Creekbank Blog

The writing blog of Curt Iles and Creekbank Stories. Our mission: To connect hearts to God by using stories of encouragement and inspiration.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Pine Knot Pile: A Lesson on Earthly Treasures

All of a sudden, the February wind picked up and turned out of the south. Instantly what had been a small controlled fire in my back field became a raging monster.
The flames spread rapidly through the dead knee high grass – as fast I as I could, I ran ahead with my faithful firefighting weapon – a wet grass sack. But no one person, nor any wet sack, was going to curtail this fire. It seemed to have a malicious mind of its own as it raced northward.
DeDe and the boys came running out of the house. Armed with brooms, buckets, and a shovel, they ran to join me but were also driven back by the raging racing fire. All five of us knew exactly where the fire was going – right toward one of my most precious possessions: my pine knot pile.
Now before coming back to the fire, let me clue you in on what a pine knot pike is. Southwestern Louisiana was naturally populated with Yellow Pine, or as we now call it, Longleaf Pine. Every area of upland was covered with these slow-growing but stately pines. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, all of the virgin pine forests were clear-cut by large timber companies. Where huge tracts of pines had once towered only open fields of stumps now stood. The timber companies came in, cleared large areas for miles, and then moved on.
These Yellow Pines had many great qualities. Prime among them was the tree’s large heart, or inner core. This resiny heart, instead of rotting, turned into a rich, sappy wood. These remains of pine stumps were called “rich lighter” or “fat pine.”
Due to its thick rosin, lighter pine would burn easily and has always been the preferred method of starting fires in cook stoves and fireplaces for generations.
In the 1940’s, Crosby Chemical Company of Picayune, Mississippi moved into Beauregard Parish and began harvesting the remaining stumps for their turpentine mill.
Turpentine is the syrupy liquid in these pine stumps. It can be used for many commercial purposes. In addition to these industrial uses, country people gathered all of the rich pine they could for their personal use. Every older home had a large pine pile in the backyard or near the barn.
Every home proudly considered their pine supply a great prize. Fires were the method of keeping warm and cooking. During the winter a fire was usually burning in either the fireplace or cook stove around the clock. However, over the years as propane and electricity became part of our rural culture, cook stoves and cooking in the fireplace became lost arts.
In spite of these modern improvements, most people kept their fireplaces going. There is no substitute for sitting cozily by a popping and crackling fire as the cold wind moans and the rain blows against the house.
Because of the proliferation of fireplaces, nearly every country home continued to have a pine knot pile. When DeDe and I bought our Dry Creek home in 1985, I was excited to also inherit a huge pine knot pile in the corner of our back field. The land on which we now live had been a second growth forest until it was cleared for soybean farming in the 1960’s. This was during a time when the price of soybeans skyrocketed and many residents cut and cleared their pine forests to plant beans.
As they cleared the land I now live on, the pine stumps and knots were placed in an impressive pile in the corner of the field. This pile reached head high and was twenty feet wide.
I inherited this lifetime supply of pine when I purchased our home and the surrounding acreage. With pride I pointed this treasure pile out to my family and friends. I could feel the envy of men as they commented on this vast and valuable pile. There was enough here to easily last a lifetime and more. Starting a fire in our fireplace was easy with the pine splinters cut from these stumps.
I tried not to be completely selfish with this abundant supply. I shared wheelbarrow loads with my dad, family, and neighbors. Even after ten years of use, I hadn’t even made a good dent in my pine pile.
However, this hot runaway fire in my back field, started by me, was approaching my pine knot pile, and was going to make more than a dent in it. As suddenly as the brush fire got to the pine pile, it was completely engulfed in flames. The fire and thick choking black smoke billowed high into the sky.
If it’d been anything but my pine knot pile, it would have been enjoyable to watch …But it was my “lifetime supply” of pine literally going up in smoke as we stood and watched helplessly.
DeDe went inside and called the fire tower to inform them as to the source of the thick black smoke. The tower observer replied to her, “Ma’am, go easy on your husband.  It’s a tough thing on a man to lose his pine knot pile.”
It had all happened so quickly and was over in a matter of minutes. There, where fifteen minutes earlier my huge pine knot pile had towered, was now only charred ashes and smoking chunks of wood.
I think back to my precious pine knot pile when I read Jesus’ words in Matthew 6. He reminds us that all earthly treasures someday will rust, corrode, rot, become moth-eaten, be discarded and abandoned, or as in my case – burn up.
When you see someone driving a new car off the sales lot, remember that one day the new and shiny car, will be junked, smashed, and melted down.
Jesus told us to hoard heavenly treasures – the things that really last: eternal things. The only things I’ve seen that really last are God’s word, His love, and people’s souls. :Therefore, that’s where our treasures should be.
Earthly treasures have their place, but we should never forget they are only temporary. Just like my pine knot pile, they can so quickly and unexpectedly leave us. However, the things of God are the only things that really matter – and they last forever.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6:19-21

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Aunt Eliza in the Congo

The following fascinating article is from a Beaumont Daily Journal article in November 1920. It features a letter from the Belgian Congo, Africa written by my great-grandfather’s sister, Eliza Iles:

Headline: Miss Eliza Iles writes of trip to Congo, Africa

Miss Eliza Iles, who was deaconess for the First Methodist church in this city for three years and is now in Africa doing mission work, has written an interesting account of her trip to her uncle, Dr. D.C. Iles of Lake Charles.

The letter was written November 12, 1920 from Wembo, Niama, Lusambo, Congo Belgi, Africa, and the following extract from the letter tells of her trip:

“We reached here November 3, making three months and three days since leaving New York City. Suffice to say, we had a great time shopping and sight-seeing in London, though we were delighted leave that chilly country. Spent a part of three days in Brussels and saw lots and enjoyed it. Then came the three weeks from Plymouth, England to Africa on board the Albertville. Caught glimpses of France and Spain. Stopped at one of the Canary Islands. Tenerife, and at Dakar on the west coast of Africa and then straight on to Bama, the capital of Congo Belge, and then to Matadi, where we left the ship.

Here we spent a week with Dr. Sims, who has been in the Congo as a medical missionary for nearly forty years and has only had three furloughs. He is in charge of the Baptist Mission at Matadi.

We went from Matadi to Kimbasa by rail and it was an awful trip. Fifteen of us were in a veritable box car that had only twelve seats. We traveled all day, almost next to the engine that burned wood, and several of us caught fire, but put it out before much painful damage was done. I might add that the clothes that we used on that trip were not used thereafter!

We spent the night at a small placed called Thyaville and resumed our awful trip in the afternoon to find no place to stay, so we went on to Leopoldville, a few miles further on, and spent two nights and a day at an abandoned Baptist mission. We did our own cooking, slept two on a single bed and paid $10 for a sugar cured ham that I am sure must have been as old as I.

We were a happy crowd when we learned that we could go on board a river boat the next morning. We were three weeks coming up the four rivers and the scenery along the journey was beautiful. We saw hippos bobbing up out of the water, monkeys swinging from trees, and crocodiles sunning themselves and the natives all along were most interesting, and I learned to love them long before I got here.

We had goat meat, mutton, and Irish potatoes on the trip, with not much else but fruit, as it could be bought along the way. I sure enjoyed the sugar cane and bought it every chance I got.

Dr. Mumpower gave us medical lectures on tropical diseases, as we came up the river, and he also taught us the language. We reached Lusambo, October 18 and my, but we were glad. Mr. Shadel from our own mission was there to meet us. A man from the Presbyterian mission met us also and we stayed with them a week until our caravan came here for us.

It was a thrilling sight when188 men came marching in, keeping time to a hammock song, and say: but we were glad to see them. There are larger men than some of the other tribes and are a proud people for they have never been slaves and have never been conquered save by the Belgians, who own the Congo.

We left Lusambo on the long, long trail for our destination on October 25. The first thing we encountered was an awful hill and one of the men had to go ahead and partly pull me up, for we could not ride up the hill in our hammock. We traveled about three hours that day and spent the afternoon and night at a native village. At each village is a “red house” put up by the chief for travelers. When we got there the natives crowded around so thick that we could hardly turn. The chief had his natives bring us fruit, such as “paipais”, bananas, peanuts, mangoes, and egg rice, cassava root and other vegetables. We had two boys along to do the cooking and a couple more to look after our beds. We slept on army cots and had to have mosquito nets. The nurse in charge here had sent a special boy along for me and he was quite handy in looking after my canteen, raincoat, sweater, and the pillow for my hammock.

We would get up between 3:30 and 4:30 o’clock and get started by 4 or 5 o’clock. We would travel until 11 or 12 o’clock when we would stop at a village for the afternoon and night. At last on the ninth day we came to Wembo Niama.

Before we were nearly here, many natives from the village met us, also native drummers- and what with the drums beating and all of the natives singing and keeping time to hammock song, and the men trotting with our hammocks, we were somewhat stirred up. We had to pass through the native village of Wambo Niama first and at last halted within our own gates of the mission and the missionaries came running to meet us. I was overjoyed to see my friend Kathron. My, but she had had some experiences. She has been the only physician, nurse or dentist within two weeks travel, for three years.

My, how the missionaries and natives love her. Her furlough is due and she and Mrs. Shadel will soon be leaving.

We surely have lots of servants—mostly boys—and they do not want us to do a thing. I am not finding the language hard. Of course, it will be some time before I have a working knowledge of it. We have chicken every day and get 80 eggs a week from the natives. Also have ducks, antelope, and goat meat. I enjoy the sugar cane and Mr. Shadel makes good syrup.

This fascinating article was supplied by my aunt, Lloydell Iles Mullican. If you have any information on Aunt Liza and her life, please post it as a comment on this site. I would love to compile a booklet from stories and comments.

Thanks so much! Curt