Often in my childhood, my grandfather would take me with him to the back pasture. It was a healthy walk from the house up through the hayfields, past the tobacco patch, to the pasture gate. Sometimes we would ride the tractor part of the way.
The gate was a wooden gate. At one time someone had painted it, but the paint was faded and almost gone. When you passed through the gate a cow-path led you between two bare hills by a large sink-hole, to the rocky knob that overlooked the river bluff. I learned that you were supposed to pull up mullein if you saw it growing. It had a way of proliferating and crowding out the grass which was the means of fattening the cattle. Thistles were also noxious weeds that grew, mainly in the flat bottoms of the hilly pasture. When they got out of control, Pappaw sprayed the pasture with brush killer. Wild roses, blackberry and raspberry briars were also attacked.
Atop that bluff overlook was a thin stand of poplar and oak under which the cattle rested in the heat of the day, chewing their cud. An ancient oak rose from the top of this knob, gnarled with knotty bark and a huge piece of dead wood where the tree had once been struck by lightning. Its roots were so protruding as to afford a natural seat for anyone who dared to go among the lounging cattle. The curious cattle would approach you to see if you had anything they wanted, swishing their tails to drive away flies.
The path then crossed the top of another ridge around the new fence, above a new stand of black walnut trees over to the top of the highest hill, on which a lone locust tree stood, defiantly, bent and twisted with experience. Then the path went through another gate down into the large hollow that led to the creek. Near the bottom was a rock outcropping upon which salt was strewn to add to the nutrition needs of the cattle. Whenever we needed to announce to the cattle that salt was there, Pappaw would call them with a distinctive “Whooo-calvie!” They would come running like kids to an ice cream truck.
While the cattle were licking salt, I was allowed to take off my shoes, roll up my pants legs, and wade the creek, looking for minnows. A distinctive smell of dog ferrell, wild mint, and creek water still permeate my memory.
Near the creek was the cattle loading chute, where we would back up a large truck to the gate, gather the cattle, load them on the truck and haul them away, usually to the stockyard at Kingsport or Gate City. With a good stick in one hand, the other hand free to handle the gate or twist the tail of a calf who needed encouragement to go on the truck, working quietly, patiently, always got the job done. Overgrown cedars would reach over the fence, nodding in agreement as the cows moaned after their young.
The pasture has long ago grown over with neglect. Cattle no longer graze there. But memories abide of berry-picking, spraying weeds, and taking those walks to check on cattle and secure the fence.