After leaving the gate, the path angles off to the southeast. They cut the timber here back in the late 1950′s, and the loggers left a God-awful mess. The one positive result of all that, besides the money that kept my family from losing the farm, was the road the loggers built to get the timber out of the swamp. That’s been our route in and out ever since, mostly on foot.
As you go deeper into the forest, the ground elevation begins to drop. The road―path is actually a more accurate term―follows along a ridge with the high ground on the left and the swamp on the right. These are clearly two separate worlds. The high ground is thickly forested with hickory, bay trees, live oak, maple, beech, and sycamore, and there’s nothing on the right but palmettos, bald cypress, and tupelo (black gum or bee gum). Those are about the only trees that can survive where the roots are underwater most of the year.
The swamp’s pretty dry right now. In the springtime when the trees start to put on new growth and leaves, they literally suck all the moisture out of the ground. When autumn comes, the trees will release the moisture and the water should be about a foot deep in here.
I can’t come in here without stopping by my favorite tupelo tree. It doesn’t look a lot different now than it did all those years ago when I stole honey from the bees that lived there. There’s a big hollow at the bottom that’s just right for a beehive. The bees are gone now―I can’t remember the last time I saw a beehive. They seem to be disappearing all over the country and nobody knows why.
The tupelo honey that I found here is a delicacy―there’s never been much of it. It can’t be produced in a controlled environment like a bee farm―it has to come out of the swamp where the tupelo trees are. My grandma had a booth at the farmers market, and when she put my honey on the table, it would sell out in a matter of minutes. I bought my Ted Williams baseball glove with tupelo honey money.
The bees never seemed to mind when I robbed them. They had a sort of puzzled attitude regarding my intrusion into their world. They’d crawl all over my hands but never bit me―seemed to be trying to ignore me, actually. The important thing to remember here is to be gentle and don’t smash any bees. Smashing bees is guaranteed to change their attitude.
When I would grasp one of the filled-out combs and gently start to wiggle it loose from the hive, there was a deliciously heavy feel to it. It was almost erotic, thinking about all those little cells filled to bursting with tupelo honey.
I rest my hand on the tree and remember…
TO BE CONTINUED…