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Wallins Creek

by Ben Jones

(Adapted from "Kentucky is My Land" by Jesse Stuart.)

I did not have any choice in where I was born.

But if I had my choice, I would have chosen Kentucky.

And if I could have chosen wind to breathe.
I would have chosen a Kentucky wind,
With scent of cedar and pine tree needles.
Green tobacco leaves, pawpaw, persimmon, sassafras.
I would have chosen, too.
Wind from the sawbriar and greenbriar blossoms.
The apple, cherry and pear tree blossoms.
If I could have chosen the spot in Kentucky,
I would have chosen Wallins Creek,
The spot where I was born.
Where five generations of my people lived.
And where some still live,
And where my heart will always live.
The surrounding hills form a horseshoe.
A barrier against roads.
And there is only one way to get out.
This way is to follow the creek.
That leads to the great Cumberland River.
Here, I first saw Kentucky light.
Here, I first breathed Kentucky air.
And here I grew to shyish boyhood.
I was taken away to see what lay beyond.
And the rim of hills closed behind me.
Now nigh these many years.
I traveled east and west and north and south.
Followed the great rivers to nowhere.
And sailed the high seas aimlessly.
Even battled a faceless enemy, so I was told.
But all the time I remained Kentucky.
And held sweet Kentucky memories dear.
I enjoyed the four seasons.
Sections of time divided were the seasons.
I learned this in childhood.
And I didn't get it from a book.
Each season I learned was three months.
Kentucky was not all autumn, all winter, all summer or spring.
The two I wanted to last longer were spring and autumn.
When WINTER began to break, snow melted.
And ran down from the high hills.
I hunted the wild game skillful as an Indian.
And I ran over rock-ribbed hills.
Even the drab hills of winter were filled with music.
The leafless trees etched on gray winter skies.
Sang poetic songs without words.
And stood strong as substantial lines of poetry.
Then SPRING was in the wind.
I could feel it.
I could taste it.
I could see it.
And it was beautiful to see.
came the sawbriar and greenbriar leaves.
And the trailing arbutus and laurel.
The honey-dipped honeysuckle.
Then came the dogwood and wild crabapple blossoms.
The red sails of the flowering redbud.
Fire hanging in the soft mellow wind.
Of evening against the sunset.
The weeping willow, stream willow, and pussy willow.
Loosened their long fronds to finger the bright wind.
Then came the soft avalanches of green beech tops.
In the deep hollows that hid the mayapple.
Yellow root, ginseng, wild sweet williams, baby tear and phlox.
Ah, and when I learned Kentucky springs.
Could not go on forever.
I was sick at heart.
SUMMER followed with work to do.
I plowed the earth.
And hoed the corn, beans, tomatoes, and okra, too.
Beside my strong mother.
With a silver-bladed gooseneck hoe.
Summer brought good earthly smells.
Growing corn and rich loam and growing roots.
Summer brought berries, too.
That grew wild upon the hillsides.
On the loamy coves and in the deep valleys.
Here held the wild blackberries, raspberries.
All I had to do was take my bucket and pick them.
This too, was when the cousins came to visit.
Bringing gifts and smiles and dandy appetites.
For mother's custard, peanut butter roll and fudge.
Her stories brought rapt attention.
Not much to share but riches far beyond belief.
Autumn came with hazelnuts ripening.
Along the paths and trails that led to nowhere.
The black walnuts, white walnuts, hickory nuts and beech nuts.
Fell from their trees in heaps.
And the canopy of leaves turned many colors.
After the first sharp frost had fallen.
And the soft Kentucky wind turned cool and brittle.
And the insect sounds died.
Like the dwindling creek.
Autumn brought sweet smells of wild possum grapes.
And the mountain tea berries.
And the blood-red sassafras.
Autumn brought the mellow taste of persimmon.
That after frost did not pucker my mouth with summer bitterness.
October pawpaws with purple-colored skins.
I found in heaps beneath the trees.
Yellow gold in color and better than bananas to taste.
These things are my Kentucky.
They went into the body and the brain.
The flesh and blood of me.
These things, Kentucky-flavored, grown in her dirt.
Helped build my body strong and shape my brain.
They laid foundations for my future thought.
They made me part of Kentucky.
They made Kentucky part of me.
These are the inescapable things.
Childhood to boyhood to manhood.
When I am compelled to put words on paper.
They write themselves for they are always ripe.
And ready for harvest.
As the wild berries, the persimmon and the pawpaws.
As the yellow nuts and leaves falling from the trees.
When I went for the first time in other states.
And I knew my Kentucky was different.
As I observed the closeness of tombstones.
In northern cities.
This gave me a feeling land was scarce.
I saw the tall smokestacks of industry.
Etched against the eastern skies.
And cities that were a pillar of fire at night.
And clouds of rolling smoke by day.
I saw New York, New York.
A city so large they named it twice.
Cliff dwellings high as Kentucky mountains.
Streets and avenues like deep gorges.
Between high walls of multi-colored stones.
And while it interested me.
I longed for Kentucky sunlight, sights and sounds.
And for logshacks and the lonesome creek.
I'm still homesick for the land of the fox.
And spring's tender bud, blossom and leaf.
For white sails of the dogwood and crabapple.
And the flame of redbud in the sunset.
I know that my Kentucky is different.
And something there still tugs my heart.
I know now more than ever my mind.
Had been fashioned by these things..
And beauties of wild growth and life of the hills.
That had nurtured my flesh from infancy to boyhood.
A land of real traditions.
A place of roots and family.
A land of horses, bourbon, basketball.
Ballad, song, story and music of plain folk.
It has held steadfast as best it could.
Bluegrass beauty from the soil.
When I get near the border.
I smell a different wind.
My face is flush with hotter blood.
I taste familiar smells.
I hear music of wind among the trees.
And listen to silent poetry.
And wordless songs of a flowing creek.
Kentucky awakens in me.
That which is embedded in my heart and brain.
In my flesh and bone and blood.
Since I am of Kentucky.
And Kentucky is of me.

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This page was last updated on 14 July 2012 at 6:55 pm

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