Report of the Monitor, Part 5

April 16, 2006
By Brian Richards

Upper Twin makes its final, oblique turn west in a three-lobed bottom that extends north up the Creek to the hump before Stable Gut, southeast up Dodd Hollow toward the low gap leading to the river, and west downstream past Tucker’s Run into the flood plain. The bottom is dominated by what were, when he first came into the country, two large farms. Esty Murphy’s place ran from Stable Gut all the way up Dodd Hollow, while the lower lobe was mostly farmed by Jim Richardson, whose place ended just up the creek from the homestead. A towboat captain who wanted off the river bought Richardson out, let Landmark talk him into turning the farm into a hog factory, went bankrupt, and sold the place off piecemeal. Hal bought the pasture west of Tucker, Wayne and Debbie the hay field east of the slate bank across the creek, and his brother got the other hay field, downstream from the slate bank.

He turned in at Wayne and Debbie’s, drove through the wood to the creek, across the bridge, and up the quarter-mile drive that skirts along the foot of the hill from the slate bank to their house at the far end of the field, its fifteen acres now mostly a pine plantation. They weren’t home, but he parked and walked past the house and up the run that, in the bottom, divided the two farms after running down from the ridge that separates Upper Twin from the river valley. He followed the run, under old tulip, sycamore, and maple, to a skid road that curled up to the knob overlooking the entire bottom: Dodd Hollow to the east, the opening valley to the west, north upstream toward Stable Gut. When he reached the top, he could see, through the trees, most of the bottom, Roundtop to his south, the river stretching west past Beunie, disappearing behind the ridge in Kentucky as it dipped south to Vanceburg, then visible farther west on a north reach, burnished by the afternoon sun, and up the creek, counting knobs and hollows until Upper Twin disappeared behind the ridge and his eye could follow the East Fork to Dead Man. Through the field glasses, he could make out the silhouettes of trees on the farthest rim, but he couldn’t identify the clear-cut knob south of his shack, no matter how slowly he panned for the two dead pines, an image that would connect him to what he was looking at.

He looked at it all, knowing he’d have to come back with a compass if he wanted to fix the point in his glasses, wondering about depth of field, and started down toward his pick up, thinking he would cut the skid road he’d walked up and follow it back down, but, after he had dropped fifty feet, he caught a glimmer of light off water in the woods and, despite the increasing number of multiflora rose bushes in that direction, cut west toward the source: a spring twelve feet in diameter, at least a couple of feet deep, though it was difficult to tell from the algae bloom and clusters of frog eggs that hovered just below the surface. There were too many tadpoles to estimate, some scrumming around, some packed in black, plum-sized balls, furred with a thousand tiny tails. He wondered if the coons came every day to watch them grow. It took him a while to fight his way through the roses to the run, then he followed its east bank down the slope, stopping when he noticed that, where he had been seeing trout lilies, bloodroot, and like tiny, reticent harbingers of spring, he was suddenly in a bed of daffodils, a few already in bloom. It took only a minute to recognize the remnants of a foundation, sandstone riprap covered with moss and ferns. Still a couple of hundred feet above the bottom, an acre or so of almost level ground across the run, maybe a hundred feet below the gap that led down to the river. Somebody’s home when Morgan rode through Seaman. He came down through the opening buds to his pick up and drove to the homestead for water. His brother was painting the greenhouse; he stopped, his brother walked over to his window, brush and can in hand, and they talked about it.

§

After eight transits of the ruined cove between the second and third clear cuts, his course was marked, sometimes with directional broken saplings, more often by reckoning between landmark trees. He skirted the northwest flank near the top of the knob south of the shack, picking his way through the slash to the saddle leading west, into knee-high greenbrier low enough that he could see his way clear to the beginning of the rise to the next knob where a tree had fallen along the slope in the right direction, taking the brush down with it to present a path. The way clipped through a typical bramble thicket for a hundred feet before the brush thinned as he passed beneath four chestnut oaks clustered so he had to turn his shoulders to avoid the hairy ropes of poison ivy that climbed them. He followed the contour through sassafras saplings past an enormous white oak snag and into the mess left by the rotting top of a hickory that had crashed vertical to the slope so he had to detour around the root wad a hundred feet uphill or find a way through the top. He ended up busting his way through the brittle upper branches, which led him between a dead white and a live chestnut oak into sparser growth as he curved around to the north-facing slope of the cove into easier walking under the arch of a maple with its top pinned to the ground by a fallen oak, past twin tulips, an uprooted oak, and uphill to the skid road at the ridge line. He looked his uncomprehending fill and on the way back improved his markers against the possibility that there might not be another good day to walk the woods before October.

April 16, 2006

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