It was an adventurous ride through the woods to the beech tree. Never before had I ridden to the beech tree. I had always walked, or run. But on a special Saturday in September during this year’s Knight reunion my clever and inventive nephews took Charles and me over the hills and through the woods–all the way to the beech tree. Oaky Dover, Nathan Knight (who is deployed now by National Guard to Mexico) and Mitch Harper (married to my niece Evelyn) are determined that Pinedale be enjoyed by our burgeoning family, even those of us who are disabled. Charlie, my brother, has been a great leader as these young people have formed and executed their ideas. For months they have engineered and cut this ATV trail through the forest.
I gripped the handhold and was glad for the seatbelt in the compact and open-sided ATV. I wasn’t at all afraid of Oaky’s very skillful driving. All the same, one can’t be too careful. I didn’t like to think of myself dumped out on a rock or a big tree root. Soon, though, my nervousness turned to awe and glee as we rocked and spun through the woods. At times I wasn’t sure where I was, the forest had changed so much, then I would recognize some landmark. The trail is beautifully engineered to be safe and allow us to see parts of Pinedale we haven’t seen in years. I was wondering where exactly I was when suddenly there we were right by the beech tree.
To me as a young girl with nine siblings, four of whom were close playmates, the beech tree was one of many favorite places to play. It was downstream from Indian Spring, a nice wide clear spring dug out at the bottom of a bluff by Indians a hundred years before. It wasn’t far from our cabin school house, just a quick run, easy to reach for a break between history, geography, and literature. Even then the beech tree seemed both stout and lofty. Its gray bark was like a clear slate, perfect for carving initials.
Though homeschooled, we used the Habersham County curriculum for much of our studies. Every year it was very exciting to go to the Board of Education in town to exchange our old books for new ones on our grade level. Our parents threatened us with severe consequences if we wrote anything or made any markings in our books. The books should be nice and unmarked for the next students. I rather enjoyed finding names and squiggles in my books, a sign that someone else had struggled through the War of the Roses. But, at least for the most part, we adhered to the “no scribble” law. Still, there was something in one’s being that simply requires making a mark.
So if not in a book, then what about the beech tree? Brothers were good carvers and they always had a pocket knife handy. So there are more boys’ initials (and sometimes girlfriends!) than sisters. But it would be hard to prove since, as the tree grew bigger and taller, the carvings became knotty and all but unrecognizable. I could see HBK for Hamilton Brantley Knight, a list of single initials, probably for Pat, Brantley, Virginia, John, and Brenda. The names Grahams, carved in 1978, and above it, Dovers are still quite clear. My sister, Suzanne, and I, with our husbands and children, added those names when we stopped at the beech tree on memorable hikes through the woods.
But fond memories of the beech tree to which, until now, I had always walked or run, didn’t stop at carvings on the trunk. The tree, still so sturdy and healthy, stands on the brink of Indian Brook. Often there we played in and out of the brook according to the weather. In the summertime we caught water lizards and let them slither through our fingers back into the cold water. We dried our feet on soft green moss growing like a carpet near the tree. We hid behind the tree and booed our playmates when they came looking for us. At times I sat by the tree just thinking.
One of my favorite woods games was the one where “It” agreed to be blindfolded, then was led in a circuitous route to some nearby spot. “It,” thoroughly disoriented by the time we stopped, might not even know east from west, especially if the guides chose to spin “It” around. You could only depend on your senses–sounds, smells, and touch. If taken to the beech tree it was easy to be a winner. You could feel the nubby initials on the trunk, hear the chuckling stream, and even smell the damp moss.
At this recent visit I was not blindfolded but still had been somewhat confused on the ride through familiar places, now so different. But I almost cried with joy when we parked right beside the old beech tree. After a good time hunting old initials, observing a cozy camp enjoyed by our young folks, and taking pictures, we started back. We rode by the little cabin school, dilapidated but still standing. We crossed Ramble Brook, spun up Tulip Hill for a quick view of the cemetery and the wonderful new structure another blessed nephew, architect Joe Knight, is building, then back down through what was Apple Bars, across Sand Flat, past the new pond nestled amongst trees, and up the hill to the house.
I am so thankful for those good times when we were growing up and life was so simple. I’m also thankful for family members who take such time now and spend much energy and expertise making these old haunts available to young and old. And, of course, I’m thankful for the old beech tree!