almost 40 years who are from Bryson City — the Welch family . And we can’t make a visit to Bryson City without stopping at Nabors. Hats off to Jim — he “done good” as they say.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 5, 2010 at 7:48 am

    Wow! that’s the longest post you’ve had.
    Yes, I like fall too.

  • Reply
    Anastasia
    October 3, 2010 at 3:19 am

    It was such a pleasure reading Jim Casada’s description of October, so very different from our own October which still feels like summer.

  • Reply
    trisha too
    October 2, 2010 at 11:50 pm

    Wow, well, really he made my mouth water!
    🙂

  • Reply
    Vicki Lane
    October 2, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    A wonderful evocation of the things that make this time of year so special here in the mountains. Nothin’ could be finer. . .

  • Reply
    laoi gaul-williams
    October 2, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    what wonderful words~although i live an ocean away much of this i can relate to how things are here in the new forest~thank you!

  • Reply
    Vagabonde
    October 2, 2010 at 11:24 am

    Hi – I came to your blog to read Vicki Lane’s interview – which I thoroughly enjoyed. I also read the piece by Jim Casada. Autumn being my favorite season I loved reading his description of October in the mountains. The food, the smell, the family, the plants all of them gave me a warm feeling. Being born and raised in France I do not have such memories but I enjoy so much reading pieces such as Mr Casada’s and listen to his memories. Vicki Lane’s books have given me a great appreciation of life in the Blue Ridge. My husband used to hunt and brought me back big squirrels. I cooked them the French way, with red or white wines, herbs, mushrooms, etc. As they say, it’s good eatin’

  • Reply
    Paula
    October 2, 2010 at 10:15 am

    I’m not from Appalachia, but my ancestors were and even though I have yet to even visit, the region intrigues me. This incredible post just verifies in me the feeling that I could tuck into those mountains and be completely at home, never needing to leave. Written so vividly that I can smell the hunters morning fires and feel the leaves crunching under my feet. Thanks so much for taking us along on your Appalachian fall.

  • Reply
    Nancy Wigmore
    October 2, 2010 at 8:47 am

    Thanks for sharing this Tipper! Although I grew up on the coast of North Carolina, I love the mountains. I could in my minds eye see the fall colors, smell the scent of apples, feel the cool mountain breezes, Oh how my heart aches to once again retreat to the mountains and take it all in. Thanks again for sharing this beautiful descrition of our beloved mountain region. Have a wonderfully blessed October day!

  • Reply
    kat
    October 2, 2010 at 8:35 am

    Love the fall time. Enjoyed reading the story.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    October 2, 2010 at 8:32 am

    Thanks to each and every one of you who responded to my guest blog which Tipper so kindly presented. I write for a living, but occasionally it’s a joy just to share some thoughts which come from the heart, touch a subject near and dear to me, and go to readers whom I know share my love of the subject matter.
    Each and every one of you, in some way or the other, lifted my spirits. As I told Miss Ann (my wife), a writer needs the occasional dose of good medicine, because for the most part the craft is a lonely one. My heartfelt thanks!!
    Now for a few specific comments.
    Kenneth O. Hoffman–I was fortunate enough to know Granville Calhoun, albeit not well, when I was a boy. He used to hold court in a rocking chair on the porch of the Calhoun Hotel (as it was then known). Also, his great grand niece, Gwen Franks, was a classmate.
    Ken and Lonnie–Any “way” I have with words, not to mention my penchant for using obscure ten-dollar ones from time to time, traces directly back to a 9th grade teacher at Swain High by the name of Thad DeHart. He gave students a list of hundreds of words, none of them commonplace, and insisted they learn them, know how to use them, and find them used somewhere in print. He was also one of two teachers who first planted a seed, one which took a long time to sprout, which led to me becoming a writer.
    Lyn–I think anyone closely attuned to earth’s rhythms is a bit sentimental in October. There’s just a sense of nostalgia and longing to the season. I’ve never been hugged by a lady bug, but I have applauded their consumption of aphids.
    Ethel–Kudos on choosing the word harbinger. Along with a synonym, augury, it’s a favorite of mine.
    Tulsa Jack–Loved your thoughts about squirrel hunting forebears afoot in the woods of October. All of us in the mountains should think about squirrel hunting predecessors, for it was the Overmountain Boys from the high country of what would become Tennessee a generation later who turned the tide in the American Revolution at the battles of Cowpens and Kings Mountain. They were, every last man of them, squirrel hunters. So were Daniel Boone and Davey Crockett, not to mention our country’s most celebrated citizen-soldier, Alvin York (also a Tennessee lad).
    As for my brother Don, what he didn’t say is that by the time these words appear he and his wife will be in western Montana, a part of the world which comes about as close as anywhere in the U. S., in my opinion, to matching the beauty of the southern Appalachians. Yet I know he won’t be completely happy until his hiking boots are making tracks on some remote mountain path (he’s covered every mile of every trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, some of them many times over, along with lots of off-trail miles, in the past two years). Just thinking about some of his treks makes me tired.
    Finally, Eva Nell, Kathryn, Garland,Sheryl, B. Ruth, Ethel, Mamabug, NCMountainwoman, Pat, Becky, Vickie, and indeed everyone, could I just hire you as a public relations team? There’s just one catch, the pay rate would be precisely the same as Tipper pays and what she earns. Seriously, I would urge all of you to keep that in mind, because what Tipper does is a grand labor of love, and I was honored to be able to support it in my small way with a guest blog. She tells me she is going to do an interview with me in her mountain writers series somewhere down the road, and I look forward to more sharing with you folks when that happens. Meanwhile, I hope you will visit my web site, http://www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com, and sign up to receive my free monthly e-newsletter. It is comprised of a mountain boy’s meanderings but always includes some recipes along with thoughts for the month at hand.
    Now, enjoy October, and it looks like the next few days will see the month at its fair weather finest.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    kenneth o. hoffman
    October 1, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    tipper: wow you just keep um coming.an ode to october by jim casada was a great piece. my favorite two articles by john parris,were granville calhoun recalls hazel creek logging,and the 33 pound sapphire found at the corundum hill mine. jim is a swell writer.and makes me think of all the stories my dad told me as a lad. he brought every thing he could out west. the trees ,the plants, the gardens, the customs and yes the drawl. when i read great writing like this its takes me back . god bless you all for what you do. k.o.h

  • Reply
    Ken
    October 1, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    Tipper,
    Great theme for October to have a
    guest like Jim Casada to share his
    input on our mountains and folks
    folks who live here. He does have a way with words and captures the
    pulse of our region very well. Thank you Jim. I love the cooling
    down from the long hot summer we’re coming out of and ‘o’ that
    October Moon…Ken

  • Reply
    lynn legge
    October 1, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    what a beautiful description.. i could actually see the things described.. fall is my favorite time of year.. but also makes me very sentimental… thank you for sharing this article with us.. i am going to subscribe to the newsletter.
    big ladybug hugs
    lynn

  • Reply
    Becky
    October 1, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Beautifully written by Jim and John!
    Thanks for sharing and reminding me of many of the reasons I love October.

  • Reply
    Pat in east TN
    October 1, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    I totally enjoyed his “Ode”. Thanks for having him as your guest today.

  • Reply
    vickie
    October 1, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Such a perfect discription of October. I could picture the scenes in the my mind as the words reminded me of all the bounties Fall as to offer.
    vickie

  • Reply
    mamabug
    October 1, 2010 at 11:53 am

    It couldn’t have been summed up any better. It’s got my heart yearning ever more to be in the mountains right now. What a wonderful ode!

  • Reply
    Ethel
    October 1, 2010 at 10:56 am

    I have always dreaded fall as the harbinger of winter. Mr. Casada’s beautiful, lyrical words reminded me of the beauty of this closing down time of the year. What a wonderful talent, thank you both!

  • Reply
    NCMountainwoman
    October 1, 2010 at 10:14 am

    I very much enjoyed Jim’s October reflections. Brings back a lot of memories and lifts my spirits. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    October 1, 2010 at 9:59 am

    It sounds like an idealistic month. My two most favorite times of year are Fall and Spring. They both have the beautiful colors, smells, and are just perfect for being outdoors.
    Sheryl

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    October 1, 2010 at 9:56 am

    Thanks Tipper and thank you Jim for your “Ode to Fall”…
    I am actually peeking at this blog while readying myself for a trip up into the hills…for the yearly Dollywood Gospel and Harvest Celebration…This post just makes me want to go even more…
    and then thru the mountains into the old stomping grounds of my family…

  • Reply
    Lonnie L. Dockery
    October 1, 2010 at 9:32 am

    Sounds like John Parris to me!! Makes me want to dig out “These Storied Mountains” and read ’em all again. There WAS that part about a “gibbous fullness” and a “benison of venison”! Jim must have learned those words at Vanderbilt!!
    Great post!

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    October 1, 2010 at 9:22 am

    Aw, doggone it, Jim, there you go again – you’ve made my case of Blue Ridge Mountain Blues even worse than it already was. You’ve made me even more lonely during these traveling days for mountain ways, and got me fretting even more to be back with My Mountains, My People.
    Well, come another week and my bags will be packed to travel and I’ll be scratching gravel for that Blue Ridge far away.
    Love this tribute in the style of John Parris. Wish I could write like my big brother.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    October 1, 2010 at 9:18 am

    Tipper, thank you for this.

  • Reply
    Tulsa Jack
    October 1, 2010 at 9:14 am

    What a charming reminiscence! Great-great grandfather grew up in the Appalachians of Eastern Tennessee. Thanks to you we see him now, stalking through the woods with his brothers, squirrel rifles poised under October’s golden orange “hunter’s moon.”

  • Reply
    kathryn magendie
    October 1, 2010 at 8:04 am

    Like it? I loved it; adored it! This made my morning brighter as a sit looking out over the mountains, fall breezes falling in — wonderful!

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, Ph.D.
    October 1, 2010 at 7:18 am

    I knew October was going to be splendid! Your presentation of Jim Casada’s “Ode” just put the finishing touch on the VERY FIRST DAY! Thanks. Eva Nell

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