Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Walk in the Woods

                                 CHAPTER   FOURTEEN             

                  A   WALK  IN  THE  WOODS  


                           “Do not go where the path may lead,
                                go instead where there is no path
                                             and leave a trail.” 
                                      Ralph Waldo Emerson

 On that early fall afternoon in 1957 when I walked an old logging road through woods and across a pasture and to the edge of a deeper forest, the path ended and my adventure began.  I had reached a place “at the end of the trail” and its
name would become Shabomekaw.  In the words of Robert Frost, “I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence” and this has come to pass:  I’ve written fourteen chapters about Kinniconick and the cabin for this blog.

The cabin and the creek were always central to the experience of living in the woods but I spent uncountable hours walking the sixty acres and beyond, usually within sight of running water and never disappointed by the view.  The paths that existed had been there for a long, long time.  The Zornes family, the folks who previously owned the property, had walked those trails.  Before the Zornes arrived, the McCarty family had roamed these woods for a hundred years.  I’m sure the McCartys found paths trodden by native Americans, where  the Shawnee had hunted the buffalo and the deer, and long before first human presence the tracks of animals created the trails. 

One path led from the cabin site and followed the creek, almost always in sight of Kinniconick as it flowed downstream.  It was lined with hemlock trees, ferns and wildflowers.   Along its entire length one would always hear the sound of flowing water:  riffles and rapids are music to the ear.  Two of the oldest and largest trees lived along this path, beech trees that spread their canopies wide in the woods.  One of them was at least four feet in diameter and would have been in its spot above the creek when the Shawnee trod that very ground.  A special event on walks in the spring was the drumming of Ruffed Grouse, when a male bird beat his wings to summon a female nearby.

On this downstream path, and inside the boundaries of Shabomekaw, stood the ruins of an old, old cabin.  I was never able to learn the identity of its occupant, but without doubt it was a friend of the McCarty family and he or she was in love with Kinniconick.  The remains of a stone chimney and of the log walls stood on the bank above a shallow stretch of water, about half a mile from Pine Eddy.  Further along on this trail the bank steepened and enormous slabs of sandstone rose like monuments, and the ancient rock enhanced the feeling of solitude.  After all, those slabs were millions of years old, formed by sand eroded from ancient mountains to the south, then compacted into sedimentary rock, then moved by the Teays River a million years ago.  The slabs were covered by lichens and moss, and it was always cool and damp along this magical trail.

I have my good friend Sharmon Davidson to thank for the following photograph, one showing a path thru some of Kinniconick’s geologic history. 

One upstream trail commenced at the cabin and followed the creek along an old logging road, with a great view of a small eddy.  Another path climbed the ridge, and led to an old cemetery where the McCarty clan buried their folks beneath rustic stones.  Some of the graves are well over one hundred years old.  From the cemetery the path was steep.  The reward was escape and the age-old search for a forgotten past. 

If you’ve read earlier chapters you know that my parents loved Shabomekaw as much as I did, and in retirement they spent more time there than I could spare.  I was in the whirl of making a business career in Cincinnati and got to the cabin on weekends, but they spent many weeks vacationing there.  Dad loved to “whittle”, and he spent many hours on the porch working on pieces of laurel, ash and sassafrass. Hanging on a hook he had made were “hiking sticks”, carved staffs similar to canes, most of them made from sassafras wood.  There were three or four beautiful sticks for family and visitors to carry on hikes through the woods.

The geology of Kinniconick, described in earlier chapters, resulted in an abundance of relatively rare wildflowers, and along the trails of Shabomekaw one would encounter such plants as trillium, wake robin, dwarf iris, bluets, lobelia and arbutus.  Mountain laurel was prolific, and I discovered one plant of big leaf laurel, closely related to rhododendron, on a hike further downstream.

 One walk on that trail was not so serene.  It was during a fishing weekend with friends, and after canoeing down to Pine Eddy and then returning upstream Saturday evening, we left the canoe about half-way to the cabin and walked from there.  The canoe was up on a bank, not far from the water.  Our plan was to go back down to the eddy the next morning.

In the middle of the night a storm rolled into the valley.  Thunder and lightning and pouring rain, and when the downpour continued I knew that the creek would rise.  How could I ever forget walking that trail, almost a mile of it, drenched by cold rain and seeing the bolts of light in the black sky.   The power and the fury of it, the raw side of nature, is frightening but also thrilling.  I saved my beloved canoe from the rising waters of Kinniconick that night and it was more than just a walk in the woods.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Muskie of the Mountains

                          Chapter  Thirteen
      Muskie of the Mountains


“He was big and a good 72 inches and his sides were the color of polished silver”, the old man said.   “His eyes were wild, fire-flecked and looked as if they belonged to a demon.  It was the first live muskie I ever really seen up close and it was mad enough to snort flames when it came from beneath the tie jam and scooted a good 40 feet on top of the slippery logs before it found an open spot in the creek.” 

The old man wasJoe Stamper and he lived in a cabin on Kinniconick Creek for most of his 94 years.  Folks remember him as “Muskie Joe”, and in 1984 a renowned outdoor writer by the name of Soc Clay published an article about the legendary fisherman in Happy Hunting Ground.   Later, the story was included in the book Of Woods and Waters.  Joe’s encounter with the six-foot long muskie occurred in 1905 when he and his father and brothers floated thousands of hand-hewn wooden ties down the Kinniconick.  The Stamper family lived near the headwaters of the Laurel Fork of Kinney where they made barrels and cross-ties, forty miles from a steamboat landing at Garrison on the Ohio River.

“Muskie Joe” never hooked up with a six-footer but he caught hundreds of legal sized fish on artificial  lures, in a fifty year career that began in the 1920’s and ended the year of his death in 1981.  “Ye’ know boys,” he once said, “I’ve got a sweet water spring in my front yard, a good warm cabin, plenty of fishing tackle and muskie in my back yard.  What else in the world could an old fisherman want in his lifetime?” 

Early in the spring of one year in the 1960’s, I visited Joe and his brother Commodore at their place on Puncheon Eddy.  The expedition was unforgettable because I pulled off their gravel road and the car sank into knee-deep mud.  The Stampers came to my rescue with their tractor and I have the warm memory of two good men who lived a simple but beautiful life.  On the back wall of their cabin about a hundred heads of muskies had been nailed, so I can vouch for the legend of “Muskie Joe”.  

The Mountain Muskie is a very exotic fish.  It did not exist south of the Great Lakes until about twenty thousand years ago.  Muskellunge are an ancient species, a relative of the Great Northern Pike whose range is not only North America but also Europe, and they inhabited lakes and rivers in Canada, Minnesota and Wisconsin for eons.  Then the Ice Age descended on the planet, and when the glaciers reached their southern boundary in North America, muskies were left in the receding waters, and those waters created the present course of the Ohio River.

Now we can imagine the twenty thousand years of their evolution.  The fish became a distinct species,  Esox Ohioensis, and they searched for clear water, swimming upstream like salmon, spawning on clean gravel in the Ohio and its tributaries.  Before the settlement of the midwest, and up until the nineteenth century, specimens weighing over 100 pounds were caught in the Ohio River.  We can only imagine how the Shawnee pursued the big fish in Kinniconick, in the riffles and pools of Liles Eddy where evidence of an Indian summer encampment were found by Field Stafford.  (Chapter Two of this blog is about the Shawnee of Kinniconick.)

 In another earlier chapter, I told the story of my family’s discovery of Kinniconick soon after the First World War.  At that time their fishing gear was comprised of long, cane rods and rustic reels, live bait and bobbers.  When they saw  giant muskies cruising in Pine Eddy, one of my uncles created a lure made of fur and feathers and trolled it on a handline behind a scow, and the first whopper of a fish struck and was landed.  And so began their conversion to the early casting rods and multiple reels, and to artificial  lures.  Joe Stamper’s technique had evolved in the same way and about the same time, and he became famous as a fishing guide, down there on Puncheon Eddy.

In those days, muskies were still plentiful in tributaries of the Ohio.  The big river itself had become so polluted and turbid that the species was extinct, but in the Scioto and Brush Creeks in Ohio, and in Kinney, Green, Triplett, and Tygart in Kentucky, muskies thrived.  The fish was occasionally found way up the Little Tennessee River in North Carolina, though no trace of them existed in the Tennessee or any other major tributary of the Ohio.

 My love affair with Kinniconick began in the early 1930’s, and I fished for muskies until the day I left Shabomekaw, in 1977.  Though I never landed a really big fish, I “raised” many lunkers, and that is the term we used to describe the sight of one who followed the lure, or a missed strike, or a fish hooked but lost.  “The big one always got away.”  Now as I look back, I’m glad he got away.  Especially the fish that took my top-water lure at dawn one morning, in the big drift on Pine Eddy.  When hooked he shot straight up into the morning mist, his entire body above the water, then threw the plug and was gone.  It looked to be four feet long (and you know that fishermen never exaggerate).

I did get to see a four-footer when I was a kid, while on a family vacation at Kinney.  Somehow Dad learned that a big fish had been taken by Dr. Herbert Bertram, Vanceburg’s MD, and we made a special trip into town.  Doc Bertram was another renowned muskie fisherman, along with Musky Joe.  The fish was displayed in his office, right there on main street, and for many years Dad and I enjoyed re-telling the story of that lunker muskie.

 My guess is that today no “native” muskies remain in Kinniconick or in any other stream or lake south of the Great Lakes.  Populations of the fish are maintained by hatcheries.  I will never forget one day on Pine Eddy in the mid-sixties.  I happened to meet Henry Bate on the creek and he was furious.  Fish and Wildlife folks had been on the eddy a few days before, and according to Mr. Bate, they were shocking big fish to the surface in order to strip females of their eggs and males of their milt.  Kinniconick may have been the original source of the first propagated muskellunge in Kenucky.

Kinney had been the home of native muskies for thousands of years, its clean water and silt-free gravel riffles a perfect place for them to spawn, its deep pools and beds of lily pads the best of their haunts.  Then water conditions deteriorated over the last thirty or forty years.  But since the stream was designated an Outstanding Water Resource by the state of Kentucky a few years ago, I like to think that someday Kinniconick will be returned to its original glory, that erosion and pollution will be checked, and that muskies will once again thrive in the mountains.

The legend of Muskie Joe is one of my favorite stories about Kinniconick.  Joe loved the creek and the wild fish who lived there.  His words are eloquent:  “What else in the world could an old fisherman want?”

This wonderful watercolor was painted by Winslow Homer on a fishing trip to the Adirondacks in 1894.  Rowing his rough-hewn scow is an old fisherman, looking for a rising fish, finding happiness on his favorite stretch of water.

The painting of a Shawnee fishing is by the great N.C. Wyeth.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


                                                      CHAPTER   TWELVE
                                           COOL,  CLEAR   WATER


Soon after discovering Shabomekaw, I began driving to “Trail’s End” on a
narrow, winding back-road out of Maysville that paralleled  Kinniconick, up in its head-waters.  At one point the road was within a stone’s throw of the creek.  Most of my weekend trips back then commenced on Friday, and having left the office in Cincinnati at six o’clock or so, it was dark when the Creek came into view.

Oh, how important it was to get that first glimpse of clear water tumbling over  the little riffle, and through the darkness of twilight or the beaming of the moon, one could see that the stream was in perfect condition.   The weekend was guaranteed to be another marvelous commune with nature, the beautiful creek flowing through the wooded valley, framed by Kentucky  mountains.  Cool, clear water was a hallmark of Kinney.  Early in the Spring the color was a brilliant turquoise and in Summer it was emerald green.

My life has always revolved around the pursuit of wilderness and wild, clear water.  Fate gave me so many opportunities to see and to feel and taste water, in many far-off places:  I drank from lakes in Canada and from trout streams in Michigan, North Carolina and Wyoming.  On the flats in the back bay of Florida I watched tarpon take my fly in water clear as gin.  Once, on Norris Lake in Tennessee not long after it was impounded, my Dad and I fished in a place called Brassfield Bend and big bass were visible way down deep in ultra-clear water.

Recently the director of the Sierra Club wrote about Waldo Lake, one of the clearest and purest lakes in the world.  He trekked into the Cascade Range in Oregon and kayaked on Waldo, and he says that visibility is over 100 feet.  Now he is trying to save it from development.

It isn’t too late to save our water, but time is growing short.  Fracking for natural gas has poisoned water deep in the earth.  Careless pumping has drained aquifers and lowered lake levels.  Fertilizers and weed killers pollute our rivers and creeks, and pristine lakes turn an ugly gray-brown.  Salt water intrusion is becoming dangerous along our coasts.  Climate change may turn vast green regions into dust.  Offshore drilling and oil spills, horrid dumping of waste, destruction of seabeds:  it must stop if we have any chance of saving the waters of the world.

Several years ago, the state of Kentucky designated Kinniconick an “Outstanding Water Resource” and in 2012 a federal grant was awarded to develop a watershed plan.  Officials pointed out that “current land practices have led to degradation through increased sedimentation and bank erosion, causing turbidity” and that the health of the stream was at risk.  I say thank you to the State and the Federal Government for at long last recognizing the unique quality of this stream.  One day its waters will run cool and clear again.

 Many years ago (gosh, maybe 75 years ago) my family gathered by the radio in the evening, and I remember hearing an old cowboy ballad sung by Hank  Williams.  It told the story of a feller and his mule, lost on some western desert, dying of thirst.  The mule’s name was Dan.

    “Say, Dan, can’t you see that big green tree,
      where the water’s runnin’ free ?
      It’s waiting there for you and me…
      Water.  Cool, clear water.”

Dan and the old cowboy saw a distant mirage out there on the barren sands.  All of their memories of clear, clean water filled their dreams of shimmering lakes and rushing streams.     

One day earth’s creatures everywhere may wish for a place “where the water’s runnin’ free”.

Photo of Kinniconick by Sharmon Davidson

Thursday, August 7, 2014

                         CHAPTER    ELEVEN

                   GOIN’    HOME

Long ago, when my cabin was new, several of my fishing friends joined me for a weekend on Kinniconick.  It was a rainy day on Saturday, and most of us quit early and sampled the gin.  One persistent cuss finally got back and tromped into the cabin in his soggy rain suit and boots, sloshing mud and water on my Mom’s braided rugs and on the beautiful, waxed hemlock floor.  I remember saying, “Mister, this isn’t a fish-camp.  This is my home.”

Kinniconick has always been my home.  When I was a baby it was home, and when I was just a kid it was home.  It was my home when I built a cabin on its banks, and waded its riffles and canoed on its waters.  I touched the trunks of a hundred big trees on its hillsides.  I watched the mist lift in the morning and open to the sky on the ridge across the creek.  I listened to the rapids and the night sounds, of whippoorwills and frogs, and breathed the mountain air. 

 People I loved made it their home.  My Dad , my brother-in-law, an uncle, and several close friends worked on the cabin with me, my mother and my sister and her kids were there as we made it our home in the wilderness.  Many good friends became a part of it, and all but a few are gone.   I go home again whenever I remember them, I go back home to Kinniconick.

Who said, “You can’t go home again”?   Home isn’t always the place where you reside.  For a young man at sea his ship is a temporary home and the crew is family.  Aboard a Destroyer for two years, I was teary-eyed when my hitch was up and I left the USS Parle for the last time, but going “home” from that pier in Key West was a journey to the house where my parents lived, and then home became an apartment in the city where I worked, and later it was another apartment nicer than the first, and on to houses and condos and even a farm.  The only true “home” any of us treasures is the memory of a precious time and place.   

In his novel “You Can’t Go Home Again”, Thomas Wolfe was rather cynical on this subject when he wrote:

“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood…..
  back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame….
  back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems   
  of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time…
  back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”

The journey described by Wolfe is a physical one rather than an emotional trip through the pictures in one’s mind and the ache in one’s heart.   Wolfe seems to think that life is lived only in the present and all else is an escape. Long ago I resolved never to go back to Kinniconick in the physical sense because I preferred to remember it as I saw it for the last time.  Now I can go home again whenever I dream about the place, awake or sleeping.   

Those of you who have read earlier chapters suspect that I have glorified this stream in Kentucky, and perhaps that is true if you live in the present and know nothing of the past.  When I left  Kinniconick in 1977 it was mostly unchanged since I first visited there as a child in the early 1930s.  The valley was inhabited exclusively by farm families.  Four farms surrounded Shabo Mekaw and the closest was almost a half-mile away.  In that 50 year period, the landscape was altered only by electrification and the paving of gravel roads.

Inevitably, late in the twentieth century change had to come to the secluded valley.  Most farms became unprofitable and were divided; a new population built homes on the old farm property; big trees were cut, stands of timber were harvested, and then more erosion occurred upstream; deep holes began to fill and the creek’s character was altered.  All of this change was avoidable.  In about 1970 I met the junior senator from Kentucky, Marlow Cook.  Senator Cook was familiar with Kinniconick and knew many of the old families in and around Vanceburg.  When I suggested that Kinney was more than qualified for Wild and Scenic River designation, he agreed, and for a time, I had high hopes  the creek would be protected.  I’ve always regretted the fact that I did nothing more to promote the idea.

One little corner of the world is named Shabo Mekaw.  It is the sixty acre tract on upper Kinney where I built my cabin.  It changed hands a couple of times after I sold the place, and it lived through some bad times.  But then there came two people who saved it, and they will always be my friends.  May Sharmon and Todd live long lives and continue to preserve our mountain home.

So Kinniconick is not the same place that I remember, but in the words of a poet “some things never change”.  Here is another, more beautiful passage from Thomas Wolfe in “You Can’t Go Home Again”:   

“Some things will never change.  Some things will always be the same.  Lean down your ear upon the earth and listen.

“The voice of forest water in the night, a woman’s laughter in the dark, the clean, hard rattle of raked gravel, the cricketing stitch of midday in hot meadows, the delicate web of children’s voices in bright air…..these things will never change.

“The glitter of sunlight on roughened water, the glory of the stars, the innocence of morning, the smell of the sea in harbors, the feathery blur and smoky buddings of young boughs, and something there that comes and goes and never can be captured, the thorn of spring, the sharp and tongueless cry….. these will always be the same.

“All things belonging to the earth will never change…the leaf, the blade, the flower, the wind that cries and sleeps and wakes again, the trees whose stiff arms clash and tremble in the dark, and the dust of lovers long since buried in the earth… all things proceeding from the earth to seasons, all things that lapse and change and come again upon the earth…these things will always be the same, for they come up from the earth that never changes, they go back into the earth that lasts forever.  Only the earth endures, but it endures forever.”

Photo by Sharmon Davidson

Friday, March 30, 2012

Kinniconick: The Old Swinging Bridge

                            Chapter Ten

       The Old Swinging Bridge

                Painting by Christine Patterson

An old swinging bridge spanned Kinniconick Creek when I was a boy.   It was there when I last floated a canoe on Pine Eddy in 1977.   If it survived the relic is at least one hundred years old.

Some settler and his family discovered a tract of land along Kinney, back in the mid-eighteen hundreds.  They made their way along Pine Branch and came to a wide riffle, waded across those rapids and ascended a low hill, and beyond the hill was a good piece of bottom-land.  On the hill overlooking Pine Eddy they built a house. 

                          Click to Enlarge

In those days folks were self-sufficient.  If the creek came up, if it was in flood, they waited until the water receded.  But when the horse was replaced by the Model T, everything changed.  Those folks could not be cut off from their neighbors, and they had to get into town on a Saturday and to church on Sunday.  They parked the horseless carriage on the far bank and walked across a swinging bridge.

So my guess is that the bridge on Pine Eddy was built sometime before the First World War.  When my Dad and his family first ventured into Kinniconick country, in the early 1920’s, the swinging bridge was there.   He told me about the bridge and the house and the people who were living there, back in those days of his youth, and I remember most of the story.  It goes like this…….

The Lobitz clan was befriended by a man named Bathiany.  He had a cabin on Pine Branch, about one hundred yards from the riffle on Pine Eddy, and shared it with his friends.  His only nearby neighbor was a retired couple from Lexington or thereabouts.  The couple had purchased the farm across the creek and stayed in that house on the hill every spring, summer and fall.  The old man was tall and distinguished and had been a college professor (but his name is lost and forgotten I’m sad to say).

The road that passed Bathiany’s cabin meandered to the creek, and if the creek was in pool (not up or rising) one could follow the road, over the rocky riffle and up a gentle slope.  A line of giant beech trees stood near the house, on the low summit. Beyond the house, on a gentle slope, were wooden arbors that shaded the professor’s ginseng plantation.

My guess is that wild ginseng had been mostly eradicated from Kinniconick woods and the professor became one of the first proponents of its cultivation.  No record of his success or failure in the venture exists, and his plants and arbors are gone, so my memory of Dad’s story will be the last word (unless a reader of this blog has some connection to that wonderful house on the hill).

The old professor may have had the swinging bridge constructed.  It spanned almost one hundred feet and was fifteen or twenty feet above the water.  No photo has survived but this view of a similar bridge is very much like the one on Kinney.

                   Click to Enlarge

All good tales at last must come to an end.  The old professor and his wife no longer visited their Shangri-La on Kinniconick after 1930 or 1931.   I wish Dad were here to fill in the details, because I don’t recall the circumstances that led up to this event.  I do know that my father subsequently rented the old house on the hill a number of times and that it was furnished and comfortable.  Of course, it lacked the conveniences of electricity and plumbing.  According to Dad, on my first visit there when I was about two years old, I complained about the toilet facilities in the out-house:   “Me wish I stay home”.

Regrettably, no photos of the old house survive, but this picture of the giant beeches was taken by Dad in the 1930’s while on a fishing trip with some of his best friends.  The house was off to the right and the ginseng arbors were on the slope behind the trees and the hammock.

                    Click to Enlarge

Circa 1936.  I’m five or six years old.  Dad has rented the old house for a long weekend and along with my Mom and sister Betty, our family makes the journey to Kinniconick with Doc Harshbarger, his wife Lena and their six year old son, Billy.  We arrive at the old house on the hill in the afternoon, and after dinner Dad and Doc go fishing.  Then its bedtime for the kids, and I’m asleep in a bunk upstairs when Dad enters the room.  I can almost see his catch now, a big fish gleaming silver and gold in the lamp light, a magnificent Kinniconick muskie.

                               Click to Enlarge

That night it began to rain and it rained all of the next day.  The creek began to rise.  Kinney was in flood on the day of our scheduled departure and we were marooned up on the hill for several days.  When our food ran low, Dad and Doc walked out, over the swinging bridge, and somehow got to Camp Dix and a general store.  The bridge looked something like the one pictured below, but it lacked some floorboards and the cables were slack and it swayed and bucked as you crossed.   It was a little bit scary for a five year old.  Somehow the old swinging bridge symbolized the rustic nature of Kinniconick and its promise of adventure.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Trail's End

                                         CHAPTER NINE

                                  TRAIL’S END

In 1946, on a family vacation to Canada, Dad and I portaged into a remote and pristine lake.  There were no roads leading to this lake and no cabins dotted its shores, but it did appear on an old map of the region, and its name was Shabomekaw.

The lake and its sonorous name made quite an impression on me, so much so that I finally contacted the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., and was thrilled to learn that “Shabomekaw” was an Algonquin word.  A North American native tribe in Ontario had named the lake, sometime in the distant past.  “Shabo” was their word for “the end” and “mekaw” was Algonquin for “trail”.

In 1957, at the end of a trail in Kinniconick country, I discovered my very own “Shabomekaw”.  Because I left behind a map of this discovery, the present owners have retained the name.  The place is a magical corner of the world, and Sharmon and Todd have sensed that magic.  My hope is that they will live long lives and keep the place safe, and then pass it on to others who will love it, too.

(Click on the creek photo in the upper right corner of this post and follow Sharmon’s blog, “True Adventures of an Art Addict”.)

Some years ago, I wrote the following memoir about Kinniconick and Shabomekaw.  

                         WHISPERING, KINNICONICK GOODBYE

                                                     A Memoir by

                                                       Ken Lobitz

Dawn, and I wade the shallows of Pine branch on my way to the eddy.  Silvery light filters through overhanging trees and shines upon clear water.  The water flows over gravel, marking a path to the riffle up ahead.  I hear the roar and I see the mist.  A cornfield in the bottoms is on the right, deep woods are on the left, and sweet smells from both fill the air. 

My dad leads the way, carrying rods and tackle, and soon we are at the creek.  The mist is like a cloud as it moves up the hill, just before the sun breaks through, before the sky turns blue.  In a backwater above the riffle an old scow waits to be baled.  We’ll board and move into the current, paddle upstream and rekindle our love for this special place.
My grandfather discovered Kinniconick, sometime before the first World War, but only because a bachelor friend of his had built a cabin there.  The friend’s name was Bathiany. 

Bathiany had found something unique in those mountains of eastern Kentucky.  The mountains were really foothills of the Cumberlands, elevated to 1200 feet or so but steep and numerous, flowing along ridges that created the watershed.  The hills were old and made of sandstone; and so the soil was acid and provided for acid-loving plants: white pine, hemlock, beech, oak, laurel, ferns and wildflowers.  The stream was most beautiful.  Natives called it “the creek” or “the crick” or “Kinny”.  It had cut its bed in sandstone, creating many riffles but also long, deep eddies where lilypad beds grew and old logs piled into drifts.  A man who loved nature and read Thoreau and sought peace in the mountains could not resist Kinniconick.  Such a man was Bathiany.

My guess is that he became acquainted with the folks who farmed the bottoms near Pine eddy and was able to purchase a small tract of 2 or 3 acres on Pine Branch (about 200 yards from the creek).  Among the Scotch and Irish families who had settled along the creek during the nineteenth century were McCartys, Staffords, Pells and Hamiltons.  

Big chestnut trees grew nearby, not yet infected by the blight, so local craftsmen built his cabin with logs from those trees. With sandstone from Pine branch they constructed a fireplace.  Bathiany installed a wood-burning stove in the kitchen and a pump that brought well water into the kitchen sink.  That wonderful cottage is long gone (purchased by a stranger who took it apart, log by log, for assembly again miles away) but I can see it so clearly today that  I might sketch its every dimension.

At the turn of the twentieth century Lewis County and Kinniconick were remote destinations for folks in Cincinnati.  Bathiany traveled by train to Vanceburg and by horse and wagon to the creek.  When my grandfather bought his first touring car, the family traveled gravel roads and wagon trails, forded creeks and boarded ferries to reach their favorite mountain retreat.

Light from an oil lamp casts shadows in the rustic cabin.  Mother tucks me in for the night and soon the flame is extinguished.  Before my sleep is deep I hear the sound of Dad’s voice and then awaken to another sweet memory.  He has returned from a late evening on the creek and the fishing was good.  He proudly displays a magnificent fish, over three feet long, silver and gold and bronze with white belly and dark spots.  I’m four or five years old but I know even then that I will always be a fisherman.

Kinniconick made fishermen of us all.  It was not only the most enticing water in which to fish, it was the mystic water in which the muskie dwelled.  And somewhere in those deep, dark waters of Pine Eddy was Old Man Pell, a legendary monster named after farmer Pell, who lived nearby.  None of us hooked Pell, but several big fish were taken over the years.  Two of the family’s largest catches were mounted:  an uncle’s 25 pounder and Dad’s 20 pounder, stuffed by an amateur taxidermist in Cincinnati who had never seen the species before, reduced to ugly, varnished stove-pipes but proudly displayed and the objects of my boyhood fascination. 

“Whispering while you cuddle near me.  Whispering so no one will hear me.  Each little whisper seems to cheer me.  Whispering that I love you.”  In Bathiany’s cabin as rain makes music on the roof, strains of that old ballad chase away our blues.  The skies are gray but the fireplace glows and Mom and Dad are here so I am a happy boy.

It was a Labor Day weekend during the war, probably in l942.  We crossed the Ohio river at Maysville on a bridge (the ferry ride at Sandy Springs was no longer part of the adventure).  Vanceburg was still the backwoods town that it had always been but the road into town was now paved.  The road out of Vanceburg was gravel and though it was much improved since those first trips by the family it was still a rough, slow drive, perhaps an hour to cover ten miles.  Nothing had changed the character of the country, and as darkness fell we passed the rustic little shacks with wood smoke curling from their chimneys, lamplight glowing from their windows. 

Rain began to fall as we arrived on that Friday evening and didn’t end during our stay, two days of fishing in the rain without seeing a fish.  The creek began to rise.  Dad and I were about to give up to the weather when Old Man Pell appeared alongside our boat.  He had followed my lure until I lifted it from the water and he was glaring up at me with big, bad eyes.  Of all the fish I would contemplate in a lifetime of fishing he will always remain the most grand, the most mysterious, the most elusive.

That weekend is unforgettable for other reasons, too.  The old cabin no longer belonged to Bathiany.  Unable to keep the place because of advancing age he had sold it to a Cincinnati family but was careful to insure that his good friends would be able to rent from the new owners.  The cabin was unchanged for he left all of the furniture behind including an ancient Victrola, testimony to his love of music.  A pile of old records included some Caruso but mostly popular music of the twenties.  Trouble was, the Victrola had been submerged in muddy water during the ‘37 flood and would not play.  Dad fixed it.  He mounted a tin can on the armature with a nail protruding from the can, wound up the machine and put on a record.  Tiny, tinny sounds squeaked forth and “Whispering” became one of my favorite songs during that rainy weekend over 50 years ago.  I guess it still is.

Emerging from a tangle of laurel I stand under beech and white oak trees in a shady glen, hemmed in by a mountain ridge rising steeply from the river valley.  The creek makes a turn around this point of land and I know it is near by the sound of its rapids.  I follow my guide through more laurel and descend to a grove of hemlocks where we look out to a small eddy, emerald green like a jewel, soon to be mine.

In l957, after three years in the Navy, I began my search for some acreage where I
could build a cabin in the woods.  My inspiration had been Bathiany’s place and Kinney’s hold on me was so powerful that I soon found myself back there; and after several exploratory expeditions I drove into the farm on the upper reaches of Pine Eddy, a place that was originally cleared by the McCarty family one  hundred years ago.  Now it belonged to a man named Zornes.  He was sitting in a rocking chair on his porch when I arrived.

My family’s ties to the country opened his heart and Mr. Zornes listened to my story, and yes, there was a place he might sell, up the creek.  His son Hobart led the way.  When at last we arrived at the stream’s edge, I knew that this would be my Eden.  Riffles above and below a deep pool of water created what was known as the “Swirlhole”. Giant river birch hung out over the opposite bank, sycamore, hemlock and sweetgum grew on an island where the stream flowed out of the eddy, and water lilies bloomed along the shore.  Flashes of red in patches of sunlight on the island were Indian paintbrush.  Ferns grew everywhere.  

And so it came to pass that I purchased ten acres and two years later fifty seven more and secured the entire upper tract of the Zornes’ farm, along Kinniconick.  It comprised about one mile of frontage on the creek and was locked in “at the end of the trail”.  I named the place “ShaboMekaw”.

Within a year my cabin was built.  It was not too unlike Bathiany’s, of modest size and built of logs, with beamed ceiling and stone fireplace.  But it had been pre-cut in Michigan of white cedar and spruce and erected by a crew in just one week.  A fridge and stove were powered by propane.  Most of the furniture was handcrafted back home, some of Tennessee red cedar; kitchen counters were solid cypress; floors were beautiful western hemlock, varnished and waxed and covered with braided rugs that Mother had made.  No electricity and no indoor plumbing, of course, so the character of the backwoods was preserved in oil lamps, the privy and cold baths in the creek.  The outhouse was a thing to behold, paneled in knotty pine with a large picture window and adorned with artwork (but just one hole). 

Bedtime in a cabin on Kinniconick was a time to remember.  Cool air sweeping down from surrounding hills.  A chorus of treefrogs and spring peepers, and the bellowing of big bullfrogs.  The hooting and screeching of owls, and best of all, the calls of  whippoorwills.  One of Bathiany’s old pals once remarked that the bed in his place was fine but he didn’t sleep a wink.  “Noisiest damn place in creation!”

Let’s wade the shallows of Pine branch once again, Dad.  Lead the way to the creek and paddle our boat upstream.  Teach me to be a real fisherman and tell me how much you love this place.

After Dad’s death, Shabo-Mekaw was not the same.  His love for Kinney and the cabin surpassed even my own.  And the stream was becoming less pristine as more and more trash, plastic, bottles and other debris was unleashed upriver.  The country’s improving economy led to a lot more disposable garbage, and the country’s declining values allowed folks to dump in the creek.  At some point in the mid-seventies I knew that the time had come to close the book while my memories were good.  New owners were found, a family with some of the same instincts that led my own clan to this valley, some fifty years before.

I drove out of the clearing and didn’t look back and left the stream behind for the very last time.

In dreams, lamplight plays upon cabin beams and the warmth of a mother’s love surrounds me. 
Dad’s voice is near and I’ll soon awake.  We’ll wade the shallows again.
Rain on the roof. . . . an old ballad’s refrain . . . . the sound of rapids nearby.                                                                                                                                                              


Thursday, April 7, 2011

   If new to this site, scroll to bottom of page, click on “Older Posts”
                              and then scroll to Chapter One

                                         Chapter Eight

   AN   EDDY   IN   A   STREAM

Kinniconick is unique.  Its many pools are deep, and while some are short runs between riffles, others are up to a couple of miles in length.  The Scotch and Irish who settled the valley called most of the pools “Eddies”.  Nowhere have I found this anomaly attached to other streams and creeks in Kentucky or in any other state.  My favorite eddies on Kinney include Liles, Sugar Camp, Puncheon and Pine.  The most beautiful of all is Pine.

Watercolor by Winslow Homer        (Click on pics to enlarge)

Bathiany’s place was located about two hundred yards from the riffle at the lower end of Pine Eddy, on the banks of Pine Branch.  There was a very rough road off route 59, near Stafford Hill, and it ran mostly through the flowing branch, and after passing his cabin, it crossed the creek at the riffle and meandered up a hill.  On top of the hill was a farmhouse and barn.  When the creek was up, a swinging bridge was a lifeline to civilization, but it was also a kid’s dream-come-true, a swaying, bucking, scary ride, high above the water.

(Pine Eddy’s swinging bridge looked like this.  The origin of the photo above is unknown.)

In the 1920’s the farm was owned by an elderly couple who summered there.  Stories were told about them when I was a boy:   the old man was a retired professor;  they grew ginseng under arbors;  they  loved their land and Kinniconick;  their house overlooking Pine Eddy, shaded by ancient beech trees, was the most beautiful place in the valley.   Later, when the old couple sold the place,Harlan Hamilton and his young family rented the farm, and much later the Blankenships arrived and lived there.  In 1935 the place was vacant, before Harlan moved in, and Dad rented it for a few days.  In later chapters, I intend to tell about that thrilling adventure as well as favorite stories about Bathiany’s cabin.

But this chapter is about Pine Eddy.  It’s been 35 years since I floated my canoe on Pine but I’m still able to visualize it.   Creeks and streams change and the features I mention today may be gone forever but my memories are vivid. 

In those early days at Bathiany’s cabin, we walked to the Eddy, wading the shallows of Pine Branch on our way to the Creek. This painting by Durand depicts the very scene I now describe, the gentle rippling water and the boulder strewn pathway to my favorite eddy on Kinniconick.

Painting by Asher Durand

Where the branch entered the eddy, just above the riffle, Bathiany’s boat, a rough-hewn scow of oak, was moored in a quiet backwater. Just downstream from the riffle was a deep pool called the Round Hole, and I remember the giant sycamore trees that grew along one bank.    As we moved up the eddy and
passed beneath the swinging bridge, an enormous river birch lay parallel to the water, almost bridging to the opposite bank.  Soon we reached the Second Drift.  In a drift, ancient logs collected and eventually sank to the bottom.  There were two drifts on Pine Eddy, the Big Drift and the Second Drift.  Both were wonderful cover for fish, including the big muskies.  Large beds of water lilies, yellow bull heads, grew among the sunken logs.

Some of the logs in the drifts were huge.  Somehow they had been left behind when loggers floated timber downstream, beginning in about 1850.  A land speculator had acquired 21,000 acres up on Straight Fork in 1785, probably paying $2.00 for each 100 acres, so he would have paid $420 for it.  The timber floated through Pine Eddy on its way to Garrison.

Watercolor by Winslow Homer

A steep hill above the Big Drift was thick with big white pine trees, and the heat of the sun in midday made the air fragrant.  I’ve been told that the pine
forest I admired so much is gone now, and it will be many years before nature repairs the side of that mountain and grows another crop of magnificent trees.

The creek makes a sharp bend (and of course, we called it the Big Bend) before it reaches the upper stretch of the eddy, mostly shallow water, with a gravel bar that was thick with bass weeds.  Then you reach the riffles at the head of Pine Eddy.

The banks of the creek and the hillsides were alive with color in April and May, with dogwood and redbud, mountain laurel and sarvis, bluebells and trillium.  Giant slabs of sandstone lay in disarray above the stream and dripped water as from springs, and I remember slaking my thirst and sitting in their cool shade, looking down into the clear green depths.  Once a buck deer swam across the Eddy, near the Big Bend, as I sat silently on that revered hillside.

Watercolor by Winslow Homer

In a lifetime of fishing rivers and creeks and lakes in far off places, my favorite mile of water in all the world will always be the Pine Eddy that I remember, the swinging bridge, the sunken logs, the pads of  bullheads, the river birch and hemlocks, the big pine forest.  As a tribute, I composed the following poem a few years ago and would like to share it with you.

          An Eddy In A Stream

I fished in the eddy as a lad of four. 
Dad sculled a scow of roughhewn oak.
Above the old swinging bridge, below the big drift,
along the pods of pads and yellow lilies,
there the pumpkinseed and sunfish lay.

When I was nine we fished in the eddy. 
We baled the scow and moved upstream,
casting our lures to ancient sunken logs,
remnants of a bygone raft of trees
once floated to a sawyer’s mill.

My cabin was built when I was twenty seven,
a mile above the eddy in a hidden glade. 
From this magical place called Shabo Mekaw
my canoe shot  rapids and riffles
to reach the tranquil Eddy downstream. 

I am an old man who remembers Pine Eddy. 
Every turn and every bend, every bed of lilies.
Blue bells in bloom and trillium in the spring,
hemlock dark mid stately pines
all reaching for a clear blue sky.

An eddy has a beginning and an end. 
We canoe through turbulent water before it is calm,
then drift in reverie until we run the rapids again,
praying that our world will not change,
knowing that it will never be the same.

I am a lad of four, in a scow with my dad sculling.  
I am a boy of nine, fishing.  
I am a young man yearning and a man who lived a dream.
 I am an old man drifting,
 in a canoe on an eddy in a stream.