Appalachia Appalachia Through My Eyes

Appalachia Through My Eyes – Foot Logs

My life in appalachia - Foot Logs

I’m sure you know what a foot-log is, but last night I found out neither of my girls had a clue what the words meant.

Foot-logs can still be found around people’s houses and you’ll find them along the trails that criss-cross our national parks. But in the modern world we live in, foot-logs aren’t as common as they were in days gone by when folks walked most everywhere they went.

As I listened to the girls and their friends last night, I was disappointed in myself. I thought how in the world do my children not know what a foot log is? I felt slightly better when their friend from down the road didn’t know either. His Daddy grew up just like I did and somehow didn’t manage to convey what a foot-log was to him-so I wasn’t alone. I was heartened when the term was explained by one of their other friends.

I always enjoy listening to the group of young people make music, singing the songs passed on by their elders, yet hearing them discuss part of their common heritage made last night’s jam session seem especially nice.

And just in case you don’t know what a foot-log is Blind Pig reader B. Ruth explains it very well: “Of course the footlog you mean is a log of sorts to help you across the branch, creek, stream to keep from getting your britchey legs wet.”

Tipper

Appalachia Through My Eyes – A series of photographs from my life in Southern Appalachia.

 

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36 Comments

  • Reply
    Susie Swanson
    August 18, 2016 at 11:06 am

    I love this post tipper. i’m very familiar with a Foot-Log since we lived across the creek most of my childhood. Daddy kept one cause it was the only way we could get out. I can’t count how many foot-logs he had to build. Every time it came a big gully washer it’d wash it away. I’ll never forget my first day of high school and how I had to miss it cause it’d had came a big rain and washed the foot-log away that night. We couldn’t get out to catch the bus. lol Thanks for the great post.

  • Reply
    Becky
    September 8, 2012 at 9:47 am

    I have got to go find a creek to cross so I can explain to my youngest what a foot log is!!!

  • Reply
    Judith
    August 17, 2012 at 11:14 am

    Hey All, My husband was telling the grandkids about walking a foot log to get to school and to his house both in Lyletown, Ky. When he finished the story about he and his 2 brothers and sister and their daily use of the footlogs the seven year old looked at me and said “did he grow up in the Little House on the Prarie days?” He pulls their legs so often with his stories that they look to me for verification of fact, fiction,or both. Judith

  • Reply
    teresa atkinson
    August 14, 2012 at 8:42 am

    Hey tipper – been MIA myself here. Foot Logs are a think of my current world – Several on the Crusty Old Guy’s deer property. Actually I crossed the crick on a foot log the very first time he took me there.
    And my mama says “britchy legs” all the time.
    Love.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    August 11, 2012 at 9:31 pm

    Tipper, after further consideration and remembrances, I’ve sent you a separate e-mail with some suggested words to append here and/or on a subsequent post.
    This comes from someone who has put in right at 3000 miles of walking both on and well off trail in the Smokies in the last five years. That doesn’t make me any more expert than anyone else, but I’ve put in enough time at a relatively mature age, taken some whacks, and have enough experience to warrant at least a bit of consideration by others – especially youngsters like Chatter, Chitter and their friends whose energy frequently exceeds their sense (as they say, been there, done that).
    Bill Burnett is exactly right where he noted that there is a serious difference between a well-hewn flat topped foot log (and especially when a rough-surfaced rock/asphalt or similar mixture is adhered to the top) and a tree which spans a stream. My experience-based advice is simple:
    DO NOT use a tree trunk that has just happened to fall across a stream as a foot log – especially if it is several feet above an energetic mountain stream with the typical rocky structure – or if you are attempting to walk over a pool of relatively still water in cold weather – regardless of the log’s height above the water, particularly if you’re a good ways from warmth and dry clothing.
    Personally, even on dry ground, I usually avoid stepping on tree trunks. There are occasions when I do use them – such as when I walked across a large (about 3 ft diameter) old hemlock this past February which spanned across a tangle of rhododendron and dog hobble down below, giving me about 30 feet of relatively unrestrained travel after crawling, climbing, and wiggling my way for about an hour and a half through the stuff. I did give thought to what might happen if I slipped off, and decided that the brush was so thick below me that all I’d end up with was wounded pride and a few more scrapes – which I was getting aplenty just from climbing through the rhododendron anyway.
    But I never step on downed pines or any tree with its bark gone. For that matter, I never step on the water diversion logs that are used on maintained trails to reduce erosion (typically made from treated lumber or locust). They can be as slick as the bear s*#t which sometimes bespeckles mountain trails.
    Don’t mean to be preachy do-gooder here, but falls are a leading cause of accidental death. Walking on slick logs is a great way to raise that statistic.

  • Reply
    MissFifi
    August 11, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    May have walked on some as a child, but just called it a log. Foot Log has some meaning to it 🙂

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    August 11, 2012 at 8:02 pm

    There were “placed” footlogs and “fallen” footlogs in my community of Choestoe. The placed ones were huge logs, hewn flat on one side, deliberately cut to set in place across a stream at a strategic crossing spot. These usually had a handrail built onto one side of the log, and the passage to the other side of the stream was frequently used for foot traffic by many in the community. The “fallen” footlogs, on the other hand, would be made by trees that happened to fall across a stream (maybe in a storm). If these were in strategic and useful places, someone with an axe or saw might saw the limbs off it so that it could more eaisly be used as a foot passage across the stream. We also had a few built, narrow “swinging” bridges. I remember one across Nottely River from the Georgia Mountain Experiment Station to the Spiva Place on the west side of the river. When we had “field days” at the Experiment Station, mischievous boys liked to entice girls to get on the swinging bridge, they would hurry across and then start the bridge to swaying, just to hear us yell and protest. Those were the days–footlogs and short-cuts, and the few swinging bridges and how sometiems their movement made your stomach queasy.

  • Reply
    Tipper
    August 11, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    Susie-thank you for the comment! I don’t have any personal experience with digging potatoes according to the signs-but I found some info here: http://thelibrary.org/lochist/periodicals/bittersweet/sp81f.htm and here: http://ourgardengang.tripod.com/moonplanting.htm
    Hope this helps!
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia
    http://www.blindpigandtheacorn.com

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    August 11, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    Actually I have crossed creeks on trees placed by nature but when I think of a “Footlog” I think of a log with the top hewn flat specifically placed for foot travel, the more user friendly even have handrails. I can testify that preparing, placing and anchoring a good footlog is hard work when done properly.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    August 11, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    And a great thing it is to find

  • Reply
    susie
    August 11, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    i sure enjoy your site, but wondered if you could tell me when to dig potatoes according to moon phases?thanks.

  • Reply
    Ken
    August 11, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    Tipper,
    For years when I was growing up
    we had a footlog across the
    branch. Daddy put two big ole
    square chestnut beams across and
    fastened the ends into the ground.
    They didn’t even move when the
    creek got up and spewed over it.
    That thing sure made it nice when
    you had to go to the garden, I
    have one today…Ken

  • Reply
    Mark Selby
    August 11, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    Well, now. I didn’t realize it until I read it here, but I do say “britchey.” Yes, I says britches, too, but britchey legs sounds so natural that I didn’t realize I said it. Hmmmm. Thanks for initiating another insight to myself.

  • Reply
    anne
    August 11, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    Most likely anyone who knows what a foot log is just had to grow up ‘out in the country’ or up in the hills or mountains.
    Even though a great number of people are escaping the cities and towns to live out from town, a majority of them don’t step foot away from their mowed and landscaped lawns….so they wouldn’t come across the ole foot logs stretching across the streams, creeks, and branches.
    In Mississippi, where my husband grew up, there were all of the above on their property or on un-posted land where they all hunted, fished, and when young, played and explored all day until dusk.
    Being a very citied girl, my husband to be got quite a kick out of taking me to the ‘wilds’ of the woods to try to entice me to learn to go fishng where there were nor roads to the lakes, to learn to shoot a gun, eventually hunt for squirrels (wouldn’t agree to hunt deer).
    The first time we came upon a pretty good width creek, I was horrified to learn that he thought I was going to nimbly step across the big ole logs to the other side, just like he had done..Let’s say that I balked. I was rooted to the spot, sure that one step would end me drenched after slipping off into that cold water, even though it wasn’t 6 inches deep.
    After declaring that I was ready to back to the house rathe than step on those logs,I learned that he was a gentlemen, because he hopped right back across, took my arm in a firm grip, and stepped into the creek so that he could steady this scaredy cat across..still my ‘steadier’ after 45 yrs.
    My question as we came upon lots of different sizes and manner of foot logs over the years was…just how did they get there?
    Some surely were a result of storms blowing trees or limbs falling down in just the right pattern across the water, and many more were cut by hand and laid there by people from long ago, giving them safe crossing whether walking from one home or community to another, or out hunting or fishing.
    His dad, nearly ninety, tells of the foot bridges,logs being their best way to town in his youth, saving long detours.
    It is hard for us to imagine that their only means of getting Anywhere back in his early days was by foot!!
    *We have seen foot logs across the creeks of the mountain areas around Hayesville when vacationing..markers from the past.
    Thanx, Tipper, for a trip back…

  • Reply
    Gorges Smythe
    August 11, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    I grew up on a hilltop, so we never deliberately put any in place. However, out in the woods, I’ve used many a one that nature placed for me.

  • Reply
    Mary Shipman
    August 11, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    Still around here and there in our Ozark hills too.

  • Reply
    Tim Hassell
    August 11, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    There was a foot log across the branch that ran between the garden and the barn, so we crossed it many times in a day. This was all just beyond the “gap” that kept the cows from coming in the yard.

  • Reply
    dolores barton
    August 11, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    I had forgotten about that term; I remember well that I was camping with a group of second graders when on a hike in the month of March at Stokes State Forest, I was the one who slipped off the ‘footlog’ and fell into the creek. Of course, my kids had a good laugh, but I had a very wet butt until we returned to the cabin. Thanks for the good reminder.

  • Reply
    Sandy
    August 11, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    Now that I think about it there were a lot of footlogs involved in getting around when I was a kid. Seems everyone lived across one creek or another. But the one I don’t have to try to remember is the one that went across the creek to our cow’s barn when I was about 8 or 9 years old. It was my job to feed the cow after school and while it was a deep creek and the fall off that log probably would have broken your neck when the creek was low, a good rain storm would bring everything from the head of the hollow down the creek. The water would be so swift and muddy and at times it would get my feet wet even on the log. But the cow had to be fed so off I went. I wonder if CPS would let someone send a child across that footlog now. I have heard that what don’t kill you makes you stronger.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 11, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    Tipper, it’s such a common word to me I would never think of needing to explain it. I am surprised that the girls didn’t pick it up along the way.
    I guess foot logs are going away like so many other of the old ways.

  • Reply
    B F
    August 11, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    tipper you are at it again!
    yes indeed i remember a foot log ,in fact we had one when we were living”down on the creek”
    had to cross that old foot log many a time when a storm was coming to get buckets of water because sometimes the water would go over the log and we might run out of water
    no such thing as water inside ,it had to be carried inside
    and no,i miss a lot of things but i certainly dont miss that job
    we had running water but we had to run to get it
    have a good one

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    August 11, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    I’ve walked across every footlog there is in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I’ve never stopped to count them, but I’d guess the count to be 50 or 60. The park service maintenance crews do a fine job with these, by the way.
    The creek that has the most footlogs has to be the Caldwell Fork over in Cataloochee, which must have around a dozen.
    Some of these footlogs are maybe as long as 40 feet. There’ve been a few times in winter when I had serious reservations about crossing them on account of ice and snow on the log. The hand rails are not the sort of thing you’d want to put a lot of weight on.
    I must say, though, that I’ve never shinnied across a branch by straddling a log that had fallen across it, like someone Tipper knows did once – with great pride.
    But you know the Biblical admonition that pride goeth before a fall. Well, Tipper’s friend can vouch for the accuracy of that, as her second attempt ended up in …. an intimate visit with what had prophetically been named as Wet Woman Branch by her husband.

  • Reply
    Harold Ammons
    August 11, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    r & d: Footlogs are related to rope swings and Pole Vaulting :=)

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    August 11, 2012 at 11:56 am

    I have walked on more than a few footlogs and slipped on more than a few, also. When they have been down for a while, they get a coating of an algae-like material and get REAL slick!!

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    August 11, 2012 at 11:51 am

    loved foot logs — as a child you thought they were so very high and it was a perilous journey to cross. I was always amazed at how smooth they were from the constant back and forth. Good Memory Today! Thanks!

  • Reply
    Wanda
    August 11, 2012 at 11:50 am

    I remember the prettiest little brown gravel bottomed creek on a farm Daddy rented for corn & cotton. It was deeply shaded & had a “foot log” about six feet above the creek. I had one of my first experiences with an electric fence near the foot log.

  • Reply
    Bradley
    August 11, 2012 at 11:39 am

    Remember that song “Little Brown Jug?” That hickory log in that song I’ll bet was a foot log. You know the part about “Me and my wife and a bob tailed dog crossed the creek on a hickory log.”

  • Reply
    Ed Myers
    August 11, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Like saltlick and many other unobtrusively direct, unambiguous southern mountain phrases, “footlog” is what it is.
    Crossing them can sometimes be an accomplishment, but better than accomplishing squishy boots, wet socks and pants and missed opportunities.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    August 11, 2012 at 11:29 am

    Tipper–I’m dismayed that Chitter and Chatter didn’t know what a footlog was, although I also know beyond doubt that they’ve laid feet on many a one. In fact, they crossed a footlog (over Juneywhank Branch) on the day of Daddy’s funeral when a group of us trekked to his old boyhood home.
    Mind you, there are foot logs and then there are just logs across a branch or creek. A fallen log crossing a creek can seem to offer dry passage, but one which has lost its bark can be slick as a mole’s behind, especially if wet. Or get Don to tell you about logs, spousal crossings of streams, and “Wet Woman Branch,” although if he is wise he’ll do it when Susan isn’t around.
    What really jumps out at me here is that those of us who are a wee bit long in the tooth, sparse of hackle, and maybe inclined to verbosity just a tad, take a lot of old words and ways for granted. Just because something seems to us as common as pig tracks around a corn crib doesn’t mean it is necessarily so for younger generations.
    In my view, that is one of the great values of your blog–you remind those less familiar with some of these things about our folklore while simultaneously resurrecting grand memories in those of who are.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    quinn
    August 11, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Foot log? Well, the first familiar thing my mind jumped to was “board foot” – a lumber measurement of anything equivalent to 1’x1’x1″. The next “foot log” I thought of was what I put in my woodstove. People laugh at my woodpile of such short stovewood, and I suppose it does look kind of miniature, but my tiny stove heats my tiny house just fine 🙂
    Never heard the foot log expression for a log across a stream; just said “there’s a log across the stream up a ways. Or at least, there was the last time I was up that way.” The disclaimer at the end is always a good idea 😉

  • Reply
    Brian Blake
    August 11, 2012 at 11:17 am

    Hadn’t heard of “foot logs” before, but it’s certainly a useful term.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    August 11, 2012 at 10:49 am

    Some of my fondest memories were foot logs. By far the most pleasant memory would be walking across the numerous foot logs that crossed the Pinnacle Creek. Usually one side was flattened to make the crossing safer. The sound of the rustling water and the experience was unforgettable.
    Until the age of 9, I lived in a coal camp. I was very enterprising, and made my own foot log across a creek at 7 years of age. I shared this foot log with the other children in the Coal Camp. Unfortunately, there was a big nail which caught me in the left leg as my rickety foot log plunged into the creek. Dad was called from the coal mine tipple, and he took me to the company doctor who promptly stitched it up without anesthesia. Ouch! Coal Camps could be dangerous places for children to play, but they were also a good place to learn survival skills.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 11, 2012 at 10:05 am

    add r & d where needed

  • Reply
    Tim Mc
    August 11, 2012 at 10:04 am

    Back in the day I did a little coon hunting and a foot log was a welcome site, when your dogs were treed on the other side of the creek.. and the only way across was to walk a mile back down or up the creek to the shallow part so you could wade across.. then walk back another mile to where the dogs were…Makes me tired now just thinking about it.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 11, 2012 at 10:03 am

    Yeah I know what a footlog is, but if your girls didn’t, I’m sure that many of your readers don’t either. You post here doesn’t explain it in detail. If this is a tease, you are going to be successful. You should have save it for an Appalachian Vocabulary Quiz.

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    August 11, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Tipper,
    We definately had a footlog with us on our trip….A footlog can also mean a higher power, or friend to help you across a dangerous spance…Of course the footlog you mean is a log of sorts to help you across the branch, creek, stream to keep from getting your britchey legs wet…LOL Thanks Tipper loved your post.

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