The Key Part III
Some places emit a certain feeling of unwelcome. The kind that makes the hair rise on the back of your neck. The walking trail beyond the gate was such an area. I headed right over, taking my camera, phone and sharp ended garden hoe turned walking stick. That feeling might be as simple as a camouflaged animal feeling nervous about you appearing unexpected in their parlor. Many were the times I’d walked in the woods and fields over the years growing, but this wasn’t my home ground. Nevertheless, apprehension overshadowed my determination as I carried on. The path twisted through the wilderness circling around a cluster of young trees and shrubs. From the hilltop it appeared swamp like. In reality it was only a cluster of young trees and shrubs. Whatever lingered there apparently judged me as non-threatening; the cloud of apprehension vanished as suddenly as it has appeared.
The ground became more level. It led one to believe it would end as a nice grassy bank of Stephens Creek. A creek far more like a small river than the seasonal creeks where I grew up. Since the creek banks didn’t make an appearance, I walked back to a confluence of trails and veered to the right.
Small mounds peppered the forest floor. They were always accompanied by an odd looking burrow or two. “Fox dens” I thought. “Must be cautious not to get too close or disturb them” Giving them a wide berth, my feet continued on the path. Where the first one had leveled at the bottom of the hill, this one rose steadily. Greens of early spring decorated the trees. A wild dogwood had broken and lie on the ground. Dogwood blooms persevered on the tree, poignantly continuing its life cycle. Vegetation became thick as the path narrowed so the second trail wore out its welcome. The red painted gate welcomed me back at my car. But I wasn’t ready to quit my search.
The trail continued at the edge of the turnaround. It crossed the top of the hill and continued in the direction of Key Rd. while the other direction took one around the edge, down a natural terrace and to yet another level. Tiny green sprigs pushed their way through the forest floor, blackened from a recent controlled burn. A faint scent of charred wood rode the gentle breeze. Pine straw carpeted the ground here and there. Trees so big a grown person could not hug them spread their branches over the slopes.
A sharp drop off overlooks the creek. It was imperative to take care lest a slip of the foot cause a tumble over the edge of the bluff. It was best to follow the slope to the next lower level. It flattened out, like the next step of a broken stair. Not far from my feet, a queen yellow jacket went to ground, no doubt searching for her next underground lair. Taking care to escape her aggressive attentions I continued to follow the slope downward. Stalks of flowers yet to bloom dotted the lower level. They became thicker and bordered by wild vegetation at the high edge of the bank. Lily perhaps, narcissus or daffodils. Planted there by someone who took joy in their bright blooms in days long gone.
My eyes swept over the ground for sunken spots – telltale signs of a cemetery. Nothing but more of those strange burrows.
I covered all the ground closest to the flowers. Finding only a couple of random sunken areas, probably decayed stumps of long dead trees, I moved on to the next section. Trees had fallen touching each other in a triangle, drawing my attention. This spot seemed ‘marked’ somehow and no inch was missed in my quest. Still no cemetery. Once on the opposite side the triangle of fallen trees morphed into a rectangle. Surely someone felled them in this configuration, it was too patterned to be a coincidence of nature.
I moved on circling around the base of the hill. My way was highlighted by the discovery of an armadillo carcass. So THAT’S what made those burrows!
In the next part of the bluff in a level spot, there were four sunken areas with the unmistakable characteristics of having had posts there. Taking in the size of the area, it became clear I was smack in the midst of a sunken spot between the four posts. I had walked right into the middle of the site where a house had stood. Whether it was the original house itself or an outbuilding I do not know. It was positioned such that it would have faced Stephens Creek which fits descriptions of the old house. Surprisingly, it was not at the top of the hill but at one of the lower levels behind it. If the current road follows an older road bed, someone would have passed the home without seeing it.
It was not as large as one might think.
The sun was closer to the horizon and shadows lay over the land. The birds began their last song of the evening. The breeze wafted through the green branches. A squirrel chattered in a tree and the call of a pileated woodpecker echoed across the creek.
I stopped and took it all in, thinking on the people who once lived there. All of them.
Something unspoken pierced the serene wilds of the Carolina countryside. It wanted to be known, yet did not wish to be found. Not by me, not on this day. Perhaps some things prefer to be remembered in the heart than marked outwardly. Alone there in the forest I spoke aloud to those who had gone many ages ago. What I said will remain there, with the memory of them.
It is somewhere, out there, in the deep woods high on a bluff overlooking Stephens Creek.
**Information has come to light since my last visit which indicates I was pretty much ‘all over it’ meaning I was walking all around the cemetery without realizing it. Apparently it’s just out of camera range of some of these photos. The last time I drove down the road (March 2016-2017) it was more overgrown and the road had deteriorated somewhat. And it still was eerie in places. Will I ever go back? Probably not.