Even though I was not feeling entirely well, I thought I’d paddle Saturday. I needed the physical activity. NOAA predicted much wind as Ike made his way north, brushing Western Tennessee with his right shirt-cuff. Paddling in wind either pisses me off because it impedes my progress, or makes an otherwise boringly familiar location interesting by offering resistance, chop, and spray. Sometimes paddling in excessively windy conditions is a challenge to God – strike me down or let me pass. Some days, I don’t much care which answer I receive. Saturday was almost, but not quite one of those days, in part because winds weren’t expected to exceed 25 mile per hour gusts, partly because I wasn’t that frustrated with the course of my life on earth.
Last weekend I stayed off the water because, if I recall this correctly, we’d made an offer on a house, were trying to get our house decluttered, and I’d just started chiropractic treatment for my badly misaligned, somewhat hideously deformed body. I still had a fair amount of physical pain, and didn’t want to mess up the chiropractor’s work.
I put in at the public boat ramp in Coffee County, down the hill from the hunter’s check-in station off Old Brick Church Road. A sign up at the shuttered check-in informed one that bobcats could be taken (shot? killed?) at any Tennessee Wildlife Management Agency site. I’ve seen their tracks at Normandy Lake, and heard them nearby in the brush along the trail at Old Stone Fort (annoyed me being stalked, so I ran after them – never saw them, but sure heard them or it running surprised away from me).
I’d left my Snapdragon neoprene deck sprayskirt in the boat shed. Damn. However, rolled up in the car’s trunk was the sieve-leaky blue nylon NRS Kilt I’d planned to post to a friend at Nashville who’s got a plastic rec-boat. It would at least serve well enough to keep most of the paddle drip off me.
A word about those sprayskirts – the lighter-weight, coated nylon skirt is hot as hell in the warm weather, whereas the much heavier neoprene-decked, “breathable” fabric Snapdragon skirt (which cost three times as much as the NRS Kilt) has never this summer been a source of discomfort to me. The Snapdragon also keeps the cockpit dry when edging or when small wind-waves break over the deck. So I guess that fabric’s breathability is not just bogus sales puffing.
Maybe 7:30, 7:45 a.m. when I began paddling. Already the wind was blowing steadily, and I made for the small, evil-smelling bird rookery island. There I rested in the lee of one of the lake’s stouter duck-blinds, before crossing to the Franklin County shore. Watch (I finally bought a new watch) had 8:30 as I reached the shelter of the far shore. I wasn’t making very good time.
Paddling was easier heading along the shoreline to Morris Ferry Landing. Although I had no real distance goals in mind today, I planned to paddle out to the doomed vacation village, cafe, fuel dock, and campground to see whether the residents were really leaving, to witness the end of something I never in the first instance knew much about.
Still a number of pontoon and speedboats tied up to docks along the shore on my right as I paddled up. Saw right away that a number of vacation trailers on the hillside had been removed. The sun porch attached to the trailer of the woman with whom I spoke Labor Day Weekend, right next to the “Beech Point” trailer, had been gutted. I saw two men standing at the “Beech Point” trailer’s dock. They said they’d removed that trailer’s underpinnings, and that the owner was having it hauled off later to a nearby farm. The older of the two men said the United States military could pretty much do what it wants “in time of war – with everybody’s attention in Iraq and Afghanistan, nobody’s looking at what’s happening here.”
Around the little point and right, I paddled into the marina area – still plenty of boats tied up, but most of the boat-shed slips were empty. An old pontoon boat, cobwebs and flakes of rotted wood on its deck, floated beside the shed. Back out into the lake, and past the cafe-store, I looked and could see that IV and his family were not in residence this weekend. A number of camper trailers were still set up further along the shore. A pile of plastic chairs and unidentifiable debris behind a red enclosed tractor sporting a bucket in front bespoke disruption and change.
Early yet, I thought I’d buy a cheeseburger at the cafe. Nine-thirty always brings the beginning of lunch-pangs. So I tied up at the dock, as I’ve tied up there before. In a porch swing by the front door sat a man who greeted me. So I sat down on a nearby padded bench and exchanged speech with him. Rick Braytenbah, if I’ve remembered correctly. Thing about talking with people while out paddling, without waterproof writing implements, I’ve got to rely upon a memory largely self-absorbed or taken with things of a non-evidentiary nature.
Mr. Braytenbah, a former Detroit resident and General Motors retiree, said the residents at Morris Ferry Landing got an official letter notifying them of their eviction about a week ago, although he thought the leaseholder was given legal notice some time ago. “It’s a slap in the face,” said Braytenbah of the eviction. With two sons in college “this is what I can afford,” he said. He talked about the homeowners’ attempts to fight the Arnold Engineering and Development Center commander’s decision. He said after having publicly announced his decision, the commander was unable to back down from it. Braytenbah said he thought it was likely the military had real reasons for the decision to evict the residents and leaseholder, but would probably never publicly state their true reason for fear of publicity and liability problems.
I joked that the time for clearing out former Soviet listening posts in the name of homeland security was long past. The Wall’s been down a long time. Let the hypothetical old spy have a quiet retirement, or find other means of preventing prn work besides forcing everyone out.
Braytenbah said he thought once the residential trailers, as opposed to camper-trailers, have been removed, the base commander might relent, as the original intent had not been to provide space for permanent dwelling houses. He said he was able to look at the matter unemotionally, and could see the military point of view. Additionally, looking at the structures maintained by the leaseholder, it is clear that they have not been sedulously kept up. The eviction and closure, we both agreed, is galling.
Inside the store, I bought and ate a chicken salad sandwich, stood and ate it while talking to a government employee and her husband. Good sandwich, and cheap, although I’d gone in thinking to get a cheeseburger. Good time to eat a cheeseburger, when you’re going to paddle a few miles. But the chicken salad’s a slightly healthier choice.
Stepping back outside, I saw that Braytenbah had been joined by a guy in uniform I’d met before, another man with a small child. I asked whether I could snap the group’s picture for the web, and they all cleared out except for Rick Braytenbah. “I’ll remember ‘Rick,’ but there’s no way I’ll remember your last name,” I said.
“You won’t even remember that,” he said, “But it’s easy to remember – ‘Bray’_’Ten’_’Bah’,” and then spelled it out. I’m sure I’ve got his first name, and the last two syllables of his last name, correct.
It was time to go. I was getting fat, having sat for awhile when I should have been paddling, then further compounded the sloth by eating a sandwich I probably didn’t need. So I said goodbye, walked to my boat, untied it, and paddled off. Back to the AEDC side of the lake.
The wind really pushed me along, especially in that narrow channel between the Franklin County shore and Elder Island. Even in that channel’s deeper water, a tan-colored weed was growing up thickly, visible beneath the surface. I wondered whether it represents some sort of ecological problem, and will crud up the water.
I rested out of the wind at the other end of Elder Island, then set off in a long, shallow arc to the UTSI beach next to the boat house. Water became choppy, became quartering “seas” as I crossed. The boat did fine, I made good progress, although by the feel of the paddle, I wasn’t making much headway. A lot of water splashed onto even the back deck, which is unusual. The E68’s back deck normally remains close to bone dry.
When I looked to my right as drew nearer UTSI, I saw a number of sailboats getting underway. Highland Rim Yachtclub must’ve been having some sort of race or knockabout derby – looked like any class of sailboat qualified for whatever race required them to to around the big yellow floats towed into place by a pontoon boat and a runabout.
The entire way back along the AEDC shore was against the wind, and the effort made me happy. At the former Girl Scout camp Tannassie, now an AEDC Department of Defense, government contractor, or AEDC supporter’s club (paid annual membership) facility and recipient of a rumored $385,000.00 in improvements in the form of five small, rustic cabins and bath-house repainting, it looked like a group was having a child’s birthday party.
A crew appeared to be setting up a pavilion of some sort at the rec-beach. At the Highland Rim Yacht Club beach, a number of families had set up chairs and picnic gear, kids played in the water, and one boat at its slip displayed a number of burgees, pennants, little flags the meanings of which I could not divine. A teenage girl in a bikini shouted “Hello,” and “Goodbye,” as I paddled past.
Once around the point past the officers’ club beach, the wind was at my back again, and I raced the wind-waves. The surfing sensation felt fast, but plowing into the backs of the waves seemed to slow me.
Most of the pictures I took can be found here.