The room is
ringed with lime rocks that have been broken by weather and frost, and
fossilized clam shells are visible along air of the breaks. The ring is nearly
waist-high and the area commands a view of both hollows and the path that
follows the crest of the ridge.
Just below the
ring, the ridge saddles, and the path beyond the saddle gently rises and passes
from sight among the trees. The central ridge then curves gently to the right,
beginning at a point just beyond the disappearance of the path, and you have a
fine view of the eastern slope.
The first 10
chains of the east hollow are an almost pure stand of beech. I have never
understood why the Druids fooled away their time deifying an oak tree when
beech was available. Sargent's Manual lists 19 commercial species of oak
indigenous to south Alabama and four species of scrub, and after you get past
cherry bark oak, there is not 140 worth of class in the lot of them.
Live oak has
limbs that twist away from a central trunk for as much as 20 yards and is often
festooned with Spanish moss, which I always associate with funerals and
pallbearers. Overcup oak has a regrettable tendency to have sucker sprouts all
along the trunk, which ruin the symmetry of the bole. All of the red oaks
produce a staple food for game, but corn bread and collard greens with side
meat are the same kind of staple. You may eat them all the time, but you don't
put on your necktie and specifically take your wife out to dinner just to buy
them. They may be good, but they do not go with candle light and damask napkins
and brandy and a good cigar afterward.
Not only is a
beech tree handsome but it also has a nut that is perfectly delicious. If I
were rich and powerful, I would have beechnuts collected by faithful family
retainers and put them in my fruitcake rather than pecans. I might even eat
them on my cereal for breakfast. A stand of beech, with its smooth blue-gray
bark all the way to the stump, is cool and dim and hushed early in the year,
when the leaves are on, and light and open and airy in the fall and winter when
the white bark on the thin naked branches shines in the afternoon sun.
Branch itself starts in this hollow and makes up from a spring that first
appears from under a monstrous lime rock. The branch runs in a series of abrupt
turns almost from its beginning and on the inside of most of the bends are what
can only be called sandbars, even though most of them are less than 10 feet
long and 18 inches wide. The sand in these bars is clean and gray and has tiny
flecks of mica in it.
Once, years ago,
when she was four years old, I took the Colonel's daughter there—the last
half-mile on my back—and cut her name and the date in small, dainty block
letters low down on a beech tree. I had brought, in my pocket, a little block
of wood with a hole through it, and we set up a flutter mill there in the
creek, made out of forked and split sticks and halves of magnolia leaves for
blades. The whole thing was tied together with strips of bearpaw.
She watched the
wheel run, in delight, and got both feet wet in the branch, and ran her fingers
over her name cut in the bark, and asked me if the shiny flecks of mica were
tiny diamonds. I assured her that they were, with the utmost solemnity, and
congratulated her upon her perspicacity in finding them.
We swore never to
disclose the location of our mine to anybody, but agreed that if, later on,
either of us ever needed money the one who needed it could come back and gather