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A Wildwood Flower

August 3, 2009

To walk a mountain trail through the woods or to pay attention to the roadside is to see the beauty of wildflowers. These delicate blooms are certainly a part of the joy of nature. To spy a stately jack-in-the-pulpit or a regal trillium is a feast for the eyes. So, too, are the less conspicuous bloodroot and May apple blossoms. Even the tiny fleabane daisy or the lowly wild ginger offers a special treat to those who are willing to take the time and look.

Flowering trees and shrubs also lend their beauty to the mountains. The flame azalea and the cucumber magnolia are wild mountain cousins to their hybrid lowland relatives. The wild magnolia is sometimes called the Wahoo tree. The name puzzled me until I heard about Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, Kentucky. Alive Lloyd was a prim and proper lady who began a community center in Caney Creek in 1923. While Miss Lloyd was alive and in charge, verbal or physical contact between boys and girls at the school was forbidden. The boys would climb the wild magnolia trees outside the girl’s dormitory until they were parallel with the windows. Then the boys and girls could whisper and pass notes to each other. This courting from the limb of a tree was known as wahooing.

The story illustrates that the real beauty of the mountains comes, not so much from plants, but from people. Just looking at a road map will reveal the personality of these people. One of my favorite place names is Hell-for-Certain, Kentucky. It is said that when they arrived the first pioneers knew that they were in hell for certain.

Mountain people have interesting names for themselves. To be called a hillbilly is not offensive but is instead an honor among mountain people.

One of the most interesting wildwood flowers I have ever known was a man named Flowers.

I was near Banner Elk, North Carolina, leading a retreat. I had Saturday afternoon off. I stopped by a local store to see if there was a place nearby where I could fish for trout. The owner of the store gave me directions that involved three left turns and one right turn and a trip down a long, winding dirt road to a river bottom between the mountains.

“You will come to a wide open area,” the shopkeeper said. “Just stop there. An old man will show you where you can fish.”

Though the directions were strange, I was determined to fish, so I carried out my instructions. Sure enough, after about an hour’s driving, I came to the wide place in the dirt road. I stopped my car. A man smoking a pipe wearing overalls and an old felt hat walked out of the woods. He came over to my car.

“Hello,” I said.

He looked me over before he spoke. “Howdy. What’s your business?”

I explained that I wanted to fish and that I was told that if I came here I might be able to do so. I told him my name and offered to shake hands.

“Flowers,” he said. I did not know whether it was his first name or his last name.

He looked me over again and then said, “You’re a preacher, ain’t you?”

I said that I was.

“Do you believe the Old Bible?”

I knew that if I wanted to fish, there was only one answer. “Yes,” I said.

“Do you think the earth is flat or round?” he asked.

I thought for a moment. “Well, the Old Bible says that God put an angel on the four corners of the earth.”

“You got that right!” he said, “Ain’t nothing round got four corners.”

“Do you believe the earth is flat?”

He looked the tall green mountains. “Not around here it ain’t.”

Then he said what I wanted to hear, “Let’s go fishing.”

I got my rod and reel out of the car. He told me I would not need any bait, but I took a small box of spinners anyway. We went down to the river where there was a bench. He sat down and watched as I tied on a spinner.

“You ain’t gonna’ catch any fish with that blue line.”

No sooner had he said it than a trout took my spinner. I reeled the fish in, put him on a stringer, and plopped him back down in the water.

“Tell me about that blue line,” Mr. Flowers said.

I explained that the fish could not see the line under water, that it looked blue to us but not to the fish. In a few minutes, I had caught a second trout.

“Where can I get some of that blue line?” he asked.

“I’ve got a roll of it in the car I’ll give to you,” I promised.

I did not catch any more fish. Flowers and I spent the rest of the afternoon together. Mr. Flowers was a wildwood flower if I have ever seen one, a man as colorful, bright, and delightful to be with as any I have known.

When I left him, I gave him the spool of blue fishing line and the two trout.

“Keep on preaching that Old Bible,” he chuckled.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The earth laughs in flowers.” On the Saturday afternoon that I met a mountain man named Flowers, it was the Gospel truth.

Kirk H. Neely
© August 2009

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