Alum Hollow

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.

John Muir

bloodrootSpring is my favorite time to hike. I return to the same trails to witness the woods wake up from their slumber. My eyes can easily find new life as the landscape is brown and gray. The first flowers, braving the cold hand of winter’s grip, seem too frail to take such a bold stand.

I find myself daily on a trail somewhere during these early weeks and on into late spring.

I regularly visit a trail located behind our house that skirts the top of the mountain ridge overlooking a stream deep in a ravine. We found this trail soon after purchasing our land twelve years ago. Jack and I began hiking on it regularly ever since.

Within a few months of hiking it, I met an elderly woman on the trail. She had a couple of dogs walking along side her. One was a large white furry dog. I recognized him from the long white strands of hair found trailing on briars along the trail. Most encounters, I’d walk along side her for a spell visiting about what was blooming or about a newly fallen tree across the trail. She told me the trail was built for a boy who was a cross-country runner years ago.

Every spring, she swept the trail with a broom, completing a long section every day. I asked her why and she said to make the woods quiet again. Each year I saw her less and less and then the trail was swept no more. I never knew her name.the trail

This trail, although not ours, has become part of our life. We found it connected to another trail that led to a large rock shelter and a few waterfalls. It was a place we had hiked to while we were dating. Kevin and the boys clean up the trail of fallen trees each year, while I snip away briars and limbs. We all use the trail, the boys taking friends and Kevin and I taking Jack.  We never see anyone. fiddleheads

We watch it change season upon season and year after year. I’ve share my photos here with you. waterfall

In March, Robert and Susan Kuehlthau donated this property to the Land Trust of North Alabama. 120 acres. This gift is for me and for you, and for our children and our children’s children. This land will be preserved forever! I get a lump in my throat even now. It impacts us in such a way as it borders our property on two sides. As we see the mountain closing in around us, this gift restores us. bellflower jackatallum greengrotto

As the dedication ceremony creeped closer, I took more hikes along these familiar trails. I took Jack on slow walks with my big camera. Taking it all in again. I reminisced at the base of the big tree,  its arms lean out and welcomed the boys to climb and they did with each passing until one day they were “too old” to want to climb.  I stopped extra long at the old fire ring that overlooks the cairn I built 8 years ago, my praying spot. I’ve prayed over much here. I walked down to the ledge where we found freshly cut firewood stacked in wait for another fire that never was built. That was 10 years ago.  It’s still there.


I looked at the ledges where long icicles hung that the boys broke off and used as light sabers.  I rock hopped down the streams looking for native azaleas blooming and picnicked at the falls.

I came across a sandy bank with little paw prints of deer and raccoon and bird and it struck me… my footprints won’t be the only ones here anymore. And I was sad. If just for a minute. A long selfish minute.


I touched the bark of the big oak tree that marks the half way point of my hike, I always touch it as I turn around for home. A final time. laundry

I was able to personally thank the Kuehlthaus at the ceremony and joined them along with other residents, Land Trust Board members, employees and volunteers to hike the new property, now called Alum Hollow. Although different, seeing so many in a line, I was very happy and satisfied.

The Land Trust improved the trail and added much to it. I see the trees being cut down the street for a new subdivision and I am grateful. Grateful to the Kuehlthaus for giving up this land. Grateful to the Land Trust for maintaining and preserving beauty. mayapple bluets chickasaw holly

Since then, I’ve continued to hike it and didn’t waste any time putting geocaches on it! I see hiker’s cars parked and I think, I bet they just love this “new” trail. I know I do!

I decided to make a photo book of this beautiful property and give to the givers, the Kuehlthaus. I wanted to do something to show our appreciation for their gift. I used photographs I took this spring and added some of my favorite quotes from John Muir, a perfect combination. I wrapped it up and added a twig of a blooming azaleas to the ribbon and took it to their house. As I approached their sidewalk, I really did catch my breath, when sitting on their rock column by the sidewalk was a frog carved by Mr. Tom! I got the biggest grin on my face and heart. (see last post)

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul. John Muir

And thanks to these, we have such a place.



10 thoughts on “Alum Hollow

  1. deddy All the fall also bring the crunch and wonderful taste of Sue cookies with the fresh brewed coffee on said:

    This story revels openly the heart and soul of my beloved daughter. The adventurer who see beauty everywhere see looks. deddy

  2. Dear one, I completely understand your bittersweet mixed feelings about this magnanimous gift. the solitude there has been yours to savor for years and years, either by yourself with Jack or with your sweet Kevin and boys. now, that solitude will be (perhaps infrequently) interrupted by those who are only just now able to walk that trail and to discover the beautiful quiet gifts of nature that come with being alone in isolated woods.
    I didn’t own the house where I used to live, on firefly road, but I enjoyed the beautiful waterfall up the way, and the vast forests that surrounded my little rental house. development descended here in the western NC mountains at an alarming rate, marring beautiful distant vistas with huge patches of felled trees, and a large “development” up from my house began the summer that I moved out there. huge dump trucks filled with gravel roared up firefly road below the house every fifteen minutes, then back down the steep hill again at a horrific speed. a bear visited my porch several times a few weeks after I moved; it had been flushed out by all that intrusive roadwork, and was seeking quieter woods and food. ironically, the development was named “Black Bear Falls”. a winding patchwork of paved roads was laid; property lots were marked; posts went up with wooden numbers, designating each lot for those out-of-staters wanting to stake a claim. yet, not one house was ever built. the developers were voracious in their desire to develop, to sell, to gain wealth. and then the bottom of the market fell out, and that development overgrew with weeds. steep asphalt roads in places caved in and gave way. I walked those roads with walter, saw more evidence of bears returning in the acorn and seed-filled scat they left behind. coyotes yipped from the very close shelter of woods next to the higher roads, at the end of the day. wildflowers flourished at the edges; yet the black asphalt remained, completely unused and abandoned. I had been angry about that development, and hurt, because it felt a little like it was mine. I never saw anyone else walking on those walks. I never saw a bear there, or a fox, or a coyote. it felt odd to be in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by grand woods that looked out over a vast green valley from so high above. it felt odd to see eight and a half years pass without a single house built. that entire place fell into bankruptcy. the original owner was a local man who had owned that beautiful mountain for a long, long time. I say original, yet I doubt that, really, as I’m sure that it had belonged to the Cherokee people before it was yanked out from under them over one hundred years ago. but if this man had done as your neighbors did and donated it for a land preserve, it would have been left free from all of the manmade ugliness that unfolded in the near decade that I was living below.
    the concept of owning property is a nebulous thing. do any of us ever really own the land that makes up the earth we explore? I imagine this hill where I sit as I write this, surrounded by woods and overlooking a farmed valley below. who owned it, hundreds of years ago? what creatures walked this hill, these mountains, before anyone alive today or last century came ambling along? what drank from the little stream that passes below? what wildflowers grew in this spot, where now there stands this modest little log cabin?
    yesterday I walked out back with Walter to check the dirt road that winds through the gutted area where much logging took place last summer. a natural spring was disrupted by all of that work, and now flows in a new path across the road that I call my own. mud flows with it, and silt. sometimes I see the hoof prints of deer, sometimes the hand-like prints of a raccoon. It was May Day, and I thought a good way to spend a part of it was outdoors with Walter looking at nature, even if it meant walking up a messy red dirt road made ever wider with the help of large metal teeth from a loud, destructive backhoe. I sifted through run off mud and found a handful of rose quartz chunks, exposed by the work of man and by erosion. and then I spotted the white glimmer of chipped quartz half buried in the mud. when I pulled it out and up for closer inspection, I realized that it was a neatly chiseled arrowhead, made and used and lost many, many, many moons and decades and even centuries ago. someone had walked these woods along with me, long before the current logging landowner ever did. whoever lost his arrow had been out scouting for food, walking as quietly as if those woods had been swept clean with your neighbor’s broom…..
    Wendell Berry wrote a book in 1971 called “The Unforeseen Wilderness: An Essay on Kentucky’s Red River Gorge”. In the book, he urged readers to honor and preserve natural areas and the environment. he wrote some words that ring very true for how you so strongly feel about the beauty of the land that you have shared with your boys as they have grown from children into young adults:
    “We can learn about it from exceptional people of our own culture, and from other cultures less destructive than ours. I am speaking of the life of a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children; who has undertaken to cherish it and do it no damage, not because he is duty-bound, but because he loves the world and loves his children…”. we are all guilty of leaving our modern footprints on this earth. we build homes, drive cars, shop in stores that rose from meadows and fields. we plant flowers that are not native, and grass where once there were trees; we clear trees for open views, and places fences where once there were none. we claim ownership because money was exchanged from one hand to another, and we sit on porches looking out over what we feel that we own. when we are gone, will the fences remain? will wildflowers take over, where once plots of grass grew? Will the raccoons and possums return? the deer, the coyote, the bear?
    I love this post of yours, beloved and destined friend of mine. I look forward to walking the unassuming trails of earth, in Wisconsin or Vermont or Alabama or North Carolina, and many other places far and near, for the rest of our shared lives. we share so many common things, you and I, and a passionate love for the natural world is one that initially lured us out together into that open space, down a quiet rural road in a green farming valley of Wisconsin where an eagle family keeps a massive nest. the rest, as we say, is a beautiful continuing journey, wherever it may lead. happy trails! xoxox

    • My eyes are stinging from these words of yours that so freely and beautifully flow from your heart. You of all friends I knew would understand my mixed emotions as I scrambled to make sense and put in words what I don’t understand my self. Love to you. And thank you. Thank you for always supporting me here dear friend!

    • Thank you! We just returned from a visit to the waterfalls. (the boys, their girlfriends and two dogs) Everything is so green and beautiful. Katey

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