Some twenty-odd years ago, I grew tired of uprooting my young family every six months or so and dragging them off to a different part of the country to construct yet another power line.
Now, I loved my job. I was good at it, and I made a lot of money doing it. But like a lot of men that work in transient construction, I learned that constantly moving from project to project was simply not compatible with having children in school. Many men in that position settled their families in one town or another and kept working the power line, going home to see them when breaks between jobs allowed. I saw a lot of marriages - and families - end that way.
I eventually had to make a choice between leaving my family for extended periods of time or dumping the construction life - with its attendant cash - in favor of settling down to do something else.
So I abandoned the power line.
It's not as noble as it may sound, and in fact, the choice was a fairly easy one to make. I love my wife and children and missed a lot of "fathering" time when I worked construction. Also, I've never really been driven to make money at the expense of everything else in life (which is probably why I don't have any).
While waiting on my severance pay and profit-sharing disbursement, Karen and I sat in our Colorado townhouse and decided on a future. It came down between Flagstaff, Arizona, where we would labor at whatever work was available while I tried to write books, or Nashville, Tennessee where I would try to write songs.
We chose middle Tennessee and moved into a small house in the country at the end of a mile-long lane in a rural county about an hour west of Nashville.
It took just one walk down that lane beneath the massive hardwoods that towered above it, and across sparkling clear spring-fed streams while breathing air soaked with honeysuckle to see why Daniel Boone declared Tennessee "another Eden". Everything is so green there. And flowers bloom in profusion - on many of the trees, shrubs, and on the ground, down in the shadows and in patches of dappled sunlight along the creeks.
The woodland there is full of life. Birds of all kinds flit through the trees, cardinals, goldfinches, indigo buntings, orioles, nuthatches, bluebirds, wrens, bluejays, and hummingbirds. Squirrels, chipmunks, turtles, rabbits, and foxes abound.
We fell in love with the place.
One day, as we were walking along the stream that ran near our house, I looked down upon hundreds of feathery, delicately-bunched plants that spread across a shady level place.
"Those look like onions," I exclaimed. Reaching down, I pulled up a bunch. And, lo, they were indeed onions, wild and pungent. And numerous.
A few days later, Karen was making either soup or brown noodles and discovered that she didn't have an onion. As I was going out the door on my way to the little grocery at the top of the hill, I remembered the discovery we'd made along the creekside. Standing in the doorway, I looked back at her.
"What about those onions down by the creek?" I asked. "Wouldn't they work?"
She thought for a moment, and I could see the adventurer in her take over. She smiled. "Why not? Let's give them a try."
Well, washed up and trimmed, they worked marvelously. Those wild beauties possess a sweet flavor that is not found in domesticated onions. We used them anytime that we found ourselves lacking in the cultivated variety. Eventually, we used them almost exclusively. And wild onions are just one of the bounties that the Tennessee countryside provides free of charge. There are also morel mushrooms in March, a profusion of sweetly tart wild blackberries in the summer, wild cherries, wild grapes, black walnuts in the autumn, and watercress in every small stream.
For many reasons, I currently live in Texas, and I miss Tennessee. It's autumn there now; the forested hills are brilliant living tapestries of color. The mornings are cool, and all the valleys are filled with hickory smoke. You see, this is the time of year when they harvest and fire burley tobacco, the kind from which cigarettes are made. The plants are hung high up in huge barns and then a fire is started on the floor of the barn. This fire is fed with hickory sawdust. Hickory is so dense that it really doesn't burn; it just smolders, sending forth a thick, pungent smoke that over time turns the enormous leaves of burley that rich golden brown color.
One early morning of the first autumn that we lived there, I was driving to work when I passed a large barn. Thick, prodigious smoke poured from every aperture. Dutifully alarmed, I stopped at the next house, ran to the door, and knocked furiously. An elderly lady answered the door.
Pointing, I blurted, "That barn is on fire!"
She stared. "That's my barn!"
She went to the edge of the porch and looked down the road, panic quickening her steps and widening her eyes.
Then she collapsed into a wicker chair in a paroxysm of laughter. She laughed and laughed and laughed.
It occurred to me that I might be missing some piece of information that was vital to the situation.
Eventually, she regained control, wiped her eyes and grinned up at me. "You're new around here, aren't you, son?"
"Yes, ma'am; we moved here back in May."
She proceeded to enlighten me on that wonderfully aromatic ritual that every farmer in that region engages in every autumn. Then, I'm certain, after I left, she called every one she knew, and every one that she knew had a good laugh at the expense of those new folks living down on the creek.
Yes, I miss Tennessee. I miss the lovely patchwork colors of fall, and the lush aroma of hickory smoke that hangs in the cool air of autumn mornings.
And I miss wild onions.