Grandmaw had the best gift of all. She claimed she could send her spirit up out of her body. She said, "You could lock me up in the jailhouse or bury me alive down under the ground. It don't matter where this old shell is at. My soul will fly off wherever I want it to be." She told me about a time she fell down in a sinkhole when she was little and couldn't climb back out. She had wandered far from the house and knowed her mammy and pappy couldn't hear her. She looked up at the sun between the roots hanging down like dirty hair and wished so hard to fly up out of there that her spirit took off, rose, and soared on back to her little house in the holler. That's when she figured out what her gift was. She had no memory of being stuck in a hole that day. What she remembered was watching her mammy roll out biscuit dough and romping with her puppy dog and picking daisies to braid a crown. Grandmaw wasn't even hollering when a man out hunting came along and his dog sniffed her out. That's the gift I wish I had. I'd go back to Chickweed Holler right now and see if everything still looks the same.
It doesn't take as much to poison a horse as people think. You just have to know what to feed one. A few oleander leaves, a little sorghum grass, a bit of yellow star thistle and a horse can choke faster than the vet can get there. Tie your horse to a black locust or a chokecherry tree and it could be dead within minutes. Bloodroot is dangerous to horses, too. We have a carpet of it growing down the side of our mountain when springtime comes, thriving under the shady tree canopy high above our house. We have to walk quite a piece each year to find it. Daddy says such a lush stand is rare these days. My brother Mark, Daddy, and I used to go up there with hand spades and a sack, noses red in the leftover cold of winter. Bloodroot can be harvested in fall but the leaves have died back, so it's harder to know where the plants are. That's why we always made the trip in early spring, when the flowers are spread across the slope like the train of a wedding gown. We had to be careful not to damage the roots. When Mark and I were small, Daddy would yell at us if we were too rough, "That's money y'uns is throwing away!" He taught us to shake the roots free of clinging black soil and brush off the bugs and pluck away any weeds that might have got tangled in. Then we had to move fast because bloodroot is easy to mold. We'd head back down the mountain with our sacks to spray the roots with the water hose attached to the wellhouse spigot, washing away the dirt. Once the roots were clean we put them in the smokehouse to dry for about a week. Daddy or one of us would check them for mold once in a while, and when they broke without bending they were dry enough to store. Sometimes we got up to ten dollars a pound. I've heard bloodroot's good for curing croup, and it's even been used for treating certain kinds of cancer. Some of it we kept for ourselves, to use on poison ivy and warts. I've known bloodroot to last in a cool, dark place for up to two years. It will also kill a horse. Daddy told me so last spring, the last time we went up the mountain to dig.
It was March and still cold enough to see our breath. Daddy lumbered along beside me and Mark walked on ahead because, even though we're both grown, he always had to be the fastest. We heard the crack of Wild Rose's hooves before we saw her.
"Dang horse," Mark said. He hoisted himself up by a sapling onto a shelf of rock. "She's loose again."
Daddy shook his head but I saw a grin ripple under his beard. His beloved Rose could do no wrong. Not far up the mountain we saw the bloodroot, a lacy white patch littered with dead leaves. Wild Rose stepped out of the trees near the scattering of flowers and stood looking down at us, tail switching. Her beauty took my breath away.
"I don't believe I've ever seen her stray this far from home," Mark said. "She must be looking for something to eat up here that she's not getting in the pasture. Do you think she needs a dose of vitamins, Daddy?"
Excerpted from Bloodroot by Amy Greene Copyright © 2010 by Amy Greene. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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