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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.
Forty Crook 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 some diamonds.