Another glorious autumn day has dawned in our hills, with an errant breeze blowing down a few leaves and scattering them about lawns and elsewhere. Here in our Clay County hills, we have had only a light sprinkling of frost. Nights are becoming cooler and days are shorter. The seasons are changing, slowly but inexorably. We need to take advantage of these lovely autumn days, for all too soon, cold weather will come and winter will descend upon us.
These golden October days reminds me of the long ago times when Daddy would take us on our fall camping trips. We loved the spring season and our trips to Williams River, but this time of year we journeyed to Hickory Knob. This was a secluded place in Clay County, but familiar to Daddy’s family. His Uncle Homer Mullins lived there, and his mother (my grandmother, Ellen Mullins O’Dell) came from there.
I remember Grandpa Andy O’Dell telling about the place there called “Barrenshea” and I was always fascinated with that name. I tried to research the meaning of it, but had no luck with it. It always made me think of a female bear that couldn’t have cubs!
Grandma was the one who told us about “Ha’nted Lick.” She said that sometimes you could hear people talking while they were coming around the hill, but no one ever appeared. Most local people felt that the place was haunted.
Barrenshea, Hickory Knob and Ha’nted Lick were all in the same area, and people had an eerie feeling about Ha’nted Lick. Evidently, it was a salt lick, and deer came for miles to use it. It did make a gurgling sound, which could be described as “other worldly.” One year when we camped at Hickory Knob (Daddy said we camped at Alfred’s Fork), we decided to explore this place. Mom was with us this trip, and we had three 4-wheelers with us. One of the boys transported Mom, as we set out to see this haunted place.
It was sunny and warm, and we found just a scenic place. There was a water hole, surrounded by hundreds of deer tracks, and it was far from scary. The kids climbed trees, swung on grapevines, and generally had a good time. We had left a pot of soup simmering on the campfire, and came back to the camp, hungry and satisfied with our trip.
It did happen to be Halloween, however, and as nightfall came and we were sitting around the campfire, we started telling scary tales. It grew darker, and the stories got scarier, when we heard something coming through the leaves. Tramp, tramp, the footsteps came nearer. Just as we were ready to grab each other and scream, “Little” Andy Adkins revealed himself. I still remember how scared we were. I learned one thing, however — don’t tell scary Halloween stories when you are that close to Ha’nted Lick!
I keep thinking of how we prepared for our camping trip. At one time Daddy had a one-ton truck, and we piled quilts, blankets, cooking utensils and food into boxes and crates. Mom had an old iron Dutch oven that she used to make biscuits, an iron skillet to cook bacon and fried potatoes, and we took food from the cellar. Daddy would toss in a bale of hay to use under our tent floor, and sometimes he would use hemlock bows to pad under our tent.
The creek that led to Hickory Knob was rough and rocky, and had several creek crossings in place of bridges. We would motor through the water, dodging the bigger rocks that were scattered all over the creek bed. Sometimes the water would come up almost to the fenders, but we plowed through anyway. No wonder it was isolated, and at that time, the only people who lived up there were Uncle Homer and Aunt Bertha. Their house was just above where we camped, and he would come down to visit us while we were there.
They were raising a young grandson, and I fell in love with him in short order. We had such fun playing in the clear, cold creek, and climbing the immense rocks that lined its banks. Wild teaberries grew all over those rocks, and we would pick and eat all we wanted. He would climb the tall trees and drop wild grapes into my lap. He was a handsome young boy, and we spent many happy days there. It may be strange, but we never realize how good life is to us until it’s all over. How many times do we hear people say, “Oh, I wish I could do it over!”
I wonder if we would do it differently, or make the same mistakes we made the first time. I’m sure that if we could remember, we would certainly live a different life! I have to remind myself frequently that the past is gone and cannot be changed. The future is not here yet and we have no idea what it will bring. Today is all we have, and we need to make the most of it. I am happy for another October day, and for the rain it is bringing.
Thinking back to our camping trips, I loved to smell the hemlock, and when the sun shone on the tent, it had a unique odor of warm canvas and tar patching. It was a secure and comforting odor, and we knew we were safe from the elements. We always pitched the big tent beside a huge beech tree, where the creek ran cold and clear. There was the perfume of autumn — mingled dry leaves and rich soil, mountain laurel and pine needles. I have never smelled that sweet scent anywhere else.
The last time I was in that area, all that was left of Uncle Homer’s house was a pile of rocks where the cellar once was. It didn’t look the same. The old beech tree is gone where we once camped, and underbrush has taken over the bottom. The rhododendron bushes still line the hills, and the deer make their beds in the tangled thickets. It has changed, though, with timbering and other work that has been done there.
Of course, Uncle Homer and Aunt Bertha have been gone for years, and most of their family is gone too. Mom and Daddy has gone on before us, and the young grandson that Uncle Homer was raising now lies in a cemetery high on the hill near the old home place that he dearly loved. He was one of the young men who went to Korea and never returned home. My heart still hurts.