Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sights & Sounds of a Mountain Childhood

A long time ago I lived in a small village in the North Georgia mountains. In its summers, I enjoyed the simplicity of living and never knew boredom. Those long, sun-filled, mountain- breezed days would last forever, or so it seemed.

There were no radios, televisions or telephones. Communication in the village, over the hills and to distant places came about through mail, foot, automobile, newspapers, books and magazines.

Today's youth would complain, "There's nothing to do. Nothing ever happens here. I'm bored."

But big events did happen in those serene hills. Birds! In April, the big experience was the return of the birds. The coming-home-song of the wood thrush would jolt me out of bed. Quickly dressing, I would rush out into the nippy dawn to find the speckled-throated songster.

And down in the greening orchard, the clear sweet song of the bright indigo bunting bubbled out over the countryside. This small bird began singing as the first sunbeams wrapped the highest hills in light and continued all day long, literally.

For as long as I can remember, phoebes nested on a window frame of my parent's bedroom. We welcomed them home when first we heard the male call in an irritable voice, "phoebe, phoebee," as if he wanted his mate to hurry up and get busy with house building.

Then there's the summer tanager I put to bed each summer night. A big white oak stood below the wall of the front yard and near the road. As darkness crept over the land, I sat under the tree and listened for the tanager's bedtime chatter. "Quick, pick-it-up," he taunted a half dozen times. He seemed to be telling the family to clean up the clutter before hitting the hay. He sputters and spits a few times and then everything is quiet. He goes through this "to-bed" procedure every night, sleeping on the same grizzled mattress under the same green blanket. I wait until he's quiet, then I go into the house. Deepening dusk draws the shutters for the night for both the bird and me.

Our house had a tremendous peaked roof made of weathered shingles. Up from the ground and over the tin-roofed porch, and up the peaked two-story roof, between the two chimneys at either end of the house, ran a lightening rod. It dropped from the peak down the back roof and into the ground at the well porch.

We used to play on the lightening rod. Scrambling up the rod and holding tight, we reached the roof peak. Straddling the peak and grasping the rod, we scampered across the roof to the far chimney. Here, we were in the treetops with the chickadees and titmice and blue jays. And we could look down on the mimosa tree with sometimes a dozen nectar-feeding, ruby-throated hummingbirds. From this exalted position, the horizon expanded over countless mountains and we could see Amicoloa Falls dashing down its rocky slide into a jagged mountain stream some sixteen miles away.

Spanking after spanking we received when we were caught on the roof, but the spankings never deterred us from experiencing this thrill again and again when we could slip to the roof without our mother knowing it.

There's something about the returning birds that sends my senses reeling. The bird chorus that comes with the mountain dawn awakened me to a medley of songs and calls and inspired me to rise with the birds and enjoy the freshness of the morning.

My childhood in the mountains taught me much and has made my life tremendously richer. I feel sorry for today's youngsters who have their sense of wonder of the great outdoors dulled by having only computers and TVs to tell them of the big events of summer days exploding all around them.