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Sunlight is streaming down on hills that have been covered with snow for so long, lifting the spirits and making glad the heart. It is amazing how quickly the snow melts away, leaving the meadows basking in the sun. There is not a cloud in the blue sky, and this morning a songbird was trilling his praise for the day.

We have endured such a hard winter that some of our southern friends were beginning to make jokes about it. I received a poem from my sweet cousin Frank (Bobby) Samples who spends his winters in Florida. No wonder he can gloat—he once lived in Michigan.

Here is his own original poem:
Snow is a blessing that covers the ground.
It’s a gift of pure white that muffles all sound.
It hides the brown grass and winter’s worst sights,
And creates gold halos around all the lights.

Snow makes a hearth a great place to retire
With a thick, cozy blanket right next to the fire.
We gratefully think of the four sturdy walls,
That shelters us safely when wintertime calls.

So those memories linger as I watch the TV
And view the long winters that I used to see.
I snicker a little as I head to the pool,
For the sunshine is hot and I need to get cool.

As if that wasn’t enough, Binky Mooney emails from Oklahoma. “It’s 76 again today. When will winter arrive? I’m tired of sweating and changing clothes two or three times a day.” I wish I could throw these two birds headlong into a snow bank!

We have lots of things to cheer us. Marion Harless of Kerens sent a hopeful snapshot of the view behind her house. The trees are brown and leafless, but bright green ramps are springing up through the rich soil. It makes my mouth water! Sandy Superstorm devastated many of her trees, including ten heirloom apple trees. Her “Maiden Blush” tree survived unscathed, and then a butternut tree fell on it!

I had an inquiry from a friend down south by the name of Georgia. I couldn’t believe that she asked what a ramp was. I guess that I just take for granted that everyone is familiar with this wild plant. One thing for sure—you either love them or hate them. We belong in the first category. A good mess of ramps washed down with some sassafras tea will prepare you for spring.

Ramps, sometimes called wild leeks, are a wild onion native to North America. They are one of the first wild edible wild plants to appear in the spring. They are so valued here in the mountains, that there are numerous festivals that highlight this garlicky herb. To me, they are synonymous with our camping trips to William’s River. They grow in abundance up and down the river there, and to drive up the river at evening time is an experience. The smoke from the campfires sends up one glorious incense to the lowly ramp.

There are several recipes for different ramp dishes, from simply frying them with potatoes, fixing them with bacon and scrambled eggs, to potato and ramp casseroles, potato and ramp soup, etc. They are pretty rank on your breath though, unless the whole party indulges in them, and then you can’t smell them. Pity the poor camper who doesn’t eat ramps when everyone else does!

Sadly, we have never found Willie or any trace of him. A friend in Charleston wrote, “I suspect your area is home to a pack of coyotes. They prey on pets because they are easy, and these predators are very smart. A light turned on, or any slight noise and they go silent. I’ve had them in my yard, three times in one night. My son ‘coon hunts and has to stay close to his dogs because a treed dog is like a dinner bell to them. He has also put lights on their collars as it is supposed to spook coyotes. They are smart, cunning and deadly.”

It is true that six coyotes were seen near their house when Willie went missing. It is dreadful to think that it might have been his fate, but the uncertainty is what is so bad. There’s no closure to it.

The following was sent to me by Jack D. Ballard of Lewisburg. It was a speech given by U. S. Senator George Graham Vest of Missouri during a jury trial.

Gentlemen of the jury—the best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it most.

A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolute, unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog.

Gentlemen of the Jury, a man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintery winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he can be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer; he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world.

He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens. If fortune drives the master forth as an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him to guard against danger, to fight against his enemies. When the last scene of all comes, and death takes the master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even to death.

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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