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NEWS FROM THE HILLS

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Dear Cousin,

 

The moon has been neatly sliced in two, and one half is standing suspended on its very tip. There is a hazy ring around it that speaks of rain in the offing. Our splendid autumn weather is undergoing a drastic change.

The wind is picking up, sending dry leaves skittering across the road and piling them up in ruffled brown heaps against the fence. Many of the trees stand naked and bare, and only a handful of yellow leaves flutter in the top of the maple tree in the yard. Soon they will lose their grip and fall to the ground as brown November makes her way through the hills.

We packed our camping gear last week and along with Matthew and Tammy's family made a trip to Hickory Knob for a few days of living deep in the woods. It was a trip back into the past. My father made an annual fall pilgrimage to that area, and included all of the extended family members that were able to make the trip. It is one of our most cherished memories, and Matthew was anxious to create memories for his own children.

Although the place is still isolated and the vast area is mountainous and covered thickly with trees, it has changed. The narrow road is much the same, winding between the hills that crowd close to the meandering stream. It crosses the creek bed in many places, forcing our vehicles through pools of water and up steep and rocky banks.

I can remember how excited we used to be when we drew near the big beech tree where we usually camped. No comfortable campers for us then, we slept in a huge canvas tent that housed a multitude of youngsters and adults. Mom would pin quilts together with large safety pins to stretch across the width of the tent. It always seemed my luck to get bedded down right where the quilts overlapped. That was true togetherness, when the family was packed in like too many sardines in a small can.

As we drove by, the old beech tree was gone. The place was overgrown with small trees and underbrush. At the next creek crossing, we went through the bottom where Uncle Homer and Aunt Bertha once lived. There is no trace of the house, and the cellar stones are hidden by a thick growth of trees and brush. Only one apple tree remains, a mute reminder that people once lived there.

We set up our campers at Alfred's Fork, where the road forks toward Ha'nted Lick. The yellow leaves were drifting down, covering the roadbed, campsite, and floating on the surface of the cold stream that flowed by. The old familiar, unforgettable fragrance of Hickory Knob filled the air. There is no place on earth that has that rich, earthy and completely satisfying smell that is unique to that place. It is a combination of woodsy soil warmed by the autumn sun, dry leaves, rhododendron bushes and the spicy fragrance of evergreens. That element has never changed.

We made a trip up to Ha'nted Lick, a place of mystery and delicious foreboding when we were children. Hair-raising happenings were handed down to us by Grandma O'Dell (she was a Mullins from that area), and were repeated by Daddy. Many times, as we sat by a roaring campfire and felt the dark shadows of night just outside the circle of fire, we were avid listeners of these tales. He told us of strange noises and unexplained conversation coming from the area around the Lick when there was no one around.

As a girl, Grandma was once walking on a path in the woods when she heard the tinkling of cowbells. She walked on and on, and nothing ever appeared. We would look around anxiously, and crowd a little closer together around the campfire.

On this day, Ha'nted Lick looked harmless and benign. It was merely a swampy area where deer often came and drank, and possibly obtained salt or minerals that they craved. After Daddy frightened us with the scary tales of the past, he would say that there was a logical explanation for the noises - possibly natural gas or another substance that caused the Lick to rumble.

We had a satisfying camping trip with Matthew and Tammy and their four little girls, who romped and played and swung on grapevines. Baby Jacob stared at the campfire, not sure of what was going on, but enjoying it anyway. It was a taste of the past.

 

Love, Cousin Alyce Faye

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