Something in the Water?

by Henry Swain

From Bear Wallow hill water flows eastward down Wallow Hollow Creek where it joins Clay Lick Creek, thence southward to meet Salt Creek.

We bought 40 acres in 1947 in this watershed. From Nashville we forded the creeks five times to reach our 40 acres. When I asked Ed Wayman, the highway superintendent at the time, if the creek had a name and he said it didn’t have one. He called it the left prong of Clay Lick Creek.

When the Chamber of Commerce was organized in the early 1950s one of their first projects was to produce a map to help tourists navigate the county. Artist Ken Reeve offered to create the map. I suggested he name our road Wallow Hollow Road since it followed the watershed from Bear Wallow. My wife Mardi, recently reflecting on all the changes in our valley since we came here, noted an interesting coincidence.

An unusual number of writers have lived in this watershed over the span of the years. The large white house on Bear Wallow summit was originally the home of Marcus Dickey, secretary to poet James Whitcomb Riley. He published two books The youth of James Whitcomb Riley and The Maturity of James Whitcomb Riley.

One of our rental houses has been occupied by three different writers since it was built in l965. Tom Hensley the first owner was a music writer. He connected with singer Neil Diamond, moved to Los Angeles and has been with him ever since as piano player, arranger, and writer.

We later purchased the house as a rental property. It became vacated one winter. With a foot of snow on the ground I got a call from a man wanting to rent the place. Steve Metz was a ghost writer for the late Don Pendleton, mystery fiction writer who lived a mile down Clay Lick road on Spoerri Hill.

The ghost writer stayed for a time and upon his leaving left parts of manuscripts that later appeared in one of Don’s books. (Volume fiction writers often have ghost writers.) Artist-writer John Sisson presently occupies the house. John has written three poetry books with artist Nancy Noel and a book The Brown Chronicles of Gunther Flumm. He has co-authored two movie scripts. He has also written for Our Brown County Magazine and Branches Magazine.

Lawson Ridge road, a tributary road off Wallow Hollow Road, is the home of Ruth Ingraham, author of Swimming with Frogs, which chronicles several seasons of observing the wild-life in her pond.
Tricia Bock lived on Wallow Hollow Road for several years. She is a member WRAPS (Writers, Readers & Poets Society). Some of her writings have appeared in books Hill Sounds I and Hill Sounds II, Reflection Rag and The Democrat. Two aspiring writers John Douglas and Kyle Clayton will be renting the same house next month. Another house with a succession of three writers.

This author has written two books Leaves for the Raking, and Why now? (The evolution of a conscientious objector) as well as several articles and poems in Friends Journal, Branches Magazine and has been a monthly contributor to Our Brown County Magazine since its inception in 1995.

Daughter Gwenyth Swain is the author of several children’s books whose themes often reflect her growing up in the valley. The heroine of her children’s novel Chig and the second spread was named in honor of Chig Owens a local political leader and office holder. It was said that Chig was so small when born that she could have been mistaken for a chigger.

Jacqueline Schmidt lived for a time in the watershed. She was the author of Done & Been: Steel Rails, Chronicles of American Hobos. Listening to her father’s tales of riding the rails during the Great Depression led her to ride the rails herself to capture the era of the hobos. She was named Gypsy Queen of the hobos at the 1990 annual gathering of hoboes in Iowa.

I don’t know what it is in this valley that continues to draw those who honor the written word. Maybe there is something in the water. Brown County Water Utility has recently installed new waterlines down the valley. I hope the change doesn’t affect the quality of the writing.