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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.