It’s still magical.
That’s what we discovered when several of us “second generation” sanctuary-seekers visited the site of my dad’s old camp on Salt River last weekend. It was a spectacularly beautiful early spring day: temperatures in the mid-40s with deep blue skies and a light breeze. The torrential rains of the previous week had finally ceased and the ground was surprisingly solid as we hiked down a gravel road past pretty little ponds on either side, down the long hill to the immense corn bottom along the river itself. (Finally, I know exactly what Pud meant by “Cap’s Corn Bottom.”) Remnants of last season’s corn crop littered the flat land that extended as far as the eye could see to the east and west and down to the tree line adjacent to the river. We turned east along the southern edge of the field and headed toward the woods that brought an abrupt end to the corn rows.
Once in the woods, I knew I was home. Everything felt familiar. I had only been there once before, but I immediately recalled the path up the hill to the right, the gurgling stream to the left. We crossed the small stream—somewhat carefully this time with the water running a bit more swiftly—and marched directly to the old chimney, still untouched by time. The cabin, of course, is gone, but I expect that chimney will last well into the next millennium. We all marveled at how two teenage boys constructed such a solid edifice 80 years ago.
This was a special trip. Bobby Cole’s two children, Bob and Julie, and their spouses were there. They had been regular visitors to the site until their family sold the property in 1981. Two who had visited the camp with my dad as youngsters also joined us: Bob McWilliams (author of "Puzzle Pieces"), son of George McWilliams, my dad’s good friend and my mother’s first cousin, and Sandy Goodlett, oldest son of my uncle Billy, Pud’s brother. They pointed out favorite fishing holes, recognized giant sycamore trees along the river, shared stories about the slow deterioration of the cabin and the shelter it continued to provide even in its compromised state well into the 1960s.
We wandered a few yards west of the camp to the waterfall our fathers had used as access to the river for their many fishing expeditions, the steep bluff in front of camp preventing an easier entry. The waterfall was more beautiful than I remembered it, and we tarried there quite some time taking in the scene, recalling the winter photo of my dad sliding down the frozen water on his rear, noting the animal bones littered on a nearby shelf, marveling at the remnants of an old dry stone fence.
Yes, it was magical. It’s clear why the boys escaped to their woodland refuge whenever their other obligations permitted.
None of us wanted to leave. I wished we had thought to ask permission to camp there that night to extend the dream. The current property owners were once again gracious, gladly allowing us to immerse ourselves in this piece of our family history.
Time changes everything. But for a couple of hours in early March, we could imagine our dads walking among us, excitedly pointing out the burgeoning buds on the trees, bragging about their fishing exploits, making plans to improve the camp that summer. We shared sacred memories rarely spoken aloud and honored our dads’ love for that hallowed ground. It was indeed magical.
This past week we lost one of our cousins who I suspect visited The Last Resort with his uncle Pud and his cousin Sandy when they were toddlers and possibly later, when Pud came back to Kentucky to see family. In his correspondence, Pud referred to Sandy as “Sweetpea” and to Davy as “Sluggo” or “Slug.” David Fallis was the oldest son of Pud’s sister, Virginia, and all of us will miss his gentleness and his sense of humor. Rest in peace, Dave.