Monday, April 16, 2018

Mother Nature called and said to keep making all those detailed plans. 

She thinks it's funny.

Two long skeins of big birds flapped across the grayness toward the south - sandhill cranes, grating out their castle-gate croak - and I knew what the air's muggy edge meant.  Geese confirmed it, the first I'd seen, four snows in a little disciplined V, winging solemnly and soundlessly south.  The wind on the river died, and paddling I began to sweat.  It was the kind of day that usually, in the Texas fall, is full of a kind of waiting; things are moving, the year is changing, a norther is coming....

There is less talk of "northers" these days.  People sit softly at ten fifteen in the evening and watch while a bacon vender points to highs and lows and fronts on a chart, and then they go to the wall to twirl their thermostats, and perhaps the windows rattle a little in the night, but that's about all....In the country, though, a front is a fact still.  There it's a blue line along the horizon, and a waiting, sweaty hush, and a hit like a moving wall, and all of life scurrying for the southern lee of things. There it's a battening down, an opening of hydrant valves, a checking of young and valuable stock, a walking across the swept lots with a flashlight, a leaning against the hard-shoving cold, a shuddering and creaking of old, tall, frame houses.  Therefore I had little doubt about the exhilaration that lumped in my chest while I watched the cranes and the geese.

The women affirmed what the cranes and geese had told me; the television said that weather was on the way.  They hadn't paid much mind to how bad it was to be, or when it was to  hit.  In the end, I had to argue out of an invitation to lunch two hours thence, when McKee would have returned; I said I had to get on down the river.  It was true; if weather was to come, I wanted to be set for it.

Near the Oakes crossing, the sky seemed about to clear, then did not.  the wind veered about from the east, and then back from the south, while the north side of me itched in expectation of that thrust which did not come.  Finally it did come, or seemed to, a cool push from the northeast behind me as I tooled down into the long ingoing stretch of the Village Bend on smooth-flowing water over shallow sand and gravel.  Then it stopped, and the air was hot again.  I gave up weather prognostication.

I paddled on down a mile and, having time, picked a good campsite on a Berumda flat ten or twelve feet above the water with a wide, clean, sand beach below it and brush sheltering it behind, on the north.  Goats had cropped the grass like a lawn and had done the passenger the favor of eating up all the burrs, which the perversely like.  Good solid driftwood was lodged among the brush from the spring floods.  I pitched the tent tail-north, the stakes solid in good turf, dug a pit for the fire before it, and, liking the looks of the whole business, decided I'd stay there until the norther had come and blown and show the length of its teeth. I could hold out, there.  Except it didn't come. 

Prognosticating despite myself, I decided that the cold front must have slowed to a stop somewhere to the north, so I loaded up early in the afternoon and pushed on under a blue sky pierced high by yellow thunderheads.  But back on the river, swirling high currents swept the thunderheads out of the sky like minor actors exiting before the stars show up onstage. For thirty minutes a hot hush hung...

Finally, from the northwest, an arched crescent of blue-dun cloud, sky-wide, rolled hugely high and fast down at us, the atmosphere clear before it and clear behind.  Not having prognosticated worth a damn, I scuttled for the flatter shore and had the tent up lopsided but solid under a half-dead elm by the time the first big slam of cold hit, with a sweep of leaves and sand and the fresh uplift of body and spirit, probably barometric, that they always carry even when you don't want them.

From the southeast, rearing to meet the blue-dun cloud's charge, a white roll of exactly similar shape moved up.  In the dusk, when I'd finished setting up and was squatting in the tent opening by a good fire, they met with thunder and the last red tints of sundown flame-edged their fight.  Big drops of rain spatted down diagonally through the violent air, and the old elm in the fire hissed and spewed and stank and radiated, lightning took over the sun's work and made the early night for a time flickeringly white, and loud with thunder.

I baked a slab of biscuit bread, dry and toast-tasting, beside the fire, ate it with thick slices of broiled bacon, and went to bed.  The rain thickened, then slacked, then came down again in floods; the night crackled and roared with change and iron cold.  Drunk with coziness, the pup wallowed beside me and groaned, and I remember wondering, before I slept, a little more about the relation of storms to man.... If, being animal, we ring like guitar strings to nature's furies, what hope can there be for our ultimate, planned peacefulness?

But night questions don't have answers. 

Goodbye to a River, pp. 108-110.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


I know every one of you jessies is looking at the weather forecast for Saturday wishing you were not in a rain or shine canoe club. 

Being on a river with 100% chance of 3"of rain and a severe weather warning? That's like a picnic to us. 

A Bear Mountain picnic

So there is a good chance that we will all pull out at Topsy Bridge on Saturday morning.  If we do, we will come back to Nashville and use my house as our Saturday night camp since I will be a bachelor this weekend anyway.  We can all go as a group to the Rolling Stones exhibit in our river boots and watch the Predators game.  Stay in the kitchen.  Have our own picnics, in the bathroom.  Build a fire in my driveway. 

Quite lucky to be alive though!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Devil in the Details

Here we go.  Pay attention and watch for your name because this gets complicated.

First, open these maps.

We will meet at my house at 7:30 am Thursday.  It will be a full day.  It's a two hour drive to the river, a long shuttle, and a six mile paddle that may or may not include a portage around a low-water bridge.  So don't be late and no grab-ass in the driveway while we finish loading the trailer. 

Leaving Thursday morning from my house are:  Skip, Josh, Phil, Dave, Cronin, and Jim MyersRob will either join us there or leave from his house in the Suburban with Pete Feldman's canoe.  Myers will drive his own car, and we will need at least one more driver in addition to my truck and the trailer.

Pete Feldman and Chris Sands will meet us at the Grinders Creek put-in Thursday morning about 10:00, coming from different directions.  Mullowney, being the lone desperado that he is, will travel on his own and also put in at Grinders Creek but later Thursday afternoon.  He will paddle down and join us in camp downriver.

Stuart lands in Nashville Thursday night at 7:00.  Jack will pick him up at the airport and they will drive to the Sickler Rd. put-in and launch about  9:30 pm.  They will have a 1-1/2 mile paddle (in the dark) Thursday night so we will expect them in camp about 10:30 pm.   Jack is also coming over Wednesday night and I will give him a map and a canoe. 

Myers is taking out Friday morning at Riverside Bridge and Jack and Stuart are taking out Saturday morning at Topsy Bridge.  That means (in reverse order for shuttle purposes) we need to leave someone's car at Topsy for Jack and Stuart and leave Jim's car at Riverside.  Jim will drive his own car back to Nashville on Friday when he gets out.  Jack and Stuart will drive the extra car back to Sickler Rd. on Saturday, leave it there, and drive Jack's car back to Nashville.  

Vernon may join Saturday morning at Topsy Bridge where Jack and Stuart pull out.  If he does, they can use his truck to drive back up to Jack's car at Sickler Rd.  If not, see above.  Vernon and I will figure out his canoe or he can just take Jim Myers' duffer seat.

If Tim finishes with his family business and doesn't look at the weather report he may join Friday or Saturday.  If Trump fires Mueller on Wednesday Josh will have to stay back to explain to his clients why the S&P 500 looks like the Duck River gauge.


Some combination of us have done almost all of this trip in different sections, but we've never done it beginning to end.  For most of the group there will be some new river for you.  Here are some reference points:

The Thursday paddle from Grinders Creek put-in to the low-water bridge at Sickler Rd. is the same as the very end of the Spring 2010 trip.  We put in at David Fox's cabin and took out at Sickler Rd. low-water bridge.  So it's been eight years since we've been on that section but we know it looks like this:

And also this:

The next four miles downstream from Sickler Rd. was the first day of the Spring 2015 trip but was only done by Skip, Phil and Vernon on Friday.  It looks like this:

And this:

We stopped on Friday night at the Buffalo River Campground where everyone else arrived by car:

The next 13 river miles we did as a full group on that trip and it included this campsite on Saturday night across from Pine Bluff between RM 77 and 78.

So we can check to see how that basil plant is doing:

This weekend we will camp twice on that section, once Friday at the upper part (somewhere below Buffalo River Campground) and Saturday night downstream of our Pine Bluff stop.

The last two miles will be completely new for the Club until we get to our take-out at RM 73 which was our put-in (and Friday night camp) for the Fall 2015 trip.


RRCC Menu – Spring 2018
(Don't forget to bring your own cups(s), plates, and utensils) 
(and beer)

Thursday, 4/12:

Lunch:          Mullowney’s Mediterranean Spread starring Irish Cheese, Salami, Avocados, Baguettes, Guinea Oil & Kumquats
Supper:         Josh and Skip Celebrity Chef  Surprise with Aunt Sara's East Texas Cheese Grits and Bacon Old Fashioneds. 


Friday, 4/13:

Breakfast:     Lowry’s Banana Walnut Bread




Lunch:          Fresh Gulf Shrimp Rolls


Supper:         Proud Mary-turned Whole Rotisseried Muscovy Duck

Baked Minnesota Canoe Hand-Harvested Wild Rice

Big Wang’s Turnip Greens Celestial


Saturday, 4/14:

Breakfast:     Lowry’s Banana Walnut Bread




Lunch:          Phil’s Deconstructed Apocalypse Now rolls warmed on the Estonian Volcano


Supper:         Beef Pot Roast with English root vegetables a la Ian


Sunday, 4/15:

Breakfast:     Lowry’s Banana Walnut Bread


                     Morphine IV Drip




Get off  the Natchez Trace Parkway at milepost 380.8
Go west on Napier Lake Rd. 5.2 miles

Or try putting 100 Napier Lake Rd, Hohenwald into your GPS (but no promises)


Go due south from Hohenwald on Hwy. 99 for 5.8 miles
Turn left on Sickler Rd. for 1.7 miles

Or try putting 121 Texas Valley Lane, Hohenwald into your GPS (no promises)


Go due south from Hohenwald on Hwy 99 for 9.3 miles

Or try putting 116 Seiber Ridge Rd. in your GPS (but, you know)


Go southwest out of Hohenwald on Hwy 48 for 8.5 miles
Turn left on Topsy Rd and go 5.0 miles

GPS does not know about Topsy Rd.

Monday, April 09, 2018

We're Changing Rivers

The plan on the middle Duck would have worked perfectly as far as bridge access and distances, but the gravel bars were already going to be scarce on that section.  Even though the gauges say we are getting closer to normal river levels, I don't think we can risk arriving to find out that our target campsites are underwater since we need to be in specific places in order to meet our ever-changing crew.  And a 3-nighter makes it that much more likely we would be camping in some muddy field at least once.  The reality is, that section is meant for a fall trip and I was trying too hard to make it work in the spring. 

You might think, then, it would make sense to do one of those really attractive spring rivers that are so fun when the water is high, like the Piney or Yellow Creek.  But ironically, a 3-night trip basically eliminates those as well.  There's just not enough distance on the smaller rivers for four days of paddling.

So, like Big Daddy watching us fool around with the latest pretty kitchen toys, the Buffalo River has been waiting patiently for us with its easy current, blue-green water, and big clean gravel bars year-round and doesn't care that our eyes wandered to other rivers for awhile. 

I had a visit to pay.  A man who had been decent to me a couple of times, and whom I liked, farmed a stretch of the right bank in that neighborhood. I'd met him in a warm October that had turned suddenly cold, catching me under-equipped; I'd passed him where he was fishing from the rocks below his house, and after we'd talked a little he'd said:  "Boy, you're gonna freeze.  You pull out at my picnic ground down there and shoot you some squirrels and build you a far."

His wife came out.  I hadn't met her before.  She was around fifty, in gingham, with black hair pulled back on the sides of her head, and sun-narrowed eyes - the big-framed, gaunt breed of woman that farmers and ranchers so often pick to mother their sons after they've finished with the pinch-faced pretties of the honkytonks.  Sometimes at town gatherings of people I have looked around and wondered what happened to that physical type in the process of urbanization, and then have seen them maybe along the wall, standing round-backed, dressed to deprecate their bulk among the slim-waisted twinkling blondes with Empire hairdos.  In the country they still stand straight, and are prized.

Goodbye to a River, pp. 100-01.

I will post details about the schedule, river accesses, and the rest of the menu tomorrow.  But for planning purposes, if you're coming from out of town or meeting us at the put-in it will be on the Buffalo River near Hohenwald, TN.  Hopefully still in range of Predators radio.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Plans B through Z

Things are busy here in the RRCC war room.  We've got multiple rivermen needing to get in and out at different times and if it keeps on rainin' the levee's going to break so we might have to change rivers.  Here's what it currently looks like as far as a roster, individual itineraries, and boats.


Rob (Dagger)
Skip (wood/canvas Old Town)
Vernon (Delta Dawn)
Jack, Stuart (Grumman)
Josh (own canoe)
Coviello (own canoe)
Cronin (own canoe)
Phil (own canoe)


Mullowney (own canoe)
Pete Feldman (own canoe on Rob's Suburban)
Sands (own canoe)

Myers will be coming for Thursday night only and will ride duffer because of his bad back.  Jack and Stuart are arriving separately late Thursday night and taking out Saturday morning.  Vernon may or may not be a partial also.   Tim has a legit family medical emergency and is a game time decision but is partial at most.  It is assumed that Rob Cannon will screech up to the put-in at launch time.  No one has heard from Kirly since his 50th birthday party. 

Total headcount ranges from 13 - 15.   Thursday night will be at full strength, Friday will be 12 - 14 and Saturday will be 10 - 12.   These numbers will vary depending on whether Tim, Rob Cannon and Kirly go and whatever schedule Vernon ends up with (or anyone else for that matter).

But don't worry, we figured out all the logistics over coffee this morning...

Meanwhile, Josh and Skip are doing a kitchen takeover on Thursday night just for laughs.   The menu is built entirely around Aunt Sara's East Texas Cheese Grits which, in addition to eggs, cream and butter has two key ingredients:

Artisanal corn grits stone ground by water wheel at Falls Mill on a tributary of the Elk River, just upstream of our campsite on the fall 2006 trip.

And artisanal Velveeta Pasteurized Process Cheese Spread Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product
from Monroe, New York. 

The before dinner specialty cocktail will be a Bacon Old Fashioned, made with Ol' Major bacon infused bourbon garnished with bacon.  The garnish will be garnished with bacon.

Just so everyone knows the exact schedule Thursday night, here is the kitchen work plan and timeline Josh prepared based on fifteen years of observation (and before we got bumped from the prime Saturday spot).

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Float Plan

Here's where we're going.  Click to zoom in, because a 3-nighter is also a 2-mapper.


We'll be traveling east to west, so right to left on the first map, then continued onto the second map.  Red stars are access points, blue diamonds are campsites.  Magically delicious!

This section of the Duck is due south of Nashville, between Shelbyville and Columbia.  In fact, we will paddle directly under I-65 just before our take out.

Some landmarks of note.  Our put-in will be right below Lillard's Mill, another mill dam like the one we started at in downtown Shelbyville last year.  This one is very remote.

It is also the place that I almost drown Jack Harrington and Charlie the dog once trying to portage around it during high water.   Nathan Bedford Forrest had a similar experience trying to cross here on December 18, 1864.

The distances and target campsites are all designed to be just upstream or just downstream of an access point because we will have rivermen arriving and departing on different days.

Our last campsite may very well be where we camped fall of 2005, the candiru infested island that was Floyd's first trip. 

Our take out will be at Negro Creek. 

Negro Creek Rd. has been in the news lately.

Guess which side this couple is on...

That pic is also worth a zoom.  There's a lot going on. 

Do you think John Graves might have something to say about this?  Of course he did...

Likely the bluff had a good name once before some dullard called it Inspiration Point. The nation's map is measled with names like that, pocks from the old nineteenth-century plague that made people build gazebos and well-tops of rough masonry with oaken buckets on ropes but no well beneath (unless it was a "wishing well"), and sing "Annie Laurie," and read Scott for his worst qualities, and long to own paintings by Bouguereau and, disregarding the guts and soul in the old nomenclature of American places, rename them Inspiration Point and Lovers' Retreat and Maiden's Leap. It is worst of all in the South, because the South yearned hardest to believe Scott, but the whole hinterland had the disease; in the Midwest it got flavored with Hiawatha.

Thought is has its own cachet now - yes, I like gingerbread houses, and old pictures of women with buns and with big breasts under stiff shirtwaists - it was, for me, a flouting of real ghosts and genii, an unimaginative lamina of Greco-Scotch-English never-neverism on the surface of a land that seemed too news to would-be-cultured sensibilities. You don't have to line up too solidly with the America shouters to resent it.

Now that the land looks a little older and we don't have to stare directly at the tobacco juice on the haired chins of those who made its past, the grandchildren of the Gothicists are likely to be enchanted to find that the streamlet below their house used to be called Dead Nigger Draw, but they have a hard fight with the real-estate men, staunchly Gothic all, if they try to cancel out its present title of Bonnie Brae. . . And the effort, somehow, seems little more praise worthy or genuine than their grandparents' was.

- Goodbye to a River, pp. 126-27.