Gran Dad’s 100 Year Oak
Collaborative: Robert E. Woodward
It was hot as springtime in south Alabama could be. The woods surrounding the lot were dense. Filled with briar, bramble, ivy, itch weed and trees by the thousands. If this was to be a farm, they all had to go. So, one-by-one and swath by swath the young man; new owner of this partial; tore up the dense weeds and brambles; stacked them high and torched them to cinders. Before night fell that first day he had 12 good piles burning or burnt. When he looked on the burning and smoldering fires he felt pretty accomplished. But when he widened his view, his merriment dropped like a ton-of-bricks. For all he saw was an ever-so tiny dent in a very large and looming, ominous forest!
He wondered aloud, “Lord! Will I ever get this land cleared?”
Tired, hot and sweated to the swill of a pig sty, Mr. Sam Wellwood turned and made for the wall tent he called home. It was going to be a quick dip in the creek and some jerky, to tide the gnawing in his gut. Then off to bed; 4AM arrives all too soon. He will have opportunity to do it all again tomorrow; and for what seemed like many tomorrows – maybe forever! – to come.
As Sam lay in the bed-roll on his above-ground-cot, he listened to the sounds of the forest. It was an amazing concert of sound; nature’s orchestra. He labored with the thoughts of how he was putting-to-the-ax, the orchestra of the nightly serenade he so enjoyed. But he rationalized, “I have to make a living and I do that by farming. I can’t farm with trees and brambles covering the property. So, even if I don’t really like it, they have to go.” No, he didn’t much care for it, but knew he had to clear the land to begin his farm.
Fitful he rolled over and drifted into sleep.
————— + ——————
The next day began long before the first twinges of light feathered through the sky-reaching branches of the tall tree just off to his south and west. Sam had noticed the tree on his first outing to look over the property. But this morning he saw it in a wholly different light. It stood, main-stem and branches above the rest of the forest line. The nearest trees of any size to compare, were a quarter of a mile east, residing on the adjacent property.
Sam was curious and thought he would begin his day with a bit of an exploratory, to check out the tree. But first there was breakfast to make and personal chores and matters to attend.
As Sam began to stir from the elevated cot he remembered to check out the ‘land’ around his cot for critters. The woods and creeks were well populated with all likes of snakes; rattlers, moccasins and copperhead were among the more problematic creatures to deal with. There were – he was told – the occasional black bears to the area – but not common. Bobcat, on the other hand, were quite common. His dog, Cache, would toss out a single bark when he smelled the cats as they wondered by, down on the creek. The cats didn’t come up in the wooded area – not that he could tell – but stayed in the creek bottom. That was fine by Sam. Even more fine by Cache; he didn’t much care for them.
Cache was something in his own right. No doubt the biology of his origin was not in the framework of what one would call noble breeding. But Cache had a saunter that would belie his melting-pot origins. He strode; with authority. Sam always enjoyed watching Cache make his way back from the creek. He didn’t wander about with his nose in the dirt like most dogs. Though it was quite clear, Cache had a good smeller. Instead he walked with his head up, preferring to keeping his eyes peeled for anything out of the ordinary and allowing his nose to catch any important ‘on-the-air’ scents. He may have been part hound and goodly part cur, be he still preferred walking with his head up in the light.
When Sam acquired Cache, in May of 1910, they were both just staring out. Sam a freshly minted 21 year old young man with a mark-to-make, and Cache was guessed to be about 6 months old. Already Cache was an impressive beast. Early on Sam noticed qualities in Cache that would surely make him a fine dog. He didn’t bite or growl unless he was genuinely threatened; didn’t stink unless he was slower than the skunks he enjoyed harassing; he did not bark unless it was necessary. Cache just had an air about him that let Sam know, Cache could understand what he, Sam, was thinking. Uncanny to be sure, but a trait, over-the-years, Cache proved more-than-just-believable; far more than once.
Sam had been slow in moving off his cot and Cache took note. Sam began to swing his leg off the left side when Cache let out a deep, guttural growl. The sound stopped Sam in mid-air. He immediately looked at Cache. The dog looked at him, then looked down, then looked up – and growled. Sam was not sure what this meant but he trusted Cache.
Lifting his leg back on the cot, Sam reached for the lantern. Opened it, lit it, adjusted the wick and leaned it out over the left side of the cot. What Sam saw made him shiver … DEEP! For there, between his boots was coiled a very big – sleeping now – timber rattler. As big around as a hogs shoulder and a good 4 feet long. Sam was all-too-familiar with these snakes; a most cantankerous temper -ilk of the rattler breed. He had no intention of stepping into that mess!
Sam shifted his investigation to the left side of the cot and found it to be clear. He had an old pair of deer moccasins on a bookcase on that side and checked them carefully. Clear, he slipped them on and got his pistol. He then got the fire poker. He had no intention of killing the rattler if he didn’t have to.
Getting a good hold on the poker, Sam eased the bed toward him on the left side and gently slid the poker into the coils of huge snake. Ever so gently, he slowly lifted the snake. It was huge and weighed in at nearly 25 pounds. A lot to lift on the end of a poker! But Sam kept his cool and lifted that snake up and carried him out of the tent and into the clearing. He tossed him – as best he could – out away. The snake hit the ground with a ’THUD!’ A sudden stop, the snake really didn’t much care for. As he quickly coiled into a threatening strike posture. But Sam had no interest in making the rattler any more offended than he already was, so he turned and walked away. Cache did, too.
Cache was a snake-smart dog.
These are the opening paragraphs of a new novel underway. Publication date is set for early 2021. Keep in touch and we’ll let you know when it will be available. Thank you for reading and we hope you enjoyed it. Do let us know and don’t forget to sign-up to receive email notification. Follow us on Facebook.