“What, oh what, has come to pass? No wonder our world is in such a sorry state. Children, and even grownups, stare blankly when I ask – in earnest and really wanting to know – “Are the deer-tongues in bloom? Maybe a grownup might seem more comprehanding after rephrasing of the question. “Have you noticed any dog-toothed violets blooming yet?” Not a violet at all, “trout-lilly in proper parlance. Yet where can I find one single person who cares? Once queen of the sciences, botany has been exiled to the status of castaway.”
--Nell Bumgarner in Lucasville Lore (1995), compiled and edited by Dr. Robert Emerson French and published by Laura Rachel Bumgarner Franks
This passage speaks to me. I remember visiting Nell Yeager Bumgarner one day with some members of the Valley Class of 1988, who were taping a human interest piece as an assignment of their 100th Valley graduating class. She told us one of her greatest concerns was that young people did not have a good knowledge of the flora and fauna in their own woods. She spoke about how her father, Benjamin Yeager, used to hike with her and point out the name and significance of nearly every plant and animal they saw.
At the time, I nodded my head in agreement and didn't give the idea much thought; however, I have considered many, many times since how important those words of Nell Bumgarner really were. What vast botanical knowledge lies essentially untapped by the average person – all within a short distance of his or her home. With the perspective of her many years (Nell was born in 1895.), she understood the significance of the loss. Nell loved nature and so often wrote of her experiences with an eye toward the natural world.
Long Ago Path
Little old path of the long ago.
I never knew then I could love you so
As, tired and sleepy, with brown feet I pad,
Pad, pad, padded in the wake of my dad.
Long ago path, it wandered at will
Through the New Graveyard and the Old, on the hill
Past the truck patch Dad loved and tended to –
On, and on, and on then, to the bottom-land low.
Along you, Dear Path, Dad pointed to me
Something rare at each turn,
Either bir, flower, or tree,
Some marvel of sky, or the meadow lark's call,
Or the wisp of red creeper in trees towering tall.
Sometimes long and weary I found you then;
It seemed that I'd never get back home again;
But always, next time, for my bonnet I'd dart
And be waiting when Daddy was ready to start.
Little Old Path of the long ago years,
I can see you yet through the welling tears;
My head droops low and my heart grows sad
For you, blessed with memories of Dear Old Dad.
Nell wrote this poem in 1983 in memory of trips she used to make with her dad to “The Bottoms,” across the “Old Scioto River Bed” to where her brothers tended the crops. She recalled, “Dad husbanded, awaiting the good food Mom had packed into a big split basket – green beans cooked in an old iron pot, potatoes boiled whole and browned in bacon grease to a crispy brown, apple sauce with a touch of nutmeg, pickles, and all the rest.”
The knowledge Nell acquired was so valuable, yet the bonding she experienced was, perhaps, the greatest gift of all. Later in life she treasured this kinship with nature and held trips to the woods as among the most wonderful times of her life.
Here is a poem Nell began as a school girl and finished in 1984. This poem is based on memories about her and her husband Guy's annual trek to their beloved "McCullick Creek" (actually, McCullough) out past McDermott, near Arion). To them, it was a magical place with “green water, huge rocks, banks of partridge berry, pines, and towering hemlocks strugh with tiny brown cones on their branches.” Every year they returned to gather Christmas greens and Wintergreen (mountain tea). Nell also said that “the partridge berries hold their bright red glow in a terrarium for months.”
I love to roam in the Pinewood
Where the wild arbutus blooms
And the lofty arches of treetops
Sculpt many vaulted rooms.
I love to roam in the Pinewood
Where the air is balmy and sweet;
Filtered sunshine plays in the needles
That lie at the old trees' feet.
The fallen log that we sit on
Harbors moss so rich and deep
Cradling tiny red flowerlets
In a privacy they'd fain keep.
Among all of nature's melodies
There's none so dear to me
As the sound of the wind in the treetops,
The song of the Old Pine Tree.
Nell could tell you of beautiful sights such as Deer-tongue with “thickish, pointed, dull-green leaves splotched with brown like the tongue of the deer.” She spoke of “Rue A-nem-on-ee, a “modest little princesses of the wood with flowers pink or white on wire-like stems.” She knew baby blue-eyes, the “churndashers that dotted pasture fields.” She recognized wild violets, “more delicate and sweeter than regular violets,” and Johnny-jump-ups “whose heads she 'fought' with, hooking each head around the neck of the other then jerking the stems.” Nell spoke of trilliums, baby iris, and Dutchman's britches.
Baby Blue Eyes
Nell's knowledge was endless. She loved greens. She could tell you about crow-foot root that she harvested “with her Case knife and took home to cook with bacon.” And, she would say, “Don't forget about the 'queen of all greens,' Shawnee (squaw lettuce).” Nell loved the sound of the steady “cuh-shake” – of the “cool, fresh greens dropping into her basket.” She harvested morels and poke (“only when green and tender”) which she cooked with bacon, vinegar, and chopped onions.
How much better our lives would be if we followed Nell's advice and took it upon ourselves to commune with our own environment. Nothing compares with the uncommon beauty there. Indeed, we are fortunate to live in a place with an endless store of natural wonder, and as stewards of this bountiful land, we should share the treasures of our fields and forests with our loved ones. It is our duty to provide a kind, human understanding that imparts true folk wisdom.
I agree with Nell – it is far past time that we too should ask, “Is there one single person who cares?” So few appreciate the natural world that sustains their existence – a world that offers solace from the rat race of modern life. Blinded by materialism, we neglect to understand the significance of the bounty there.
Guy and Nell on Their Honeymoon
Nell is gone, but her memories provide us with vital lessons handed down from a time when life was so much more dependent upon self-reliance and a thorough knowledge of the natural world. We sorely lack this exposure. As she said, there is, indeed, “something new at each turn” on those “little old paths. Most of the same trees, plants, and wildlife are still there in our backwoods … still there, waiting for someone to notice … still there, waiting for someone who cares.
“With acknowledgment to our Creator for the Scioto Valley, farms and homesteads scattered among our hollows and hills, creeks and sandy bottoms, the tapestry of greening fields, for wonderful friends and neighbors, and memories enduring. Thanks be to God for a glimpse of this sampling of Eden.”
--Nell Bumgarner, September 27, 1994