Monthly Archives: October 2016

Ramble Brook

Remember what it’s like to search for something rare and exquisite–and to find it? The treasure turns out to be not only what you were looking for but experiences during the search, sights and sounds, even echoes of another time. That’s how my walk with Charles to Ramble Brook hunting blue gentians turned out.

We walked up Tulip Hill at my home place, Pinedale, and spent some time in the lonely little cemetery before striking off through the woods toward Ramble Brook. I was intent on finding some, or at least one, blue gentian. Blue gentians grow on brook banks mainly, loving the moist mossy places. They present their beautiful closed blooms in October. Mamma used to send us looking for them this time of year. “They’re very shy,” she’d say. “That’s why they never fully open and simply peer into the brook looking like buds the color of the sky.” Of course we only reported when we found them. Mamma and Daddy both would have been aghast if we’d picked even one. Gentians were quite rare.

Our feet made the fluffy crisp tulip poplar leaves crackle and crunch. I could almost feel the wind in my hair when, as a child, I’d dash through these leaves racing to be the first one to find a blue gentian–or to jump the brook, or walk a foot log, or climb the one-armed oak tree.

The one-armed oak tree was a favorite climbing tree. It was a white oak that had grown on the banks of Ramble Brook. There were other limbs but the one we liked so much was as thick as a tree itself and had grown straight out from the tree only about ten feet from the ground. Once we climbed up we could sit dangling our legs singing like a chorus of birds. We little ones learned from the older ones how to swing off holding to the limb with both hands before dropping to the ground. Then up we’d go again.

Not far from that tree was a wonderful waterfall which was great for summer splashing. Ramble Brook was never a very big stream but was so cool and clear and full of interesting water-rounded stones. There were some mossy stones that were really fun to stand on while our feet dried after a good wading. The brook itself held great fascination for all of us–water lizards to catch and let go, minnows, crawfish (to observe digging themselves into soft silt), and even larger fish sometimes steering silver bodies under overhanging foliage. And, downstream from the log bridge, was another favorite spot: a bank of gooshy, moldable white clay.

We were happy for hours at a time creating bowls, jewelry, platters, and tiny tea cups out of that clay. Sometimes the drying process made our treasures crack and crumble but occasionally a dish, a cross, or a horse’s head would actually stay together for several days.

When walking now along Ramble Brook you can occasionally find little piles of selected water-worn stones near the brook. They’ll be almost buried in mountain asters and leaf mold. You wouldn’t realize, unless someone told you, that those piles of stones were actually collapsed castles of four very active siblings in late 1940’s and early 1950’s. We built them along the cliff near that clay bank and imagined the people who might live there, even planted little trees just the right size for these imaginary little folks. The residents would certainly enjoy a view of the water whispering by. But, sadly, when it rained, our castles all squatted, the clay going soggy, and the stones turning into a disorderly pile.

A good thing to do after playing in the clay was to build a dam. We cleaned all the sticky clay off our hands that way. We built most of our dams in Indian Brook which was beyond our schoolhouse cabin. But that meant walking a good distance with clay drying on our hands. So we did find places where Ramble Brook narrowed enough to make dam building possible. We’d pile big stones across the stream and back the water up to make a small lake. After playing in the deeper water for several minutes, we took joy in breaking the dam and watching the rush of current.

With the memory of our childish squeals in my ears, Charles and I walked onto a nice sturdy foot bridge made by some of our engineering nephews. From there I looked down the brook bed and discovered three treasured blue gentians, blooming bravely in spite of a long drought that has dried the brook so there’s no stream or even apparent drop of water.


October is often a time of drought and this year is no different. Ramble Brook has no merry murmur of water, no splashing waterfall, no water to dam or turn loose to the sound of children’s squeals. There’s no moisture to make the clay malleable. But there were the shy exquisite blue gentians anyway, treasures unbelievable, shining amongst dry brown leaves.

With Charles’ strong arm to help me, I slid and stumbled down the bank to reach those flowers. Though sometimes the gentians present four or five closed blooms on one stem, these only had one each. But the blue was as bright as I’d remembered, bright as a bluebird perched on a single bare limb. I took great pleasure in snapping some pictures.

But, as I said to begin with, finding the treasure was a thrill, but the good walk with my husband was really the best part. And all those memories of our good play times along Ramble Brook were wonderful, too. It was as if once again I were walking a log, climbing a tree, making pottery and catching water lizards. And I have pictures to remind me that, though I’m not so agile any more, blue gentians do still bloom along Ramble Brook.

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Buttermilk in a Sprite Bottle

We usually purchase buttermilk in a waxy carton or a plastic container. And it’s good, yes, it’s good. It’s good for restoring your system after a virus. It’s good for swall…

Source: Buttermilk in a Sprite Bottle

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Buttermilk in a Sprite Bottle

We usually purchase buttermilk in a waxy carton or a plastic container. And it’s good, yes, it’s good. It’s good for restoring your system after a virus. It’s good for swallowing big clunky vitamins. It’s very good for baking. Buttermilk out of a wax carton, though, is nothing like the buttermilk we enjoyed, poured from a Sprite bottle.

My delight in buttermilk goes way back…

There was a favorite spot in Mamma’s kitchen in the 1940’s, a chair right beside the wood cook stove. If one of us ten children came in shivering from doing cold chores, we might get that seat in a cane bottomed chair for a short time but if it were churning day you could only sit there if you kept the paddle moving up and down in the big brown crockery churn. Once Mamma started the churning it had to be continued until the butter “came.”

First thing after breakfast on churning day Mamma scooted the brown churn up close to the stove to let the cream get warm and bubbly. The cream had been skimmed day by day from the milk until the crock was at least half full. The cat always stationed herself close by on churning day, certain there would be dollops of cream on the floor when we who weren’t in rhythm took over the churning.

It was mid morning before Mamma pronounced the cream “ripe” and ready to churn. It had to be just right and she knew exactly when that was. She hummed while she churned and I think that may have had something to do with her staying in perfect rhythm. The cat never got a drop while Mamma was churning. But when I grasped the handle and began pumping it up and down, splatters hit the floor and the cat went to licking. It took a minute for me to get a steady pace and even then I’d skip a beat now and then.

Even before I was allowed to churn, I hung around watching the fascinating process. I’d want Mamma to lift the lid and see if butter was forming yet but she would put me off saying she knew it wasn’t time. Sometimes she’d sing the “Butter Coming” song, an ad lib song that went something like this: “Come, butter, come; come, butter, come; Brenda’s at the garden gate waiting for a butter cake; come, butter, come; come, butter come.” The rhythm of that song matched the rhythm of the paddle thunking up and down, up and down. And the rhythm even now as I remember it gives me a sense of rightness and peace.

There was a difference in the sound of the thunking when the butter did “come.” It was a duller, heavier sound as the paddle hit nice islands of butter. Mamma instructed one of us to get her a large spoon and a bowl. We’d peer in the churn to see rich yellow butter floating in the buttermilk. Mamma dipped it out, then washed it in cold water, meaning she carefully worked the milk out of the butter as it coalesced into mounds of pure gold.

I loved to watch Mamma spoon the butter firmly into her butter mold as she held it upside down. She packed it and packed it and smoothed it evenly before turning each cake out on a saucer. Each butter cake had the embossed design of the mold on top, a beautiful flower and leaf.

Often, it seems to me, Mamma baked fresh hearty loaves of wheat bread on the same day she churned. The combination, fresh butter on warm bread, was almost too good to bear. Add some grape jelly and you’d be in heaven!

Now if there were more milk than we could take care of Mamma would start a batch of cottage cheese. She’d keep sour milk warm on the edge of the stove until it clotted, then strain it through a cloth for an hour or two until the beautiful white curds appeared like a snowy mountain. Nothing was wasted. Even the thin watery stuff strained from the cottage cheese (called whey) was placed outside for the birds to enjoy.

For supper quite often, we children lined up on a long bench where Mamma and her oldest girls could serve us–guess what?–buttermilk and bread. To use a line of awkward grammar, I never didn’t like buttermilk. I positively loved it!

Mamma gave her churn and butter mold to my younger sister Suzanne when she and Bill got married and bought their first cow. It was a good choice. Suzanne is the only one who milks a cow, warms a churn by the fire, then churns for an hour or however long it takes, then molds the butter cakes and even makes cottage cheese.

When we were at the Dovers’ they offered us buttermilk to take home. Suzanne assured me that the buttermilk would keep fine for our 300 mile trip even without a cooler. A butter cake would not fare so well so we went ahead and ate fresh bread with butter while we were there!

Suzanne looked around for something to put our buttermilk in. Her two-quart jars were all needed for her several milk customers. Spying a Sprite bottle in the recycle box, she grabbed that. We hoarded that buttermilk, rationing it to ourselves to make it last as long as possible. I’d forgotten just how wonderful “real” buttermilk is with tiny globs of butter in it. Now I’m spoiled for drinking that thin stuff that comes in waxy cartons. Give me thick buttery milk in a Sprite bottle any time!

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:….Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” Psalm 103:2,5



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Artist On A Rock



When some of us headed up Stone Mountain for the first time on our recent adventurous weekend, Mattie, seven, suddenly remembered she wanted her drawing materials. Though it is an easy walk from the gondola line back to Stone Mountain Inn where we were staying, we were ready to ride up and didn’t want to give up our place. But Mattie’s face was a cloud. She’d been talking over breakfast about drawing the mountain. Her mother calmly asked Mattie to let her search her backpack and quickly came up with a single pencil and a piece of paper. This was clearly not Mattie’s entire pack of art supplies. But she relaxed and was ready to go.

Mattie’s oldest brother William, twelve, was enrolled that weekend in a basketball camp nearby, with his dad and granddaddy eagerly watching his progress. So it was Christi and I and the two youngest ones of our Birmingham grandchildren who were so excited about riding up the mountain that day. Thomas, nine, had noticed from the inn that there were some trees on top and had declared he was going to play amongst them. I said “Trees? On Stone Mountain?” He assured me that, yes, there were trees and, of course, there were, enough trees to give the great bald mountain a slight bit of “hair” on one side.

The cable car operator was giving us many interesting facts about the mountain as we rode up past the famous carving. Some of these facts we knew, some we’d totally forgotten. Here are some of them, jotted down quickly before I forgot them:

  1. Stone Mountain is the largest exposed granite face in the world.
  2. The carving is of Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee, and General Stonewall Jackson.
  3. It is 90 feet from the tip of General Lee’s sword suspended from his waist, to the top of his head.
  4. Two city buses would fit lengthwise on Lee’s horse Traveler’s back.
  5. This is the deepest bas-relief carving in the world being 41 plus feet deep.
  6. The finished sculpture by Walker Kirtland Hancock was completed in 1972.
  7. One of the two earlier sculptors (whose work was dynamited away for the final sculptor to begin) was Gutzmon Borglum who later completed the Mount Rushmore carving which, by the way, isn’t as large as this one.
  8. The mountain was purchased by the state of Georgia in 1958. Prior to that it was owned by the Venable family. (Imagine owning Stone Mountain!)

But the main thing that interested both Thomas and Mattie was getting to the top of the mountain to begin their exploration.

They pushed their way quickly out of the gondola and took off running. They paid no attention to the gift shop. They had a goal in mind. I saw them discovering views of Atlanta from the top but by the time I reached them they were ready to go down the city side as far as that grove of stubby pine trees. It was indeed a magical playground. There were many rocks amongst the pines, rocks of varying shapes and sizes, excellent for climbing, sitting on, hiding behind. The children clambered up and over and down, here there, and yonder. Christi and I watched in amazement and thoroughly enjoyed their movements, their games, their super agility. We also enjoyed very much the views of Atlanta’s skyline, Midtown’s challenging character, the mountains, Kennesaw and others I couldn’t quite name, and the whole scope of highways lacing through the green of Georgia. It was a beautiful clear day and we could see “forever.”

By and by, I noticed Mattie situating herself on a chosen rock with her single pencil and piece of paper. I had actually thought she’d probably forget all about her sketching desire. I was wrong. She looked all around from her high position, back up to the top of the mountain, around at the rocks and the pine trees, far out to the city, and up to circling big birds and even farther up to jets criss-crossing the blue sky. Thomas, giving up on being chased at the moment, settled down to his own challenges of climbing and choosing a perfect fit of a “resting rock.” So Mattie was free to become quite pensive and then to  apply herself diligently to her self-assigned job.

Christi and I chatted lightly enjoying the whole scene.

I was very interested in what Mattie might have sketched. Did she attempt a sketch of the carving on the side of the mountain? Did she sketch one favorite big rock? Did she try for a clump of the beautiful yellow daisies? Or did she even try to sketch the distant Atlanta skyline that looked like cereal boxes of different heights?

I was hugely honored when she gave me her sketch later that day. It was torn and wrinkled from its trip back down the mountain in her backpack. But here’s what I saw: the curve of the top of the mountain with dark squiggles to represent her favorite place, the stubby pine trees.

Her sketch is marked with the rough surface she worked on, a part of her media choice, you might say. I’m going to treasure it and the photo I took of the Artist On A Rock.

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