You’ve probably heard it said, that ‘the world is a kaleidoscope of color? Well I have, and it’s time to give it some thought.
The world is filled with simply amazing treasures at every stage but nothing quite like the impressive colors a kid sees at the first peek at his new and expanding universe. Kaleidoscopes are a tube-of-a-ma-jig that has mirrors and loose pieces of glass or plastic inside at one end so that you see many different patterns, designs and colors when you turn the tube while looking through the other end. Definitions of Kaleidoscope are No. 1, “an ever changing pattern or scene; No. 2, “a mixture of many different designs and colors.”
For me it began on Aug. 14, 1933, when I first raised the tube to my eye and discovered the magnificent expanse that lay beyond my first awkward and halting step, the first color, the first scenes and designs uncovered by the magic of light. There before me lay remote mountain cabins scattered about along back roads, amongst timbered lands, canyons and ridgelines, the evidence of a once industrious society now well into the last stages of decay.
Modern industrialization was in the process of changing the economic/social structure of America and even before the Great Depression of the 20s and 30s the rural agrarian area that identified my society was losing its underpinnings; The Great Depression just came along and pushed it over the edge; like wasps in autumn their young’uns hatched, the cycle completed, the backwoods culture with nothing left worth defending abandoned the nest and drifted away on whispering breezes of change leaving behind plows to rust in fallow fields, jonquils to testify of defeated dreams and a straggling of rose gardens to mourn the passing of the hands which placed them there, the culture migrating out and away to anyplace it might drive a nail or swing a hammer.
But life was new and even a decaying universe has its marvels, mysteries and discoveries. Long before my father and his father before him, sections of the rock strewn ridge tops had been cleared of timber for cultivation, the stone loaded onto horse drawn sleds or wagons and hauled to the edge of the clearing where they were made into bordering rock fences.
My first look into the kaleidoscope of life found a scene of abandonment, fields lying fallow, old automobile parts, chasses, fenders transmission and wheels lay about, along with the skeletal remains of general haul (spring wagons) old wooden hubs and spokes rotting away from the rusting metal rim and hoops that held the wheels together. Witness to an even more remote history lay at the point of a horse drawn turning plow; from within the up-turned soil a rusted civil war era bayonet, an occasional lead nugget or bar for making shot, and more commonly an ox shoe, one supposes because oxen were once used as draft animals, to skid logs, to pull haul wagons and to plow.
At the beginning my magical little tube revealed only the universe within the immediate vicinity of upper White Water road from the top of Cherry Mountain to where it intersects with the Kimes Mountain/Rudy road. When I arrived on the scene in 1933, a house yet stood at the intersection and the land west was open field but no longer under cultivation. The homestead had belonged to my mothers kin, on her mothers side but had lived out its time and now lay abandoned and silent, only a weathered board house, a hand dug well now caving away, and a single row of currants from an ancient garden to testify of yesterdays labor.
Government reforestation programs have now erased any sign of human habit along the ridge, but even before timber and vegetation had begun to reclaim which had been lost to the ax and to the plow. Within the field proper, scattered thickets of wild persimmon had taken hold, an occasional cedar shrub could be seen; small pockets of dense vines offered shelter for bird, wasps and cottontail rabbits.
New growth sapling timber crept in from the adjacent forest to cover the rock fences, and scattered along inside edge of the clearing, sun loving wild grape vines climbed to timbered canopies where inviting clusters of its succulent fruit dangled high above and just beyond the reach of a young envious hand. From the cultivates perimeter a mix of Indian Currant (buck brush) briers and berry vines formed a slow moving but ever advancing tide of vegetation.
Looking down the kaleidoscope of time, circa 1933, the primitive road bordering the outside of the rock fence had been reduced to little more than a wagon trail, replaced by a more convenient and direct “modern” dirt road atop the ridge which ran the length of the open field.
At the lower, westerly end of the Nolan property where began a narrowing of the ridge sat my Grandfather Tom La Rue’s homestead overlooking the south fork headwater of Whitewater Creek. The old Whitewater road had come by just beyond Grandpa’s front porch and descended downward along the mountainside ‘til it came to the homestead of my Great Grand Father, Columbus Christopher La Rue established sometime in the late 1900’s. The alternate cut was to the back and continued along the ridge’s narrow spine through a dense grove of canopied chinquapin to another cleared area sloping down to the lesser canyon of Whitewater Creek, North. Farther on, the ridge ended at gigantic deposit of clay called Cherry Mountain, named perhaps for wild cherry trees growing in the area. It also marked the boundary between the communities of Hopewell and Whitewater.
An apple and peach orchard grew adjacent to the west side of my grandfather’s house and immediately to the rear, a fruit cellar. Beyond that was a long shallow wet weather bog, next the road and across the roadway stood a small cabin, the place of my birth. When my grandparents sold to the government and moved off to Mountainburg, my parents moved into the vacated house and my Uncle John and Aunt Ruby La Rue moved into the cabin.
But fate had made us squatters, and our portion, government lodging so my father and Uncle John pooled their resources and purchased the Burkett place up on Rudy road, split the property even Steven, built homes of their own and set to farming, scavenging from the decay of yesterdays dream, harvesting the lands natural resources, working out, cutting timber, anything to eke out a living on rocky hard scrabble ground. The land itself offered wild huckleberries, blackberries, “polk salad” and dquirrel; wild honey was a significant food staple. In former times there had been deer and turkey but game animals had been hunted out during the hard times. There was also stories of people eating ‘ raccoon and possum but I was never a witness to it.
For the hill people good times were a long time in coming but with a mile and a quarter expansion of my own little cocoon, the kaleidoscope of life increased the color and design of my world exponentially. There were two thickets of Japanese Plum on the 20 acre plot where my father settled, one yellow, one red, a giant chinquapin tree just over the fence on my uncle john’s property, May apples with their sour jelly-like seedy fruit scattered about, medicinal sassafras, also rabbit tobacco an ancient medicinal herb, but used by would be adults as smoking tobacco. Love its aroma.
Close by the house, a small seep feeding into a large deposit of clay which kept it a favorite habitat for toads; well after the rains had come and gone and dust devils danced across dry fields, pockets of water filled with tadpoles remained in the low lying clay ditch. Late evenings when heat clouds built to the west the frogs set up a musical orchestration that could be heard a quarter mile away, and Across the roadway, a grove of wild persimmon which springtime blossoms drew swarms of June beetles, while its fruit in late autumn drew the attention of a hungry and adventurous young lad.
After moving to Burkett Ridge in the late 30s, bolstered by an increase of awareness and the companionship and support of fellow adventurers Cousin Alfred La Rue and my younger brother Billy, the free ranging “Musketeers” expanded their area of discovery to the caves of McCasilin Canyon, tributary to Clear Water Creek at Chester, to District #12, North, to Bald Knob ridge/ Elmore Canyon to the west, to District 88, South, down the back trails to the east and my Grandparents new place overlooking Mountainburg Valley.
The sojourn on the ridge covered 19 years from the time of my birth, to the time of my leaving. An amazing time of discovery undistracted by television, telephones and for the first years, without electricity. Mud shrimp in wet weather seeps, fireflies in the meadowlands, Bob Whites calling at twilight, cicada’s setting up a din on hot summer days and crickets filling the gathering darkness of late evening with a thousand plaintive mating calls; cold winter winds, like howling banshees shaking the cabin door, hoar frost growing like crops in the field, and grey wind sculptured skies filled with blackbird and crow; the world of yesterday, a world of amazing color and design.
No, I am not one to live in the past; the world today offers much. But now and then yesterday tugs at the heartstrings, a time of longing, a time of looking back to examine our history, our beginnings, to raise the tube to our eye and visit the community from whence we came, to look back over all the color and design captured within the magical kaleidoscope of time.