Hauling Rocks

By Neil Joiner

The stream on my grandfather’s farm is shallow and narrow where it begins, only inches deep and two feet wide. The spring, which feeds it, is small but reliable even in the dry months of summer. A hundred feet in the woods, however, is a much different look.

Two tributaries, located closely together, join the flow. They run about half the year, mostly in winter and spring, then go dry for a while. Their contribution is nominal much of the time, but substantial after hard rains.

Not much has changed on the first part of the stream since my early childhood. Intermittent flooding from the branches, however, has eroded the earthen walls farther down and deepened the stream bed. Some banks have a four-foot drop and are 10 feet apart rather than two. Erosion has taken a gradual toll as seasonal water has whittled away soil and washed it toward the Ocmulgee River. I’m trying to stop that process, or at least slow it down. That’s why I’ve been hauling rocks.

My first efforts were focused on a small peninsula. It’s only 30 feet long and 20 feet across, but clearing vines and underbrush revealed undeniable charm. It’s a minuscule replica of Florida, complemented by one main attraction, a leaning tree. Our granddaughter, Megan, once climbed it to escape an alligator. The tree and the memory are special.

Eight boulders are in a cluster near the spring, each about the size of a rocking chair. They’re artistically positioned to overlook the branch. My brother, Jimmy, wondered aloud one day how such large rocks came to rest there. I thought God arranged them, but now I’m guessing Granddaddy lent a hand.

Stones from baseball size to five-gallon buckets are scattered throughout the woods. I’ve been tossing them in piles for a couple of years, saving them for later use. And I’ve come across a dozen or so rock piles that have been there for decades. Some were only partially hidden by nature. Others had multiple layers of rocks covered in topsoil and required some persuasion to leave.

I had been pulling up old fencing for several weeks before I realized the proximity of rock collections to the wire. They were all on the interior side of the fence nearest to the water, which led to another theory about my grandfather’s fences.

Woods are on both sides of the fencing, which I thought was put there to give livestock access to the stream. The piled rocks, however, cause me to believe that part of what I’ve always known as woodlands was once in pasture. It would make sense that rocks were thrown over the fence to get them out of the way, or maybe piled there before the fence was put up. The boulders are too heavy for lifting, but a mule team could have pulled them down the slope.

Maude and Tom were a mule-horse pair that my mother remembers from early childhood. Maude, the horse, was gentle, and Mama would take slow rides as her father or older brothers held the reins and led her. Tom was a good worker but not keen on entertaining.

How the pair fell into an open well in the field, I’m not sure. Apparently, the wooden sides had collapsed or been taken down, perhaps to make it easier to fill an abandoned hole with rocks. Maude went in headfirst with Tom falling on top of her. Tom was okay but Maude had to be shot by my grandfather, a sad day on the farm.

Rocks have always intrigued me, partly because my mother has collected them over the years for her flower garden and patio. They don’t bloom but never need watering, plus have stories to share if we listen closely.

The same stones that were unwelcome in the pasture were thankfully not discarded. Now they’re quite useful for lining the banks of the stream. I trust they’ll slow the erosion, and perhaps even help regain lost ground as a respite for passing sand. During the past decades these rocks have changed very little. Yet they’ve transitioned from being unwanted to greatly valued. It was a matter of finding a purpose and being given an opportunity.

Granddaddy would be pleased those rocks are being put to use. I hope 50 years from now someone will find they were beneficial to the stream and maybe even listen to their story. That’s why I’ve been hauling rocks.

— Neil Joiner
Vienna, Georgia
gneiljoiner@gmail.com, joinerscorner.com

Cotton Farming’s back page is devoted to telling unusual “farm tales” or timely stories from across the Cotton Belt. Now it’s your turn. If you’ve got an interesting story to tell, send a short summary to csmith@onegrower.com. We look forward to hearing from you.

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