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.                                                                                                                                                              
Whispering,
Kinniconick
Goodbye.                                                                         
                                          
                                                                                                          



                                                                                                                         




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.