I used to hike the hills and dales around Pine Mountain, Georgia. There was a lot of open land in the area, in particular the 30,000 acres or so that comprised Callaway Gardens. Most of the Callaway property was undeveloped, beautiful and unspoiled with many creeks and beaver ponds and was a favorite place for a winter walk in the woods. But as often as not, I would trespass on private lands or within the Roosevelt State Forest.
Late Fall to early Spring the hardwood forests would be clear and the features of the land visible, as well as wildlife. I liked to hike up creeks that flowed from the mountain because, very often, I would be rewarded by beautiful little waterfalls and rocky places and the occasional long-abandoned old grist mill.
One Sunday morning, I had hiked to a bald rock outcrop in a hilltop meadow to enjoy the view of the valley below. The meadow was bisected by a small creek that flowed from the mountaintop above. I decided to follow it up the mountain to see what I could see, pretty much like the fabled bear who just wanted to see the other side. As I was picking my way I got a whiff of a strange odor. I didn't pay it any mind at the time but further along, the odor became more pungent and then I heard the sound of voices and activity through the trees just ahead.
I knew immediately that I had stumbled onto a moonshine still. Now, I'm a pretty stealthy walker for I have made it a habit to move as quietly as possible through the woods so as to be able to surprise wildlife. I have seen many a beautiful heard of deer, foxes, fox squirrels and birds because of this. I once surprised a pair of wolf-sized dogs on a deep-woods trail. They showed aggressive behavior until I dinged one of them with a small stone. I remember thinking at the time that the ability to strike something at a distance is the reason mankind survived savage beasts throughout the ages. But on this particular morning, the wildlife was of a different sort altogether and a little more than I had bargained for.
I had enough confidence in my woodsman abilities to consider, for a moment, sneaking up to a place where I could see the moonshiners at work, but quickly rejected that notion. Visions of Deliverance filled my head. I would like to tell you a tale of a wild chase down the mountainside, the armed hillbillies close on my heels but the truth is, I tucked my tail between my legs and quietly returned the way I came. Sometimes, discretion is the better part of valor.