After a 2016 holiday season that deviated from the norm (for some compelling reasons), some semblance of the normal Franklin Christmas routine returned in 2017. The Whiskey Walk (see 2015 and 2014 recaps) proceeded according to tradition, albeit with an unusual chill in the air: during the afternoon and evening of Christmas Eve, a patch of seasonal weather gave way to a bitter cold front, bringing gusty winds and snowfall after dark.
With the Rivertop Rambler at my side, our hike began on the paved road angling southwest up the hollow. After half a mile or so, we forked left up a private hunt club lane—once a public road owned by the Town of Greenwood, but now maintained only minimally to allow the passage of heavy-duty pickup trucks up the steep hillside. Long-time readers will recall that the landowners are kind enough to provide a little directional help in the form of ironically placed road signs.
On top of the hill, the abandoned car’s woodland setting became uncomfortably cool. The sweat from our steep climb began to chill our bones as the wind picked up and clouds built to the west. Some flasked bourbon and beer would help. (Oh wait, the beer is cold?)
We left the car bar after downing some drinks with my uncle, proceeding east along an old farm lane that was likely part of the same public roadway as the hunt club road. This portion was once traveled by enough vehicles to merit being lined on both sides by the classic stone fences often found in the rocky Allegheny highlands. While the fence on the south side of the lane has been dismantled, with the stones seemingly becoming one with the natural surroundings, the north side boasts a remarkably intact fenceline.
At the end of this fenceline, our route turned south onto my uncle’s property, away from the relatively sheltered patch of woods on the hilltop. There, the terrain begins to slope down to the southeast and an even more bitter cold wind sheered up the grassy field.
There’s a beautiful hemlock grove across a field of thick grass and goldenrod not yet pressed down by heavy snow. The stand was only ever lightly lumbered by my grandfather, more than 40 years ago. In addition to the deep green hemlocks, it includes a variety of maples, oaks, and birches, as well as ironwood, beech, and spruce. The mix of trees is probably the closest thing you’ll find to the area’s original forest mix, and its quiet, somber beauty felt primeval in the light snow and cold.
A small trickle drains a marshy corner of an overgrown field, dropping quickly amidst the hemlocks into a dramatically narrow ravine. From here, that water will travel at least 400 miles and drop a couple thousand feet in elevation to the Chesapeake Bay, closer to where I currently reside. Home to home, I guess.
I’ve always liked finding this kind of connection between my past and present, my history and my (almost) daily existence. The Whiskey Walk is a great one to revisit year after year, bridging the gaps of time and place. Its route travels a highly representative cross-section of my hometown’s natural and human history, and cuts across several important threads of my own family’s traditions and history with the land.
From Bridging the Gap to my readers, Happy New Year 2018!