Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Unstoppable RRCC

Rising water
Barbed wire across the river
Psycho-property-rights-hillbilly landowners on the ridge tops

And another great trip.

You don't need good weather if you've got good people. Thanks, everybody, for making it a pleasure once again, and get ready for a blow-out post trip meeting soon.

At around two o'clock the rain stopped, and though the outdoors was mainly sodden red mud and a sullen sky, I decided the worst was over. I called Hale and caught him loose, and argued him past his wife's objections by promising to get him to Dennis bridge by the following night.

He was a good friend and an old one and the best kind of company. We were camped sloppily on a loose-sand shore a mile or so below Old Man Willett's, with willows furnishing a leaky break against the continuing cold northeast wind. The river was high and wide and thickly brown, and made angry noises in the dark against snags and the roughness of its banks. Hale had brought steaks and some good whisky, which we were drinking out of enamel cups with honey and lemon and water while we waited for the fire to make coals.

He'd put out a trotline, a quarter-inch nylon cord from shore to shore with maybe twenty hooks, baited variously. The big cats bite most willingly in a rising muddy stream. I'd helped him set it, fighting the brown shove of the river and watching for the drifting logs that can toss a boat end over end, but had told him that if he wanted to run it during the night not to wake me. Now, restless, he emptied his cup and took the lantern, loud and functional again with white gas he'd brought, and went down to check it alone, absorbed in the bow of the canoe, pulling himself across hand over hand and examining the stagings as he went. Against the night the lantern made a clear bright circular picture of Hale and the canoe's curving bow and the hard-rushing brown water. I wrapped potatoes and stuck them in the fire and got the grill ready to use. Hale came back grinning, the lantern in one hand and his chain stringer in the other, with a six-pound channel cat and a couple of others that looked to be maybe three pounds each.

"My breakfast," he said. "Them as works, eats."

The steaks were plump; garlicked and seared over glowing oak, they came out fine, and when we'd eaten we had coffee and smoked and talked about the days when we'd gone out to the mouth of Falls Creek in Hood County with big black Bill Briggs, Hale's family's chauffeur and yardman and occasional cook. Hale agreed that they had been the size of telephone poles, the tree trunks that Bill had lifted and carried over to drop across the fire.

The wind, quite naturally, as though it had intended all along to do so, started bringing horizontal thin rain, so cold that it seemed it should be snow; and in fact, I knew when a fleck hit my cheekbone and slid down to where beard stubble stopped it, it partly was snow. We tarped things and tumbled into the little tent. Hale had unrolled a fancy down bag on the windward side, which was sagging, its stakes unfirm in the sand. After I'd lain there for a while and was nearly asleep, I heard him cursing under his breath.


"Leak," he said.

The flashlight showed a drip from the down-curving sag of a seam, and a dark stain on his sleeping bag. We rolled out into the night, all wet snow now, and pulled the stakes tight and pounded them deep into the sand, trampling it down on top of them and finding stones to put on the trampled spots. It was tight then, but the snow was piling up against it, and I knew that having started it would probably keep on leaking. I offered to flip a coin to see who slept on that side. We did. I won, and lay down again on the good side and slept well except when, from time to time, I woke to hear him thrashing and blaspheming in his bag. Once when I did I said: "Hale?"


"Hale," I said, "how come you don't go run that line? . . ."

In the morning it was worse, still snowing, the ground a mass of melting slush and patches of dirty golden sand showing through. I stayed in the sack, as was my policy with weather. So did Hale, and slept a little finally; it had not been so much wetness as the first-night-out insomnia that had bothered him, most of the water having run off onto the tent floor beneath his air mattress.

Finally at about eleven he woke up and reminded me that I'd promised to get him to Dennis by night. It wasn't far, but on the other hand we were bound to move slowly. . . . Outside, the thick wet snow plastered itself to us, and having lost my raincoat somewhere upstream I soon got soaked through a "water-repellent" jacket. While I gathered wood, fishing for it with numbed, hurting hands beneath mounds of snow, stumbling on numbed, hurting, wet feet, Hale built a fire. It took him thirty minutes to get it going even with gasoline, and when he did, a willow branch bowed down with slow grace and deposited a load of snow in its exact middle, and put it out. Later, when we had it burning again and a pot of sugared fruit bubbling on it, nearly ready, I raised my foot too high as I passed and dropped a thick glob of wet sand from my boot sole into the pot.

I looked at it, aware that seldom in my life had I wanted food as I had wanted that hot sugared fruit. Not even those beans on the island . . .

Hale started laughing. So did I, and remembered with a clarity that I hadn't felt till then exactly why it was that he was good company, out. It was an awful day. The tent pulled together into a collapsed double-pointed lump finally from the weight of the snow on it. My old shotgun, left in the canoe, gushed water out both barrels when I picked it up. A drifting snag carried away Hale's trotline, entire. We got coffee and fruit at last, and stood by the fire steaming ourselves for a couple of hours, and then, the snow thicker than ever, hit the brown river miserably, the pup a shivering sullen protuberance under the tarp.

I remember most clearly of all the feel of melted snow crawling down the hollow of my back and between my buttocks, and I told him, to put it on record, that if it hadn't started clearing by the time we reached Dennis I was going to pull out too, for the year.

But the snow stopped not long before we came in sight of the 1892, plank-and-iron, one-way bridge, and blue sky showed behind us in the west, and at last the yellow setting sun. Soggy, we went into the old ser sta gro there and braved the stares of another set of philosophers while I bought some things I needed.

Outside again, Hale grinned. "When you think up another good joke, you be sure and call me," he said.

"You picked the worst of it," I told him.

"Picked, hell. Was picked."

But it was a measure of how much like me he was in certain childishnesses that he looked wistful as he stood by his car beside the rusty cotton gin, the stringer with its catfish in his hand, and watched us move off downriver. Wistful was the only word for how he looked. The pup stuck his nose out from under the tarp and looked back at Hale until willows intersected the line of sight between us. . . .

Goodbye to a River, pp. 182-89.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Final Countdown


10 on the river Saturday
12 - 14 Friday night


In case you missed the essential info for Friday it is all here: CLICK

We're assuming eveyone has figured out how they're going to get there. It sounds like there will be a quorum at Pee's Wee's by 3:00.


In case you missed the announcement from the "Manage Not to Bring Any Beverages Manager," the whole weekend is BYOB except for a bloody screwdriver break on the river Saturday. Bring your own iced-down coolers and if we see an opportunity to consolidate when we're at the put-in we will leave extra coolers in the trailer. On Friday, of course, there are no space issues and you can even bring bottles for Friday as long as you promise to use the bottle openers on the trailer.


Nobody has touched the dutch ovens or the Big Daddy skillet since we got off the Eleven Point River last fall. In fact, nobody had even looked inside them until last night and it wasn't pretty. At least we'll have something to do Friday night.


As the name suggests, Big Swan Creek is plenty big, just not large enough to be a river. Like a Little Village (motherfucker!). Maps will be distrubited at Pee Wee's, but we will be putting in at the bridge at Horse Branch Road (A) and taking out Sunday at Raleigh Chapel Road (B), both of which are off of Big Swan Creek Road south of Centerville in Hickman County. The total float is 7.5 miles. From the put-in it's about 6 miles to our Saturday campsite, so it will be a leisurely float on Saturday and very short one to the take-out on Sunday.


If you're really organized, you might throw in a pair of heavy work gloves - this river is known to have barbed wire across it in a couple of places. Not that we learned that the hard way or anything....


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Food Issue

From Roy:

"The dinner Friday night will be Frogmore Stew. Richard Gay of Gay Seafood Company claimed to have invented Frogmore Stew. On National Guard duty in Beaufort about 40 years ago, he was preparing a cookout of leftovers for his fellow guardsmen. He brought the recipe home with him, and it soon became popular in this area. According to Gay, the Steamer Restaurant on Lady's Island was the first establishment to offer Frogmore Stew commercially, almost 20 years ago. Gay campaigned to have Frogmore Stew declared the official seafood dish of South Carolina, but the recipe remains an "unofficial" delight."

"The Steamer" in Beaufort, South Carolina

Fom Phil:

"Saturday is Southwestern Night:
Southwest Caesar Salad
Beef Fillets with Tomatillo-Chipolte Sauce
Grilled Bread with Sun-dried Tomato Campfire Spread made with RRCC Warehouse Meat Grinder (don't ask)
Roasted Green Beans."

From Tim:

"This will be a BYOB trip. That means you are responsible for all beverages except for my bloody screwdriver bar, including but not limited to scotch, beer, whiskey, bourbon, vodka, wine, coke, water, tab, mr. pibb, fresca, red bull, 5 hour energy drink, apple juice, lemonade, root beer, etc. and river snacks. Coffee (and coffee maker), however, will be provided."

From F. Kirk:

"I have taken the liberty of preparing a laceration repair kit. This is in case someone gets overly anxious with the cross-cut saw or rams their cheek into a boat prow and needs to be repaired. This would allow a lengthy detour to the ER. I will be properly anesthetized."

From Stuart:

"You may recall that I recently accepted the position of Club Videographer ( I just wanted to let everyone know that as part of that job I will be wearing a Helmet Cam this year.

Not just on the river. I will be wearing the Helmet Cam the whole weekend and it will be streamed live on RebelRivers.Com. Uninterrupted and unedited."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Music Issue

PICKERS: go ahead and bring your good guitars for Friday night since we're staying in a real house. They can go back to Nashville with Rob before we get on the river in the morning. For Saturday it looks like we'll have about 5-½ players so let's say we need three river guitars. Old Glory is one. Post in the comment section below if you think you can bring another.

GRINNERS: we'll have the squeezebox, plus Roy and his one red glove back on the WTB. We should be at full orchestra on this trip.


If you want to learn chord changes ahead of time, here are some new songs we're planning to work up. Even better, someone could actually learn the words, which always seems to be the absolute lowest priority.

1. Ophelia, The Band.

Chords and lyrics here.

Listen to it here.

2. Goodbye's All We've Got Left to Say, Steve Earle

Lyrics here.

Chords are just D, G, A drunken power strumming.

Listen to it here.

3. Cherry Bomb, John Mellencamp.

Chords and lyrics here.

Note that most sites, including this one, say "That's whan a sport was a sport" instead of "That's when a smoke was a smoke" which is just wrong in so many ways they ought to get kicked off the internet. You will get kicked out of the RRCC if you sing it that way, we don't care what the original lyrics really were.

Listen to it here:

4. Salt of the Earth, Rolling Stones.

Roy, tune your Washtub Bass to Open E.

Chords and lyrics here.

Don't listen to it, watch it, so you'll remember to pack your foul weather gear. 40% chance of showers on Saturday.

Finally, Vernon, feel free to post the chords to some of those panty-dropper songs you're so good at and we'll see if we can't lure a few Centerville girls down from Sassafras Ridge.

Hale always claimed, and still does, that those other girls that time were solid in their intentions toward us, and that I botched it. He seems still to feel strongly about it. . . .

As I remember, we were walk-fishing in the limestone country below Granbury, ranging down the river afoot from camp at some farmer's pay picnic ground, wading the long shallow stretches in tennis shoes and climbing over the boulders beside the pools. The girls, older than we, were sitting under a cottonwood by their car with cold beer in an ice bucket; laughing, they offered us some, and Hale swilled two bottles in succession, declaring that he was an old beer drinker. I drank one, and since I was empty and hot it dizzied me, nor did I like its bitterness. The girls started a kind of banter that made me jumpy even without my understanding much of it. Hale answered with some truck-driver talk from a humburger stand we frequented, and in a while one of the girls slapped him and started wrestling with him in the sand, laughing.

"Let's fish some more, Hale," I said.

His answer was muffled but negative.

The girl with him sat up, tugging her blouse straight. She said: "You ain't nothin' but kids!"

"Agnes, you old bat," her friend said. "Fred and them'll be waitin'."

Hale was in favor of wrestling some more, but got slapped in earnest, hard, and sat back. Then they were in the car with their bucket and driving away, their laughter trailing back at us out of the window. Hale said, with surprise, that he felt terrible, and proved it by being sick. . . .

Goodbye to a River, pp. 107-08.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Minor Details (Like Where and When)

As previously mentioned, we won't be gathering in any official way in Nashville before this trip, so you have a few options for meeting up Friday afternoon.

OPTION 1 is to come to the airport with those of us who are picking up Stuart at 1:15. We will be headed straight out of town from there, probably in a big hurry because every Homeland Security officer and TSA agent has a picture of our trailer in their file.

OPTION 2 is to bushwhack it to Rob's place on your own any time you want. Below are written directions from I-40 (the first document) and from the Natchez Trace (the second document). The third document is a crazy treasure map he drew complete with "tricky triangles" and dangerous sounding pits. But the written versions will get you there and have the familiar sound of Rob talking non-stop in your ear from the back seat.

Directions to Fri House FROM I-40_RRCC_Spring 2011

Directions to Fri House From Natchez Trace_rrcc_spring 2011

Directions FRI HOUSE

OPTION 3 (recommended) is to meet up at Pee Wee's roadhouse on Highway 50 Friday afternoon. We should be there right about 3:00 pm if Stuart's plane is on time. It is at 801 Hwy 50 East (Centerville) although no one, ever, in the history of Hickman County, has used the actual address and will probably shoot you if you ask that way. It is just to the west of Big Swan Creek toward Centerville, so this plan has the benefit of allowing us to eyeball the water level of the river the day before we paddle. Here's a map of where we remember Pee Wee's to be, subject to confirmation by Vernon:

We'll post more info about the menus (from the cooks), the put-in and campsite (when we figure it out), the alcohol policy (yes), number of paddlers, guitars, canoes, etc. etc. so in the unlikely event that it isn't already you can go ahead and make your home page for the week.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Crisis: Averted

Jack was so alarmed by the dinner situation he did some research and concluded, based on the Lewis County Museum of Natural History anyway, that we probably would not have gone hungry on this river:

Archaeological evidence suggests that the first humans to make use of the abundant natural resources of present-day Lewis County were pre-Columbian Native Americans. Perhaps as far back as 10,000 BC, Native Americans hunted game and gathered food using seasonal/short-term campsites along the Big Swan Creek in the eastern portion of the county. At one site along the Swan Creek, an archaeological investigation in 2000 unearthed a number of artifacts from a phase of the Woodland Period of Native American habitation (estimated 1000-500 BC). By this time, Native Americans began occupying the area for longer durations. Animals and plants consumed included turkey, fish, deer, beaver, turtle, walnuts, hazelnuts, grapes, and raspberries. Archaeologists uncovered remains of rectangular living quarters, clusters of storage pits, and rows of fire hearths dating from this period. Fiber-tempered stamped pottery shards found near Swan Creek dating from 950-80 BC are some of the oldest examples of pre-Columbian pottery discovered in Tennessee.

Thanks to several members stepping up in the kitchen, though, the RRCC will not have to forage for berries and beavers.

First, Roy has said that as long as we'll bring a very long extension cord for his microwave he will take over as Top Chef on Friday night.

We will announce the full menu when he sends it to us, but you can count on an upgrade from Vienna Sausages to at least frozen burritos.

Mike will also contribute on Friday night because he will be hand-delivering the catch-of-the-day. Actually catch-of-the-previous-day because the day before we leave for Big Swan Creek he will be returning from a deep sea fishing trip in Guatemala, hopefully with a big chunk of freshly filleted fish in his suitcase (Roy: don't count on this).

Let's just not tell anyone that after all these river trips the only fish dinners we've had have come from either Central America or a trout farm.

We did catch this nice Rainbow on the Eleven Point last fall and COULD have eaten it if we hadn't been so lazy:

On Saturday night Phil will don the sanitary hairnet and will "whip up the Patey special" whatever that means.

Judging by what we found at his warehouse when we picked up the trailer last week, he may have been talking about cocktail hour.

Josh: if Phil turns in a receipt that says "Hundred pounds of yeast and some copper line" it is APPROVED.


The sun's laziness got into me and I wandered up the lesser channel, casting only occasionally into holes without the expectation of fish. Then, on a long flow-dimpled bar, something came down over my consciousness like black pain, and I dropped the rod and squatted, shaking my head to drive the blackness back. It receded a little. I waddled without rising to the bar's edge and scooped cold water over my head. After four or five big throbs it went away, and I sat down half in the water and thought about it. It didn't take much study. My stomach was giving a lecture about it, loud. What it amounted to was that I was about half starved.

I picked up the rod, went back to camp, stirred the fire, and put on a pot of water into which I dumped enough dried lima beans for four men, salt, an onion, and a big chunk of bacon. Considering, I went down to the stringer and skinned and gutted the little catfish and carried him up and threw him in the pot, too. While it boiled, I bathed in the river, frigid in contrast to the air, sloshed out the canoe and sponged it down, and washed underclothes and socks. In shorts, feeling fine now but so hungry it hurt, I sat by the fire and sharpened knives and the ax for the additional hour the beans needed to cook soft in the middle. Fishing out the skeleton of the disintegrated catfish, and using the biggest spoon I had, I ate the whole mess from the pot almost without stopping, and mopped up its juices with cold biscuit bread.

Then I wiped my chin and lay back against the cottonwood log with my elbows hanging over it behind and my toes digging the sand, and considered that asceticism, most certainly, was for those who were built for it. Some were. Some weren't. I hadn't seen God in the black headache on the sand bar and I didn't want to try anymore, that way. . . . . . Starving myself hadn't had much to do with spirituality, anyhow, but only with the absence of company.

Philosophically equilibrated, I rolled down into the sand and went to sleep for two or three hours, waking into a perfect blue-and-yellow afternoon loud with the full-throat chant of the redbird.

Goodbye to a River, pp. 162-63


Friday, March 04, 2011

Crisis in the Kitchen

Way back in the early years of the RRCC, a "Friday Guy" was someone who went out early and set up camp before everyone else arrived on Saturday morning. Usually that was just Mullowney, Myers and the Unabomber, although Mullowney and the Unabomber were never actually seen on the same gravel bar at the same time.

Nowadays we all go for two nights, and "Friday Guy" means a landlubber who comes down and parties at the put-in Friday night then heads back to Nashville patio living Saturday morning. This year we have several like that, and they happen to make up the entire kitchen staff.

So all of you chefs who have been watching from the sidelines waiting for your chance, think of this as your big break. Who wants to step up and get the keys to Big Daddy for a weekend? Possibly earn the prestigous RRCC Dinner Triangle. Maybe even Wally Pipp one of the regular cooks. If there is enough interest, we'll have tryouts. If there is no interest, we will adjust the menu as follows:

Saturday Breakfast


Saturday Lunch

Slim Jims
American Style Chicken-Beef-Pork Sausages
(with gelatinous sauce)

Saturday Dinner

Cub Scout Campfire Foil Pack
(place foil pack in coals, drink, serve when dish reaches raw and burned simultaneously)

Sunday Breakfast

Campfire Foil Pack leftovers

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Swan-Upping is Just Three Weeks Away

Rob's first post is coming soon. He found the internet but then couldn't tear himself away from all the amazing things he found there. Like pictures of waterskiing squirrels.

Meanwhile, the saw is sharp and ready to go to Big Swan Creek.

Note to cooks: Swan is a legitimate game bird for cooking - once a royal delicacy, it now just has a royal price.

Procurator-Fiscal: better raise dues for this trip.

Swan Meat - 9 to 12 Month Bird
Item# newitem30910414
Regular Price: $1,499.99
Sale Price: $999.99

Raised in USA. Processed Birds can be delivered in California, USA. Outside CA the bird will be shipped live.

Swan meat was a gourmet dish often seen as the magnificent centrepiece for a medieval banquet. But since those times, when all swans were assigned royal status, it is a dish almost exclusively enjoyed by royals.

The mute swan has been a royal bird since at least 1186 and was formally assigned royal status in the Act of Swans in 1482. Under the act, any other owners of swans were required to mark their property by way of a succession of nicks in the birds’ beaks. It was the duty of the Royal Swanmaster to organise the annual swan-upping on the Thames, when the cygnets are rounded up and marked, which survives in symbolic form to this day.

With their royal rank, it became a status symbol to eat swan. It was a tasty ceremonial dish, until superseded by turkey early last century.

Today, the Queen still has ownership of all swans in the UK except in one small corner of the British Isles - the Orkney Isles. Under Udal Law, the ancient Norse system of inheritance and law, which the Viking settlers brought to Orkney, the swan is the property of the people, rather than the Crown. The case was proven in 1910 by a Kirkwall lawyer who, accompanied by his friend, the Procurator-Fiscal, went out to Harray Loch and shot a swan. The case went to the High Court and the Crown lost. Nowadays, Orcadians do not shoot swans, but the principles of the old Norse Udal Law still stand. The swan is protected across the entire Great Britain by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. Our Swans are raised in County of Riverside, California, USA.

Here's the Royal Recipe:

For to dihyte a swan. Tak & vndo hym & wasch hym, & do on a spite & enarme hym fayre & roste hym wel; & dysmembre hym on þe beste manere & mak a fayre chyne, & þe sauce þerto schal be mad in þis manere, & it is clept.

Tak þe issu of þe swan & wasch it wel, & scoure þe guttes wel with salt, & seth þe issu al togedere til it be ynow, & þan tak it vp and wasch it wel & hew it smal, & tak bred & poudere of gyngere & of galyngale & grynde togedere & tempere it with þe broth, & coloure it with þe blood. And when it is ysothe & ygrounde & streyned, salte it, & boyle it wel togydere in a postnet & sesen it with a litel vynegre.

Curye on Inglish: English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth-Century (Including the Forme of Cury). New York: for The Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1985.