I recently traveled back home to visit my mom for a few days on the family farm in Wythe County, Virginia. I love that farm, which has been in my family for so many generations. The living monument that has stood guard over the farm all these years is a huge black walnut tree. In its younger days, it served as a property marker. In recent years, the graceful old tree has offered a place to hold countless family picnics.
And to every generation, the tree has offered its treasures for each to do with as they pleased.
My grandfather, Homer Umberger, gathered the tree’s walnuts and created unique carvings, like the one you see below. He created a menagerie of carved animals and figures from the walnuts, which will be the subject of a future post, so stay tuned!
My dad gathered the walnuts and cracked them to give away to friends and family who loved to bake with them.
Today I’m gathering my own black walnuts to make dye for my pine needle creations and homespun yarn (more on that in an upcoming post!). It makes me smile to think of all the family history that has played out on this grand green. I hope the old tree will be standing guard, and offering its treasures for many years to come.
Not everyone has an old walnut tree, but we all have something. What do you make with what you have? Share it with us in the comment box below. We’d love to read about it and, with your permission, share it with the Inspiring Handmade family.
My cousin Eric on his family’s farm. The 1905-era barn is behind him, along with the pile of wood to be salvaged. In the distance are the gorgeous green rolling hills of Giles County, Virginia.
Deep in the mountains
The ride started off well enough, but a small omen of trouble ahead came when the passenger-side windshield wiper came loose during a heavy cloudburst as we made our way west in I-64 out of Richmond. Hannah remained calm and collected as I pulled over under a bridge and she got out on the safer side and quickly retrieved the wiper unit before it fell off the hood. Thankfully, the driver’s-side wiper remained attached.
We drove on. I especially enjoyed seeing Hannah’s reaction to the sights as we made our way deeper into the Southwest Virginia mountains, crossing the Blue Ridge mountains and entering the Appalachian ridge and valley region. Her every “Wow, Look at that!” took me back to my own wonder at what the local population lovingly refers to as “God’s Country,” as well they should. The Creator’s loving fingerprints are on grand display wherever you look.
We arrived Friday around twilight and enjoyed the chance to visit with my aunt Ann, uncle Harold, Eric, and Kyle, who is often there working on the farm on the weekends.
Saturday morning we loaded the old barn boards onto the truck. Whatever I didn’t take from the pile would become kindling for my aunt and uncle this winter. I was sorry to not have room for every single board but the truck was full and I didn’t want to overload the older tires with such a long trip back home.
The house my mother was raised in. This was “Grandma Ruby’s house” of my childhood. My PawPaw built the house himself. The old toilet just off the bedroom in the lower right of the house was loud and used to scare the daylights out of me.
Hannah and I said our goodbyes and left around 2:00 p.m. Saturday. On the way back I showed her the house where my mother grew up, one of three simple homes my grandfather, or PawPaw, as we called him, built on a steep hill. Hannah took some pictures through the truck window as we drove along.
In downtown Pearisburg we walked around. It’s always smart to carry cash in small towns. I didn’t have any and could only scrounge $1.65 from the cupholder in the truck. But the snow cone stand attendant gave me a price break on a cone for Hannah. “Oh, that’ll do,” she said of the coins I offered. She piled up the shaved ice and poured on the strawberry syrup. Small towns.
The truck handled well as we made our way northeast with the load of salvaged wood securely strapped in the bed. At Blacksburg, we spent 30 minutes or so driving around the campus of Virginia Tech. We have more than a few Hokies in our family and I wanted Hannah to see the school that was often the topic of discussion, especially when football season was in full gear.
We headed north on I-81. The sky was blue, hills were green, and traffic wasn’t too bad. A couple of miles before the Glasgow/Natural Bridge exit, however, something went wrong. Suddenly the truck began to shake violently. I thought we had a flat. Those tires were too old to trust after all. But pulling off to the side, I didn’t see any sign of a flat tire. I tried to go on, but the same bumping and shaking started again.