Appalachia

October in Appalachia

October in Appalachia

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.

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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

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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

I hope you enjoyed Jim’s take on the month of October as much as I did-leave him a comment and I’ll make sure he reads it.

Tipper

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24 Comments

  • Reply
    Sherry Thacker
    June 23, 2020 at 1:15 pm

    I love reading your blog. I was born in the Shenandoah but I have lived in E. TN. for 52 years and it is now my home and I wouldn’t move back to where I was born. I love learning all I can about the mountains. I had never seen a coal mine till I came here and so many other things were new to me. I love the history of this place, Keep up the good work of writing and keeping the old memories alive. That is all some of us have anymore now that our families have gone on to their rewards.

  • Reply
    Susieq
    October 20, 2018 at 11:17 pm

    Sure did enjoy that delightful October fest .

  • Reply
    Michael Cass
    October 6, 2016 at 8:58 am

    Well done, Jim. Thanks, Tipper, for posting this.

  • Reply
    Linda
    October 6, 2016 at 12:03 am

    Loved Prof Casada’s October observations. This is my favorite month, too.

  • Reply
    Rev. RB
    October 5, 2016 at 9:49 pm

    Beautiful!!!
    Brought back so many memories. I could close my eyes and be right back there again.
    Wonderful experience.
    Ya’all have a great evening.
    Praying for those in the hurricane’s path, which has now (thank God) seemed to have swerved away from where I live and work.
    God bless.
    RB
    <><

  • Reply
    Dale Anderson
    October 5, 2016 at 9:39 pm

    John Parris was a classmate of my Mother’s. I was privileged to meet him one time and have all of his books I think with one of them personally autographe d. Enjoy reading them over again to get my mountain fix.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    October 5, 2016 at 5:55 pm

    John Parris wrote several interesting articles and books but like many of his genre he would never let the truth get in the way of a good story. In one article he wrote about the WNC Wagon Train he referred to a humble mountain home in which I was comfortably raised as a “Tar paper shack”. My father had built this home by hand while working a full time job and raised four children in it. While it may not have been up to Mr. Parris’ standards it was a well built home which served our family well. I share the benedicere of Jim’s artistic use of the English Language and his ability to paint such clear pictures that reside in so many of our memories who were fortunate enough to be raised in our mountains. I see a lot of the influence of Thad Dehart a cousin of ours who taught English at Swain County High School.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 5, 2016 at 5:26 pm

    Tipper – I believe Chuck Howell’s great grandmother to be Sarah Elizabeth Hughes, married first to Avery Bradley, then to Major Wiley Parris. Major was his name not his rank although he served in the Confederate Army for a while. He was discharged early because of his age. I haven’t found a connection with John Parris but I’m not done yet either.

  • Reply
    Tamela
    October 5, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    A wonderful example of words taking the reader on a delighftul excursion

  • Reply
    Charline
    October 5, 2016 at 3:46 pm

    This reads like the tang in the crisp October air. My favorite line might be “to give a hot cathead biscuit a college education” – though I love the whole cloth of the piece. Thank you.

  • Reply
    anita griffith
    October 5, 2016 at 2:24 pm

    I love being in the woods in Oct.with gun or bow.I love the sights and sounds this time of year.The harvest of game is not as important as it use to be.Well maybe grouse is.
    lg

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    October 5, 2016 at 1:01 pm

    Tipper,
    and Jim, I can relate to just about every thing Jim wrote. It is a shame that most do not take the time to reflect on their place in world during the seasons.
    It seems to be only thoughts of October and Halloween, Fall chore of raking leaves and this year November elections.
    Here’s hoping our tribute to October carries us to Thanksgiving, memories with traditions that will take us to Christmas with blessings!
    Thanks Tipper
    Jim you did it again, I loved your tribute to October! You are a John Parris kind of guy, I’m fond of as well!
    Tipper love the pictures and thanks for bringing Jim’s October tribute to us!

  • Reply
    TimMc
    October 5, 2016 at 12:18 pm

    I don’t believe any one could describe it better..

  • Reply
    Ken
    October 5, 2016 at 11:45 am

    Tipper,
    You shore picked a good ‘un here. I guess it was you who introduced me to Jim and his brother Don. Jim once told me he was a “recovering professor” but he hasn’t lost that ability with words. I’m proud to call Jim a friend. He grew up and experienced a lot of the things I knew and I love his Newsletter. In it, he always talks about his Grandpa Joe, my favorite part.
    Thank you for sharing this Smoky Mountain treat today…Ken

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    October 5, 2016 at 11:03 am

    Wonderful! I love Fall!

  • Reply
    Rooney Floyd
    October 5, 2016 at 10:55 am

    October has always been my favorite time of year. Jim’s masterfully written ode helps me understand why. When are we going to get to read Miss Cindy’s story, “Of the Mountains”?

  • Reply
    Leslie Haynie
    October 5, 2016 at 10:47 am

    Oh, that was lovely to read.

  • Reply
    Chuck Howell
    October 5, 2016 at 10:29 am

    I’m wondering if John Parris was related to my Great Grandmother who is buried in the Bradley Cemetery in the Smokey Mountain Park. She was a Hughes, married a Bradley, perhaps later married a Parris. Her gravestone reads Sarah Parris. I’m looking forward to reading John Parris soon.
    Thank you Tipper,
    Chuck Howell

  • Reply
    Eleanor Loos
    October 5, 2016 at 10:26 am

    What a delightful description of a beautiful month. Here in Ohio this month of October is also highly esteemed as a lovely time …. pleasantly cool with intervals of a forgotten summertime. And Mr. Carsada’s vocabulary is provocative, too. “The benison of fresh venison” ??? At 78 years of age I’d never heard the word “benison” …. thanks for teaching me something new and bringing me much enjoyment to read. This is a keeper. Eleanor Loos

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    October 5, 2016 at 9:51 am

    Beautiful! Thank you, Tipper and Jim Casada!

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    October 5, 2016 at 8:14 am

    It is amazing how we can go along day by day and pass by the beauty right in front of our noses. I have promised myself that I will go outside at least once a day to just breathe and take in all of the sights, sounds and smells of October,
    It really is a special time of the year.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    October 5, 2016 at 8:07 am

    All that Mr. Casada says is why it is tempting to call October in the mountains my favorite time and place. Right now it is. But then there is April.
    In my family, three of us had birthdays in mid-October which added extra to an already blessed month. Thirty-one days isjust notlong enough.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    October 5, 2016 at 7:55 am

    What a visual description. thank you!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 5, 2016 at 6:35 am

    Yes, it’s all of that and more! Thank you, Jim, as always you have the verbal ability to say it all and have the last word too!
    It’s been a little cooler the last few days and gloriously cooler at night. This is the mountains in full glory. Sweet sleep at night.
    I love that term ” of the mountains” I wrote a story with that title once. It describes me and my family so well.
    There is a peace to be had here that is beyond understanding!

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