The Rest of the Story
I must admit that I had forgotten this event until rereading this Funny Farm from the annals of 2013 when Clint first wrote it. As I read vivid memories of this flooded my mind and again I laughed until I had to wipe away the tears from my eyes. Less that two weeks ago I drove up to the very place on the mountain that Clint was referring to and cut locust firewood. In remembering the day Clint described, I still can hear the roaring of the engine, and the screaming of the tires, of that old Jeep truck that Clint was driving. I truly thought he would blow the engine before I could get back down the mountain 2-300 yards to where he was stuck. After getting him back on up the mountain he describes throwing the blocks of wood down toward the truck and he truly did lodge himself in the forks of that old tree. I tried not to laugh and did turn away, so he could not see me. I loved that man!! Life was never dull when Clint was around. My Dad, A D Harrell, used to always say that the hills rang with his laughter, and that was true, his and that of those around him. Happy New Year to all of Farmer Clint’s fans.
Funny Farm – January 2013
I love driving in our mountains this time of year. The columns of white smoke rising from so many chimneys bring back so many memories of my own birthplace. There is something about a fireplace that warms my very soul. I can almost feel the coziness of family in your homes, as if to say, “all is well here.”
You may find it hard to believe but I would guess that most Americans either have never experienced, or have long since forgotten the wonderful scent of a wood-burning stove or fireplace. I, for one, lost that memory for decades as I moved from Nashville to Durham; Durham to Tampa; Tampa to New York; New York to Dallas; Dallas to Los Angeles; Los Angeles to Denver. City-folk rarely encounter such simple pleasures.
You Don’t Just Gather Sticks?
2010 was my very first winter in Mitchell County as Farmer Doug’s indentured servant (J) at Harrell Hill Farms. Now I’d noticed the two wood stoves – one in the office and a second in the living room of the farmhouse. But, you know, it never occurred to me how one ‘fueled’ the monstrosities.
I’m thinking it was a hot and humid August morning when Doug first announced that it was time to gather firewood. “Okay,” I thought, “guess we’ll spend a couple hours doing that.” I figured that the family would just go into the woods and gather sticks and fallen branches to keep us toasty in the winter. Holy smokes, was I wrong…AGAIN!
Well, we set out for a drive up the mountain – on a very ill-defined path I must add – in fact, not to embellish this matter BUT if that was a road I am a giraffe! The places that man – Farmer Doug – calls roads are barely paths! Anyway, Doug was in one truck, the fancier/nicer/better equipped/newer one; I trailed in “Old Blackie”, my 1820 vintage Jeep I’ve mentioned before. We were going hunting for locust trees…whatever the heck that is. I mean, isn’t one tree just like another…they are all wood and wood burns. (Silly city-slicker I was!) To my credit, this time I didn’t ask the “Why” question, I’d learned not to be quite as “open” about my country ignorance. When Doug says, “Need to go gather some logs,” just act as if I know that…and I know the type logs to gather…blah blah blah.
Over the River and Through the Woods
Whenever Farmer Doug asked if I knew how to engage the 4WD-Low in “Old Blackie” I expected the worst, and I wasn’t disappointed. We were driving up this mountain path, likely untouched by human hands or machine before, teetering on the edge of a ravine. The good news was, I had good rubber on the tires, I knew that ‘cause Doug told me so.
Now he was in the lead and clearly more adept at driving through the wilderness than I. And, besides, I wanted to proceed with a wee bit more caution that he typically displayed since I had no desire to plunge off the mountain in an old black jeep to my fiery death below!
Blackie was grunting, groaning and straining to make the steep grade, starting to slip a bit on the hardpan surface. Doug long ago disappeared from sight so I was solo on this mountain road, wondering if the end was near…praying that somehow God would deliver me to wherever in the world it was I was supposed to end up.
Blue Smoke and Spinning Rubber
Sure enough, at just the wrong time I tried to downshift and began sliding off the cliff. Somehow – (somehow nothing, I think the hand of God reached out and saved me) – the thing stalled out and seemed stable in the middle of the path. About that time the bile rose into my throat…I began to get REALLY MAD… (, I was REALLY EMBARASSED, but REALLY MAD is a manlier emotion).
As I sat there, tires spinning, kinda-sorta slipping sideways, the motor screaming in protest. I decided I would never give up. I was going to climb this mountain, in this truck, on this day if it killed me…and it very well might. I had groveled too long, I was not going to call Farmer Doug and tell him to rescue me…I am, after all, Farmer Clint and I can do this!
Or Can I?
Some ways off, Farmer Doug could hear the phantom cries of my protesting Jeep – squealing and squawking…and he saw the cloud of blue smoke rising over the mountain top. Guess he figured I must be in trouble. More likely, he was slightly concerned that I might just burn all the rubber from his tires or even blow the engine in Old Blackie.
I sat in that Jeep, sweating like a hog, thinking not so nice thoughts and trying to climb that mountain. And I saw Doug round the corner, on foot, waving wildly with both hands…” I guess he wants me to stop,” I thought. “What will I tell him…I tried to do it right…this stupid vehicle isn’t fit to drive…blah blah blah!”
I killed the ignition as my pal approached, that halfcocked, crooked grin on his tanned face…” You sure it’s in 4WD-Low,” he cajoled. Infuriated by the insinuation I just stared straight ahead, “Of course it is,” I spat! “Let me just check it out,” he said calmly. “Oops, guess it wasn’t,” was my only retort. How humiliating. “Do you want to bring it up now?” Doug inquired…”NO I DO NOT,” I said with venomous overtones.
I yielded my position behind the wheel and slinked into the bed of the old jalopy. Doug eased the gearshift a bit to the upper-right and we purred up that mountain without breaking a sweat. Once again, for the gazillionth time in four months, I was humbled in the presence of Farmer Doug…GRRR.
Fat Boy on The Mountain
I spoke not a word when we reached the spot where locust trees lived; I simply stood aside and watched as my lumberjack pal began dropping HUGE trees with his chainsaw. All the while I’m thinking to myself, “Why don’t we just pick up what’s already on the ground rather than sawing down these trees?” Nevertheless, I awaited further instruction…still licking my wounds of another humiliating experience.
Doug suggested that I gather the logs he was cutting and toss them down the mountain, that way they would all be in one general vicinity for loading in the trucks later; that seemed perfectly logical to me.
I’ve told you before about my fused right ankle and how it causes me to be slightly less than – shall we say agile? So, I picked up that first log and promptly swung it out and toward the downside of the mountain. Well, what I failed to consider in this rhythmic motion was that I needed to release the log more quickly or it would propel my rotund body off the cliff with it. And, sure enough, off we went!
I finally had the presence of mind to let go of that log but not in time to avoid the plunge. Fortunately, again I believe it was the hand of God, there was a split tree in front of me, you know the kind that makes a giant Y…and my body lodged firmly in the Y. Doug looked on, shook his head and continued sawing…the man is a master of understatement.
With a mighty pull, I dislodged my bloody belly and torn shirt from that mountainside slingshot and again began tossing logs down the hill. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Doug flash a grin, give a quick wink and then return to his chainsaw.
Yapper, I love the sights and smells of an early winter’s fire in these hills. And I love the fact that I DO NOT HAVE a fireplace, and no longer have to drive up that mountain to gather locust logs. It’s a suicide trip, I tell ya…and that ain’t no joke.
But what a memory.
Still humbled in the hills,