A Love Letter: In the Valley

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“Rest beside the clear waters of my beloved creek in my green valley of long ago.  The sleeping hills are so quiet.  There is so much to hear, the wind in the trees, the songs of the birds, the humming of the honeybees, the lowing of the longhorn cattle, the clop clop of a horse hoof on the rock bottom crossing, a lone rider comes riding down my valley of my childhood of long ago.  All of these are melodies of my heart.” ~Clementine (Walden) Jackson

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We have the rare gift of not only living in a neighborhood with gorgeous natural scenery, but also living in a neighborhood where some individuals have stayed in their family homes for multiple decades – even multiple generations – and witnessed dramatic changes during their days here as children and later grandparents.

As a lover of “old stories” and most things relating to nature, I mentioned to a few neighbors that I would welcome hearing their memories of long ago, about their experiences in our area and at the creek that our family now holds so dear.

A lovely neighbor and I emailed back and forth about this idea, and she ultimately was kind enough to trust me with a bundle of treasures – words describing memories of our neighborhood and land surrounding us from the past.

She said that years ago she discovered the book at the local library.  It contained a copy of essays by a woman named Clementine (Walden) Jackson.  Born in 1890, she describes her life growing up in the early 1900s, on what is today my neighborhood’s acreage, and was then her family’s home. It was titled: The Walden Home, In the Valley.

Because Walden is my grandmother’s maiden name, I felt an instant zing of connection when I saw the xeroxed typewriter ink and handwritten notes on the pages she passed through my door frame with her car running in my driveway.

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As I read through her collection of memories, all about The Waldens, who lived on our neighborhood land and surrounding hills for over six generations (mid 1800s – 1960s roughly), I am frequently moved to tears by her sentiment for the land, for her family members, and for days of long ago.

She loved the creek, the valley, and the hills that now surround my own family, in a way that resonates deeply in my bones.

When I read her words, I see my own feet wading in the clear waters.  I imagine my children dipping their heads through the waterfalls in delight.  I see my daughter excitedly catching a green sun fish in her net. I feel my head tipped skyward at the blue heron and white egrets perched in trees, and downward toward a softshelled turtle scuttling across the rock bottom, blending almost completely from vision with the creek floor stones.  I see my husband leaning over to smell and then taste a small piece of a mint leaf growing on a small rocky island.  I see us all noticing black walnuts on our trek toward the water from our home, and crunching pecans under our feet in the fall.

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I wish I could tell Clementine how much my love for this land echoes the love she writes about forming during her childhood days and years on these hills.

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“There is a longing in my heart for the outdoors, to seek the depths of the deepest woods where I find in their solitude rest.  Just to sit and listen to the birds and to feel that you are giving your soul a chance to grow.  Just to climb up on a hill and sit by yourself and feel close to God.” 

Throughout the pages, she laments the “scarring” of the land, as she watches the area develop from the year 1900 into the more modern era of paved roads and vehicles of the 1960s.

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“The creek made music night and day and the waterfalls roared on.  Fern and mint at the spring, cattle grazing along on the hills and up and down the valley.  Sycamore, wild cherry trees, in my green valley of yesterday years.  The years have come and gone but the little creek struggles on.  It doesn’t rush and sing like it used to do, and all of the beautiful trees are gone.” 

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She writes her essays as a 71 year old woman.  She is eloquent, in a way that only someone remembering love can be. I imagine her typewriter keys clacking as her memories of the land flood behind her eyes and intertwine in a dance with moments that include her beloved father, her sister Hattie, her mother passing away when she was five, and later her kind stepmother and half siblings, whom she adored.  The land holds her stories of them all.

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“How I loved the valley and the lovely hills of my childhood, the noble trees, the songs of the birds, the rushing water of the many waterfalls.  In memory I see again as in childhood days gone by, the wonderful time we would have playing on the hill.  So in just memory I will be able to walk beside a clear rushing creek and talk with friends of yester-years, and feel the love of my friends of long ago. ” 

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“These are the things I love and will never forget.  A tree in which a wild bird sings, the hill, the little spring, sunsets behind the hill and a full moon coming up from behind the hill across the creek.  It is so refreshing to remember the days of our childhood.  The fun we had at grandmother’s old log house.  We didn’t mind the summer’s heat or the winter’s cold.  We were having too much fun.  Never thinking of growing old.”

If she could have known how much a family like ours would one day later love her family’s land, and how much I will treasure our “moment” here too, I wonder, would that bring her any comfort?

Perhaps not.

Maybe it is destined that our hearts will break when we each one day recall our special memories of “yester-years”.  Some of my own yester-years will share the backdrops of the hills, creek and bluffs that inhabited Clementine’s, though they have been altered with time and developmental scars.

There will undoubtedly be further changes ahead for our land, our earth, our families, that will alter our most treasured backdrops away from the familiar beauties we know and love today.

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“Oh spare that aged oak now towering toward the sky.  When but a little child I sought its grateful shade. In all their gushing joy.  Here too my sister Hattie played.  My grandmother kissed me here.  My father pressed my hand, forgave my foolish tear.  But let that oak stand; my memories around it cling close as the bark, old friend; here shall the wild birds sing.”

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I will take heart in knowing that although Clementine (“Clem” as her father called her) grieved that all of the trees of her childhood were no longer here – like the oak in her grandfather’s yard, the black walnut tree that was sold by her uncle in 1918 to make airplane propellers for the first World War, the struggling creek, the new vehicle roads – that even despite those losses, today part of what we love most about our neighborhood are the beautiful large trees that surround us, the majestic hills and the flowing creek. My children and I even found black walnuts on our path to the water this very week. Would this make Clementine smile to know they are still here? And, perhaps more importantly, that we are still noticing them, and calling them to mind when we think of home?

Much has changed in our neighborhood, our creek, and world, since Clementine’s youth, and will continue to change as I age. This may unavoidably feel like a form of personal suffering to us each individually.  I’m guessing that it probably will.

But my hope is that, like the black walnut and oak tree she lamented would never rise again, beauty will keep trying to regrow and remain in spite of us all.

And maybe if those of us who pause to notice the black walnuts today, the button bush flowers, the white egrets, the blue and green herons, the wood ducks, the mustang grapes, the mulberry, the persimmon, the loquat, the pecans and figs that are still here, will show them to others, then they (we) will survive beyond the timeline we think is in store for them (us?) all.

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It gives me goosebumps to know that our two hundred year old native Pecan tree was a mature shade tree when Clem, her cousins and friends ran through these hills. And he’s still here with us, offering us shade and beauty today.

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“To me, the hills and mountains are God’s handiwork.  I think of them as being wise and holding great secrets of things past and things to come.”

Clementine, sister of the past, what a precious gift we both were given, to do life in this valley, to call this place our own for however short of a spell. You wrote, “Love lingers in the shadows of the hills I loved.”  I believe this, for I have experienced that whispering love myself.  Thank you for writing your stories, and thank you for pausing to notice and adore your hills, your creek, your valley, your family, your home.

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“The humble hills of my home valley will live in my heart.  No one shall take those memories from me of my green valley of long ago.  In my valley were the cheerful songs of wild birds, the low laughter of leaves and the cheerful chuckle of my mountain stream.  In my green valley of long ago my ancestors lived, labored, loved, hoped, prayed and died.”

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 “Did you ever walk on an old, discarded road?  Well, I did today; I hadn’t walked that road in over fifty years.  The road was on Bull Creek – one we used to travel in a wagon or on horse back, on our way to see Grandmother Walden.  I walked it alone, and as I walked, I could almost feel my father’s presence… As I walked that old road along the creek I almost felt like I was in a spirit world.  I felt like I could almost hear my friends and kin laughing, especially my father.”

 

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My Childhood Memories of Bull Creek
~ By Clementine (Walden) Jackson

In playful moods its crystal water skips

Along through shallow channels wide

Til checked in midst of dashing quips

It flows with deeper, slower tide

Where hanging willows fringe its edge

It seems to pause a moment there

To let their roots reach out and dredge

Sweet morsels for their daily fare.  

Where widening banks are pushed apart

As if to lend a greater strength and ease

It leaps with noisy swirl and racing heart

Across a dam of rock and broken trees

A coverlet of dancing foam

Churned white by waterfalls

Roofs over pools where fishes roam

And hides them from the angler’s call

No music made by human mind can bring such calm and restful pose

When I beside it quiet find from heart and toil

I think it knows

That I have come to seek a peace 

Not found except where nature holds

Complete control, and lends sweet peace, rest

To tired minds and to its bust enfolds

So give me every idle hour beside this lulling stream alone

For here beneath the willows bower

Is just the spot to dream of home

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