Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Land I Remember

                                  CHAPTER   TWENTY-NINE

                                           THE   LAND   I   REMEMBER

Memories of Kinniconick have filled the pages of this blog since it was introduced several years ago, and I hope to recall a few more creek stories before the last chapter is written.  My fortunate life took me to many other memorable places, however, and I want to share a few of those adventures with anyone who is interested.  
I was born into a fishing family, and by the age of ten was begging my father to include me in his annual trips to Kentucky and Tennessee lakes, the first TVA impoundments in Appalachia. Dad conditioned his approval by demanding a lot of A’s on my report cards.  If I worked hard, he would write to my school and ask that I be excused from classes on Thursday and Friday, and then we embarked on a long weekend.

Some of you may recall the roads and the traffic back in the 1940s.  Leaving home on a Wednesday evening, we drove south on two lane bi-ways, with  just a scattering of cars out and about, through small towns and many small farms, winding down a steep and scary mountain side into Jellico, Tennessee, arriving in LaFollette at midnight. This is the land I remember.  


                           BRASSFIELD   BEND

Back in those years of rationing and the War,
six or eight gallons of gasoline went pretty far. 
So what the hell, we saved some gas for a fishing trip. 
Dad was a patriot and felt some guilt, but fishing was in our blood. 
We headed south in the spring when the weather was good,
and landed in the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee. 

The year was 1942 and Norris Lake was six, half as old as me.
 We arrived at midnight and the mountain town was quiet,
but the Shelbys of Tennessee were Dad’s good friends,
their roots were deep, and we had a fine place to  sleep in LaFollette.
At the crack of dawn we ate bacon and eggs at the Fox Café,
then set out for a distant arm of the vast and  beautiful lake. 

Our destination was remote, discovered by friend Roma,
a secret cove where he moored an old wooden boat.  
We were many miles from the nearest fishing dock, too far for strangers to interlope.
Emerging from the cove we were filled with hope, the forested slopes were unbroken. 
On the far shore a rocky ridge came into view, treeless and almost under water.
Here the mighty Clinch once turned sharply upstream. 

The placid lake, as in a dream, harnessed the river’s power and held back the floods,
and though we may pray that a river never change, we can love it still when it is forever changed. 
Our Johnson five-horse propelled us to that distant leeward shore. 
Drifting in a pleasant wind we fished over water clear as glass.
Streaking from deep in the rocks to strike our lures
came walleyes and speckled perch  and smallmouth bass. 

This was a boy’s Elysium,
 fishing where no father and son had gone before or will ever go again,
 river and lake and memory without end. 
On a map of the river and in my heart, its name is Brassfield Bend.  

TVA lakes continued to be created in Kentucky and Tennessee, and Dad took me on trips to Dale Hollow and Center Hill in the 1940s.  Then, in 1952, a dam was completed on the Cumberland River.  In late Spring of 1951, a good friend and fishing partner proposed that I accompany him on a canoe trip in order to explore the streams that would soon be flooded by the new dam.  Homer and I spent a week on the Cumberland itself and on two tributaries, the Big South Fork and the Rockcastle.  In recent decades the Rockcastle has become a fabled rafting and kayaking river, but way back in 1951 it was truly a wilderness area.  Every turn in our ride down that rushing torrent was a narrow chute between house-sized boulders, so we were forced to carry and use ropes to navigate the raging Rockcastle.   

Homer drove a Nash station wagon back then, a camp on wheels, with lots of room for our sleeping bags, gear and provisions, so we could camp wherever the Nash could go.  One of our encampments on the trip was most unforgettable.  We drove a very rough road to a place not far from the South Fork and discovered a marvelous little tributary creek.  A “sink” formed a pool about twenty feet in diameter and ten feet deep, and it was so clear that we were able to see the gravel bottom.  This was a place in the land I remember.   

                                CEDAR  SINKING  CREEK

We made camp in a glade of hemlocks on a creek called Cedar Sinking.
A pool of gin-clear water filled a deep crevasse big enough to bathe in,
and not far downstream, where our little creek entered the river,
the Big South Fork of the Cumberland roared all through the night.

Next day we searched for a launching site, but the river was hemmed in by cliffs,
and because we were young and foolish, lowered our canoe on ropes
down the rocky mountainside, into a quiet stretch of the stream.
With reckless abandon we set out on our grand adventure.

What a glorious day to remember, that day on the Big South Fork,
when the river ran wild and free, as it had for thousands of years,
through a rugged land of forests on its way to join the mighty Cumberland.
Time stood still for us, though time had raced to shape that ancient valley.

Suddenly it was late afternoon, the two of us and our canoe miles downstream
with little chance of paddling back against a powerful current.
And then we came upon an old logging trail at river’s edge,
an escape to the open fields of a backwoods farm.

It was a long and weary portage, each of us carrying and then resting,
shouldering the weight of the canoe without a path to guide us.
The sun began to sink behind the distant chain of mountains,
and a chill of cool air swept down upon two weary pioneers.

Yes, we were young and foolish, but perhaps we were the last adventurers
to see those miles of untouched river, just months before the deluge,
when the dam would flood the valley, up into the Big South Fork,
to the glade on Cedar Sinking, drowning forever the land that I remember.

One of Dad’s best friends became my mentor.  His name was Lawrence Fisk, and he was in love with the land and all of its creatures.  He was the first true environmentalist to influence my life, and he was the best fly-fisherman I’ve ever known.  Larry and his wife Peggy spent most Saturdays in late Spring and Summer on Laughery Creek, in southern Indiana.  As a teenager, I was invited to join them on many Saturdays and for many years.  Larry had a big, booming voice and loved to sing while we drove through the rolling hills and pleasant farms.  This was one of his favorites:

There's a bright golden haze on the meadow
There's a bright golden haze on the meadow
The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye
And it looks like it's climbing clear up to the sky

Oh what a beautiful mornin'
Oh what a beautiful day
I've got a beautiful feelin'
Everything's going my way

 Unfortunately, I have no photograph of Larry wading that gentle stream in Indiana.  Good fortune led me to an artist and one of his watercolors, however, and no photo could do justice to my memory like this work of art.  Adriano Manocchia is a renowned artist who is “fascinated by water” (his own words) and has published a book entitled “Water, Sky and Time”.  The fisherman in this painting actually looks like Larry, and the water for me is the timeless flow of Laughery Creek, in a land that we loved and remember.                               
  (Click to enlarge.  See more of Adriano’s work at:

                                          LAUGHERY CREEK

                                        In the heat of summer long ago,
                                       On an Indiana Creek we used to know,
                                       He’d wade into water clear as gin,
                                       And fished his favorite stream again.   

                                       He held steady in the gentle current
                                        Patient as Job and mighty persistent,
                                       Tall and slim and Lincolnesque,
                                       Black eyes darting right and left.

                                       A streamer fly rigged with spinner
                                       Dropped softly into cool backwater,
                                       While the nearby riffle sang a song
                                       And Larry’s big voice hummed along.

                                       Your typical angler might give it two casts,
                                       But this expert fisherman made it last,
                                       Perfect shots to the very same spot,
                                       Until some bass was hot to trot.

                                       The Indiana hills and verdant farms
                                       Worked their magic and held some charm,
                                       And Larry knew the creek like no other man,
                                       The best holes mapped on the back of his hand.

                                       As a young lad I had much to learn,
                                       About nature and how the earth turns,
                                       How every man has a sacred duty
                                       To protect and defend original beauty.

                                       Seventy years have somehow drifted away
                                       But I won’t forget those Laughery days.
                                       I will see Larry making perfect casts
                                       As long as my good memories last.



  1. Ken, this is a really fascinating post, bringing back memories of some of the places you mention (Dale Hollow, Cumberland, Big South Fork, Rockcastle). I don't fish, but have enjoyed spending time at these places. My first husband and I went to Dale Hollow often, before it was commercialized, when there there was only one rustic little marina. Todd and I have been to the Rockcastle, and I don't see how anyone could possibly canoe or kayak down it, even now, though I think that maybe they release water from a dam once or twice a year. I very much enjoy reading about your memories of these places, as well as those of our wonderful Shabow Mekaw.

  2. So glad to hear that you remember Dale Hollow in its earliest days, Sharmon. I believe the first little marina on the lake was "Wisdom's Dock" and there were a few cabins there.