Saturday, December 13, 2014

Lost Silver Mine

                                          CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

                                     A  KINNICONICK  LEGEND
               THE  LOST  SILVER  MINE

One late summer day, not long after acquiring Shabomekaw, I found myself exploring a short distance downstream from the Swirl-hole, and since it was the dry season and the creek was low, I discovered a layer of shale and slate in the bed of the creek.  These metamorphic rocks were laid down before sedimentary sandstone covered them and date back some 450 million years.
Before you begin to think that I know something about geology, let me assure you that I’m just as bewildered as the next guy about how the earth’s crust was formed and shaped over the millennia.  I do recall learning in high school, however, that there are three kinds of rock:  sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous.  Igneous rock is molten lava from deep in the earth.  As this lava reached the surface of the crust it formed veins. You can imagine my surprise when I found a vein of rock, perhaps six inches in diameter, running through the slate.  It was an igneous vein.

I raced back to the tool shed and found my sledge hammer, returned to the creek and cracked into the vein.  A piece of it, about six inches in length and four inches thick, was at my feet.  When I looked at the color and the metallic composition I thought …….SILVER !!

Now we go back a lot further in time, all the way back to 1775.  A Frenchman by the name of DeBruttes was a missionary who had traveled down the Ohio River to a Shawnee camp somewhere near the mouth of Kinniconick.  While ministering to the “savages” the cleric supposedly learned about a vein of silver the Indians had discovered, up on Kinney near the mouth of Laurel Creek.  DeBruttes enlisted several French compatriots and opened a mine which contained rich deposits of silver.  No maps or records exist to prove the existence of the mine and the mystery may have ended with the death of DeBruttes.    

The legend of the lost mine persisted however, and then The Portsmouth Times reported a story about one Andrew Beatty who had rediscovered the old French dig and smelter in 1812.  The rumors swirled up and down the valley for years, and then in June of 1841 a backwoods Kentuckian by the name of Josiah Sprinkle was arrested and charged in Lewis County Court.  Mr. Sprinkle was in possession of a great number of counterfeit silver dollars, sacks full, and folks began to wonder if the coins were made from the pure ore of the lost mine.  Years later, in 1895, the New York Times published the following article after several of Sprinkle’s dollars turned up in Grayson, Kentucky.

As late as 1972 a descendant of Henry “Jaybird” Liles claimed to have proof that Sprinkle minted his coins on his great-uncle’s farm, along the banks of Kinniconick.  If you’ve read previous chapters of this blog you may recall my visits to Liles Eddy.  In chapter two, “The Shawnee of Kinniconick”, I described the meadow below Field Stafford’s house where many Indian artifacts were unearthed and where Field believed the Shawnee had spent summers encamped on the creek.  The mouth of Laurel Fork is less than a mile away from that encampment.  If there was a silver mine or smelter near Laurel Fork in 1775, and if the Shawnee led the French to the spot near their camp on the eddy, and if Sprinkle later extracted ore and minted coins on Liles Eddy, then someone, someday, may solve the mystery of The Lost Silver Mine of Kinniconick.

The map below is not a treasure map drawn by “Jaybird” Liles I’m sorry to say.  This is my own sketch of middle Kinney where I canoed and fished a long time ago.


 Now, back to my discovery of an igneous vein of rock in the creek-bed at Shabomekaw.  At that time I knew nothing about the legend of the lost mine, but the color of the ore was certainly silver.  Back home, I contacted the Geology Department at the University of Cincinnati and asked for help, and soon I learned that my specimen was made up of zinc, mica and iron pyrites.  When iron pyrites are yellow they’re called “Fool’sGold”.  My strike was “Fool’s Silver” because the pyrites looked like grains of silver and are called arsenopyrites.    It is a geologic fact that real silver and gold do occur in igneous veins containing zinc and pyrites, so it is not unreasonable to believe that silver may someday be discovered in Kentucky, but current experts agree that it is unlikely. 

The Sprinkle story, however, is supported by fact.  The man had some source of silver and minted his coins for many years.  If there is not a lost mine up at Laurel Fork, could there be a cave where the Shawnee hid a hoard of silver?  After all, one derivation of the name Shawnee is “those who have silver”, and one of their chiefs referred to a “great cave” up in the mountains, a cave that may look like the one pictured above.  (Incidentally, I found that photo on the internet and cannot identify the source or location.)  The Shawnee may have traded their loyalty to the French, back in 1775, for stacks of silver bars; or the French may have built a smelter on land that would become the Liles farm, in order to melt down some bars and create artifacts for the Indians.

My vein of igneous ore emerged from a hillside below the cabin, so Shabomekaw may be sitting atop a mother lode of silver.  But what is more precious?  A place of natural beauty, with big trees and a meandering stream, or an ugly hole in the earth’s crust?  An unknown and anonymous poet said it best: 

   Silver will not buy happiness,
   Wealth lies within your soul.
   Reach down and grab it,
   Live a life that’s full.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Kinniconick: A Land of Trees

                           CHAPTER    SIXTEEN

               A    LAND   OF   TREES

                  “Give me a land of boughs and leaf,
                    A land of trees that stand;
                    Where trees are fallen there is grief;
                     I love no leafless land.”
                          A. E. Housman

When I arrived at Shabomekaw in 1957, cattle had grazed for a number of years on a tract of pasture within its boundaries.  This treeless area comprised about ten of the sixty acres in the retreat, and somehow it broke the spell of entering a mystical corner of the world, otherwise surrounded by trees and mountains.  In the spring of 1961  I began to put those ten acres back into forest.

In that year, the State of Kentucky had offered white pine seedlings to property owners at a cost of seven dollars per thousand.  I ordered three thousand !   Yeah, I was young and foolish:  two friends and I managed to plant just about 300 on that first weekend, using planting bars.  Leon and Hobart Zornes came to my rescue with the family tractor, plowed furrows parallel to both sides of the road, and with several other helpers managed to stick those little seedlings into the rocky soil.  There were two pine fields, each about two or three acres in size, and I watched them grow into magnificent trees.    

One of the pine fields was harvested after I sold the place in 1977.  Fortunately, Sharmon and Todd, the current owners, have preserved the other field and the trees are immense.

                                Photo by Sharmon Davidson / 
                               A big white pine at Shabomekaw  

A year or two later I began planting Scotch and Austrian pine seedlings in the pasture, but always kept an acre or two mowed, nearest the creek, and because the soil was rich a beautiful meadow was created.  I tried growing tomato plants in the meadow but critters always chewed them down.  And one year, a business associate in California sent a dozen sequoia seedlings in the hope that they might grow in Kentucky.  Those little trees survived the first winter in the meadow but were killed off the following year.

I was more successful with a unique planting in 1958, in the clearing, not far from the cabin.  A chemist at Procter and Gamble circulated a memo throughout the Company, and at that time I was working in the Buying department in Cincinnati.  The memo described the discovery of an ancient redwood in China, thought to be extinct.  This was the metasequoia that became known as the Dawn Redwood.  The first plants had been grown from seed out on the Pacific coast and a few were available.

Of course I ordered a seedling.  It cost ten dollars and was not more than ten inches tall.  Instructions were included and I was told to dig a hole three feet in diameter and three feet deep, to fill the hole with good soil and peat, and to keep it watered for the first year.  I believe that this little redwood was the first one ever grown in the state of Kentucky, and it lives today in the clearing at Shabomekaw.

Photo by Sharmon Davidson / The Dawn Redwood at Shabomekaw

The tree is called a “living fossil” because proof of its existence has been found dating back millions of years.  It is a deciduous tree, with fern-like foliage.  This photo was taken at Shabomekaw almost 40 years ago (and yes, a tree frog happened to be sitting on one of the tree’s branches):

                     Photo by Bob Wilson / circa 1975

Kinniconick country is truly a land of trees.  A great variety  of tree species may be found there, and I will tell you about some of my favorites.  Hemlock and beech always come to mind when I remember Shabomekaw.  The wonderful evergreen spires of hemlock make the valley exotic in every season, providing visual contrast and forest aroma.  Trunks of beech trees add tones of silver and gray and their distinctive leaves are the color of copper.  

Photo by Sharmon Davidson / Branches of Hemlock Decorate a Big Beech

White oak was predominant in the cabin clearing, and I spared a number of perfect specimens while removing several black oak that crowded the site.  Nearby was a soaring tulip poplar, and on the slope toward the creek a sweet birch grew, a relative of the cherry.  Its bark had a powerful wintergreen aroma when shaved from the trunk.  Overhanging the water down there was a serviceberry, called “sarvis” by the local folks, and it bloomed profusely in the spring and made lots of fruit.  Mountain magnolia with its huge leaves were numerous in the woods, and on the island sycamore and sweet gum prevailed.

Giant river birch, also known as yellow birch, grew all along the banks of Kinniconick, and two of them hung over the Swirl-hole during my years there, almost parallel to the water’s surface.  A few adventurous friends dove from the trunks of those trees into the depths of the Swirl.  Incidentally, in those days the depth of the Swirl-hole was about twenty feet.

My final and most sad tree story concerns the shoot that grew for a number of years from the rotted trunk of an American Chestnut, just off the clearing.  Blight had destroyed all of the chestnut trees in North America by the 1930”s, but hope was alive that some blight-resistant shoots would provid seeds of restoration.  My shoot didn’t make it.

Here is a paragraph from Wikipedia about the chestnut:

It is estimated that in some places, such as the Appalachian Mountains, one in every four hardwoods was an American Chestnut.  Mature trees often grew straight and branch-free for 50 feet and could grow up to 100 feet tall with a trunk diameter of 14 feet at a few feet above ground level.  For three centuries many barns and homes in the Appalachians were made from chestnut.

Virgin chestnut trees in Appalachia, over a hundred years ago.

The Kinniconick valley will always be a land of trees.  My hope is that future generations will heed the words of an unknown author who wrote these words many years ago:

                                             Let’s take our hearts
                                          For a walk in the woods
                                   And listen to the magic whispers
                                                   Of old trees

Monday, December 1, 2014

                                 CHAPTER   FIFTEEN

                   LISTENING   POINT

This chapter is a tribute to Sigurd Olson, one of the most celebrated American naturalists since Thoreau.  In the 1950’s he wrote two wonderful books, The Singing Wilderness and Listening Point, and I read and re-read his poetic prose at the Kinniconick cabin for twenty years.   Olson named his retreat up in the Quetico-Superior country, “Listening Point”.  That perfect name ranks second only to “Shabomekaw” in my book.

Francis Lee Jaques illustrated Olson’s books and the sketch above is a rendering of the author’s cabin at Listening Point.

The following paragraphs comprise the opening lines in his book, Listening Point.  For all of us who have experienced the call of the wilderness and the enchantment of cabins in the woods, his words say it all.

“Listening Point is a bare glaciated spit of rock in the Quetico-Superior country.  Each time I have gone there I have found something new which has opened up great realms of thought and interest.  For me it has been a point of discovery and, like all such places of departure, has assumed meaning far beyond the ordinary.

“From it I have seen the immensity of space and glimpsed at times the grandeur of creation.  There I have sensed the span of uncounted centuries and looked down the path all life has come.  I have explored on this rocky bit of shore the great concept that nothing stands alone and everything, no matter how small, is part of a greater whole.  The Point has shown me time and again that William Blake was right when he wrote:

                       To see the world in a grain of sand,
                              And heaven in a wild flower;
                     Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
                               And eternity in an hour.

“I believe that what I have known there is one of the oldest satisfactions of man, that when he gazed upon the earth and sky with wonder, when he sensed the first vague glimmerings of meaning in the universe, the world of knowledge and spirit was opened to him.  While we are born with curiosity and wonder and our early years full of the adventure they bring, I know such inherent joys are often lost.  I also know that, being deep within us, their latent glow can be fanned to flame again by awareness and an open mind.

“Listening Point is dedicated to recapturing this almost forgotten sense of wonder and learning from rocks and trees and all the life that is found there, truths that can encompass all.  Through a vein of rose quartz at its tip can be read the geological history of the planet, from an old pine stump the ecological succession of the plant kingdom, from an Indian legend the story of the dreams of all mankind.”

Sigurd Olson was born in 1899 and died in 1982.  He was an American hero who fought for wilderness preservation and protection of the environment.

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