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The view from Hawlin Hollow

RAPPAHANNOCK County is a county in western Virginia. Its western or, better, northwestern border backs up into the Blue Ridge Mountains. The county once had 10,000 inhabitants, 70 mills, 50 churches, and about 30 post offices. Its mills ground grain exceedingly coarse; its churches, the mills of God, ground souls exceedingly fine. It now has about 5,000 inhabitants, 30 churches, nine post offices, and no mills.

But the viewpoint of residents of the county remains much as it always has been. It is the view from a hollow, the best place from which to look out and slightly down on the world, according to John Glasker, an expert on hollows and on looking at things.

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The view from the end of a hollow is slightly higher than that of any view from farther down the hollow. But it is not that much higher. It gives the viewer a vantage, but not an advantage, such as he might think he had if looking down on the world from a mountain.


One sees too much from a mountain, says John, more than the eye or the mind can handle. Mountain viewing, he says, encourages careless looking and discourages watching. In a hollow one does both. He watches what is close and small and quick and looks at things that are farther away with a more general and undirected attention.

Valley viewing also has serious limitations, John says. In the first place, one doesn't quite know whether to look up the valley or down the valley. If he looks up, he may not see what is down. If he looks down, something may move on him from the up side. There is insecurity in valley looking which is not the case in hollow looking.

Looking around in flat land has the same disadvantages as looking from mountaintops or high hills. There are too many directions in which one can look. Flat land looking has an added disadvantage which is that one cannot see very far before the horizon closes in.

The view from a hollow starts as at the point of a triangle and widens as it goes out and down. There are some differences among hollows. The best hollow is one that runs or backs up into the Blue Ridge Mountains. Lesser, but acceptable, hollows may be defined by some of the smaller mountains or ridges east of the main ridge.

Among the lesser hollows is Hawlin, where I live. It is formed by the coming together of Jobbers Mountain and School House Mountain. It is not comparable, or possibly just barely comparable, according to John, to some of the great hollows just beyond me to the west - such as Old Hollow, Thornton Hollow, Gid Brown Hollow, Willis, Harnes, Swindler, Broad, and several others.

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A true hollow should not have a gap but should end with no escape route and with no easy access from its back side. My hollow loses a point on this qualification, since it allows Route 618 to pass between the two mountains, by way of what would be called a gap if the mountains were higher and more substantial as are those which set the limits of Thornton Hollow and the line to Thornton Gap. Despite this weakness, I feel reasonably safe from observation, encroachment, or attack from the rear as I look north-northeast from my house.

With the exception of these two minor faults, Hawlin, according to John Glasker's standards, meets the requirements of a valid hollow, and the perspective from it is a true hollow perspective.

A true hollow should mark the beginning of a river, creek, or run. Hawlin does. It should have had in earlier days at least one mill. Hawlin did. It should have had a school or two and a church. The mills are gone and the schools consolidated.

It should still have wild animals. Mine does: turkeys, deer, a resident bear, groundhogs, transient beavers, foxes, and an occasional bobcat - heard in the night and seen twice - along with skunks, opossums, and raccoons.

Every hollow should have a ghost story or two to go with it, some poaching, and a craftsman or -woman or two.

Applying all of these standards, John has approved Hawlin as a hollow and allowed that I can give my address as Hawlin Hollow and claim that I am looking on the passing scene - and even the still scene - with the security, certainty, and desirable perspective of one who lives in a hollow.

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