The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

In (partial) memory of Silas Clark

"Silas Clark, age 79, of Bristol, VA, went to be with the Lord on Friday, February 22, 2013 at the Wellmont Bristol Regional Medical Center.  Silas was born October 11, 1933 in Mendota, Virginia, a son of the late Burley and Rebecca Clark. He was a lifelong resident of Scott County and Washington County, Virginia where he had worked as a tobacco farmer. Mr. Clark was a member of Willow Branch Baptist Church. He was preceded in death by two sisters, five brothers and brother-in-law, Amos Murray."

Turkey hunterMost of my memories of Silas come from that golden childhood period when I assumed the stars (adults) revolved around the earth (me).  In other words, I really have no idea who he was.  Except for the obvious: farmer, father, salt of the earth, 'seng hunter, Gargamel.

We Pacifist-hippie offspring reacted to Silas's deer- and turkey-slaying with taunts of the worst evil we could imagine --- likening him to the villain in the Smurfs.  And our good-natured neighbor played along, pretended to chase us, and didn't mention our inconsistencies when we took home turkey primaries to cut into quill pens.

By the time I was in sixth grade, my family was still being drawn back to our long-sold farm like moths to a flame.  Silas and Onie's next-door house was a safe resting place in our afternoon journeys.  Mom made us bring shoes --- "You don't have to wear them, but they have to fit in case the car breaks down!"  And sometimes she'd let us sit in the open hatchback and bump our heels on the "dirt" (gravel) road along the way. 

We'd stop and gather berries or persimmons, depending on the season, at favored roadside spots, then I'd hunt minnows, scooping fish out of Silas and Onie's creek with a five-gallon bucket.  Back home, I poured the bucket through a banged-up colander and let our city cats enjoy a country feast as the fish flopped vainly in search of liquid air.

"You'll use all of our fish up!" Silas's grandson complained once.  Adult-Anna agrees, and cringes even more at the use to which we put our creek-caught crawdads, racing them down the gutter into the storm-sewer.  But at the time I was mourning the loss of our own wooded acres, and Silas and Onie tacitly took my side and let me treat their creek as my own.

During my fishing time, Mom was sitting under the spreading catalpa, talking to Onie, who had been a life-line during Mom's ten years on the farm, her own family 800 miles distant in Massachusetts.  I would drop by the shade tree, but soon became bored with adult conversation.  Instead, I ended up coaxing Silas's kittens out of the hole at the bottom of the shed.  There were always new kittens, but the farm didn't become overrun because the road was nearby and lethal.  I remember the passion with which Silas condemned the speeding drivers, and how easily he stroked the soft balls of fur.

Country storeRecently, Mom told me she learned easy family affection from Silas, mentioning how struck she was to find him holding three young daughters on his lap, when her New England parents had kept touch to a minimum.  Love --- so complicated for most of us --- was simple for Silas. 

Years earlier, when my mother-to-be showed up and turned a rented store into a honkey-tonk, Silas's teenage son was attracted to the action.  What did the newly-saved Silas do?  Invited the hippie to dinner, then crammed her into the car with his five kids and wife and brought them all to the fair.  The more the merrier.

My father's relationship to Silas was built around work.  I can only guess how Silas must have taken this overeducated, idealistic, new farmer under his wing and shared ideas as well as equipment.  Silas went so far as to turn Daddy on to the farm being auctioned off next door, which is how we became neighbors when I was a few months old.  Our right-of-way through Silas's land felt like a daily handshake, rather than an intrusion.

But you have to remember that the world still revolved around me then.  That I was intent on capturing tadpoles in Silas's cows' water trough and oohing and ahhing over the year's newest calves in the barn.  I was thrilled to drink from a dipper at the outside faucet, the water so cold it almost hurt, and to sneak stale potato chips discarded from the factory and trucked home to feed Silas's livestock.

GraduationThe truth is that I knew Silas only as the non-astronomers among us know the stars.  He was bright and memorable --- definitely part of Orion's belt --- but I'd be hard-pressed to tell you a fact as simple as the color of his hair before it went gray.  All I knew was the gestalt of Silas --- warm and strong and full of boundless love.

And that's why, I explained to my family, I couldn't begin to eulogize him on the blog.  Because all I really know is how much I miss him and how his death has left a black hole in my life.  And reminded me of a time when the sun revolved around the earth...even though that sun had kids and grandkids of his own.  The more the merrier.

"Survivors include: His beautiful bride of 60 years: Onie Mae Cresong Clark.  Children: Linda Ann Hawkeye & husband Vinny Halil Hawkeye, Larry Wayne Clark, Freda Hall & husband Allen, Christina "Tina" Rehfuss & husband Rafael Vega Laboy and Donna Clark-Wohlford.  Grandchildren: Carl Buttry, Duane Buttry, Alex Hawkeye, Anthony Hawkeye, Joel Tyler Clark, Kyle Aaron Clark, Amanda Hall, James Sitton, William Rehfuss and Heather Maiden.  Great-Grandchildren: Alexia Hawkeye, Alexander Ulysis Clark, Evan Buttry, Corey Ann Buttry, Isa Hawkeye, Yusuf Hawkeye and Maryam Hawkeye.  Sisters: Goldie Clark Murray.  Brother: Howard Clark & wife Vivian.  Numerous Nieces and Nephews."  --- Bristol Herald Courier

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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This brought a tear to my eye -- beautifully written. Very sorry for your loss, Anna.
Comment by mitsy Sat Mar 2 12:01:56 2013
I was finally able to feel how much I will miss Silas, because of what you wrote, Anna. His endurance, as well as his wit, made him --and Onie--so special to me. I wa always so touched by his picking up and husking out all those chestnuts, that he would give us at Hallowe'en! I took dried chestnuts many times, when I went on my long trips back to South Weymouth.) I'm glad I did give him that critter-gitter trap, so he could get the raccoons and possums that would raid his corn! I wish I'd really learned how to grow corn-field beans!! Some little-size garlic I have here in town, came from his weeding it out along his fence, so his cows wouldn't eat it. In return I gave him his start of rhubarb, from a big patch at the Old House at the Store. I learned about Jericho Hollow from Larry. But I would talk over all of my discoveries, tramping around in the hills and hollows, with Silas. I'm thankful we all did go to Willow Branch Church together for his funeral. Daniel Clark, his nephew, I knew before I knew Larry or Silas...Daniel and his brother, Marvin, once showed me an enormous cave, closer to the Gate City H'way. I might try going back over to Willow Branch again. Life is short--but can be sweet:)
Comment by adrianne Sat Mar 2 13:37:11 2013
What a wonderful tribute...reminds me of my own 'adopted grandparents' who sold the farm to my parents.
Comment by John Amrhein Tue Mar 5 06:31:08 2013
Very nice to be able to come across this webpage. My name is Nathanael Robinson. I am a great grandson of Goldie Blanch Murray and Amos Beecher Murray. My grandfather was James Beecher Murray who passed away last year. I would very much like to get into contact of any family members from our clan and learn our history. Thank you for your time and I hope all is well.
Comment by Nathanael Robinson Tue Jul 10 02:53:47 2018

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