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.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Pine Knot Pile: A Lesson on Earthly Treasures
(Below: Dry Creek's finest pine knot pile at the Jay Miller estate)

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

Monday, October 15, 2007

Epilogue: Wet Paint

This painting by my beloved uncle, Bill Iles, hangs in DeRidder's Beauregard Museum. It features one of DeRidder's earlier meeting places, The Royal Cafe.

Uncle Bill is my greatest writing encourager as well as a mentor and friend for life.

The following essay is from my second book, The Old House (2002). It is the final story in that book and describes the pain and pride of finishing a book. I thought of this book this morning (Oct. 15) as I took The Wayfaring Stranger to the publishers.

Wet Paint

As I end this book, I’m aware of something I’ve learned through this process: You never really finish a book. Just when you think you have it ready, along comes an idea for an addition, correction, or something else you discover that you believe could “make it better.”
It has always amused me when I’ve attended art shows featuring the work of my Uncle Bill. More than once, as I’ve stood up close to one of his oil paintings, studying the detailed texture, I’ve had him ease up to me and whisper, “Don’t get too close to that one. The paint is still wet. I stayed up all night ‘touching it up.’ ”
I now understand why Uncle Bill kept touching up his paintings- when we step back and look at something we’ve “made,” we can always see some way it could be improved. So please accept this book from me- even though the paint is still wet.
Make it your own and enjoy it.
During Christmas 1973, this same uncle, Bill Iles, gave me a very unusual present: a blank notebook. Little did he, or I, know this little book would be the starting line of my journey of writing. Since that Christmas three decades ago, I have filled many notebooks with my scribbling.
Many of the stories you’ve just read evolved from those journal entries. Many more lie buried in that precious stack of journals I keep in a cardboard box. Some stories may find their way into future books, while others are so personal I would never share them with anyone. Some are pretty good (I think.) However, when I read other entries, I say, “What in the world was he thinking when he wrote that garbage?”

The following words of encouragement come from the original letter Uncle Bill inserted in that first journal. I still cherish this simple handwritten note in his descriptive handwriting,

I hope you use this book as if it were a silent friend– something to confide in. Write down your personal observations about the world around you. . . whether it is something specific, like the fragile mystery of a spider’s lace-like web, or something general like, “All people are interesting– sometimes.”

But write– don’t worry about sentence structure, or spelling, or punctuation, or anything else– invent your own way of putting it down. . . but write.

Write about the things that turn you on– the things you like, and the things you love. And also write about the pain you see and feel– the things that upset you or disturb you. In writing these things down in this, your little book, you will be discovering parts of yourself that lie deep within, next to the soul of your being . . . and also discovering parts of the awesome sacred mystery of life– and the beauty of words. The more we feel (both joy and pain), the more we are alive and complete as human beings.

With my love I offer you these blank pages– fill them with your feelings.
-Love, Bill

So once again, here I sit on the front porch of the Old House. In my hands, I hold a journal full of empty pages. Again, I begin the joyful and painful task of turning the deep feelings of my heart into visible, written words.
I write for the same simple reason as when I wrote the first sentence in that original journal: I write because I enjoy it! It doesn’t matter if anyone ever sees this new story I’m writing, or if it ever makes it into some future book.
I write because it brings me joy… and helps me better understand this miracle we call life.
. . . And there is no place where I see this surrounding miracle more clearly, than when I sit here on the front porch of this house…
. . . The Old House, at the end of the road, deep in the woods on Crooked Bayou.