Ready or not, here comes winter

by Vivian Lawson Hogue

Autumn has always been the most exhilarating season for me. The earthy aromas and colors lacking words for description and a sense of the unpredictability of coming weather hones the edges of the senses.

Poet Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote, “I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house.” I think Nat and I could have been good friends. Thoreau could join us, as he once said, “I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.” I’ll bet they jumped in piles of leaves, too.

People celebrate fall in several ways. You will find them checking the media outlets to see what marathons, bike tours, craft festivals or holiday sales are advertised. They assess their running/biking/walking gear to fit colder weather. They hope for good fuel prices for sight-seeing travel. Thus it seems that fall has primarily become a matter of business and socialization. It is most certainly a gratifying change in the weather.

But if we pay attention, we will see those among us whose autumnal activities once provided their life’s sustenance and comfort. For many, they still do. Even my young years of reading the newspaper comics while lying on a hand-braided rug in front of the Dearborn heater were signs of a more comfortable generation. And yet, some of my own generation did not have the comics nor any heat other than woodstoves and fireplaces that burned hand-split firewood from their own property. If you ever feel neglected in life, try going to an outhouse in 20 degrees of sleet. Or bring two pails of water up from the springhouse, thinking it may turn to ice before you hit the front door. As I think of local antique homes whose once-productive water wells are now underneath house floors, as is my own, I can appreciate running water.

Faulkner County and many parts of Arkansas and elsewhere still have residents who live in rugged circumstances. On a pleasure trip through the Ozark and Ouachita mountains and their foothills, one can still see that seasons are serious matters of life for some people. By November their minds have not been on running shoes and festivals, but on making sure they are prepared for winter.

When a wisp of smoke is seen coming from a small house’s metal or brick flue you can bet the inhabitants have “laid by” their fall crops.

Home canning is likely complete although there may be some green tomatoes left for frying. Quilts are aired and the frames are readied for another one to stitch during a winter spent inside. The house will have been weatherized as much as possible, and vehicle batteries and anti-freeze checked. Some folks have had their hog killings and processed them for bacon, hog jowl, ribs, pigs’ feet and other delicacies perhaps too delicate to mention. Some of the garden seeds have been dried and saved for next spring, and herbs, onions and garlic are tied by their leaves or stems to hang in a cool, dry place.

My dad used to tell how his hill family had pond ice for home use for months during the early 1900s when Arkansas had successive bone-cold winters. They would chop out a large chunk of ice and bury it in the barn in straw bales that served as insulation. So now, I feel guilty when I push my glass against a button on my refrigerator and ice and cold water come forth. But that sweet, clear, cold water I remember drinking from my grandparents’ spring had no need for filters or electricity — just a dented tin dipper hanging by a nail hammered into the side of a barn-gray springhouse many autumns ago.


A native of Conway, Vivian Lawson Hogue graduated from the University of Central Arkansas with a degree in art education. A retired teacher, she worked in the Conway School District for 23 years. She is editor of the Faulkner County Historical Society’s semi-annual publication, “Faulkner Facts and Fiddlings.” She can be reached at [email protected].