(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Locke Hill: A place of beauty and a place to remember” was originally published in the Sept. 14, 1995 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)
I have mentioned several times in my writings about a place in the northeast part of the county known as Locke Hill. I have been there many times, during both daylight and darkness, and a different feeling is most always experienced upon arrival on the top of this high and beautiful hill.
I like nothing better than to travel in that direction during the days of late summer and early fall, stopping atop the hill and marveling at the broad vastness of beauty that is to be seen there. So it was on Sept. 3, I found myself heading in that direction for a few moments of meditation and a time for remembering.
The cool winds across the open spaces reminded me that the autumn season was just over the horizon. As I looked at the hillsides and deep valleys, already a few faint colors of beautiful autumn had begun to appear on the sweetgum and oak trees that dotted the landscape. Reaching the top of Locke Hill, I went to my favorite spot – the place where the view of the vast valley before me is the greatest. Here, I sat down on my favorite rock and gazed across the distant valley that lay before me.
As I sat there enjoying the cool, refreshing eastern winds, the faint distant sound of a dog barking echoed across the valley. The brought to mind the time of my early teenage years and thoughts of all the coon hunters of the community where I grew up. This was the time of year when plans were beginning to formulate for the coming coon hunting season.
I remembered the coon-hunting tales of the past season being told and told again – each time to be exaggerated a little more than the time before. And as the time grew near for the hunts to begin, the autumn winds seemed to bear the excitement of the coming hunts.
Mail-order coon dogs
These thoughts brought to mind the dog trading, swapping and even buying of coon dogs. It was not uncommon for a hunter to order a pure-bred coon dog from a mail-order catalog. Always, these dogs came by freight on the train. Upon receiving notice that a coon dog was to arrive by train on a certain day, all the coon hunters would drop everything they were doing and gather at the train station. One would have thought that a dignitary of great importance was arriving on that train instead of a mail-order coon dog.
Sitting there looking across the vast valley below me, I remembered that night last year, when during the late autumn I came to Locke Hill. I remembered sitting in this very spot and listening to the flock of wild geese as they crossed the face of the full moon on their way south to warmer climates.
I remembered how time seemed to stand still that night as I sat here alone, looking out over the moonlit valley. I thought of the howls of the wild coyotes down the hill that night, and the tingle of the skin on my neck as the sounds echoed through the timbers and rode the winds of the evening. The thought had come to mind that evening that there were still places on this planet where total peace can be found, even in our world of fantasy and make-believe.
I remembered that during my youth the fall months were a time for hunting wild possum grapes and various other wild goodies, such as muscadines and many other sought-after treats. Young boys and girls, always with their chaperones, would go out on a Saturday or a Sunday afternoon in search of a wild grape or muscadine vine.
This gave the young country boys the chance to show off their skills, to climb the tall trees and vines while tossing the nicest bunches of wild grapes to that favorite young lady who waited below. And there was always the chance to help that special red-headed country beauty across a small stream or gulley. This was the chance to hold her hand without the older couple, who watched with the eyes of a hawk your every move, but never suspected anything. Always, if one played it smart, the area where the rough ground and small streams were located was a planned part of the afternoon journey.
Two or three times a season the youth of the community were allowed to organize a coon hunt. Always, there had to be at least two older couples to go along as chaperones. Then, a roundup of goodies, such as popcorn balls, roasted pecans or peanuts, or a sizable amount of syrup candy was in order.
After everything was prepared then the coon dogs were selected for the evening of hunting. I didn’t matter much whether the dogs would tree a coon or not. The big thing was to get away, and after a short time of hunting, the time for the bonfire festivities was the climax of the hunt.
Good times, tall tales
Good times and tall tales were the order of the evening. Games that could be played there in the deep woods around the campfire were enjoyed for a while. Then it was time for the older couples to tell the stories of their early childhood.
As they became absorbed in their stories, there might be a slim chance to reach over in the shadows from the bonfire and quickly grasp the hand of that favorite sweet thing that sat not too far away. One had to be very careful; I knew some chaperones whom I thought could see better in the dark than they could in the broad open daylight. Anyway, taking a chance of getting caught holding hands could be tricky business.
I had become so absorbed in re-living the memories of my early youth that I hadn’t realized the sun was almost out of sight in the western skies. The eastern winds had become a little cooler during my stay there on Locke Hill. Taking one last look across the vast valley below me, I knew that I would return again during the time of the full moon.
I wanted once again to witness the flocks of wild geese as they flew to the south in the bright, late autumn moonlight. As I turned to leave from this place of peace and beauty, I knew that soon I would return for another time when the memories of yesteryear would live again as though they had just happened.
As I turned from the vastness of the bottom lands before me, I raised my arms toward the heavens and prayed a prayer that seemed very appropriate for the time and place.
O’ Great Spirit, give me strength that I may stroll across the land and marvel at thy creation.
Let me go where the wildflowers sway in the evening winds. Let me smell the fragrance of the wild violets as I rest in the shade of the tall cottonwood tree.
Make me know Thy presence as I feel the bark of the birch tree and view the heavens above me. Let me linger under the tall pines of the mountain, while listening to the lullaby of the winds.
Give me sight so I might see the fowls of the air as they wing their way to lofty heights. Let me view the might eagle as he rides the winds of the evening and soars into the shadows of the setting sun.
And, when the shadows of this life gather on the distant horizon, and I stand in thy presence, let me be judged for my love of thy beauty and thy creation.
(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born to Vincent William Singleton and Frances Cornelia Faile Singleton, during a late-night thunderstorm, on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County, graduated from Sweet Water High School in 1946, served as a U.S. Marine paratrooper in the Korean War, worked as a riverboat deckhand, lived for a time among Apache Indians, moved to Monroe County on June 28, 1964 and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from June 28, 1964 to Dec. 14, 1987. He was promoted from the enlisted ranks to warrant officer in May 1972. For years, Singleton’s columns, titled “Monroe County history – Did you know?” and “Somewhere in Time” appeared in The Monroe Journal, and he wrote a lengthy series of articles about Monroe County that appeared in Alabama Life magazine. It’s believed that his first column appeared in the March 25, 1971 edition of The Monroe Journal. He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)