The bottom of the hollow is a strange place: so steep that the trees grow tall and spindly, with few branches, and are spaced far apart. Two hundred years ago it would’ve been a much darker place, dense with hemlocks, but now it’s mostly deciduous and, in winter, as light-filled as a northeast-facing hollow can be. Plummer’s Hollow Run is of course as wide as it gets down here, and we have to be vigilant to keep it from undercutting our access road when it floods. Most of the winter, though, it’s dark and quiet.
The steep slopes provide some protection for vegetation that the deer would browse down to the ground anywhere else, such as wild hydrangea (above) and red elderberry. In May, they harbor our largest patches of purple trillium.
The wind is fierce along the railroad tracks at the bottom, and reaches up into this bottom portion of the hollow to make its mark on the snow, erasing and rearranging daily like a never-satisfied artist. Cold and wind have defined this landscape for the last two centuries. I think of the people who used to live in a small cluster of houses at the entrance to the hollow, on the shady side of the gap — a desolate and dirt-poor hamlet whose hey-day only lasted for a couple of decades before the railroad came through in 1850 and took out the heart of the settlement and its raison d’etre, an iron forge. (It was the forge that precipitated the original clearcutting of the hollow, since it ran on charcoal.)
People who grew up in the last of those houses are elderly now, and come to visit every now and then (though probably not in the winter). They walk up around the first bend, sign the guest register next to the Plummer’s Hollow welcome board, and return to gaze at the empty spaces where their homes once stood and listen to the thunder of the trains.