I hope ya’all have been doing well and that everyone had a wonderful Christmas!
It’s great to be back after a little hiatus from writing.
When I started out on this story, I was excited to be highlighting the traditional Appalachian cultural practice of Ginseng hunting.
I thought it would offer the perfect first story I would submit to Appalachian Memory Keepers.
However, in the span of less than five minutes, it morphed into something much bigger and far more important.
Enter the Billy Davis Family.
When I first met Billy at work, we struck up a conversation about each other’s hobbies.
I was impressed with Billy’s passion for being in the woods of Appalachia with his family, passing on to them his immense knowledge on the subject of responsible Ginseng hunting as well as Appalachian Flora & Fauna in general.
We scheduled a day to meet at my grandparent’s farm in the Shelton Laurel Community of northern Madison County, North Carolina.
A couple of October frosts had already fallen on the farm, dissipating the odds of finding any Ginseng.
However, my gut instinct told me that I needed to follow through with it and boy was it ever correct.
On the morning of the hunt, we met “around the hollar” from Grandma & Grandpa Tweed’s house, very close to the old spring box from where we got water during my childhood.
Billy’s adolescent children, Ashlyn & Christopher, climbed from the vehicle prepared for the cool but not frigid morning.
Billy introduced the children to me, both of them speaking “Hello, Sir” with soft toned respect borne out of shyness.
They each gathered their tools out of the back of the Chevy Tahoe like seasoned veterans, certain of every purposeful movement.
And then we were off!
We eased through the woods, the dampness from the morning air keeping fallen leaves reasonably quiet under our feet.
As the children became more comfortable with my presence, they became a little livelier.
Using their tools, the children gingerly foraged through the leaves, looking for new discoveries.
“Be careful and leave everything just as you found it”, Billy advised them.
They asked their father about certain plants to which he always replied with encouraging and patient expertise.
“What’s this, Daddy”?
“Partridge Berry”, Billy replied.
The list went on and on.
When I spotted something I’d never seen before, I asked “What’s this”?
“Adam and Eve Orchid” was Billy’s instantaneous reply.
As we wandered deeper into the sixty four acre farm, I was amazed at how fast Christopher could move, disappearing from sight in the blink of an eye.
It was good to see children roaming through these woods and across fallen tree trunks in places I had not encountered in nearly four decades.
How inspiring it was to wander those old woods and see them offer the same wonder and enjoyment of my youth.
It was an irreplaceable and wry feeling; experiencing déjà vu in the form of being a witness instead of participant in the hope and magical world of youthful discovery.
I heard Christopher exclaim from up the hill, “Wow! Look what I found”!
Certain that he had found a monster sized Ginseng root in spite of the season, we headed up the hill.
I couldn’t help but chuckle as I saw Christopher’s small frame holding up a bleached cow skull as he grinned ear from ear.
Billy said “Son? Put that back where you found it”.
I butted in.
“Billy? It’s okay by me. If Rayboy hasn’t missed the whole cow by now, I doubt he is gonna miss the skull”.
“Okay, son”, Billy offered to Christopher.
Christopher immediately yanks his backpack off and manages to stuff the skull into it, reminiscent of a swashbuckling treasure hunter hoarding Spanish Doubloons.
In the end, no Ginseng was to be found on this particular day.
Christopher’s cow skull wound up being the children’s biggest piece of treasure.
Ginseng would have to wait until the following 2018 season.
That being said, I am of the mindset that the biggest treasure of the day was witnessing traditional Appalachian skills and knowledge being passed on by Billy Davis to his children; mountain secrets lost to most folks nowadays.
That remembrance is a warm fire of solace on this frigid winter night.
Y’all have a great week!