Alas, lawn chair days in the sun (a glass of iced, sweet tea in hand) are swiftly passing. Katydids' hind legs are sawing out their autumn rhapsodies, and monarch butterflies hover about tall milkweed plants to deposit their eggs. It's time to find a sweater for the cool mornings and the noticeably less warm evenings.
September's full or harvest moon moved its magnificent golden orb through the nighttime sky on Sept. 20. Early Native Americans celebrating the end of summer harvest fittingly called it the "full corn moon."
Memories of shucking those golden ears by the wagonload, in moonlight bright as noonday, and picking peanuts off dried vines, are stuck in my brain. A yearly ritual (and a fun one), it was a routine part of farm work. It seemed not so tedious a task, out in the field underneath a big yellow moon. Telling ghost stories and other yarns added to our pleasure, though all the way home to bed we looked behind us with a creepy feeling clutching at our shirttails. Sure was fun to stick a bread pan full of those fat peanuts in the oven and parch them - a tasty, crunchy and healthy fall treat!
The late "Red" Clodfelter, an Oak Ridge native, shared stories about some of the past corn shuckings in our own once-sleepy hamlet on the Ridge. Those were events where you took your sweetheart and, according to Clodfelter, the first guy to find an ear of corn with a red cob got to kiss the prettiest girl.
With a big grin, he vaguely alluded to the fact that often there was a jar of "white lightning" hidden in the bounty to be shucked. That made the local boys work with more zeal, while the girls watched daintily, pretending mock horror at the very thought of a container of "spirits" somewhere in that pile of corn.
With October also comes the beautiful hunter's moon, which will occur on Oct. 20 this year; it is sometimes dubbed the "blood moon" because of its reddish glow from seasonal atmospheric particles. Moonlit evenings were the favorite time for Native American braves to venture out with bow and arrow, for the nocturnal animals could be spotted more easily. On farms, with wheat and barley cut to the ground, hunted creatures had fewer places to hide.
Hunting the raccoon, or "coon," was and still is a very popular sport, and hound dogs are bred for that purpose. And whether it be Bluetick, Plott, or Redbone hounds, these canines, properly trained, are highly prized by their owners.
Bill Gardner, born on the Ridge, long ago related how neighborhood men of former days liked to "run" their dogs at night. Buster Linville (now deceased) owned a very spirited riding horse, borrowed by one hunter who attached a rope of approximately 20 feet in length to a raccoon skin. Man and horse bounded through the woods, up roads (there was little or no traffic back then) and over hills, dragging the raccoon pelt; the bevy of dogs followed in a frenzy, howling and "baying."
With their four-footed friends chasing hard after the scent of the animal hide, their masters followed raucously in an old pickup truck. At a particular "yelp" somebody would yell, "That's my dog! Just listen to him!" Congenial, rowdy bragging ensued, each gentleman farmer declaring their "coon sniffer" to be the most worthy in the pack. This was definitely an important social event for the rural crowd!
Coonhounds yelping, and cries of the hunters at night was exciting to me as a child. Moonlight glinted on the frosty fields as I watched through the window, the light from kerosene lanterns moving through our woods. The most frantic baying of the dogs occurred when a raccoon was treed.
Parsons, Tennessee, boasts the largest coon hunt in the world each April, with proceeds going to St. Jude's Children's Hospital. In North Carolina, raccoon season officially starts on Oct. 28 and ends in February, with a limit of three per day. Those little masked bandits that enjoy turning over our trash cans are still enjoyed as "good eating" by some who consider it a traditional Southern dish, served on a platter with sweet potatoes. Most likely, "coon" was a free food staple on the tables of countless families during the country's Depression years.
The harvest moon and hunter's moon are traditionally honored by balls, festivals and other events. On the Wabash River near Lafayette, Indiana, a yearly hunter's moon gathering still celebrates French and Indian harvest festivals in the 1700s. And country comedian Jerry Clower, who is no longer with us, immortalized the raccoon hunt in a hilarious video, accessible on YouTube. It is worth a watch, whether you are "country-fied" or not, while sipping a cup of hot cider as those colorful leaves flutter past your window ...