Thoughts when Fall sets in

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 19, 2005

The roadside this time of year offers a tableau of the heritage of northeastern North Carolina, with great expanses of the earth set to rest, until needed again in the spring

When the adventurous arrived in these parts, they quickly recognized the potential of the rich, willing earth, which combined with the harvest from the waters, the abundant wildlife and a mostly gentle climate made this the first of the great farm lands of north America, casting an irresistible call to Europeans, where land was controlled by an entrenched aristocracy not about to part with it.

So the ships sailed, the people arrived with a commonality of purpose: to realize the potential of this bountiful place.

They settled the land, building homes and farms large and small.

Their labor intensive cash crops, cotton, tobacco and logs for lumber formed the capital for entrenching the businesses and the people, many free, many held as property, but all doing the work, in the fields, tending the animals, making the community function.

Little settlements grew up every few miles, where the churches were built, stores opened, farm supplies were sold, doctors practiced and schools taught.

Most are still with us:

Union, Powellsville, Woodland, Winton, Conway, Potecasi, Murfreesboro, Harrellsville, Colerain, Cofield, to name a few, many now a shadow of their former prosperity, having reached their sociological peak in the 1930’s and 40’s before industrial advancements wrought vast change to the farming industry and the seductive offerings of the cities stimulated a migration north that only now is beginning to reverse itself.

One irony is that the largest of area towns, Ahoskie, wasn’t sired by agriculture, but by a railroad track that made it the center of commerce in an era of railroad transport lasting as a shaper of society only about a hundred years, before being edged aside by super highways and supersonic air planes.

The drape of tradition is evident in those places still, especially in the Fall, when the crops are in, the fields have been put to bed and the traditional time for recreating arrives.

Fall bazaars, turkey shoots, fish frys, pig pickins and other ways of bringing people together are happening, it seems, at every crossroads these days, many times being a rationale for the fund raising of volunteer and church groups of every pedigree.

Tobacco as a crop is disappearing over the horizon; but, for the fortunate with tobacco allotment ownership, there’ll be one final cash payment before the broad leaves, rickety wagons and gas heated barns disappear forever from our landscape.

It seems like a good year for cotton, with those industrial sized bales lying everywhere, tarped against the rain and marked with code identifying the owner and who knows what else.

The corn seemed good to a casual observer this year; but the soybeans appear to have had mixed success.

The log trucks continue working the roads, heading for sawmills in a half dozen locations, each straining its output to meet the demands of a vibrant construction industry and a cry for more from hurricane devastated places.

The vistas change when the trees come down, pushed and sawn to the earth by powerful equipment and men who learn to work in this dangerous environment with a commendable flair.

The remains of this work are an ugly mixture of ripped earth and broken timbers, but it doesn’t take many months to see early signs of God’s plan for rebirth, beginning a new cycle, a crop germinated that many of us will never see harvested.

Fewer men and women work the fields these days; the equipment is too good.

Many now begin their days moving north to the ship yards, making the drive to Nucor, working the roads for Rose Brothers, laboring at Perdue, chasing chickens in the many houses devoted to that periodic ritual, trucking hogs to Virginia and containers everywhere, installing Brabble’s insulation, clerking in stores, working construction, building boats at Fineline and Regulator, making bottle caps at what we still refer to as Kerr Plastics, dealing with the logs at Georgia Pacific, or shaping the metal on Freeman’s important terminal product.

The cattle and horses are wearing their winter coats.

The coffee at O’Conner’s is appreciated a little hotter on cooler mornings, some of it leaving in thermos jugs, stashed in camouflage jackets.

Where every dirt road begins, pickup trucks are parked, resting in wait for their deer-seeking drivers to return from the hunt.

Aren’t the days wonderful when Fall sets in?

The color of the sunlight changes, it’s hue becoming a little redder as it settles lower in the sky, sending its summer heat elsewhere, delivering on winter’s promise.

The robins disappear, the turkeys fly to roost, the bears dig in.

Nature settles, to wait for Spring, when the abundance can begin again.

On Thursday, give special thanks for this place.