Where the old man devil comes to pace and plot and ponder the fate of the world.
March 27, 2013
It’s a circle.
In a forested glen at the bottom of the Uwharrie Mountains, the old man Devil comes in the darkness of night to ponder and consider the fate of mankind, walking round and round, nothing more than a shadow within the shadows, plotting and scheming and figuring out ways to cause trouble for all humanity.
That’s what the old-timers swore.
That’s what the old-time preachers preached.
That’s what they all believed, and they had a good reason for their hand-me-down fears and superstitions. In hushed voice and whispered tones, they called it “The Devil’s Tramping Ground.”
“The Devil doesn’t spend much time here anymore,” Paul Phillips told me.
He wasn’t a personal friend of Old Lucifer. He was simply the voice of North Carolina, the wheeler-dealer, super slick salesman hired by the governor to point out the best and worst that the Tarheel State had to offer. And Paul had not yet discovered the worst, other than, perhaps, an occasional and distant familiarity with the Devil and his midnight forays into the woods around Siler City.
The tramping ground is a strange place and, as Paul Phillips said, the most honest-to-goodness mystery in the Uwharrie Mountains. We left the car on the side of State Highway 902, about ten miles south of town, and walked only a few scattered yards into a grove of pines.
Cars passed by every day, but no one knew what was lurking in the shadows, not even the shadow.
The drivers were innocent in their own ignorance.
The phenomenon is perfectly round and about forty feet in diameter. The thick trees and the grass and the weeds grow right up to the rim of a barren circle, then they abruptly stop.
The Tramping Ground is bald and rocky and lifeless, mostly dry even when it rains. Leading into the forest are four trails, appearing to have been cut through the woodlands by the knives or hatchets of man.
But they weren’t, Like the circle, the paths are there because the grass refuses to grow. Everything refuses to grow. The burning embers left by the Devil’s footsteps has tramped it down flat.
“Old-timers swore that the Devil spends the night tramping around and around,” Phillips told me. “And the legend declares that no life will ever grow in the circle. And wildlife avoids the area like the plague.”
Scientists and University professors dug in the Tramping Ground, taking out soil samples for analysis. And they, too, were puzzled. The earth in the barren circle was little different from the woodland dirt. It’s just that the grass refused to grow.
We waited to ask the Devil.
We didn’t wait long, and we certainly didn’t wait until after dark. If the Devil didn’t already know my name, I had no plans to introduce myself now. And if he kept walking in circles, I had a better than average chance to keep him from catching me.
By the time the moon touched the top of the pines, Siler City was a distant thought, and I was straddling the Georgia line.