Three Saturdays ago, my youngest nephew and I set out for Woods Reservoir with The Great Blue Heron atop Thursday, my longsuffering Volvo 850 sedan. We drove out to the boat ramp near the hunter’s check-in station off Old Brick Church Road. One other vehicle was parked nearby. We unloaded the kayak, piled our stuff aboard, rigged the rudder, and set off. We first explored down to the left of the boat-ramp, passing a duck-blind along the shore at our left. We poked around a bit in the shallows, as far in to the overhanging branches as we could manage, then backed out again. Paddling back out toward the brick pumping station near base housing, we turned right and explored down another branch, crossed to a courtesy dock intended for the use of DOD personnel where we pulled the boat ashore and sat on the dock to eat our lunch. My mom, with whom my nephew had been staying, made us sandwiches and I can’t remember what else. Because we didn’t want the sandwiches to turn, we ate our lunch around 10:00 am. After lunch, we paddled into the shallows of that branch, too, then back toward the main body of the lake. As we paddled out, the wind was at our back, so we deployed the golf umbrella and sailed a bit. The wind was much stronger the further we went, and we sailed out to Little Elder Island, a rookery for every kind of local waterfowl. Usually the island is covered with thick foliage, but it appeared this year’s drought conditions significantly diminished its growth. We saw herons, egrets, duck-like birds. The island didn’t stink as badly as it usually does, but we still probably risked acquiring histoplasmosis paddling as close to it as we did. Paddling back to the put-in against that strong breeze required real effort. We ate our generic fig-newton cookies and drank water in a sheltered inlet before paddling back to the boat ramp. Here are some pictures:
Last weekend, my good friend Eric drove out to Stepford from his home in North Carolina to visit with us. He’s my son’s godfather and I’ve known him since we were at seminary in the Nineties. You may recall that we last saw each other at Ashville, North Carolina, in January of this year when we exchanged gear – Pouch E68 and Razesa road bike. The plan was to paddle at least one day during Eric’s visit, possibly two.
We got a late start Saturday. If you’ve never tried to accomplish a task with an interested and active young child around, you won’t understand why it took so long to get the kayak assembled. I hadn’t done anything with the RZ96 since patching the hole in the bottom it sustained during a short Duck River paddle from Henry Horton State Park a couple of years ago. Hole repaired, I carefully packed the boat away and stored it in the better of my two sheds. I was interested to inspect the repair and hoped the patch hadn’t pulled loose during storage (although I very carefully followed the patching instructions). When I opened the bags, I inhaled the smell of varnish from the boat’s frame, a restorative reminding me that I a waterman.
Water’s low at Tims Ford and Normandy, but Woods Reservoir is always full. The bridge at Prairie Plains Road is a long drive, but worth it to paddle upstream the Elk River from what is, essentially, the top of Woods Reservoir (the bottom being, of course, down by the dam if you mentally reckon things the way I do). When we drove down the rutted hillside road to the dirt parking area, I saw only a couple of pickup trucks backed in by the trees on the right, and noticed that someone, possibly the county sheriff’s department, has placed what purport to be surveillance cameras on a phone-pole, also on the right side as you drive in. I backed Thursday up to the ramp and we took the Great Blue Heron off its racks. Got the gear out and in the boat, and rigged the rudder.
As we were doing that, what might have been a family group consisting of one adult male, two adult females, and several children pulled in to the parking area in a small pickup truck. One of the kids had a great mohawk. I’m too old, now, for a mohawk, but I’d like to get my hair cut like that maybe once more in my lifetime. The people from the pickup truck moved off to fish from under the bridge, over to the left.
The last time Eric and I paddled the RZ96 was around Thanksgiving maybe five years ago Normandy Lake. We’d put in at Barton Springs boat ramp and paddled around Negro Hill and straight on up the branch beside the mouth of which, in high water, is a small island. I remember we paddled against a headwind and cooked a camp lunch on the rocks partway up before continuing as far up as water level permitted. On the way back down we umbrella-sailed using my old green and white Roundup golf-umbrella. I recall the November hillsides looked tiger-striped with shadows and orange fall leaves still clinging to the wooded slopes.
Here’s a picture of Eric about to take a picture of me taking a picture of him at the put-in – neither snapshot showed our best likenesses:
Last Saturday at the Elk River put in, however, it was hot and windless, the foliage full and green, the water likewise a murky green common to the lakes in this part of Tennessee. We paddled upstream, past the group fishing on our left. I wondered whether I’d remember how to paddle a kayak, but it was not a problem. I used my $100.00 Eric Renshaw Greenland paddle, and Eric used a 230 centimeter Werner Skagit. A few years ago, I intended to install backbands to replace the Stasi torture devices Pouch included as backrests. I wish I’d got that done. Still, as long as I remembered to take responsibility for my own posture and correct for my peculiar leaning bias (I wonder whether the same portions of my brain failed to develop properly that, when damaged in some people who have strokes, produces Pusher Syndrome or its mirror-image), I was able to paddle without too much pain for most of the journey.
After awhile, we came upon two couples in separate row-boat style craft lazily paddling. I don’t normally snap photos of people I meet while exploring because I don’t like to be photographed, myself. Eric had no such scruple and took a picture, but much in the way of detail is obscured by distance.
For about an hour we paddled upstream. At one point, the water was shallow, but deep enough for us to pass over the rocky and weedy bottom. I’ve noticed this on other trips, that the water of the Elk appears a milky blue in color maybe a mile up from the bridge at Prairie Plains Road.
We continued until our backs were sore past the point where we discerned the river’s current and decided to turn back around and head downstream. Then we kept paddling upstream to see if there was a place just around that bend and then the next bend to get out and stretch. Finally, our progress was completely impeded by fallen tree across the river too low across the water’s surface for us to get the kayak under. Actually, looking at that picture at left, it appears we might have been able to get the boat under the tree there at the right bank. Truth is, we didn’t notice, and it may’ve been too shallow there.
On the way back, having found no convenient place to get out of the boat to stretch my back, I raised and secured the rudder, then sat on the seatback swiveled to receive my overlarge buttocks. I experienced great relief at the lower back and paddled thus for awhile. Along the way, we saw some pinkish-purple wildflower in bloom. We saw a great deal of driftwood. We saw an otter swimming and I noted its peculiar pointed ears, like those of a cat, but smaller and wider set. We saw one or two great blue herons in flight. Eric saw a couple of turtles, but I saw none. I saw no fish except minnows at the put in swarming about in the bathwater warm shallow.
I don’t like being photographed, but have been working on a fake smile for those occasions when the ordeal is unavoidable. Eric shot this one over his shoulder, without looking. It is less self-aggrandizing than the one wherein while paddling I assumed a heroic three-quarter sort of profile while pretending not to notice the camera.
Back at the put in, we witnessed a young couple that’d been drinking something with alcohol in it jump off the bridge into the green water. They swam back and waded ashore, the woman saying she’d touched the bottom and the man saying he’d managed not to. By the time Eric and I got back to the house, my wife had prepared a dish of kale and Italian sausage along with a dessert made with almond-flavored cream, blueberries and mandarin oranges.
LATER: Here’re a couple of pictures of Eric that are better than the two above. I took them the day after we paddled the Elk River – a week ago last Sunday:
Although I’ve got a lot to say, I haven’t got very much time to get it written, so I’ll give you the short version and start with some photos from yesterday on Woods Reservoir where I put in at Morris Ferry boat ramp.
Up early yesterday morning for a walk then back home to finish assembling Campsis Radicans, my Pouch E68 folding kayak. After that was done, Seventy-Six was ready to play outside for a while, and he wanted to blow soap-bubbles in the boat’s cockpit. I held an old golf-umbrella to keep the already hot morning sun off his head. He thought that was funny.
I loaded the gear and boat in to and on top the car so I could leave after worship service and head to the lake. Until Caution-Lady asked me where I planned to paddle, I hadn’t made up my mind. When she asked, I said, “Morris Ferry Landing.” I thought I would paddle out and see whether any of the water-lilies were still in bloom (turns out I was way too late for the lilies). I paddled maybe eight miles. Then back home and unpacked the car and put the boats in the garage.
After that, I played in the too-small wading pond with Seventy-Six while Caution-Lady prepared supper. Because we got really dirty, and I already stank from sweating all day in synthetic-but-quick-drying paddling togs, we both had to bathe before the evening meal. Then a terrific supper and an evening at home with my family. What could be better? Nothing. Nothing at all.
Here are some photos:
Today is the second Father’s Day in as many years that I will be spending the morning at a worship service, then afternoon with extended family. Previously, I’d taken the day off for the annual Childless Man’s Paddlefest – an event observed, now not at all, but then only by myself. However, today, as at about this time last year, I am a father.
Monday late afternoon or evening, for about a minute, I knew my son had died and held him in my arms helpless to save him. Out of desperation, I placed him on the living room floor and began artificial respiration. His 24 pound body was still HOT from the fever he’d been running, but his skin had turned a blue gray color and his eyes stared fixedly in the direction determined not by his mind, but by the position in which his head lay. His lips were blue. His body was neither rigid nor floppy.
Clear airway, tilt head, cover mouth and nose with my own mouth. Three breaths, instead of the prescribed two. Some chest compressions. Noise as the air passed out of his lungs, over his vocal chords, and out his mouth. My wife had already called 911.
Somewhere in all activity, I prayed while I worked, but not coherently. God doesn’t require my direction to work.
My son’s arms moved a little, but I thought that was just dead nerves twitching as the biomechanical mass shut down in no real order. Then he made a sound unrelated to CPR, and I listened for a heartbeat. It was rapid-fire. I listened for breath, and picked him up. He clung limply now to my neck and I took the phone from my wife. I don’t remember what the 911 operator said after I gave him details about our son’s condition and exactly where to find our house. The guy hung up or the connection was lost.
I could hear a siren, so carried my still breathing boy outside so the driver could easily see which house was ours. My wife rode with him in the ambulance and I followed in her car, which has the child carseat. At the hospital his temp was unreal high, but his other vital signs in the ambulance and in the ER were more reasonable. I still think the hospital should have kept him overnight and monitored him, but they concluded “Febrile Seizure” and with the okay of the on-call pediatrician, discharged him late that night.
By Wednesday, the fever’d gone and it has had no recurrence. He broke out with pink spots Thursday which seems to indicate he’d had roseola. Friday and Saturday, he was his usual happy, inquisitive, toddler-self. He still knows all the words, songs, and activities he knew before his fever and seizure. He seems a little more open-hearted, happy, loving since he got sick, and a little less arrogant. That made me worry about whether he might have lost a few IQ points due to sickness, but our pediatrician laughed at that, said there was no reason to think the fever or seizure had affected his mental processes. Maybe he’s more open because he knows we really will take care of him?
That’s the story of how I am still a father.
I woke up early Saturday, and got ready to paddle. Tsunami Chuck sold me a hand-held Quiver Sail that arrived by Fed-Ex on Thursday or Friday. Because I’m a miser, I’d agonized over the past year or so about replacing my Round-Up golf that had umbrella inverted and snapped in heavy wind by the small island on Tims Ford Lake sailing up into Lost Creek Branch. Should I buy a good golf umbrella, or ask for one out of somebody’s garage for free? So, when Chuck posted a classified about the Quiver Sail asking only $35.00 for it, I bought it.
Although the National Weather Service predicted temps in the upper nineties, it also predicted 10 – 15 mile per hour winds. A good day, I thought, to try out the new sail. I loaded gear and boat yesterday morning (because we looked at houses Friday afternoon/evening). I had trouble getting the boat on the roof racks – the front-door prop method failed spectacularly and cussed Godward like a heathen. Finally succeed using angry brute force in racking the 75# kayak, and drove out to the Woods Reservoir public access ramp off Old Brick Church Road in Coffee County.
I explained to God that the reason I was cursing was because of a circumstance so manifestly out of order that in my anger I was inviting him to observe and get angry about it with me. I said I would probably always thus bring wrong to his attention in the hope that he will take corrective action. I told God I would prefer not to feel the need to use profanity, but unless he altered my consciousness somehow, I would probably continue to express the things he’s used to hearing me express. Not defiant or disrespectful; transparent and real.
The ramp was not crowded and the put in was easy. Immediately, my injured shoulder communicated its distress to me, and I worked on paddling technique. That helped some. I was paddling in to maybe a nine mile per hour wind. When I got out by Elder Island, I turned the boat around and deployed the sail. Not much joy there in terms of forward momentum.
I paddled over to Morris Ferry Landing to see what the Arnold Engineering and Development Center’s base commandant has done in terms of public access. I found, to my surprise, a number of vacation trailers still in place and in use up in the trees above the lakefront. Many of the rickety, tin-sided dock structures have been removed. The covered dock by the cafe/store building has been removed.
The public does have access to the site in terms of boat-ramp use, bank-fishing, and swimming. The formerly public toilets have been padlocked, and I saw no trash cans. Simple steps that tend to limit the amount of time members of the general public will remain on site during normal hours of use.
I saw a couple bank-fishing, both of whom I tested when they were high school students, along with their year-old baby boy. An alert-looking blond-headed little boy sitting quietly under the shade of a tree in his stroller observing everything. I congratulated them on their little one, and the fact that they appeared to be catching a lot of fish.
Paddling back under the causeway to the AEDC side of the lake, I found the wind had picked up, but wasn’t blowing in the direction I wanted to go. I paddled back past the smaller Island of the Birds, and again deployed the sail. Worked better in a stronger breeze, but still slower than paddling. I sailed for awhile, then paddled back to the ramp.
Sons and Fathers
At the boatramp, I observed an ancient pontoon boat having engine trouble – whining at high pitch, emitting clouds of white smoke, then stalling out. Two or three men on the deckboat in early middle age. Parked by the ramp was a black Pontiac Firebird, like the one driven by Dwight Schrute (only Dwight’s is some kind of reddish color). Standing at the shore was a young man with long hair. He belonged to the car.
“Engine trouble?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said, “My dad can’t get it working.”
“You never know how your boat’s going to do until you get it to the water.”
Listening to the young man talk with his dad, it was obvious he wanted to salvage the situation for his father. He asked whether he should see about getting the father’s bassboat, and then called a couple of people to arrange its transport. It was important to this kid that things work out for his dad.
I recall when I was young and out for the day with my father sometimes things wouldn’t go as planned, and I always wanted to be able to alleviate his frustration by making things work out well for him. My dad’s tolerance for unexpected and confounding exigencies of circumstance was a lot lower than mine seems to be.
Now that I’m the dad, will my son be burdened with the sense that he’s got to make sure things turn out okay for me? I hope not.
Yesterday, for the first time since November, 2008, I paddled my kayak. My shoulder diagnosis was something like “partial thickness tear supraspinatus,” and “spurring on the acromium,” as well as tendonitis. I had a cortisone injection. I took a drug called Soma for 30 days, followed by two months of physical therapy. Star Physical Therapy at Stepford was fantastic. Had some almost out of body experiences while napping in traction. Overall pain reduction and regained most of my pre-injury range of motion. I’m still working on regaining full strength in that one shoulder. Same side trapezius is still occasionally very painful, but much improved. Hurt my back again two or so weeks ago and couldn’t walk for the better part of a day, but my genius chiropractor fixed me up.
Take It Easy
My physical therapist, my chiropractor, and my wife all recommended I take it easy, maybe a couple of hours or about a quarter of my normal distance. So, with no real goal in mind, I drove to Estill Springs City Park. The city permits campers there, and the sites are what I’d call primitive. About five or six families were camped out in tents and RVs when I pulled up at about 8:00 am. Late for me, but I was trying to do this without any goal in mind beyond getting home in time to mow.
Going through the routine of assembling my gear, securing the boat to my car’s roof racks, putting on my paddling clothes reassured me at home that I might still know how to do this stuff. Same at the put in, going through the motions in reverse, except I left my boating clothes on. And once in the boat, I felt about the same as I always have in the cockpit. Low-angle stroke powered by torso-rotation and leg movement produced no discernible stress on my injury, no pain.
Because I’m obsessive, goal driven freak, I was unable to make having no goal my goal for the day. When I observed the water level in the Tims Ford impoundment of the Elk River higher than I’ve seen it before, I took the opportunity to poke around in the slough. I paddled over ground that’s normally dry, got just about stuck in a shallow place with grass gone to spiky seed. I’d gone in over a small log, but my rudder caught against it paddling backwards out again. Necessitated an 18 or 20 point turn in a 16.5′ kayak. Still, it was better than getting out and wading half sunk in the mud to turn the boat by hand. I felt hungry, but ignored it.
My best guess is that man has carefully explored shoreline out of the desire to find a non-muddy, easy landing place to get out of the boat for urination.
When I returned to the main channel of impounded Elk River after exploring hitherto unseen backwaters, and after having found a convenient place to, um, stretch my legs, I continued paddling up toward the bridge at the place Spring Church Road becomes Payne’s Church Road. There’re a couple of farmhouses on your left as you paddle toward the bridge. Past that bridge, which Saturday morning had people fishing under it and off it, the river water has noticeable current, and is much cooler felt through the boat’s skin.
I thought I’d paddle past the first bridge to a ruined bridge maybe a mile further upstream, and then turn around and come back. But at the ruined bridge, I was annoyed to find loud campers, talking like people talk who have been drinking already in the morning after having had too much to drink the night before. Unwilling to have my turnaround place spoiled by the presence philistines, I paddled on, up to where the river takes a left turn (as you are paddling upstream) in broad, steep-banked, tree shaded place. I’ve only ever seen one other boater that far, and saw no one on Saturday.
Because the water was clearly deeper than at any other time I’d been on this part of the river, I thought, “why not see if I can make it to the next bridge?” So I did, even though I knew I should probably call it quits for the day and return to the put-in. I made it to bridge at Morris Ferry Bridge Road (I’m pretty sure that bridge was not Morris Ferry Bridge). Not long after that, I had to get out and wade for a bit, pulling the kayak behind me. I shot some video at this point with the Pentax, pulling the boat by a length of yellow poly-pro line in my left hand, and the camera in my right while trying to step carefully over slippery shin-deep rocky bottom. The water was cold, and felt good rushing past and around my legs that’ve been too long out of sun and kayak and water.
Back in the boat, paddle a bit. Out of the boat, wade and pull a bit. My injured shoulder ached a little bit deep in the muscle. I paddled farther despite misgivings. I passed a huge concrete block with rebar around it set squarely in mid-stream. Finally, I came to a place where I had to get out of the boat again near a bank littered with small shells. Undoubtedly some raccoon’s shellfish buffet. There I turned around and headed back downstream.
I needed to get back to the car with enough energy remaining to lift the 70 plus pound boat up onto the Volvo’s roofracks, then, once home, to edge and mow the lawn. Going downstream, I think I only had to get out of the boat once at a shallow place. Easier going with the current. I saw a large bird of prey with a white head and whit e tail feathers – a bald eagle?
Last night my shoulder hurt pretty badly a couple of times – woke me up – aspirin helped. This afternoon, I did my prescribed physical therapy exercises. We’ll see whether I can sleep tonight.
I got out and cleaned the rain gutters yesterday morning. After the roof shingles dried, around 11:00, Don came over and fixed the roof. I was going to act as his helper, but got preoccupied degreasing Thursday’s motor, then trying to figure out why it quit running as I’d left it in neutral, hood-open to dry out the engine-compartment. By the time I climbed up the ladder, Don had pretty much got the chimney work done. Then I got hung up trying to figure out whether to pay off this house, list it, sell it, before buying another, or do those things without first paying off the mortgage. Trying to think through emergency funds, investments, Seventy-Six college funding. By that time, Don had completed the work and I wrote him a check. I felt bad leaving him to do that work alone when his goal had probably been, in part, to teach me how to do some of that stuff. Somehow, when I’m trying to manage things, I often manage to disappoint myself and others. Maybe just myself.
Car started again, probably some moisture in the distributor cap that dried off after awhile, because the plug sockets were bone-dry when I checked them, earlier.
Around three o’clock, I loaded the car with gear, and roof-racked Campsis Radicans, took a check out to my Hillsboro mechanic to pay for that replacement radio I got a month or two ago from a smashed 850 Turbo in his field of parts cars. Brian and I talked about parenting, Tommy educated me on the finer points of engine-compartment beautification, I looked at an ’01 Cross-Country and ’89 745 that still had both corner lights and something I’ve never before seen on any 700 series car – the towing-eye cover. Yes, I wanted to buy both cars. Heck, we need a wagon. My dream car has always been a Volvo wagon. Caution-Lady would love a wagon. We could trade or sell Whitecar (’93 940T)…
Yeah, so about an hour later I made it to the put-in below Prairie Plains Road Bridge at Dabbs Ford, and saw something I’ve never before seen on Woods Reservoir – another seakayaker. Guy in a truck with a 17′ Wilderness Systems Unknown-To-Me model kayak on the roof racks. We talked about paddles, the unlikelyhood of meeting another long-boater at Woods. He paddled upstream to fish, and I paddled downstream to challenge myself with the maze of islands down at that end of the lake.
Because I don’t often get on the water this late, I didn’t have any clear idea how much daylight remained to me. I paddled down the Elk, past the small refrigerator that serves as a channel-marker, its door open and empty. Keeping left, I paddled to a shallow place, got out, and inflated the hip pads I’d forgotten to inflate when I launched. Climbed back in and continued. I saw three bird-boxes on posts in backwater channels and along the shore. I saw a fist-sized turtle clinging to the branch of a fallen tree. I saw duck blinds. Heard two sonic booms occurred one quickly after the other; these sounded, if possible higher because their shockwaves were not very intense. I saw herons and three or four ducks.
On the water only an hour and forty-five minutes or so, I didn’t feel like I’d had much of a workout. I drove out Prairie Plains Road to Miller’s Crossing with the low mountains of Grundy County ahead and to my right.
This’ll probably be my last post about Morris Ferry Landing until the United States Air Force contracts with the relative of a hack careerist retired to a lucrative consultancy to build condos on the site in order to sell same to executives of some of the aerospace and other firms doing business as contractors at Arnold Engineering and Development Center. Well, that’s speculative. If things turn out differently, I’ll report that, too, if I wind up knowing about it. Like most Americans, I want to believe that hack careerists of the sort I’ve described end their careers with demotions or shunted into positions that declare their dishonor and inadequacy to the discerning observer.
I hurried through a two sandwich lunch after church Sunday, that is, yesterday, strapped down the kayak (I’d already set it atop Thursday, the silver 850, Saturday night after loading my gear in the trunk). Changed into polypro, and drove out to Old Brick Church boat ramp. On the water by 2:30, my stupid should immediately began to hurt. The big lunch sat uneasy in my distended-feeling gut as I tried to concentrate on paddle cant, torso rotation, and legwork to reduce shoulder strain. The wind was sort of at my back as I paddled past the Island of the Birds, a trick of that wind sparing my olfactory the rookery’s smell.
Not many boats on the water Sunday afternoon. To my right I could see what looked like an inflatable city at the base’s enlisted recreational beach. I paddled left toward the causeway for a last look at Morris Ferry Landing before it enters the past tomorrow, 9/30/08.
The former vacation colony was now mostly bare hillside and waterfront. The docks remained. I some camper trailers about three lots up the hill from the water’s edge. I could hear power tools being used somewhere out of site. The rustic covered boat slips were just about completely empty. All the larger, permanent trailers were gone.
Someone had pitched a beige, red-fly Coleman dome-tent adjacent the cafe/store. No boats were tied up at the dock. Most of the travel trailers that’d been near the bathrooms were gone. The small trailer with sign advertising some small construction business was still there. Someone had the engine-covers up and appeared to be working in the bilge of the big houseboat across from the fuel dock. IV, Lynda, and Isaac Hill’s vacation cottage had been reduced to a pile of structural timber, insulation, splinters, and one very old camper trailer. IV and another man were working to complete demolition. Hardware had been moved to one side. Nowhere really to burn the debris.
IV Hill said he wished the Air Force had had the courage to tell the residents plainly why they have chosen to close Morris Ferry Landing. “We’re all grownups,” he said, “It is their land, so there’s no reason why they shouldn’t just say what they have in mind.” Tearing down the cottage has been emotional for him, he said. He remembered holidays at the site as a child, then the summers with his own wife and son. “We’ll find a way to come back,” he said, “even if we just bring our boat on a weekend.”
I paddled out and to my right, near where I photographed the red bucket tractor a couple of weeks ago. A couple of guys who looked like they were repairing something on a pontoon boat asked if I was having any luck. Not fishing, just paddling, I said. Working, not fishing, one of them replied.
I saw a tree with pods that’ve dried – gone to seed – as I paddled beside the causeway on the AEDC side of the lake.
On the way back to my put in, I met a couple of women paddling bright yellow sit on top kayaks. Audrey and Shawn, I think they said, were their names. At the boat ramp, a couple’d brought their beagle to the water. The happy yearling walked right in, then strained against the leash to get a closer look at the kayak on the grass, near my car.
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.
Sunday’s activities precluded my getting my gear and boat loaded up. And yesterday afternoon, my wife, son, in-laws, and I drove to Alabama for a barbecue at John and Linda’s house on the outskirts of Huntsville. I overate, but not like last time. I was full, fat, and tired by the time I hit the sack about nine of the clock.
I slept late this morning, was late getting boat and gear ready, and was late getting on the water at about eight o’clock. NOAA predicted winds from the northeast at 5-10 mph. The temperature was warm, and the wind calm, when I paddled away from the boat-ramp. My goals today were to have a look at Morris Ferry Dock, then paddle back to UTSI “beach” to practice sculling, braces, wet-exits, and kayak re-entries.
I paddled past the mysterious Island of the Birds, then across the lake to the causeway. Two aluminum canoes on the grass behind the VFW lodge waited side-by-side for someone to pull them into deep water.
A woman sitting in a lawn-chair outside outside an ancient mobile home modified with equally old red-painted brick foundation and Florida room told me all of the Morris Ferry residents have been given notice that they must clear out by September 30. Her parents first, and now she and her siblings with their families share use of the house. She said, if I remember this right, it has been in their family for 37 years.
Today, she said, they were all planning to meet there to divide up furnishings and items of personal property. They will have the original trailer hauled away, and she wasn’t sure what they were going to do with it. She said the rest of the family was probably not interested, nor prepared to buy or lease a vacation home or property elsewhere. She and her husband, she said, were considering some options, but were glad their children had been able to spend their summers at the lake house.
The woman told me she’d heard three or four rumors about why the Arnold Engineering and Development Center commander did not renew the Morris Ferry Landing leaseholder’s contract. She seemed to disbelieve the reason provided by the AEDC public affairs office – that the fuel-dock, store, and other facilities were in a state of disrepair so severe that no reasonable expenditure could make them right; that the lease was originally granted when the area had no recreational boating, fishing, or camping access, and now there are several. Like her, I think the stated reason is bogus. The facilities are not state of the art, but they are functional, and although recreational access is available at Normandy and Tims Ford lakes, both relatively nearby, none will now be available at Woods Reservoir.
The lady said the homeowners had sought the advice of two lawyers, gathered 8,500 signatures on a petition protesting the site’s closure, had contacted television news and print media, had requested the base commander grant an extension on the eviction date, all to no avail. The base commander, she said, never deigned to respond in any way.
The one rumor the woman disclosed (and I would have liked to hear all of them) is that the current base commander wishes to reopen a facility on the Morris Ferry Dock site when he retires from military service in two years, and wants the site cleared off for his use at that time.
Wouldn’t surprise me if it were true, but I’d guess the guy would build condos, selling them to government aerospace contractor executives. On the other hand, he may be a genuinely decent sort who’s got a real reason for divesting a number of civilians of the vacation dachas that’ve been in their families for thirty-plus years. Based, however, on what I’ve observed character-wise (although I can think of five to seven exceptions Later – I can think of at least a dozen exceptions now that I’ve had time to reflect a bit – pity, however, that reflection was required) in so many of those I know who have been associated with AEDC, I’d have to doubt it.
Paddling on, around the cafe-store and fuel-dock, I saw a boy apparently swimming, jumping onto and back into the water from a blue sit-on-top kayak near a large white spherical buoy and a brown vacation shack. In a minute, I noticed the kid paddling the short blue Wilderness Systems I-Dunno-What model toward me, Werner paddle held upside-down and backwards. He asked about my boat, and I told him about his paddle.
The boy’s parents gave permission for him to try out the E68. “Are you sure?” his father said, “He’ll wear you out (talking about kayaks).” We swapped boats in the thigh-deep water at the bank by the family’s two other SOTs. Isaac, that’s the boy’s name, had to sit well forward in Campsis Radicans to reach the rudder pedals. He informed me that speed was necessary to the rudder’s performance, and he experimented with my Eric Renshaw paddle.
His dad, I.V., which is a play on his generational suffix, The Fourth, sat in the bow of his pontoon boat, tied up to a very old dock, and talked with me some. I.V. told me his whole name, but I’ve sadly forgotten it, not having had anything with which to take notes this morning. I do remember that the family farms substantial acreage near Chattanooga, and that IV’s wife is probably an attorney. I remember IV said his father was “an old country attorney” who had been politically involved, had campaigned hard for George Wallace. We talked about kayaks, about paddles, about a houseboat apparently abandoned and inoperable nearby.
He sounded pretty disgusted with the way AEDC is treating the Morris Ferry Dock householders. He said a former base commander tried something similar about 15 years, but that man’s arrogance was checked by a superior officer. Sadly, it seems the current commander’s arrogance will go unchecked. Woods, with the exception of two somewhat inadequate boat ramps, will in short order become a tiny AEDC Mare Nostrum, which is a loathsome shame.
I.V.’s friend, Charlie, was willing to try out Campsis Radicans. The four of us – Isaac, I.V., Charlie, and myself paddled out around a no-wake or a channel buoy, and back again. I was able to get back in my boat using the Renshaw paddle as an outrigger – for me, a noteworthy accomplishment. All in all, I think I spent about an hour visiting with them, which was the most enjoyable part of my time on the water today.
I did also enjoy paddling into the wind afterward, drifting up on some egrets (I’m pretty sure they were egrets), and photographing some of the few wildflowers now blooming along the lake’s shore.
Back at the put in (I never did make it to UTSI), I practiced some side-sculling, tried to figure out how far over I can put the kayak on either side without going over, for awhile before heading home.
How’s that for toned-down? Even a little proofread. Comments are welcome, but won’t appear until after I’ve hit the “Approve” button, unless you’ve posted previously. Bug or feature? Dunno.
In my behemoth tandem folding kayak, one of my nephews and I paddled Woods Reservoir today. It’s a great boat – stable, relatively fast, extremely sturdy – but its seatbacks are instruments of torture. I have been planning to buy backbands to replace them, but my wife objects to most kayak-related expenditures. Since Seventy-Six came to live in our house, my wife and I haven’t had the RZ out this year. This is only the third time I’ve had it out this year. So, I’ve been putting off the purchase.
My nephew’s a tall, 13 year-old kid. I made him helmsman today, but I think his mind wandered. He frequently had us steering out into the middle of the lake, or into an overhanging tree. We saw pine needles looked as long as railroad spikes. Pine spikes.
We ate our lunches seated on a Woods Ski Club dock. Three teenage girls repeatedly jumped off a nearby dock, and swam nearby.
We startled some ducks, and they took wing.
We watched a short-winged biplane performing stunts high up overhead. The plane’s engine stalled, and the silent aircraft tumbled down toward us.
“Are you going to move?” my nephew asked.
“Nope,” I thought, “No way to tell where it’s coming down, and anyway, the engine’ll catch.” The plane’s engine came to life again as its pilot completed the maneuver, faster than the time it would’ve take me to voice my thought.
We rested again at the UTSI boathouse dock before continuing to the boat ramp near the Rec Beach. At the boat ramp my nephew tried to catch small fish hatchlings in his empty Vitamin Water bottle. The crayfish he tried to get fell apart, having been dead but intact poised pincers open for no telling how long. A surprisingly large fish startled him, then swam around us as we got our gear together on the dock.