An adventurous spirit

Published 11:00 pm Friday, September 21, 2012

When Ruth Overstreet isn’t traveling the world, she’s content at the home she built herself in Spring Hill. Overstreet spends her “at home” time in her backyard, caning and growing pears, persimmons and muscadines.

Unless you know where Ruth Overstreet’s house is and are looking for it, you’ll miss it.

She won’t say so, but she might have planned it that way.

Overstreet grew up on a farm in rural Nebraska so she’s accustomed to the quiet life. Some might think her a hermit or a recluse, but there’s nothing further from the truth.

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It’s just that when Overstreet ventures off her place in Spring Hill, she’s off on a great adventure.

She has traveled in all 50 states, “except the tiny ones,” Rhode Island and Vermont, and 42 countries around the world. Some might think that she would have a favorite place or a favorite state but, “No, every place I’ve ever been is a best place.”

And, Overstreet’s home is not the place she would rather be.

Wherever Overstreet is, is where she wants to be.

She was in a state of perfect contentment Thursday afternoon as she sat on the porch of the house she built. She watched the hummingbirds flitter back and forth to the feeder.

“There’s quite a few of them,” she said. “I can’t tell how many because they don’t all come at once. They’ll soon be leaving. Going to Mexico or Central America. It’s amazing that something that dinky can fly that far and across all that water.”

Overstreet was taking a short break from a day of work. Three buckets of persimmons, “astringent and non-astringent” were evidence of her efforts along with a gathering of chestnuts.

“This is just about the last of the persimmons,” she said. “My trees didn’t make that much this year. It was too dry. Just didn’t get any rain up here on the hill. One time, I got a little over three inches. The rain didn’t come after that. I sold between 300 and 400 pounds this year where I used to sell a thousand pounds. Trees just didn’t make. That’s why I took the sign down.”

The “sign” is a signal to the community that Overstreet is home from her travels and primed to share the fruits of her harvest with others.

Several times during the harvest season, Overstreet hangs out her “welcome” sign. The first is when her pear trees bear fruit.

“I had a lot of pears. A lot of people have a lot of pears,” she said, with a smile. “I put the pears down by the road with a sign that said, ‘donations appreciated.’ I got from $4 down to nothing. That was all right. I appreciated the donations I got.”

When Overstreet’s muscadines, “scuppernongs are muscadines,” were ready, she put the “grapes” in “one-pound” freezer bags and put the bags in iced-down coolers down by the side of the road.

“I put up a sign that said, ‘$1 each bag,’ and not one bag was snitched,” Overstreet said, and added with a telling smile, that muscadines were selling in the grocery stores for $4 a pound.

And now the persimmons are gone and the roadside signs have been put aside. But there’s still plenty for Overstreet to do – outside.

“I like to be outside,” she said. “I like to stay busy.”

There’s always something to do and Overstreet can always find it.

She recently returned from Turkey. It was her second trip there. On the first trip, she spent her time in Istanbul. This time, she traveled the country learning about fabrics.

Overstreet has a genuine interest in fabrics. She is a weaver. The upstairs of her home is testimony to that. It’s stacked with cloth, mostly second hand sheets from thrift stores. A warping board claims one wall and two large looms dominate the floor space.

“I’ve got a rag rug in the loom that’s being made from a sheet,” Overstreet said. “I don’t like the colors in it so I’ve added a purple color and yellow to it. I like it better now. I’ve got to get busy. I’ve got a lot of material that needs to be used.”

Overstreet has a rigid heddle loom downstairs that she’s “trying” to learn to use.

“It’s different and the thread that I’m using is some really old silk thread,” she said. “It’s so thin that I have to double it to be able to even see it.”

In the middle of the room is an antique rocker that Overstreet just re-caned for a lady.

“Caning is an art that is dying out,” she said. “I do hand lacing and weaving and both take a lot of patience and a lot of time. I’m not going to live forever and I’d like to teach somebody how to cane. If I knew anybody that wanted to learn, I sure would be willing to teach them.”

Overstreet said she had between eight and 10 hours in the caning of the rocker bottom.

“It was quite a job but I like the way it turned out,” she said. “I get a lot on enjoyment from caning.”

Overstreet finds pleasure at home and on the road. For most of her life, she was content at home doing the things that she loved. She spent six years building her home on the hill in Spring Hill.

She had some help from her daughter, her brother and other relatives she could turn to when a job was more than she could handle alone.

“When I didn’t know how to do something, I read books,” she said. “I bought a ton of old bricks, cleaned them and made the floor. I’ve never seen a floor like this except in the book I learned from. I learned as I went. I never hired anything done.”

For most of Overstreet’s life, she had responsibilities and a thin pocketbook that kept her close to home. But when she retired, she found herself footloose and fancy free, so to speak.

“I had always want to travel and now I go every chance I get,” she said.

But Overstreet doesn’t travel by “chance.” She makes a way. She has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity in five countries and taken advantage of other volunteer work “trips” when available. She likes to tour the heart of a country and there’s no better way than to travel by bicycle. She has toured Holland, Belgium, France, Australia, Poland and Germany on a bicycle. And, she doesn’t mind to bike alone.

“My traveling companion and I got separated near the border of Germany and Poland,” she said. “We didn’t get back together so I continued riding. I went on to Germany, and then caught a train so I could miss the cities in France, biked to the English Channel and caught a boat across. I was gone two and a half months and enjoyed every minute it. In some ways, biking alone is better.”

Not many people, especially retired women, have the adventurous spirit of Ruth Overstreet. She goes wide-eyed to distant places and to the far reaches of her backyard.

And, when the persimmons are gone, she heads upstairs where the loom awaits. And, she looks forward to the days when the hummingbirds are back and the muscadines are ripe and to another great adventure down the road.