Twenty years must have passed since Miriam had walked up that rail to the old Mill. It had been her “Thinking Place” as a teenager, a place where she could go and ponder over things that only the very young or very old have time to contemplate. It was an early April day after a brutally cold winter in the Southern Appalachians. Many of the mountain roads had been impassable for months, so the access road that wound around the mountain had been closed most of the winter.
The thought came to Miriam that it wasn’t really safe to ramble alone in this area, largely abandoned since the turn of the century. She had heard that black bears had been driven to the area by the influx of wealthy retirees from Florida and new England. But memories of the old grist mill, the rusting wheel, still upright within it’s stone walls, the heavy mill stone, encircled with metal, kept her moving.
She had not doubt that they would still be there, but wondered about their condition. How many people were still alive who even remembered the mill? How many of them would bother to go there? She sat on a lichen encrusted stone and closed her eyes to rest. Thoughts of her grandfather telling her about the mill filled her mind. Even in his days, it had been a relic. His grandfather had taken grain there not long after the Civil War. She heard her grandfather’s voice correct her.“War between the States.” he had said. “No use in talkin’ like them Yankees.”
She crossed rivulets of water that cascaded down the creases in the forest floor as they made their way to the larger stream where the mill had operated. Wagon tracks were still visible where animals had walked and horses had strode from the stable that now sat about a mile below the old mill. The early spring flowers huddled under oak trees and thrust their heads up to catch the brief rays of sun that shadowed the forest floor before the leaves began to shade it again.
At last, she heard the rushing of the stream as it spilled over stones lining the river by the old mill. She picked up her step as she came close to the mill wheel. The moss-covered rocks that surrounded the old wheel had always fascinated her, and the vibrant sounds of rushing water made her heart fill with memories of her grandfather’s tales and her prized “Thinkin Place.”
Carefully, she dodged the briars that had gown up around the area where the mill house once stood. She tried to imagine the men lined up along the road, smoking homegrown tobacco in hand carved pipes. She could hear their horses whinny and stomp as they waited impatiently in front of the wagons of corn and grain. Miriam turned as she heard a rustle up the pat, but it was only a squirrel shuffling winter’s collection of leaves. She placed her hands gently on the remains of the wall around the mill wheel and turned, with her legs facing the ancient wheel.
She noticed that on of the square stones across from her seemed to have worked its self out a bit from the others. Curious, she cautiously worked her way down the slope, holding the wheel for support as she walked. She held onto saplings and pulled herself up to the other side. The moss-covered rocks were cool and damp as she placed her hands against them for support.
Miriam looked around for something to loosen the protruding rock with and found a rusted piece of metal, crooked at one end and a small hole drilled in the other. Just for a second, she found her mind wondering what it had been, but the protruding stone regained her attention. She knelt and worked the metal scrap back into the moss that filled the cracks. With a jolt, the stone moved out a bit more and Miriam excitedly worked the metal scrap in a little further.
With a little work, the rock slid out into her hand. It was heavier than she had imagined, but she carefully laid it down beside her feet. Holding to the top of the wall, she bent down and peered inside the opening where the rock had been. Amidst an indention lined with rotting wood, she saw the shape of what looked like a metal box. She gently worked the rotted wood away from the space it had protected all of these years and lifted out a rusted box, complete with a padlock of equally poor condition.
Carefully, she sat the box on the top of the rock wall. Struggled up the mossy side and held her tiny treasure. “What was in the box,: she thought as she rushed through the empty blackberry vines as they grabbed at her sweater. As she reached the top of the trail, she saw him, breathless, wordless staring at her. Hiding the box beneath her sweater, she whispered a breathless “Hi.” Not knowing what to do, she awaited an answer. None came.
He held out his hand to her and smiled, “Let me help you.” Heart pounding, she held out her free hand and he pulled her to the trail way. “Haven’t seen a brown and white hound dog, have you?” He said. With relief, she shook her head. “Sorry, I sure haven’t.” “Went huntin last night and my best dog didn’t come back to the road this mornin.” he said. “Didn’t mean to scare you.”
“That’s ok.” she sighed as she regained her composure. “I’m Aaron,.” the young man said. Live down on the horse farm in the cove. Still guarding her treasure box, she looked at him and smiled. “Miriam” she told him. “Just thinking about my younger days, visiting places my grandpa told me about.” “Come by the farm sometime.” He shouted, as he walked on down the path, we’ll go on a horse ride together sometime.”
“I’ll do that, she said, waving as she went back up the mountain. For a moment, her fear had made her forget the treasure box. She made her way on up the hill, anxious to get back to her truck.