The pawing of hooves on hard-packed earth gave evidence of the impatience of the feisty little pony as it sidestepped agilely trying to evade the little boys’ hands that were tugging at its bridle. 

A lone little girl sat perched in the saddle on its back, patiently awaiting her turn to ride the pony, when the boys decided they needed to switch out bridles and they urged the little girl to get down off the pony so that this chore could be completed. The little girl refused because she knew that she would more than likely lose her turn. She stubbornly clung on to the saddle horn and told them to go ahead and change it out. With a shrugging of the shoulders, the boys proceeded to take the existing bridle off and, just as they began putting the second bridle on, the little pony sensed its freedom and pulled loose from the boys and with the little girl hanging on to the saddle horn for dear life streaked across the yard with little boys yelling and chasing after it willy-nilly! 

But they were no match for the fast little pony who had already ran under the clothesline, the little girl ducking just in time, as she clung to the saddle horn with both hands while gripping the saddle with her knees in a desperate bid to keep from being unseated as the ground seemed to pass below her in a blur. She was just beginning to wonder how in the world this was going to end with no bridle to command the pony when, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a tall, lean, young man streaking across the yard in a mad dash to head off the pony. She realized in an instant that it was her teenage brother and, for a split second, wondered where on earth had he come from for she’d had no idea that he was anywhere around? 

Just as they were about to reach the wooded lot next to the yard, her lanky, fleet-footed brother caught up with the pony and grabbed it in a headlock just like you would see at a rodeo grabbing its ears and yanking hard until he stopped it in its tracks. He reached up and hastily grabbed his little sister dragging her off the pony before it had a chance to take off again asking worriedly, “Are you alright?” 

She slowly nodded and replied “I think so?” 

His countenance quickly changed then to an impatient scowl as he handed off the pony to the little boys, who by now had caught up with them, and as he grabbed her elbow he firmly stated, “You’re going home to Mama right now! You could’a got your neck broke! What on earth did you mean a’ridin’ that pony with no bridle on it?! You were just lucky that I was close by and saw what happened in time to catch it!” 

And he proceeded to march her down the gravel road to home and hearth and Mama, where she got another well-deserved scolding for being so “do-less,” (scatterbrained) to use Mama’s term! 

That little cowboy-wanna-be, tomboy-girl was ME and the older brother who saved me that day was none other than my dear older brother, Ray, who was always rescuing me from one scrape or another. Such as the time when I was older and determined to ride a Harley Davidson motorcycle but failed to take into account how heavy they are and turned it over in the driveway when I stopped it too quickly and couldn’t pick it up again. Ray just happened to be home that day and came out to help me lift it up all the while scolding me that I was “gonna get hurt ridin’ that thing!”

Sadly, my dear brother is no longer around to scold or to rescue us anymore. He passed away this past spring and his loss has left a gaping hole in the fabric of all of our lives. His wit and wisdom (so much like Mama’s) lives on though in the wonderful memories we have of him and serves to comfort us as we forge on ahead without him.

He had Mama’s keen eye for watching nature and absolutely loved gazing at his beloved Crab Orchard Mountain that lay just across the valley floor from our old home place. I told him he had the prettiest view around sitting right there on his front porch! 

From that vantage point, with one sweeping glance around the perimeters of the property, we could easily picture how it used to look back when we were kids with one garden at the side of the house and another across the road in front of the house. The old, green, garden gate, nestled there under a bower of oaks, cradled an old-fashioned drawbar and us kids loved to climb up on top of it and gaze at the long rows of vegetables that grew there. I can still picture Grandma, Mama, Daddy, Uncle Abe and Aunt Dossie all diligently hoeing and working there all throughout the summer getting ready for another bumper crop to carry us through the long winter ahead. 

Grandpa’s old barn still sat up in the backyard, a wet-weather spring still present and producing, up behind it, but not as vitally needed as before thanks to the recent addition of a well that had been dug in more recent years. Mama was so proud of that well for she said she no longer had to be dependent on that spring, which would go dry in the heat of summer causing her to have to haul water, bucket by bucket, from another spring farther down the road from our house. The well sat to the side of the house, the wooden framework built over it housing a rope and pulley with a long, slender, galvanized “bucket” that you dropped down into the well for it to fill up with water, before hauling it back up to the top where you would pull the pin to release that good, cold water into the waiting buckets that you would then carry into the house. 

That water was the best in the world and the coldest water I’ve ever drunk! “Freestone water,” Mama called it. 

Additionally, our hog lot lay to one side of the barn, while the chicken house lay on the other side of the back yard. Half the time the chickens wouldn’t stay in it, though, much preferring their hickory tree roost right next to it and one of the happy memories I have of my childhood is from when we would be sitting on the front porch at dusky dark during the summertime and hearing those old chickens singing themselves to sleep after they’d go to roost. They would do this kind of low, gentle clucking that would lull them off to dreamland and was somehow so soothing to hear that I’ve never forgotten it. 

Grandpa’s apple trees still ringed the old homestead and his plum trees, pear trees, and walnut trees all still produced abundantly every year so his presence was still very much in evidence from all these attributes of his hard work and most especially in the woods lore and nature lessons that he had shared with Mama who lovingly passed it on down to us.

Similarly, Ray loved watching the birds and squirrels and other critters that fed in his yard and routinely kept his bird feeders full. One time he got a couple of critters that he hadn’t bargained for. He had to be at work early so he always left before daylight. One morning he said he stepped out on the front porch and had just pulled the door to and locked it when he heard something go “woof.” 

He said he thought to himself, “That sounded like a bear!” When he turned to look he said, indeed, there was the biggest, fattest bear he’d ever seen standing in the branch right at the edge of the yard. He said he could see him plain by the streetlight and he was trying to decide whether to make a run for the car or attempt to unlock the door quick enough to get back in the house when the bear turned and took off running down through our old garden spot and on down through the neighbor’s yard with every dog in the neighborhood barking like crazy. 

Another time he stepped out of the house before daylight, this time at the backdoor, and a little movement caught his eye and he looked closer down behind his back porch. There was a black panther eating out of the dish that he used to feed some stray cats in. He said he knew it was a panther because of its size and its long tail. I told him he was living in the middle of “Wild Kingdom” and that he’d better start taking his gun with him just to get in the car! He said there had always been panthers up on that ridge that runs behind our old home place, but he hadn’t seen any in years until then (which was several years ago). 

With the exception of his time spent working on the railroad, Ray was a lifelong resident of his beloved Crab Orchard community where he grew up exploring all the local hills and hollers with his childhood buddies and friends, fishing and swimming in Daddy’s Creek and Baker’s Branch, hunting on Big Rock Mountain, digging for “Indian Beads” (as he called the many petrified fossils that he found embedded on the nearby hillsides), playing football, softball, and marbles everyday at the local ball diamond still located near present-day Liberty Market. He attended Crab Orchard Elementary (the old school that was located near Haley’s Grove Baptist Church where the tennis courts are now) playing basketball for his beloved Crab Orchard Elementary basketball team. He was quite an athlete back during the days of his youth and could put a ball, a rock, or a green apple wherever he was of a mind to throw it, as I’m sure many of his old childhood chums could attest! 

He also grew up loving the trains that used to chug through town multiple times per day during his youth and, upon hearing the train whistle, would leap off the front porch and hasten down the front walkway to the road that ran in front of our old farmhouse just so he could watch the train go by! This love of trains spawned in him the desire to seek employment working for Speno Railroad of Syracuse, NY, on the ballast cleaners during his young manhood where he worked for 13 years traveling all over the eastern and midwest United States. He worked as far north as upstate New York where he said he worked and made friends with “Mohawk Indians” and as far west as Colorado and Sweetwater, Texas where he also worked with an “Apache Indian” who would spear rattlesnakes from the mesquite bush terrain surrounding the camp cars, making hatbands from their skin, and frying up the rattlesnake meat for supper. He said it was actually very good and tasted like chicken, although his Apache buddy had to trick him into trying it.

His travels took him from Maryland to Colorado and all parts in between and he thoroughly enjoyed his travels, but the Tennessee mountain home of his childhood began calling to him and he returned home for good in the early 1980s. He soon found work on Stonehenge Golf Course at Fairfield Glade where he worked for the next 35 years until his retirement. He loved his job there and was so proud when Stonehenge was ranked the No. 1 golf course in the state. He made many friends while there, both in coworkers and from the residents that he met who lived near the golf course. He would tell me how they would gift him with homemade cookies and treats from time to time, which he absolutely loved.

Ray loved his family, his church and his community and was very devoted to them all, all throughout the years, from the time he used to deliver the Grit newspaper as a kid and would help the elderly widows in the neighborhood carry in their coal and wood and water, to present-day, when I’ve heard from everyone in the surrounding community telling me of how he would stop in just to say hi and to check on them and would bring them garden vegetables. This touches my heart deeply at the ever-generous, caring nature of my sweet brother taking care of us all right up to the end!

Ray’s love of nature made him a keen observer of his surroundings not only at his Crab Orchard mountain home, but at Fairfield Glade, too, where he would relate to me his nature observations from his vantage point while mowing the greens on the golf course. He told of woolly worms, hornets nests, deer and bear, and copperhead sightings, cloud formations, foliage changes, etc. He was an apt student of Mama’s woods-lore and nature weather skills and I am sure going to miss him so much. Having him present was like having both Mama and Daddy there, all rolled into one, for he embodied the best of both of them with the hunting and fishing attributes of Daddy and the nature-watching skills of Mama and the gift of storytelling from them both!  

Thus, with the memory of my dear brother and his wonderful stories, wise counsel and jolly wit echoing from down through the years and resonating in my mind and heart, I’d like to offer my first solo winter weather prediction without him, in the self-same, nature-watching traditions of our wonderful mother and grandfather.  

Folks, all the signs are pointing toward a hard winter this year with lots of snow! I personally counted 8 early morning fogs with 3 of those being heavy and 5 of them light. However, I noted that many times the news gave fog for our area that I didn’t personally witness at my house, so I believe it could go even higher! 

My mother always said that her Dad taught her to count the early morning fogs in August and that each fog counted denoted a snow for winter. If we get all the snow that I think we may get, we may have to “tie a string to the woodpile” to quote my mother! 

Also, the persimmon seeds are showing snow this year too! What that means for those that may not be familiar with that sign is that, during the fall of the year when the persimmons ripen, you cut open a seed and, if it reveals a white marking in the center in the shape of a spoon, that means you’ll be “shoveling snow;” if it’s shaped like a knife, it means “cutting winds” (or cold, in other words); if it’s shaped like a fork, it means “a mild winter.” And this year they are indicating snow! 

Additionally, the mast crop is heavy this year too with an abundance of hickory nuts, acorns, walnuts, etc. which also denotes a hard winter. There have not been many woolly worms thus far, but the ones that I have seen are solid black which means a hard winter from beginning to end. Also, I saw two that were solid black crawling way back in June which is really an oddity. You hardly ever see them before October so I’m going to be paying special attention to see how that observation may pan out. 

Additionally, the tree foliage is thicker this year and so are the corn husks which are both signs of a hard winter. One of my weather watchers has also reported that her livestock is already getting heavy winter coats this year which is for sure a sign that my mother always watched for and said that her Dad did too! 

I’ve also seen several large spider webs, which is another hard winter sign, and I’ve had several reports of hornets nests that have been spotted, too….one was pretty high up in the tree while another was about 8 or 10 feet off the ground. However, they were both large, which is another hard winter indicator. 

Thus, better get ready, for it’s looking like it may be a humdinger this year….all the nature signs are sure pointing to it! 

Stay warm and happy fall, y’all! 

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