The most beautiful place in the world is in the edge of Pulaski County, just across the Dooly-Pulaski line. I’ll admit I’m highly prejudiced. My fondness of those mystical woods is greatly enhanced by time’s perpetual sweetening of childhood memories.
A small stream has been continuously flowing since long before I was born. The springhead which feeds it is just beyond the backyard of the house my mother grew up in.
That little spring only yields a few gallons of water per minute, but faithfully stays on the job. What it lacks in power it makes up for in reliability. When my mother was a child, a ram pump provided a constant trickle of cool water from the spring to their house.
Positioned downhill from the springhead, the ram was powered by the slight force of gravity and running water. A tiny amount of the spring’s flow was captured by the ram’s propeller and piped to the kitchen sink where it slowly collected in pots, pans, and jugs. The overflow drained back outside into a vat, saving water which could be used for livestock, laundry, and other needs. That ram provided a rare convenience in the 1930s when most country folks drew tin pails from open wells with ropes.
The ram hasn’t worked in ages, but we still have its cast iron housing. It’s always intrigued me that my grandparents had running water before they had electricity. Maybe someday I’ll get the ram repaired and pump water from the spring again. If not, it’s okay if someone takes it to a place that buys scrap iron. That’s probably where its destined to go, but I’m not inclined to be the chauffeur.
Woods below the spring were my favorite venue for childhood excursions. Smooth white bark on giant sycamore trees held romantic tidbits of family history. The one I remember best is “JH + KH,” written in the usual fashion with one letter in each quadrant of the plus sign.
Jack and Emmett Holland were my mother’s older siblings. Uncle Jack married Katherine Holder, so there wasn’t any mystery as to whose initials those were. I guess Aunt Katherine knew about that tree. Perhaps she was with Uncle Jack when he penned their short love story with his knife. I was too young to think about asking things I’d now like to know.
I carved my initials on another sycamore when I was a kid. There was no need for a plus sign. It was just me at the time. Not too many years ago I found my youthful inscription. And I could still read, though barely, the one left much earlier by Uncle Jack. The well-defined letters of long ago are almost gone, faded and stretched by a slowly expanding canvas of bark.
Those woods were a perfect place for boyhood adventures with my friend, Carl Shurley, who lived near my grandparents. There were always minnows and water bugs to chase, plus an occasional perch darting for cover in the clear shallow water.
We’d jump across the narrow stream, not caring if we fell in unless it was time for dinner. And whether we were thirsty or not we’d crouch for a sip of water while watching for moccasins or ruthless two-legged critters like Tarzan did in the 1950s.
Jane and I took a walk in those woods in March and discovered that several big hardwoods, including a massive hickory, had been toppled by a storm. The once stately trees had been quite healthy until they were overwhelmed by wind and rain. Open holes from displaced root systems told us why. The soil beneath those trees was heavily punctuated with large rocks. The roots of those trees had grown deep enough for fair weather, but they were too shallow for a storm.
It was troubling to see once towering trees lying flat on the ground, but it reminded me of what Jesus said about the importance of planting seed in good soil. (Matthew 13:1-23) He told that story much better than I can, so I won’t repeat it. I’ll just invite you to read it if you will.
We’re living in challenging times. A virus we’d never heard of until recently has wreaked havoc around the globe and there’s no end in sight. I don’t know the solution to COVID-19 or other horrendous pandemics, but I do know a truth that’s of lasting value. Good soil is vital, because shallow roots won’t hold up in a storm.