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I have never killed a turkey in this hollow, though there is a perfect place to do it from. There is a beech there that overlooks an arena exactly one gunshot across. The tree has two buttressed roots that come away from the bole on both sides of your butt exactly the right distance apart, and curve down at just the proper height to support each elbow. The ground in front of the tree drops away gently enough to allow you to dig your heels in properly and not leave your knees propped up too high. It is as comfortable as a rocking chair, and I have done some of my very best sleeping there, in the fall, after I had scattered turkeys in the morning and had come back following lunch and it made no real difference where I sat.
I have run a couple of turkeys off the roost there in the spring—turkeys that were gobbling fit to choke themselves—by crowding them in the last few yards of my approach in a futile attempt to get to that tree. In both instances, it was one of those pieces of stupidity that you carefully commit, while your native good judgment is shrieking at you to stop.
I am going to do exactly the same the next time it happens, too, because just one time before I die I am going to kill a turkey out of that rocking chair. It is important. It gets more important every year I don't get to do it.
Below the rocking chair the hollow begins to widen, and you move out of pure beech and begin to run through the mixed stands of upland oak and hickory common to the upper coastal plain. It is at this point that I usually climb the central ridge and walk along it rather than stay down in my favorite hollow. If you are hunting, you have an opportunity to listen in both hollows simultaneously, and if you are just visiting, you get a marvelous overview of either side. The ridge is so narrow and the sides so steep that as you walk along you are level with the tops of 80-foot trees down in either hollow and it is the next best thing to flying.
Right out on the point of the ridge, nearly a mile from its beginning and just before it drops off, there is a clump of shortleaf, not all that big but old as hell, and you can sit there and listen to the wind in the needles and look out over three-quarters of a county. In cold weather you don't want to stay too long, the wind gets such a clear shot at you out there, but cold or hot, it is always worth the trip. Even if the sun is not shining, and the rain has wet you straight through, it is still worth it, because the woods are always gloomy on rainy days and there is a certain perverse pleasure in looking out over a quarter-million acres of gloom.
When I leave Forty Crook Branch, I always try to go out so as to pass by the tree in the curve where we built the flutter mill. I never go in to the site itself. I go close enough to see that the tree is still there, that lightning has not struck it or a summer windstorm blown it flat since the last visit. But I never go far enough to see over the little hill and look in at the bottom of the branch. Because I have never gone back for my share of the diamonds.
In point of fact, I have not put my eyes on her name since the day I cut it in the tree. The mill cannot still be there. It was hardly built for the ages and could not have survived the first rainstorm, and I would rather not go back and look at the scene of the ruin. The tree and the mill belong to the day itself, and not to any other.
I never will go back.
So long as I never do, my shares are still there, still held in escrow. So long as I never do, she is still there, always four years old, always under the tree with her name on it, stooped in the sand by her mill with the utter absorption of a little child, enchanted with her diamonds. I hope she never needs them.