It was early June, a typical Sunday afternoon; and the small community simmered in the summer heat. A huge station wagon, which bore foreign license plates, invaded the peaceful valley. It was decorated profusely with enormous pictures of citrus fruits. The station wagon slowly approached the community picnic grounds, where a small group of local young people still lingered after having feasted an hour or so before.
From under the steering wheel slid a handsome middle aged man of regular stature and darkly tanned by the southern sun. He wore a winsome smile and appeared to be a man of good report. He sauntered to the other side of the coach and politely opened the broad door. His lovely wife stepped gracefully to the dust laden road. She, too, wore a healthy tan. A contagious smile was molded into her pleasant face which beamed like the bright and morning star. A group of beautiful girls, lightly tanned and a living picture of health, stepped modestly to the ground. Their regalia and their paraphernalia were suggestive of adventure in safari proportions. From them dangled sword-like hunting knives, army-surplus canteens, huge pocketbooks and cameras. The handsome man, his lovely wife and the group of beautiful girls slowly approached the young people who surrounded the long picnic table.
Introductions were in progress when a beautiful brunette suddenly appeared on the scene. She was from the hill country of the Carolinas. A short time later, The Tennessee Parson arrived, and his arrival completed the group who were assembling in that small community to make final preparations for a hike on The Appalachian Trail. The cool of the late afternoon found them associating and eating at the picnic ground. The community building afforded the visitors a snug shelter for the night.
The day dawned, filling the Valley with a warm light which promised fair weather for hiking. The hikers had assembled at the small railway station and were milling about when the trail boss gave the signal to advance. They were loaded down with camping equipment and would have been burdened more so had it not been that a truck carrying heavier equipment would make contact with them at specified points along the trail. The hike down the railroad was uneventful and nothing happened to forebode the hardships which were to follow and plague the hikers, at times, unmercifully. As planned, the truck was waiting; and a few of the older boys and girls lost no time climbing aboard. The larger group preferred the old-fashioned way of travel. They would keep to the open road for a short way then they would leave the road to enter a wild and rugged ravine. By following the stream, the trail boss hoped to arrive at the small spring near the top of the mountain where they had planned a rendezvous with those who were riding in the truck.
The driving wheels of the truck bit deeply into the loose shale and sent the shower of gravels into the eddying dust that followed while a group of young people were unmercifully jostled from side to side and pounded relentlessly from below by the heaving floor of the speeding truck. The handsome driver leaned forward. The lower half of the steering wheel was deeply embedded in his soft balloon-like belly. He fought the controls feverishly. The floor gear-shift handle was covered by the drivers large right hand, which danced here and there and back and forth much like he was playing a winning game of Chinese Checkers. His left foot synchronized, with the movements of his right hand, played vigorously up and down on the clutch pedal. His right foot had the accelerator pressed deeply into the slanting floor boards. He was intent on squeezing out the last ounce of horse-power from the roaring engine. The gauges on the instrument panel were excited and confused. The speedometer needle leaned far to the right. It trembled and quivered nervously while the warning hand of the temperature gauge indicated dangerously high fever in the groaning engine. The spare ignition key spun in a funnel-like circle, and the fuel gauge hand swayed back and forth from the churning and sloshing of the liquid fuel which was drenched down the throat of the thirsty engine. The charming and lovely wife of the driver flew about in the confines of the swaying cab like a canary in a gilded cage.
The truck sped on determinedly like some angered monster, up the winding road, into the dark tunnels of over-hanging trees and over narrow bridges. Vegetation beside the road trembled and receded like a flash. The glimmering mountains rose and fell and followed at a distance. Ahead, the short span of steep road shimmered, always giving way to another short span turning abruptly to the right or suddenly to the left. To the rear, the road was blurred by a cloud of dust. Downward and far in the distance, a long ridge of dust hung above the tree tops like a huge brown serpent. From the clear stream stair-case waterfall, a white mist arose to chill the fragrant pine-scented air. The loud horn blared a continuous warning to the winding road ahead. The roaring of the motor and the blast of the horn penetrated nature’s quietude as the sounds echoed and reechoed up and down the narrow canyon and reverberated against the high walls of the gorge like a pack of hounds in close pursuit. The bruised and bewildered occupants of the truck fought desperately to keep their equilibrium. Their tense bodies tingled form the chill of the high brisk atmosphere as they were swept upward to new heights. In a numb sort of way they thrilled to the precariousness of the ride. Suddenly the truck seemed to be walking on its real wheels as it pawed its way up a hazardous incline. Then without warning, it leveled and the driver braked the roaring truck to a sudden stop. The cargo of dazzled humanity shifted uncontrollably forward and landed in an immodest and undignified heap against the rear of the cab. The hot motor panted, coughed hoarsely, then died. Its entrails growled. The springs squeaked faint sighs of relief as the occupants descended staggeringly to the shaly road bed.
They ascended the zig-zagged steps of the look-out tower; and from its dizzy heights, they viewed the surrounding rugged terrain. Far, far in the distance high above the horizontal clouds in all its wild and majestic beauty towered the dome of a massive mountain. As a sentinel in solitary splendor it looked down upon the surrounding mountain peaks. As they beheld that great and distant phenomenon of nature, they stood aghast and dubiously surveyed the intervening terrain. If they progressed according to plans they would reach the summit of that distant mountain sometime the following day. Thrilled and excited at what they had beheld and refreshed by the crisp mountain air, they quickly covered the short distance to the mountain spring where according to plans the other group of hikers had already arrived. The cool clear water flowed in abundance and eagerly they quaffed the cool draught then filled their canteens. The spring was located in a beautiful sheltered nook. A small shelter erected for the convenience of hunters and hikers nestled snugly and peacefully in the fringe of their forest.
There the hikers were resting when suddenly the trail boss stood erect. A white dome-shaped tropical hat canopied his short blend hair. His stature was Herculean. He was handsome, tall and muscular. He was and out-door man, acquainted with the rugged forces of the elements, hardened by its extremities, and seasoned by its wholesome atmosphere. He was eagle-eyed, lantern jawed and his cheeks wore a soft brown, resembling the finest tanned cow-hide leather. The trained keen senses of his eyes, ears, and nose coordinated when he was doubtful; and he could sense the slightest essence of danger in time to avert a possible disaster. He was top authority of the techniques of hiking and behind him lay years of actual experience. He was brave, determinate, and propulsive. He was extremely observant, cautious and prudent. He was an enemy of lost time. He was an educated man but knew nothing of the meaning of the word ÒrestÓ.
With a voice similar to that of an experienced mule driver and with his right hand raised high and his long finger extended as if to sweep the cobwebs from the sky, he gave a quick signal for the hikers to start moving. In single file and much like a giant centipede, they came out upon an elevation and there half hidden by the scanty under-growth was a nine foot rattlesnake. It was the size of a man’s thigh and had thirsty rattles and a button. Its lifted head swayed back and forth as it slowly slithered through the grass. His jaws were wide open and exposed the white lining of his mouth. His long fangs were bared and the liquid poison hung in strings and dropped freely to the ground. The group looked on as the trail boss, calm as a summer breeze, pounded the snake’s head relentlessly with a black gum sprout. In anguish and pain, he rolled and coiled. Then like an uncoiling fire-fighting hose he stretched himself out and shook convulsively. The hikers were reveling in fact that they were privileged to witness the killing of such a monstrosity. After looking at it apprehensively for some time, the Tennessee Parson who had characteristics similar to those of George Washington stood erect and made a paradoxical statement that it could-eth be the size of a broom handle, was about four feet long, had-eth approximately nine rattles and there wert definitely one button. The trail boss and the other hikers reluctantly conceded that he was probably right as a snake often shrinks considerably after it is killed and some rattles could have been lost in the melee. The trail boss amputated the musical instruments and with a hand as steady as leaf in a hurricane he dropped the bloody rattles into the side pocket of his khaki shirt. The huge snake trembled desperately then slowly died from head injuries and rattle-lectomy.
As for the most part, the trail followed the crest of the mountain over the wavy terrain; and at intervals on the higher elevations through openings in the trees, they caught glimpses of distant fertile fields and sloping verdant pasture land. They trudged through long cool winding tunnels of over-hanging trees and on occasions they marched down long shadowy corridors colonnaded on either side by stately timber. Wild rabbits tip-toed across the narrow path then suddenly disappeared while the curious squirrels scampered up the nearby trees and bashfully peeped around the lower branched. An inhospitable dry-land terrapin closed its humble door to the hikers. All of wild-life considered the presence of the hikers an intrusion into their sanctuary except the black mountain flies which drank freely of the sweat that flowed muddy rivulets down their sun-burned faces. They advanced slowly but steadily up the narrow winding trail, and now and then the tall trees gave way to a sun-lit glade where the mid-day sun beat down upon them unmercifully. In a beautiful nook on a plateau where the floor of the forest was level and relatively free of under-growth the trail boss called time out for lunch. Ravenously they ate and drank. A peace and quiet descended upon them. Overhead the rustling leaves grated delicately upon their listening ears. The sun wove a carpet of shifting light and shade on the forest floor. The peaceful, pensive mood of the forest, rendered still more melancholic by the low chirping of the native birds, had a soothing effect upon the mind. This overhead foliage and the changing atmosphere created a peculiar twilight under the tall trees.
Almost suddenly all sounds gave way to a strange spectral silence. A ghastly gray crowded out the light of the sun. The air became still and sultry. A short time after resuming the hike, on the summit of a high ridge through an aperture of trees, they could see that a storm was brewing in the West. While gazing at the mass of black rolling clouds, a blinding shaft of lightning fell from the dark shroud followed by a heavy rolling sound of thunder which broke the silence and shook the mountain tops. As the echoes of thunder faded away, a strong wind swept up the mountain side. The main brunt of the threatening storm did not strike that range of mountains, but a low drifting cloud drug its soggy belly across the higher peaks and left in its wake a wide swath of fine drizzle and a chilled atmosphere. A white foggy mist descended and hung low overhead. They soon became draggled by the wet underbrush and chilled by the cold atmosphere which accompanied the storm. The tall be-cloaked trail boss suddenly stopped and told the group that they would then leave the trail and descend eastward to a deep ravine. In doing so he hoped to cut short the distance of his predetermined destination which was a small cabin lost somewhere out there in the deep folds of the wild mountains.
Going down the steep rough mountain proved to be almost as burdensome as the climb and certainly more hazardous. They fought the underbrush and thick masses of tangled foliage. They climbed over huge logs much decayed by the slow but all-destroying hand of time. On moss covered boulders, they stepped intermittently from one side of the narrow stream to the other. For miles and miles they fought obstruction after obstruction until the deep narrow gorge broadened and leveled into a small cove-like clearing. Suddenly a small cabin loomed into view, unexpectedly to everyone except the trail boss. The white mist had followed them down the mountain and the persistent drizzle held its own. In the center of the clearing a huge camp fire quickly responded to the skilled hands of the boys, and the wet cold hikers surrounded it like a wreath.
After having been lifted over boulders, helped through deep mud holes, and pushed up a long steep incline, a truck, muddy, hot, and exhausted drifted sheepishly into the clearing. It had brought in supplies of food camping equipment, including a small tent. The tent was placed facing the campfire and the girls lost no time in taking possession of it. Despite the gloomy weather and the discomforts brought on by the rain, the campers were in a gay and jubilant mood. With keen enjoyment they ate and camp-style food which was saturated with white fog and peppered with the wild moldy smell of the damp forest reminded them continually of the wild and strange surroundings.
The fine drizzle gave way to a steady down-port. The darkness absorbed the residue of the evenings gray light. Night closed in. A black wall of darkness surrounded the roaring camp fire. Long shafts of orange and yellow flames shot upward and spirals of gray smoke carried brilliant sparks to the very apex of the dark dome. The surrounding forest was black, eerie and dripping. The downpour gradually developed into a deluge. The damp mist invaded the tent and sluggishly circulated the confines of the open shelter. Blankets absorbed the dampness like a thirsty sponge. The camp ground became a messy muck. Their shoes were emulsified inside and out with the gooey clay. The rain continued to come down in torrents. With much sputtering, spitting, and hissing, the camp fire fought desperately to survive. A number of the boys spent their time refueling the fire while the rest of the boys who were crowded in the open shelter sought desperately, but in vain, to erase the situation in unconscious sleep. In the liquid blackness they rolled and tumbled and flounced and floundered. Through their willingness to accept the situation or from sheer exhaustion, the girls rested without complaining, quietly and peacefully. The night drug on. The rain persisted.
Dawn came reluctantly. The day was ushered in by a fine drizzle. Some time in the secret hours of darkness the rain had slackened. The dampened forest was silent except for the low sighing of the wind in a nearby hemlock and the lyrical weeping of the surrounding trees.
Prior to breaking camp and after some consultation and much deliberation the trail boss decided to take the open roads to compensate for the recent discomforts. Mid-morning found the wearisome hikers trudging up grade on an open highway in a fresh downpour of rain. Occasionally, in the far distance and high up, they could see the summit of the mountain which was their goal. It was shrouded in a gray mist and at intervals it was hidden from view by a mass of slow moving horizontal clouds. Each time they saw it, it seemed to be farther away. Mid-day found the rain-soaked hikers in a small community at the foot of the mountain. From there on it was all up grade. The rain still came down and on occasion the winding road was a river of muddy water. For an hour or so they trudged along at a slow steady gate then suddenly stimulated by the apparent nearness of their goal they quickened their steps. A cold violent wind swept over the mountain top and the rain as if determined to have a final fling at the hikers slanted down in angry torrents.
Wholly at a loss for a means of shelter the be-cloaked trail boss signaled the group to keep moving. For some time they battled the storm head-on. Suddenly the rain stopped. The wind died down to a soft breeze. The sun broke through the clouds. A huge gray house, silhouetted against the clearing sky, loomed into view. Smoke rose leisurely from the massive stone chimney. As if ashamed, the clouds scuttled away and soon disappeared. As if in apology and as if to make amends, the sun beamed down and plucked the rain drops from the grass and spread a thick warm blanket of sunshine over the wild upland fields.
As previously planned the faithful truck and its two occupants had arrived just ahead of the hikers. They had prepared hot drinks and had a fire going full blast in the huge fireplace. The fire roared vigorously as the yawning throat of the chimney inhaled the long jutting flames. Their clothes were still dripping from the recent downpour and their bodies were chilled from the exposure. They stood in a semi-circle before the rough flag stone hearth. The girls on the right side moved about quietly and modestly while the boys on the left side milled about twisting and rubbing and uttering complaints. The boys had rolled their wet trouser legs up to their thighs and the wilderness of ill shapened legs resembled a boundary of cull timber. From their wet clothing small clouds of vapor arose and moved like ghosts across the raftered ceiling. The tantalizing aroma of hot coffee and the odoriferous vaporous from the steaming pots and sizzling pans of fragrant food created a tremendous appetite. The long rough table was decked and arrayed with a wide variety of foods ranging from common pots and pans of substantial fats and fibers to the daintiest of delicacies. A tall pot of lowly beans lifted from a nest of live hot coals emitted a tantalizing vapor of frangrancy while the beans fidgeted about in the hot savory liquor.
A huge wide bowl heaped high with vegetable salad tossed to the highest possible degree of excellence contained the correct proportions of crisp shredded lettuce, nuggets of diced carrots, fragments of celery, bits of succulent tomatoes, morsels of chilled cucumbers, chopped fresh green peppers, and slices of pungent radishes. It was flavored with a trace of garlic and drenched liberally with a piquant dressing. Near by were bricks of golden cheese and tart and tasty amber apple sauce. Tempting sandwiches of thick square slices of leavened bread etched with the oozing goodness of exotic jellies and jams and marmalades were piled high and surrounded by rare sweet and sour pickles. Irrespective of the rules of decorum, the group of exhausted and famished hikers ate and drank long and noisily with exasperating gusto.
Shortly after satisfying their appetites for food, they had a craving for something of a spiritual nature; and consequently, the group left the building and assembled for vespers on a grassy knoll. Scattered about were huge gray boulders and here there were old trees dwarfed and mis-shapened by the extremities of the weather. Northward, on the summit of the mountain, silhouetted against the evening sky, stood a grove of tall lashhorn, green and erect. On the West side and near the top of the mountain was a massive perpendicular wall of rock left exposed by the deterrent forces of the seasons. Secrets from the dawn of creation are hidden in the crude unintelligible, hieroglyphic-like symbols and there chiseled by the abrasions of time is the epitaph of the ages.
Facing the setting sun and from that point of vantage, the worshipers had a fine panoramic view of the surrounding hills and mountains which lay in uneven folds and extended as far as the eye could see. Separating the mountain ranges were green fertile valleys, and low over them like glimmering lakes hovered white clouds. The West was ablaze with color as the sun dropped into a sea of gold. In reverence they watched the day die in splendor and saw the twilight steal silently across the great expanse. The worshipers from those hallowed heights beheld nature in all her artistic glory. They had looked unto the hills. They had ascended the hills and looked beyond the realms of this world into the vast expanse of the universe and on into the infinite depths of the unknown. A sensation of buoyancy overwhelmed them as they beheld the immensity of the Heavens and the vast display of Celestial creations speeding orderly and unerringly through the uncharted depths of endless space. The marveled at the lavishness and magnitude of His handiwork. They were mindful of God; and they were persuaded that He is truly great, marvelous, and magnificent. From God’s foot-stool they gazed in wonderment and in reverent adoration. The moon surrounded by a host of stars cast a soft cool light below. The moon beams played among the dew drops in the grass. Sweet music soft and soothing came from above as the gentle breezes caressed the dense foliage of the towering fir trees. Uplifted and inspired the worshipers walked back to the shelter in silent meditation.
Upon reentering the building, they found that the roaring fire had driven out the chill. They welcomed the coziness of the dimly-lit room. Leftovers from the recent meal still littered the long tables. A huge pot of coffee, nested deeply in the hot coals, boiled vehemently. With loving affection they fondled and conditioned cup after cup of black coffee. Without ceasing they minced on small cookies and sour pickles. After mincing and sipping for an hour or so they began to relax and one by one they slumped to the floor and one by one they sought the comforts of the sleeping bags. The trail boss over stuffed and coffee-logged lay on his back. His breathing was spasmodic and his chest rose and fell at uncertain intervals. The amputated rattles from the giant snake rolled back and forth over the pencils in his shirt pocket until the weird sound lulled him into a fitful sleep. After some lapse of time his breathing became slow and methodical. He deserved a night of peaceful rest but no doubt the worries of the day peopled his dreams. Like an Egyptian mummy The Tennessee Parson lay on his back and ghastly shadows marched across his grotesque form. The top of his head reflected the light of the dying fire. An occasional tell-tale smile would light up his face like the Great aurora borealis which suggested beyond a reasonable doubt that he was dreaming of a liberal offering. The nature of his snoring depended chiefly on the significance of his dreams.
If The Carolina Preacher was dreaming of the same thing, he was having a continual flow of blessings. The bright smile never left his face. His snoring was of a gentle and eloquent nature. One big lad whose snoring was slowing, timed like a hydraulic ram, slept with his mouth wide open. In the back regions of his cave-like mouth were large craters left by the removal of two inflamed tonsils. One lad who was rounded at the corners, extremely streamlined and of rolly-polly structure, snored in four or more syllables accenting the last one with a slur and a jerk which produced a sound like the crack of a whip. Another husky handsome fellow who was plagued with somnambulism snored ceaselessly while he walked across the floor among the sleeping bodies. Insomnia had fought a losing battle. Sleep gradually claimed them one by one. Unearthly noises from that sleeping mass of humanity intensified as the night hours drug on. The deep bear-tone snoring of the huskier boys shook the rafters. Echoes from the walls and high ceilings mingled discordantly with the lovely soprano and contralto snoring of the sleeping girls.
Dawn’s early light silently announced the break of day.
The sun arose and swept the sparkling dews away.
The group had packed and were assembling preparatory to leaving when they were informed that the young trail boss would be in charge for the remainder of the hike. He was of Napoleonic stature, tough as a seasoned hemlock knot and still had in his craw a residue of sand from the blazing deserts of Africa. His youthful appearance and his stature were not to be taken lightly for behind those fine features lay a powerful impulse for adventure. He faced obstacles with a stubborn determination, and he was defiant of the impossible. He informed them that instead of taking the open road or the well-trodden trail, they would follow the power line which dropped in a straight line down the rugged steeps of the mountain. They were appalled at the sudden turn of events; and with reluctance, they followed him to the edge of the clearing. He lead the group into an entanglement of under-growth which was possessed with every geographical hazard known to man an infested with every noxious botanical enemy of the human flesh. The tangled mass of barbed vines, spiked shrubs, and prickly plants presented a most provocative barrier. The going became more hazardous and more painful which incited the irate hikers to recklessness. They fought the tortuous bramble with a grim determination, and oft times they lost their footing and crashed through the undergrowth like a rolling stone. They staggered into a small clearing inhabited by a colony of lowly groundhogs and each entrance to their burrows was a potential threat to the next step. On they went for what seemed like hours when they suddenly found themselves on a high ledge where the mountains broke away and space loomed into view. A steep path to one side of the ledge lead them to the bottom of the wall. There they found a small clearing overshadowed by the surrounding trees.
In that cool and beautiful nook they rested and gradually the tension gave way to pleasant relaxation. Above they saw patches of clear blue sky. On either side were massive walls of rock. From the shaly crevasses of the towering cliffs, small delicate flowers of fragile stems leaned toward the light; and with the graceful fronds of the maidenhair fern, they nodded and swayed in the gentle breeze. Many rare and beautiful flowers were hidden in the undergrowth and unlikely it was that any human eye would behold the beauty of those wildwood flowers but God was as meticulous in making them as He was in creating the lily, the rose, and the purple fringed orchid. The peace and quiet of that secluded place of light and shade lured their thoughts to swell upon that fact that everything is beautiful which the Lord hath made. Perhaps the wild barbed vegetation had a perfect right to grow in those remote haunts which were seldom frequented by a human being, especially the blackberry variety. In the low lands the farmer fought their fruit bearing ancestors to extinction. They drove them indiscrimately from their rolling fields. They followed the retreating plants with cups and pails and gathered from them the ripe and succulent berries for making pies, jellies, jam and crimson wine. They mowed them to the ground or strafed them with a poisonous solution which condemned them to a slow and certain death. A relative few barren plants escaped the murderous onslaught and so as not to be an offense to mankind they retreated to the darkest ravines and deepest chasms of the wildest mountains. Perhaps mankind is the offender, the rest party reasoned.
The hikers, rested and reconciled by the stimulus of reasoning but with some misgivings for their trivial apathy, meekly responded to the gentle gesture of the young trail boss. More cautiously than before, they descended the rougher places and they fought the barbed bulwark with much less vigor. They made slow but steady progress. Perhaps an hour had passed since their last rest period when they found themselves coming on to a gentle slope which led them into a shadowy cove at the base of the mountain. The floor of the valley extended deeply into the cove and spread outward in all directions. They walked from the outer fringe of the cove into a level field of pasturage. There in the semi-shade they fell to the grassy ground for another well-deserved rest. They suffered from bruises, abrasions and lacerations. Their clothing was shredded from the exacting demands of the stubble, the thorns and the other barbed vegetation; and parts of their anatomy, exposed by the rents, displayed feverish whelps and long ridges of dried crimson blood. The previous storms which had followed the mountain ranges and had dropped an abundance of rain in the valleys of higher elevations had by-passed the broad valley which lay before them. June’s warm humid breath had cast a magical spell over the upland meadows. At intervals cool breezes drifted from the mountain tops and sifted through the dark coves laden with the fragrance of pine and scented delicately with perfume swept from the wild mountain flowers It gently spread its soothing balm over the green meadow lands and parched pasture fields where rose shimmering heat-waves laden heavily with the fragrance of aromatic pennyroyal.
Fed by the high mountain springs, a clear cool stream which had rushed down the dark narrow ravines of the mountain had slowed its pace to meander leisurely through the verdant meadow lands. Stately sycamore tree followed the course of the winding stream and here and there over-hanging willows cast restless shadows on the gurgling water. Cruising dragonflies rippled the clear water, teasing the sleepy trout below; and occasionally the quiet surface of an eddying pool would suddenly become effervescent from the speckled mountain trout leaping into the air. Wild flowers grew everywhere. The meadow was a galaxy of colors. The bees and butterflies were gathering nectar while the clumsy, awkward bumblebee threw his weight around amidst the fragile flowers. Wild birds sweetly warbled their native songs. Bobwhites called impatiently while on a wooded knoll; as if crossed in love, a turtle dove mourned and was answered by its mate in a dirge-like lyric. A pair of heckling bluejays swept low and suddenly disappeared. Overhead a small flock of excited crows gave chase to a circling hawk. High above silhouetted against the azure summer sky, a huge vulture circled and glided aimlessly over the open glade. The June sun smiled ardently down the warm, passionate and bountiful bosom of mother earth. She lay in queenly dignity, unperturbed and unbrassiered. Here and there in the pasture fields huge sprawling shade trees hovered over dark cool shadows where lay several head of fat panting cattle, drowsy and heavily drugged by the opium from the juices of the grass which they had eaten in the cooler hours of the day.
After a short rest, the hikers, still smarting, still itching, still rubbing, and still scratching, arose from the cool green grass to await the inevitable signal of the young battle-scarred trail boss. He led them through the grassy meadows and over the sun-scorched pasture fields. They followed him down a dusty road to a nearby country store where they welcomed the sight of civilization. Some limped into the store and purchased ice cream, cold drinks, band-aids and aspirin tablets. Just outside the store building The Tennessee Parson seated himself slowly and painfully on an empty soda-pop case. When questioned about this condition, he sat there aloof and nonchalant. Laboriously, he removed his sweat-soaked canvas shoes and his wet socks came off with them. He found his arches had fallen; and to his chagrin, he discovered that his toes had run together. From his pocket he took a small tin box which contained a brown thick salve. It was a home-made concoction containing proportioned amounts of guinea fat, turpentine, vinegar, strained honey and onion juice. Following much rubbing and kneading and after several applications of the potent ointment, he managed to lift his arches back in place and as best he could he remolded his toes. After dragging his sweat-soaked socks back over his semi-palmated toes and crowding his feet back into his soggy shoes, he let his head fall forward into his hands. His elbows rested on his trembling knees. The top of his head had lost its luster. No longer did it resemble the glistening dome of the Taj Ma Hal. The smile had been washed from his face by the sweat, leaving dark erosive streaks of dirt and grime. His quadrigenarian spryness was gone. He looked senile, moody, wearied, forlorn and forsaken. He sat there until the young trail boss was forced to discommode him.
Somehow under his own propulsion, he arose slowly to a crouching position and tottered through the loose shale to the dusty road. He had lost his ecclesiastical swagger. His walking stick slipped from his shaky hand but he did not stop to retrieve it. He hobbled along like a mechanical man, he drifted aimlessly down the hot narrow track. Mile after long mile he plodded along with slow measured steps and oft times when stopping on dead-center he was forced to ask for a gentle shove. Like a saddle with a loose girth the swag on his back rocked back and forth. His glasses hung from one ear and dangled in the air. His mouth hung open. His tongue had dropped out; and like the pendulum of an antique clock, it slid from one side to the other between his parched lips. Like a freight elevator, his Adams apple slowly rose and fell. The bags under his blood-shot eyes sloshed back and forth. His limp arms hung forward, and his long dangling fingers swept the cinders off the wooden cross-ties.
The trail boss somehow managed to keep a short gap between him and a following group of young girls who had slowed their gait to a mere totter. The next group of girls who were not quite so young proceeded in like manner except they tottered more. Although the debutantes showed some degree of wear and tear from the recent hardships, they determinately forged forward with their cares behind and their hopes ahead. A few feet separated the two groups of girls from a group of tired lagging young boys who had slowed down to a loitering pace. A breach of several feet separated the loitering boys from a long single file of older looking men who had obviously not been accustomed to using man’s original means of travel. Under the blazing heat of the noon day sun they plodded on. From the hot road bed glimmering heat waves rose steeped with the acrid smell of creosote and stale grease. Crickets chirped ceaselessly and giant grasshoppers rose excitedly from the scorched grass to criss-cross the hot rails. A symphony of insects followed each hiker incessantly without the least hint of a discordant note. Ambrosially, fragrant, ripe strawberries kissed to a blushing red by the warm June sun had grown in profusion to grace the gentle slopes. All of nature seemed to be in tune. The cool stream which followed the road flowed peacefully on with exasperating casualness.
Visions of the comforts of home hovered vaguely in their minds. Roofs over their heads, electric fans, soft cushioned chairs, beds with mattresses and inside plumbing where only fantastic memories. The last long mile was determined to sap the last trace of energy from that group of adventurous hikers, but they drifted on until their spirits descended to a low ebb. Gradually, they assumed an atmosphere of solemnity and they became apprehensive and suspicional of the outcome. Their petty faults and short-comings loomed up before them in magnified proportions. One girl thought of the time that she had played truant at school. Another girl, apparently as innocent and pure as the morning dew thought seriously of that time that she was called down in class for chewing bubble-gum. One boy thought of the mornings that he had failed to drop anything in the offering plates while another lad thought of the times that he had taken out more than he had dropped in. Another middle-aged boy, a recipient of some of those meager offerings and who had been having it quite rugged on the trail, began to wonder is he had not at times been just a wee bit intemperate around fried chicken and boiled ham.
They kept drifting. Evening came on and shadows began to lengthen. Cool breezes swept across the tracks. They staggered on. The last ridge had been crossed. The last ravine had been explored. The last valley had been traversed and miles and miles of railroad lay behind them. Suddenly and unexpectedly they found themselves in a valley of familiar landmarks. Minutes later they found themselves in a small community, familiar yet strangely beautiful, more beautiful that any place they had ever seen before. the peace and quiet was unbelievable and almost frightening. One small lad, dubious, and of doubting characteristics, examined the pavement of the macadam road to see if it really was pure gold. The sudden turn of events left them standing awestricken and bewildered. A small girl obviously a wee bit frightened turned quickly to see if a beautiful gate had suddenly closed behind them. The strange Celestial appearance of the surroundings slowly took on familiar terrestrial aspects and they broke into a fit of laughter. Deliverance had come. The hike was over.
I feel it is fitting and proper that I should make the following acknowledgements:
I, in my feeble way and much aware of my incompetency, have attempted to give a fragmentary account of the Appalachian Trail Hike strictly as I remember it without favoritism to the blithesome incidents. However, should it in a small measure prompt some to better remember only the happier moments, them my endeavors will not have been in vain.
To my opinion the hike was highly successful, marred only by the absence of those who could not be along. The vacuum at times was most conspicuous. To you who were accustomed to the vicissitudes of camp-life, who did much beyond the call of duty to add comfort to the group and especially to you who labored in such primitive fashion to prepare such delicious food, I say you are wonderful people. To you who enlivened the group by your humor and vivacity and fought so hard to keep an atmosphere of gaiety at all times and under all conditions, you, too, are wonderful. To you who came from afar and were not accustomed to the rigors of these mountain hikes nor acquainted with the extremities of the elements, I say you were magnificent and your behavior and beyond reproach. The trail bosses deserve a word of praise and the weather-man should have a purple heart.
The current planning for future hikes is complimentary of the last one and for those who are responsible for organizing them, credit should be given where credit is due.
Trail Boss: Bill Lewis
Asst. Trail Boss: Billy Blevins
Truck Driver: Otis Blevins
Truck Driver’s Pretty Wife: Mildred Blevins
The Tennessee Parson: B. J. Wampler
Aunt Ruth kept the children
Allen Lewis helped prepare food
Story by Earl J. Warden
Florida Hikers **
Joyce Pravora &
Larry Gentry (married to Sandy, daughter of Joyce)
Don Stutzmon, now married to Joyce, father of Larry
** Need more information on the hikers from Florida