The mountains are full of mystery and always have been. There are still places that humans have not trod on for hundreds of years and maybe even thousands. Brooks, rocks and crevices and no one knows exactly what is there.
It seems in the past more reports surfaced of the unknown. Maybe man had more time then to listen and think. Babies were heard crying at certain points, women screaming, unexplained eyes peered up through the cracks of a house, strange occurrences and apparitions were witnessed by many. Science would have us believe that these poorly educated people lacked the knowledge and abilities to come to logical conclusions for what they witnessed. So they then fell back to superstition and imagination to explain it all. But I say that only the individuals and the mountains know for sure what was seen, heard and experienced and the mountains won’t set free their tales.
It was during such a time that a group of people from Porter Valley, set out to the mountains where they had built a sugar camp for the purpose of tapping maple trees for maple sap used in making syrup, candy and maple water. A good days walk from their homes this group discovered a large grove of maple trees that would be splendid for making maple products. It was the time for tapping and so three families began their journey to the camp. The Meeks, the Wassums, and the Goodman’s set forth in the early morning of a crisp, cold day. Breath, hung foggy in the air as the six adults and five children began their adventure. Packed for at least a couple weeks stay, supplies, bedding, cooking utensils, food including chickens for fresh eggs were loaded on a sled pulled by horses, but the last few miles would have to be made on foot.
During the summer the men had traveled to the mountains several days and built small sheds for shelter and arranged the camp for later use. Maple products were important in that they had needed vitamins and minerals and health benefits, but apart from honey they were one of the few natural sweetening products available to mountain residents, without visiting a store. Maple products would add excitement to what sometimes could be a dull menu.
Settled in to the camp, work progressed satisfactorily. It was almost a vacation from the regular routine. Families enjoyed the social time with each other, work was accomplished, but fun was in the works too. For five days it all went as planned, but on the sixth day there appeared slight changes. On rising the men noticed turkey buzzards circling in the sky above. In fact, they were almost right above the camp. This causes some confusion, as buzzards were usually the sign of something being dead, and these death birds were there to eat the carrion. But nothing was dead in the camp or nearby either from all that could be seen and sniffed. Of course, the weather was cold. There was too much work that needed doing for the buzzards to remain the focus of the day, but several times remarks were made about the strangeness of it all. Someone would fire a gun to try and scare those buzzards away, but if you scared them or maybe hit one, they would spew a nauseous, putrid concoction from hell all around and maybe over you too.
Except for the buzzards, things remained the same until after the middle of the day. Then even though it was sunny and chilly, the wind began to blow. It did not whistle from hill top to hill top as the wind usually would, but it looked as if it formed circles all over the hillside and the valley below. The bare limbs of the trees made a circular motion and the tops of the flames in the fire kept looking like they were going round and round. Another oddity, that the group had not witnessed before. It was remarked upon and often someone just stopped their work and stared for a few minutes.
Work continued, but there was a strange feeling in the camp. Maybe an uneasiness, as their minds skittered off to the oddity of the situation. There was a job to do and the job must be done, but it was difficult not to think of the other things, if only for a few minutes.
Toward evening Mr. Meek was the first to notice a woman walking towards their camp from the hillside above. She appeared out of the trees and made her way steadily down the steep slopes. Soon everyone began to watch her descent. No one recognized her even though you could not really make out features. Most of her face was hidden in the scarf that covered her head. It was impossible to tell if she were young or old, even though she did not move like an old woman. It appeared that she clutched a sack or some other similar item in her hand. It wasn’t strange to come upon unknown individuals, but it was just a woman by herself here in the mountains. Where did she come from? Why was she here by herself at this time of day? The woman neither stumbled, nor slowed her pace, but moved ahead with her head held straight forward. In what seemed an impossibly short amount of time the woman had reached the edge of the camp. The group had given up all pretense that they were working and they just stared.
She entered at the far end of the camp and made a slight jingling sound as she did so. It could be barely seen that she had what looked like a large black strap hanging down her back and the buckle on it made a slight sound. She made no effort to slow down or stop for greetings and upon closer inspection her face was no more visible than it had been before. The group stood dumbfounded, scattered at their various posts, with no concrete ideas of speaking, asking or moving. It felt as utter confusion. As the woman walked through the end of the camp, she passed by two chickens scratching in the edge of the grass. Later some remembered seeing her hand move in a claw like grasping reflex and the chickens gave a loud squawking gasp and fell over to the earth, dead. The woman continued on through the camp and again passing by a group of three chickens, the same scenario repeated itself. There was a claw like grasp and the chickens sqwaked and lay dead. Mrs. Goodman, without thinking moved near to the children at the far side of the fire, but her eyes never left the woman. Suddenly, Mrs. Wassum seeming to regain some of her facilities ran ahead and over to the side of the camp. She grabbed an indignant, flapping chicken by it’s feet and ran back to the fire. With all her strength she flung the chicken towards the fire. The fire popped and cracked and burnt bright as if flammable fuel had been added to it. The sharp smell of sighing feathers filled the air and for a few minutes more squawking was heard. When the group turned their eyes from this unbelievable scene, the woman was gone. The camp was quite, the buzzards were gone and the wind had returned to normal.
As they sat to recover from the shock and discuss what had happened, Mrs. Wassum admitted that she had schooled at the lap of her grandma and knew more than most about spirits, witches, and evil apparitions. She had soon recognized that the woman was a witch who had placed a curse on the chickens. The only way to save the chickens was to cleanse them with the fire and break the curse. It may seem that a few chickens would be nothing to worry about, but to often large families who were short on food even one chicken was a very important animal. But the group was still uneasy and worried. It seemed they had found their way into the area of a witch and she wasn’t happy about them being there. She had warned them by cursing the chickens, but if they stayed she would be back and no one knew what she would do next. It was too big of a risk to take, so that evening they loaded what they could onto their sled and left the sugar camp. They never returned to the witches area and warned others to keep clear.
Author’s Note: (Some 43 years ago I walked through the mountains with my aunt and mother to visit the remains of the old sugar camp. Taps remained in the trees, and their were half collapsed shelters hanging on the sides of the hills. It started to rain hard, so we were forced to climb in one of the old shelters. Being a child, I only wanted to leave, as a witch had came through once and there was no one to say that she wouldn’t again. I have not returned to the old camp and have spoken to no one who has and so have no idea if any of it is still standing. What happened that day, I can not say. All the participants are long left from this earth and the mountains remain as stoic and silent as ever.)