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Will you join me in welcoming
The robin’s return to West Virginia.
It is a sign of winter ending
That thrills and warms the heart within ya.

Legend tells us the old, old story
Of why your breast is red.
They say you comforted my Savior
There on Calvary when His precious blood was shed.

Your return with all your feathered friends
Is a delightful sight to see.
Welcome to our lawn and garden,
Feel free to roost and nest in the apple tree.

I know that some day, I too, will fly away
On wings just like you,
To a place of eternal rest
There beyond the sky so blue.
by Wilford N. Bird

My friend, Darren Porter of Kentucky writes that the red-winged blackbird has returned to his area. When he came in from work, there they were chattering away and munching at the front feeders. He says that it has to be an early sign of spring, and if they are heading north, they may want to reconsider—at least for awhile.

The weather is sort of unsettled yet. We may get some of the winter storm that is threatening our southern states, with as much as 16-18 inches of snow predicted to fall in the Charlottesville area where our adopted son Scott lives on Buck Island. Winter is not through with us yet.

It has been a very long winter, sort of like the old-fashioned winters we endured as a kid. Makes a person long for spring, and the early spring warm weather days when you can almost see the buds on the trees unfurling, and crocuses and snowdrops peeping through the warming soil.

The cold, frozen ground and frigid air blur away, and the mind drifts to springtime joys and warm, sunshiny days. Hunting morels is one of the delights of spring, and sometimes they appear as early as the end of March. Scouring through the brown leaves and early woodland shoots, it is exciting to spy one of the elusive mushrooms.

Some folks say they like to hunt them, but they don’t eat them. What a mistake! These little fellows are gourmet fare, and absolutely delicious. Rolled in flour and pan fried in a little oil, or sautéed in butter, there is no better eating. We can also look forward to another West Virginia delicacy—ramps. A person either loves them or hates them, but our family fits in the former category.

On a cold, dreary day such as this, I like to think about camping out on a trout stream. Oh, not right now, but when the weather gets warm. I can see the trout lilies blooming along the river, and smell the wood smoke from the campfire. I like to go when the violets are blooming along the ditch line and up on the banks where the clear streams of water pour over the steep rocks. We have found Jack-in-the-pulpits blooming in the rich soil along the river, and spotted trilliums blooming in abundance.

The Lord has made such an abundance of natural beauty for us to enjoy that it warms our hearts even in thinking about it. We’ve always got something to look forward to, even on a cold winter day! As soon as the ground thaws, it is time to dig sassafras roots. They need to be dug before the sap rises in the tree. Making the tea is a simple procedure. The roots have to be cut into small chunks (so as to fit in a pot) scrubbed with a stiff brush to remove all the soil and sand, and then placed in a large cooker. Add cold water, and simmer until it reaches the desired strength. I used to pour off the first boiling or two of water (thinking it was bitter) but I have found that this is not necessary.

I found a recipe for sassafras jelly, although I confess that I have never tried it. (We drink the sassafras tea too quickly!) It takes three cups of strong sassafras tea, and two and half cups sugar. Bring to a strong boil. Add one tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice and one package of powdered pectin. Boil for five minutes and can in hot jars as usual.

There is a recipe for sassafras candy that sounds even better. Make a very strong tea with sassafras root—it must be deep red-brown and full flavored. It takes two cups sassafras bark or root and six cups of water. You need a quart of tea. Strain out the pieces of bark; add four cups sugar, one and one half cups light corn syrup, and one tablespoon butter or margarine. Cook to hard crack stage (300-310 degrees on candy thermometer.) Pour out on a well-buttered cookie sheet and crack in pieces.

I intend to make this as soon as Criss digs the sassafras. I remember making Coltsfoot cough drops using a similar recipe when we were camping on Williams River and the Coltsfoot leaves were abundant. There are so many edible wild foods in our West Virginia woods that are simply ours for the gathering. We should be so thankful for what the Lord has provided.

I started this column with the intention of cheering up those who are winter-weary and suffering from cabin fever—and longing for spring, and I have succeeded in cheering up myself. We have so much to look forward to—and a God in heaven who loves and cares for us in every season.

To those who have expressed concern about Willie, our lost dog: We have never found him, or any trace of him. That is the hard part, because you can’t put a closure on it. Patty says that sometimes she hears a noise on the deck and goes to the door to see if it is Willie come home.

Some folks might think it is ridiculous to carry on so about a dog, and I asked Criss if he thought it was wrong to pray for a dog. (He didn’t.) Matthew 10-29 says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.” Verse 31- “Fear not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.”

That tells me of the tender care that God has for the animals, and much, much more care that He has for us. We are a blessed people.

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Alyce Faye Bragg

She writes the "News From the Hills" column. Born and raised in the country, and still lives on the same farm where she was raised. Has a sincere love for nature and the beauty of the hills. Began writing in 1981 & currently has three books published. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer