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Senior Correspondent

Sometime in the past few weeks the wet stormy weather that had vexed us all year turned to something approaching perfection. Cool days, mostly, with enough sun to remind you it's still late summer but enough nip to the breeze to remind you that autumn is coming on. Thermometer this morning read 53 degrees — not cold, but enough to grab your attention.

It brought to mind a phrase from something we learned back in high school days in a writing class. I don't recall and couldn't Google up the author or the precise phrasing, but the line was its own form of perfection: "It was the kind of day October served up — warm and soft in the middle and crisp around the edges." That used to describe exactly the best days of October down in the Piedmont, but up here around 3,100 feet or so, we're having the best of the crisp around the edges part every day and it's only early September. 

The lower corner

Fine weather has allowed us to catch up on chores interrupted for eight or nine months by heavy rains, dense fogs and gooey ground. We're about halfway around the old garden, stretching out some 300 feet of 1047 field fence (so called because it has 10 horizontal wires and it's 47 inches high) with a Rube Goldberg rig involving a portable dummy post bolted to the front of our 4WD RTV, two come-alongs and a pair of 45" angle irons bolted to the end of a piece of fencing as a kind of bracket to stretch the fence out tight. Here's a quick look at the gizmo.

Stretching fence

We're also finding time to clean up some of the old buildings on the property, some of which are leaning badly. The old homestead down in the bottom has begun losing its rusty metal roof, and siding has exposed a second-story room to the ravages of wind and rain. The first-floor ceiling below it has begun to let go, and I'm trying to salvage anything useful from the old place.

A couple days ago I sorted through the old barn wood that we've stored on the front porch there for years, and I was amazed, once again, to find such wide boards in relatively good shape. I won't know for sure until I plane off the silvered outside wood, but in the past many of these boards have turned out to be American Chestnut — cut down in the 1920s and 30s after the blight came through, and government officials urged that all trees be brought down before the blight ruined them for any use at all. I've got some 16 inch-wide planks of what I think is chestnut, as well as some smaller stuff that might be cherry. Years ago I planed down some barn board and was stunned to find some lovely cherry — rich in color and still sound beneath the 1/8 inch weathered grain on the outside — that was used for siding on a corn crib or some such farm shed.

These old boards are treasures of sorts. They stood up to decades of heavy weather, witnessed the joys and tragedies of generations of farm families and still await further use as sturdy tabletops, chair legs or picture frames. That'll take some study, figuring out how to make the best use of wood that grew up on this property, helped feed and shelter the hardy folk who lived here and is still good for generations more. Mute though those boards are, they bear witness to vivid stories of life on the mountain.

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