I was down on the road talking to Bette the mail carrier, when Fiddlin’
Clyde Harper’s cousin Andrew pulled up in his truck. (Clyde lives with Andrew and his wife these days) He told me now that it was warming up Clyde was pinin’ to get out of the house to loosen up his bones a bit. After seeing the picture of my millstone in the post “Rocks” on Andrew’s computer, Clyde wanted me to take him up the creek to look at it. I always enjoy opportunities to spend time with Clyde so I said sure. Clyde is 93, but gets around pretty good. I knew it wasn’t going to be a quick trip but it would give me the chance to learn more from this amazing man. Andrew suggested Sunday might be best; they could drop Clyde off on the way to church and pick him up coming back. I said I’d plan on it and would be down at the road Sunday morning.
Dooley the dog and I went down early Sunday morning and waited by the river. Before long Andrew’s truck pulls up. I hadn’t crossed the river over to the road because I was hoping they’d drive Clyde across the low water crossing to spare Clyde the shin deep wade. The truck stopped square in the middle of the road and Clyde got out. Andrew looked out the window and gave me a little grin and a “wasn’t my idea” shrug. I figured Clyde had decided where he wanted to get out and there wasn’t going to be anyone to tell him different. I’m kind of glad he did that because it set the ground work on how I should handle the rest of the hike….hands off and never offer help I wouldn’t offer a man my own age. Andrew and his wife waited until Clyde forged the river “just in case” the fast moving water took his legs out from under him and I needed help getting him back on his feet. I walked out into the water just a bit on the pretense of conversation but really I just wanted to be a little closer in the event of a problem. Clyde had a walking stick with him and used it expertly get across.
The first part of the hike was on an old oil road that runs parallel to Rock Creek. In the summer we call this area the “swamp” because it’s almost always wet and muddy due to the fact the sun never shines directly on it. Thankfully it was dry and the first part of our trip was uneventful. About a hundred and fifty yards in the road dips gently down into the creek. It was a little muddy there and I slipped just a bit myself, but Clyde and his walking stick didn’t have problem.
We both agreed that walking in the creek bed would be the easiest route so up we went. There is always something interesting to find in the creek. I love to look for bits of colorful water glass* and consider it a prize when I find an intact white glass Mason jar lid. Scanning the creek bed for treasure also gave me a reason to take it slow and easy for Clyde.
The water was teeming with minnows and darting crawdads; welcome signs of a healthy creek. Back in the late sixties it was not a healthy creek. Old rusty iron pipes that carried oil down from the wells on the hills, some dating back to the forties, often leaked into the water. Oil and foamy sludge would build up on rocks and in the bends to the point of disgust….and I remember the scent of crude oil was stifling. That was “acceptable” back then but newer technology and stronger regulation prevent contamination of the creek now. There are still black oil stains remaining on the water lines of the larger rocks as a reminder of that time.
We were able to stay in the creek bed for about 120 yards but several large downed trees across the creek meant we would have to climb up the bank and hike around. The ATVer’s that ride up the creek bed have created ramped exits around large obstacles like the trees so we had an alternative to the normally steep banks. This particular one was still steep and I knew the slick clay rich mud would be a challenge for Clyde. I sort of gestured for Clyde to start up and I would come up close behind for a push or a catch if needed. He nodded, with no hint of explanation, for me to go on up ahead of him. As I climbed I tried to make a little set of “steps” for Clyde by kicking my boots into the mud sideways at six inch intervals. When I got to the top I turned around and Clyde extended his walking stick towards me. I grabbed onto the stick and with a little pull he came right up. I had no worries after that. This little hike was no challenge for Fiddlin’ Clyde and his magic walking stick.
From that point on I paid close attention to how deft he was with that stick. He used it to push aside briars, to gracefully cut away the crab spider webs across our path and to point out interesting plants and animal sign(s) he saw. He was schooling me and I loved it. A one point when we were back in the creek he pointed to a pile of waterlogged branches along the bank. He walked over, inserted the stick and with a little lift revealed a very large snapping turtle. It seemed like he knew it would be there….or did the magic stick tell him that? (Did you know in the old days they used snapping turtles tied to ropes find dead bodies under the water? I know ‘cause Clyde told me.)
When we got to the mill stone he stood over it and poked around the edges with his stick. After a bit of study he said, “Yep. The mill here was a cane mill. If it’d been a grain mill they’d be grooves cut a‘crost here for the husks to come out...just wanted to be sure I told you right about the ma’lassas”. He told me once that the mill probably was used to crush sugarcane and process it into molasses. At 93 he hiked six tenths of a mile up a rocky creek just to be sure he had “told me right”.
This spot on the creek is easily my favorite. It has a gentle bend with a large rock face on the north bank. It’s where the Dragon Tree lives and where the waterfall empties into the creek. I sat down and told Clyde I’d like to take a little rest before heading back. He found a tree along the bank and leaned up against it.
I lit up a Swisher Sweet Double Barrel Run Outlaw cigar and said,
“So, Clyde, I’ve been admiring your walking stick…..”
(In my next post I’ll tell you what Clyde told me about making a proper “magic” walking stick.)
Irene Note: *The water glass he referred to are bits of broken glass bottles that have been smoothed by the sand and moving water in the creek.
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