Pelham, Alabama. The year was 1927. Coolidge was president. Gas was 21 cents per gallon. Beer was illegal.
It was a pivotal year in this country. Maybe the most pivotal ever. Charles Lindberg crossed Atlantic. A guy named Philo T. Farnsworth transmitted the first electronic TV image.
Henry Ford unveiled the Model A. The first “Talkie” motion picture was released. Work began on Mount Rushmore. The Babe was setting world records up the wazooty.
And way down in Alabama, the Twenty-Second state bought 940 acres and transformed the land into a state park.
It was virginal country which included Double Oak Mountain and parts of Little Oak Ridge. The foothills of the Appalachians themselves. These were pristine mountainsides. Some of the most incorrupt acreage in the United States. One reporter called it “Zion.”
This was such magnificent country that a few years later, the National Park Service got involved with its development. The NPS acquired 8,000 acres of additional land.
The federal government was so psyched about this place, they were going to turn it all into a national park, on par with Yellowstone and Yosemite. They were going to call the park “Little Smoky Mountain National Park.”
Dear old Uncle Sam bussed down shiploads of Civilian Conservation Corps men. Machines began hewing through stone and granite. The population of Pelham swelled with workers.
But then some guy named Hitler screwed up the world, started a war, and every able-bodied male was sent overseas.
Work ceased on the park. The national big-wigs forgot about this place.
Today, what remains is Oak Mountain State Park. The greatest state park in the country. Hands down.
I’ve been to a lot of state parks and national parks on the North American Continent. Oak Mountain is among the best.
I hike Oak Mountain a lot because it isn’t far from my back door. I like it here.
Whenever I visit, I feel my heart begin to beat in a normalized rhythm again. I feel my shoulders lower from my ears.
This morning, I hiked in Oak Mountain with my dog, Otis (alleged Labrador). We hiked for several hours. He sprinted ahead, while I struggled to stay oxygenated.
“Slow down, dangit!” is what I was saying for most of the day.
He traipsed up mountainsides, while I wheezed and coughed and saw purple spots in my vision.
And I met a colorful mosaic of human beings on the mountain.
I passed three older women who were hiking together, using walking sticks, singing hymns aloud. They were from Alabaster.
They sang “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” “No Not One,” and “Reach Out To Jesus.” The woods came alive with their harmonies.
“We’re Church of Christers,” they told me. “But we drink a little.”
I passed a young man who was hiking with a newborn baby strapped to his chest. He said he was a single dad. His wife died in a car accident a few months ago. He is raising his infant daughter alone. He comes here because this is where he can feel peace.
I met a woman hiking with her teenage daughter. The daughter just graduated college and is joining the military. She is about to ship out for training soon. The mother began to cry when she spoke of it.
“I am so proud of my daughter,” Mama said. “But my heart will be empty when she leaves.”
I passed a family from Denmark. They are visiting America and trying to see every state. A mother, father, and two boys. So far they have seen 13 states. Alabama is their 14th.
I asked how they liked it.
“Alabama has the best Mexican food,” said the Danish family. “Our digestives are still suffering from all these little, how you say, jalapeño peppers.”
On my way to the top of the mountain, my dog greeted a man who is a car salesman in Birmingham. He was hiking because his doctor told him he needed to take care of his cholesterol.
I also met a woman who was training for her upcoming thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail. I asked why she was going to hike the AT. She answered, “Because my mom always wanted to hike the AT, and she can’t hike anymore.”
There was an elderly man plodding toward the top of the mountain. He pet Otis’s head and gave him a piece of beef jerky. Otis was eternally grateful.
“My wife has Alzheimer’s,” he said. “We have been hiking Oak Mountain since the 1950s, but she doesn’t remember any of that now. So sometimes I come out here to hike, and just remember her.”
I asked him what this place was like in the ‘50s.
He said, “Oh, it was just like it is now. Same beautiful mountains. Same beautiful people.”
And try as I have for the last 15 minutes, I can’t come up with a better closing line than that.
Debbie - October 18, 2022 7:39 am
I would love to be there.🥰
Barbara - October 18, 2022 9:48 am
Sounds beautiful. A healing place. Inspiring and restorative.
ALLEN - October 18, 2022 10:23 am
It IS God’s country!!
Reid Webster - October 18, 2022 10:24 am
Truly a gem, described by another gem.
Harriet White - October 18, 2022 11:06 am
I must go there.
Tim - October 18, 2022 11:38 am
(if you please).
Lots to like
little motherless tikes
Come to Jesus meetings
With a little bit of Jesus (Hay Zeus) juice on Mount Ellipticz
All sorts of “Out-of-Office meetings”
Majestic human greetings.
“Take a hike mister” & unlock
The mystery of life.
I hope that feller &
Find more than peace
in this life.
I hope they find some beef jerky along the way.
– Signed Otis
Te - October 18, 2022 11:51 am
Ain’t it about as close to Heaven as anyone can get on this earth! I grew up in Huntsville, nestled below Monte Sano — Sand Mountain – which has a park on top, reached by a long winding road. When it was unbearable hot in town (because AC didn’t exist), my mom would declare as soon as Dad walked in the door from work that we were going “up the mountain” where it was considerably cooler. She would have a picnic basket ready. I was an avowed tomboy and loved rambling about the trails. Once I even hiked to the bottom on the backside of the mountain, and back up, but that was years later. There was a set of swings made with telephone poles where you could swing higher than the moon. A functioning baseball field. An old burned out building, what had been a lodge that hosted parties during the 20s, I later learned, was a great ruin to explore. The rusted old boiler in a basement still sat in mysterious black water, open to the sky. I love the beach, but my heart and roots are in those mountains.
Sean of the South: Oak Mountain State Park | The Trussville Tribune - October 18, 2022 11:51 am
[…] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South […]
T.J. Convery - October 18, 2022 12:07 pm
That’s it. Gotta go check it out… I see a road trip in my nearby future… 😉💖
Carolyn - October 18, 2022 12:38 pm
This is Beautiful! I want to go there!
Anne Arthur - October 18, 2022 12:39 pm
Bucket list item # again. Sounds heavenly.
Anne Arthur - October 18, 2022 12:42 pm
I forgot to say, Alamaba should start paying you a salary for the amazing advertising you do for the state. If I ever contemplated visiting Alabama it’s because of your lovely stories, Sean.
Sharon Brock - October 18, 2022 12:53 pm
The most beautiful place I have found in my almost 70 years is Bernheim Forest in the Knob Hills near Clermont, Kentucky. 14,000 acres of pristine beauty. Full of childhood memories.
Stephen Sauer - October 18, 2022 12:56 pm
Otis? What happened to Marigold?
sjhl7 - October 18, 2022 12:58 pm
Alabama is a beautiful state. We are blessed with mountains and a bit of seashore as well as many rivers. Lived here all my life and I still find beautiful areas that I have not seen before.
David Britnell - October 18, 2022 1:22 pm
I want to see that some day!!
Cathy - October 18, 2022 1:41 pm
Sounds fantastic! Would love to see it one day! We all need a quiet special place like this ….
Forest - October 18, 2022 1:52 pm
Dadgumit, stop telling the world about our beautiful state! No, I don’t have a still in the woods I’m worried will be found,… as far as you know. We just already have enough yahoo’s on highway 280 and 65 to choke a mule, so tell a nice story about GA or Mississippi (if possible). Thanks much.
Bob - October 18, 2022 2:19 pm
Hope to bump into ya out there one day… Love that its 6 min from my door!
Stacey Wallace - October 18, 2022 2:29 pm
Thanks, Sean. My husband and I want to go there now. Love to you, Jamie, and Marigold.
Diane Bailey - October 18, 2022 3:05 pm
My mom grew up in Fairfield Al. She talked about Going to Oak Mountain as a child. I think I’ll go and hike it soon. Thank you for your encouragement.
Paul Alge - October 18, 2022 3:30 pm
Wow that many encounters on one hike. And the stories. I’d have to put all of my hikes in my life to have that many real stories. And I’d have to find a less busy place to hike. I go hiking to get away from people. Nothing against people. Just sounds like you were at a worlds fair or something. Hope the leaves are starting to turn there. Did you notice?
Michael Hill - October 18, 2022 4:39 pm
I worked at Oak Mountain way back in 1974 during the summer break from high school. This was the first year that the new part of the park was opened. This was probably the most enjoyable work experience I have ever had. We worked outside everyday cutting grass, picking up trash and just enjoying nature while we worked. I also worked Saturdays during the fall while in school. On my days off sometimes I would go and hike or enjoy other parts of the park. I was happy to learn this last year that Oak Mountain has added some acreage from the old Belcher property on Double Oak Mountain. I use to live in front of that property right off of Hwy. 280. This increased the size of Oak Mountain’s acreage by a great deal thereby protecting it from future development.
WILLIAM R WEBB, Jr - October 18, 2022 4:55 pm
It is very nice to decompress with your essays. Thank you for providing interesting, well-written, stress relievers.
David S Doom - October 18, 2022 5:49 pm
One of my first dates with my future wife was a picnic lunch at the top of the mountain and a hike down to Peavine Falls. Beautiful.
Pat Deas - October 18, 2022 6:54 pm
Amazing! And just think you could hike it every day and meet different people with their hiking inspirations and stories to tell… what a magical sounding place!
Linda Moon - October 18, 2022 7:16 pm
Oak Mountain was like the elderly man’s description when I was a kid who spent lots of time there. And I still do, but not quite as much as I did with Miss Margaret Tingle and her leadership for us kids. Wise writing, Sean, to end your story with the old man’s closing.
Loren - October 18, 2022 7:47 pm
Man, you’re a hell of a writer. So glad I found you. Thank you.
angie5804 - October 18, 2022 8:25 pm
I left Alabama in May, 2020. My husband died in June, 2020. I really miss the peace I found at Oak Mountain.
MAM - October 18, 2022 9:51 pm
Great closing line, but then yours always are, even when borrowed. We drove through Alabama once upon a time, but I truly don’t remember anything about it. Sounds like it’s worth a visit.
Rhonda - October 19, 2022 1:23 am
Back in the 90s, Wildlife rescue at Oak mountain also took in injured and orphaned mammals. Now its birds only including raptors which we did then as well. I volunteered one night a week and some on weekends for over a year. I especially remember bottle feeding tiny orphaned beaver. So rewarding. And blending up dead rats to syringe feed to owls and hawks through a feeding tube down their throat.
I will always remember those days as some of the most rewarding of my life.
dana bauguess - October 21, 2022 5:04 pm
Communing with nature. Nothing better.