THE EARLIEST SIGNS OF SPRING – News From The Hills

The cold, rainy days of March seem to have bled over into the usually warmer days of April, with more rain and cloudy skies. Some folks have remarked that this has been the wettest March that they can remember, and it seems that way. We look forward to the March winds to dry up winter’s mud, but this year it seems that it merely made more mud. Still, there are some early signs that spring is really coming.

Today there is a stiff breeze valiantly trying to dry up the landscape. Dandelions are appearing all over the yard, shiny yellow discs that give hope that warmer weather is on its way. The earliest spring wildflower is the lowly coltsfoot, which has appeared earlier along the road banks and ditch lines. This tiny flower, which resembles a dandelion, pops through the muddy soil and blooms long before any leaves appear on it.

Later on, in May, when the leaves are mature, they can be harvested for herbal medicine. Coltsfoot has been used for centuries as a respiratory remedy. I remember one spring when we were camping on Williams River, the coltsfoot leaves were growing in abundance. I gathered a handful and made cough drops in the camper, after boiling the leaves down to a strong essence. After straining the solution, I added sugar and cooked it to a hard “crack” stage and poured it onto a cookie sheet. After it cooled it could be broken into pieces. It was effective for a cough or sore throat. It tasted somewhat like horehound candy.

We’ve heard the spring peepers the last few nights, although daughter Patty says she heard them weeks ago. I read an article once that stated wood frogs actually freeze in solid chunks of ice and thaw out when warm weather comes. Coltsfoot blooms may be the earliest harbinger of spring, but nothing can thrill me like the first shrill piping of the spring peepers.

The smoky smell of burning off a garden is almost a thing of the past. This drifting springtime perfume brings back a flood of memories of when we used to do this every year. The air might be sharp and biting, but we would rake and gather up last year’s accumulated debris and light a bonfire. Dry cornstalks, dead weeds and brown, dry leaves made a spring incense that nothing can equal. That, and the song of the spring peepers, can transport me instantly back into the past.

One of the earliest signs of spring when I was a kid were the marble games that exploded with the first warm days. The playground at Hagar Grade School was packed hard with hundreds of running feet, and after the mud dried up, the marble games began. The boys played “keeps” with a vengeance, drawing a circle around their hoard of marbles and gambling away their whole collection. (We weren’t allowed to play “keeps” as Daddy considered it a form of gambling.)

The boys didn’t let that deter them however, and with their “kimmies” and “steelies” and “best shooters” they formed tight circles and played all over the hard-packed playground. With loud cries of “you’re fudgin’!” “knucks down” and “I’ve got dibs on you!” they played at morning recess, all through the noon hour and again at evening recess.

We girls had our more sedate marble games, but played we did. With our pigtails flipped out of the way, and knobby knees to the ground, we played “four holes and a peewee.” We would dig four cup-shaped holes at each corner of a large rectangle, and a tiny hole the size of a marble in the center. We would take turns shooting from hole to hole, and if someone else hit your marble, you had to start over. Three times around the rectangle, and the first one to the peewee was the winner. (Now I am wondering just who taught us that game?)

Hopscotch was another early spring game, with blocks marked off in the hard-packed dirt with a piece of glass. The squares were numbered with the same piece of glass, and also used for our markers. Boys didn’t play hopscotch, nor did they jump rope, considering those games too “sissy” for them. We didn’t think marbles were too masculine however, and there were several sharpshooters among the feminine sex. Yes, these were the good old days!”

I am afraid that nearly all of these games, if not all, have been relegated forever to the past. It has been years since I’ve seen little girls hopping on one foot over a crudely drawn hopscotch game, or a bunch of little boys kneeling over a hot marble game. The battle cries of “You’re fudgin’!” and “Dibs!” are no longer heard, and, would fall strangely on the ears of our younger generation. These things were the authentic signs of coming spring, and I miss them.

A voice out of the past came across the telephone lines this week, all the way from Oregon. It was Katie Jones Summers, who lived on Grannies Creek her growing-up years. She said she was the only surviving member of the Corley Jones family, and kept mentioning the good memories she had of living here. I remember our family going to William’s River to camp with their family, and indeed there are many warm memories. Growing up here in our hills was truly wonderful, and I’m so thankful for the memories.

God knew where to place us, and I am so thankful that He placed me here in the majestic hills of West Virginia. With the exception of a couple of years, I have lived my entire life in almost the exact spot where I grew up. God willing, when my life ends, I plan to be buried here in the family cemetery where my grandparents, parents and other members of the family rest beneath the outstretched arms of the huge beech tree—in the hills of West Virginia.

I remember, I remember,
The house where I was born,
The little window where the sun
Came peeping in at morn:
He never came a wink too soon,
Nor brought too long a day;
But now, I often wish the night
Had borne my breath away.
From I Remember, I Remember
By Thomas Hood

I would change the last line of that poem—I am so happy that God permitted me to live and love here in this place.

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.

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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