Sunday, February 28, 2010


a short story

His life started in the early 1800’s;  his mother, a lady some called nature;  his father a grand old oak of age 100 years.  Tiny white roots no larger than a whisker extended from the green sprout.  They soon swelled and extended across and down through the soil forming the beginning of a web work of roots that would anchor the tree to this spot for its entire life.  The first few years of life proved uneventful to the young oak tree.  A grazing deer did snip off a few new Spring leaves from the tips of his limbs one year but, no damage occurred.  As time passed the tree grew greater in girth and stood tall and straight.  He was a magnificent, healthy specimen indeed.  For several years he became a host for countless insects; one particular species of insect came close to causing his demise and probably would have if an extraordinarily  harsh Winter wouldn’t have fallen upon the land that year. The parasites disappeared as quickly, it seems, as when they first appeared.

Through the years the oak stood against severe storms and even survived a fire that consumed his brethren.  The fire burned dangerously close but, a change in the direction of the wind fanned the flames back toward the pre burned area from whence it came and the blaze was extinguished.

For many Springs and Falls the oak silently observed the formations of geese coming and going.  It was a familiar ritual that punctuated the changing of the seasons.  Nature’s perfect clock maintained precise, consistent accuracy without the aid of mechanical intrusion.  One dark November night a fierce storm brought with it lightning that illuminated the heavens with bolts of red and amber.  An errant shard of red flash struck a lower limb of the oak where it attached to the massive trunk and it severed the limb completely from the tree with a loud bang.  Morning saw the huge shorn limb lying next to the tree on the ground.  The leaves were still rich, vibrant green and wet from the rain of the previous night’s storm.  A nasty wound with jagged, sharp pieces of wooden flesh protruded from the offended area.  The wound, however, would soon harden and heal.  A week later,  sap secreted from under the bark to seal off the damaged area. Termites soon found the open sore and fed voraciously on the exposed pulp over the Spring months.  But, before they could create their colonies, the woodpeckers discovered their presence and eradicated the termite threat.  The birds arrived at the damaged tree four times a day and consumed the entire termite population.  The damaged wood soon hardened and died.  It became segregated from the main tree trunk with the formation of a thick knot growth of wood at the base of the broken limb on the tree trunk itself.  The growth encircled the entire diameter of the stub of limb that protruded from the trunk.  It would act as a barrier to disease.  Seasons came and went.

The sounds of war filled the air with the cracking sounds of rifles and the roar of cannon.  Gray and blue were added to the season’s colors.  The noise was foreign in the wilderness until now.  The round projectiles, both large and small, splintered off pieces of bark here and there on the trunk of the oak tree.  It was a minor annoyance to the now old oak.  The sounds of war were over quickly.  The loud roars and clatter of human conflict lasted but a moment when measured by nature’s clock.

The latter years brought saws and axes to the forest and all the old oak could do was stand firmly rooted to its birth place of over two hundred years and face this new danger as it had done all the previous dangers over it’s life span.  He watched as trees were felled, both small and large.  Soon the axes would arrive at his hidden meadow.  His destiny was arranged by his mother over two hundred years ago when she placed his seed here in the soft loamy soil.  She knew he would flourish and extend his massive root system out and down into the rich soil to protect it from the rushing waters that arrived annually with the Winter thaws and Spring rains.  He withstood all the test that his mother threw against him proving his Herculean strength was unyielding.  He was more than qualified to be the custodian of the precious nutrient rich soil in his meadow.  Yet, the danger approaching him was like none he had ever witnessed.  The sound of axes were deafening.  One sunny morning found two men at the base of his trunk with a long rope that had knots tied in it.   A knot was tied in the rope in increments of one foot between each knot.  One man stood in front of the old oak holding the rope while the other walked around the tree with the other end.  The men then lapsed into discussion while they gazed up into the massive branches above them.  They counted thirty five knots.  The sight before the tree was a mass of cut timber.  Trees lay with their tops pointing in the same direction as if a strong wind blew them all down in an instant.  Nature was witnessing the power of the ax.

A few mornings after the rope measurement was completed; four brawny men approached the old oak.  Each man carried a long handled double bitted ax.  They stared in awe at the size of the old oak.  Each man took a position around the tree and with grunts each drove his ax into oak.  The blades were twisted to loosen large wedges of wood after every other impact of the ax blade.  The old tree withstood the torments of time only to be destroyed by the steel of man;  not to mention greed.  Their axes thudded against the oak’s hardness unrelentingly.   Their grunts and groans could be easily heard.  Then the words “hold up there” were yelled as a fifth man appeared and the four men sat their axes on the ground and kneeled or sat while the new arrival talked.  After a short period of time they strolled away together down the dirt wagon road from whence they came.

Weeks passed and the old oak tree started its recovery from the damage done by the axes.  It would show deep scars but the sap would seal the wounds.  Men came in the afternoon that day in April a full year later with wood and sledge hammers.  The old oak braced himself for the worse.  The men pounded stakes in the ground and hung a five foot wide by four foot tall sign between the posts not fifty feet from the old oak.  The sign read:

all is well that ends well

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


CLICK ON PHOTOS TO ENLARGE                                                                      
I had heard of a cave high on a cliff located on the East shore of Tellico Lake.  The exact location was vague so I decided to cruise the shoreline in the Gheenoe to see if  the thing could be spotted from the lake.  If I could get fix on it, I could hopefully walk in on it from the forest above the cave.  And so, the day started.  I arrived at the lake around 9 AM.  The sky was overcast and the temperature was hovering around 36 degrees.  People stared at the truck pulling a boat and I'm sure they thought "he's nuts."  Tellico Lake has been lowered by TVA by about three or four feet.  I had hoped to beach the boat under the cave and climb up to it.  That wouldn't happen today.  The shore line was solid rock and would be disastrous to my little fiberglass boat.
 It felt good to be on a lake in the little searcher boat.  This small machine has taken me into more tight spaces on lakes than any other motorized boat I have owned.   It also has the ability to turn on a dime at full speed.  She's a sweet machine.
Tellico has never been one of my favorite lakes.  It is becoming inhabited by huge homes and boat houses.  Those two entities equal the addition of  jet skis.  The lower end of the lake is fairly pristine.  This end is, busy, for lack of a better word.  It's pretty but, it sure isn't Calderwood Lake or Santeelah.  Those are jewels.

All I have to do is follow this shoreline.  You can see how much the water has been dropped in the lake.  All that rock and boulder is normally under water.

All I have to do is turn right when I get out of this cove and go real slow.  I brought my binoculars so I should be able to find this hole in the rock.

 The morning is shrouded with an overcast sky and the temperature isn't warming up like it did over the past couple days.  I heard the word snow on the radio.  I sure hope that holds off till I can find this cave.

Actually, I like this temperature.  It keeps the casual boaters off the lakes and I pretty much have all the water to myself.  

There is a small inlet up ahead and I am told the cave is on a cliff about a eighth of a mile upstream from it.  I am thinking all this time about how to hike into this area.  Whew!

Ok;  I can't leave a loon alone.  I will never pass up a chance to photograph a loon.

Enlarge the photo and look at the spots on this bird's back.  This loon is in it's Winter plumage.  The Spring plumage is spectacular!  You'll see........

I kept my eyes glued to the cliffs on my right.  Then I saw the hole in the cliff.  The cave area was cluttered with scrub brush and fallen treesI could not focus the lens on the cave itself due to the clutter surrounding it.
The following are not my best photography but, this was not a very easy subject to photograph.  The shots are good enough to give an idea of what I'm looking at.
This thing is far up on the side of a cliff.  I'm shooting it with a 500 mm lens.
The last shot of this hole in the wall is maybe the best one to show the actual opening.
OK;  I'm all wound up.  Now to get back home with the boat and grab a couple of my friends for company and try to walk in to this cave;  I think....
 I picked up Shade and Douglas and returned to the lake.  There happened to be a hiking trail that skirted around the lake that would be a great help.  I recognized the inlet that I noticed while cruising up the lake this morning in the boat.  We had a long way to go.  Fortunately this trail seemed to be going the same direction.
We had to walk clear around this inlet.  We came from the top left of the picture and must circle around the horseshoe shaped inlet to the right .

The dogs are having a ball out here.  They wanted exercise and they would get it this day.  So would I.  I maintained a very fast pace along the lake.  This path was like a super highway in the woods.  We had a long walk ahead of us and I tried not to dwell on it.  But, the dogs were really into it all.

As you can see;  the trail borders a farmer;s property.  What a great farm!  It is mighty nice of him to allow folks the privilege of walking along the lake on his property.  We have a long way to go.  Look how far you can see out in the distance from this vantage point.    We aren't near the cliffs yet.

The trail finally enters into the forest and starts to slowly climb.   The hike is still an easy one.

We should be getting near the area where I need to be super observant of my surroundings.  The only thing is that things look different from up here.  I scan across the lake at the homes and boat houses but, can not identify any particular one to judge my position with. 

Once around this inlet and upon reaching the point of land that touches the water at top left of the photo;  I'll drop down off this path and bushwack across the mountain side so we don't pass by the cave from above.

Great Scott!  What have I done?  I dropped down off the top of the mountain and ended up on this cliff face.  It was a long way down here and it's only half way to the water.  The lake is seen at the extreme left side of the above photo.  I am not climbing back to the top of this mountain.  Must be about three hundred yards almost vertical to the path from whence we came.   There is, however, a critter path barely visible that the dogs have taken to.  It is not a deer trail as not one hoof print could be found.  Works for me......

I am finding myself hanging onto tree limbs and bushes so as not to slide down this cliff.  I wonder what type critter is using this little skinny path.  Leave it to the dogs to find it.
Steep, steep!
I'm taking my time and moving slow.  I did some slipping and sliding awhile back.  I can feel the weather changing.  It's noticeable out here near the lake.  I always could feel weather changes.  The dropping temperature is obvious.   This area is really rugged.   I remember seeing the above boulder ledge from the lake with binoculars.  The cliff becomes more vertical ahead and I'm not sure where I need to be positioned on the side of it to hit the cave.  I could easily pass by above or below it.  I never thought of that possibility.  Why didn't I take my hand held GPS on the boat when I cruised by this morning.?
I allowed myself to drop too far down this cliff.  I was following the critter trail and wasn't paying attention.  I have to gain altitude.  Sure getting tired.  I'm beginning to think we walked past the cave.  Probably was below us.

The above photo is a perfect example of what the huge ocean size boats are doing to the shorelines of these inland lakes (impoundments.)   This huge swath of cliff side has fallen into the lake due to erosion caused by the huge wakes (waves) caused by enormous pleasure boats busting up and down the lakes.
What is this?  They are actually sitting down.  At last;  they're tired.  This cliff is even wearing them out.  I'm beginning to believe I may have walked past the cave.  I'm very close.  But, it's torture walking on this cliff side.  I'll give a bit more time and then I have to make a run directly toward the top of this mountain.
I'm about to call it a day.  I am actually wet under my Woolrich over shirt and I can notice a chill starting when I rest.  Time to go straight up.  It's getting late in the day.  Well;  after a short breather.
This is spectacular up here.  I could just sit down and look at it.  As a matter of fact;  I think I will.  Bet this is prime snake country up here in the Spring and Summer.
Look at the size of this tree.  Bet it fell hard with a loud crash.  I know;  "Does a tree make a sound when it falls if no one is there to hear it?"  Of course it does.  Good grief!  Philosophy.   I've got my own.......
Douglas is beat.  It isn't often he sits quietly.  This has been a strenuous hike for them;  and me too.

Hang in there boy;  we're going for the top shortly.   Now, where is Shade.  She is a total powerhouse and I have never seen her run short of energy.

He just stood up against the tree and started investigating.  Something was using this tree not long ago.  What a nose.
Clean and uncluttered and;  easy walking.  This is a welcome relief.
Ok;  whats the next tree to fall in this forest?
The diminutive termite;  a vital element in the wild to help break down wood and aid the rotting process thereby supplying nurishment to the soil providing a food source for coming plant growth.  The perfect life circle completed............Termites are wonderful.  They just don't fit in well with human habitation.

We have almost come full circle in our hike.  We have left the forest and are now crossing a field of grass.  I believe this short cut will put us on course to hit the truck straight away.  Douglas has his second wind it seems.   He's got to investigate everything.  Someone will be very tired tonight.

Monkey see, monkey do.  Shade mimmics Douglas.  What a pair!  What loyal friends too!

The truck is sitting in the center, top of the picture above.  It is barely visable.  What a hike!
The truck is visable here at the top of the photo above.  This has been a strenuous hike.  I didn't think it would be so.  I will paddle the canoe along the shoreline when the water rises and simply lift it out upon the shore.  Then I can walk straight up to the cave.  I may become energised in the future to try another hike to the cliffs.  But, I will not make that attempt without better guidance and information or a GPS coordinate.   It's been one energetic day and a satisfying one.   My legs were tested and they passed.  I'm back home now so I guess the heart didn't blow apart.  Until next adventure;  please, please show compasion to a dog.  Later------------

Monday, February 22, 2010


Click on photos to enlarge
The rain stopped mid morning and I loaded the canoe onto the truck and drove to Calderwood Lake.  What a great day this would be!  I turned off Route 129 South onto the road that leads to the little boat dock at the Calderwood Campground.  Not a vehicle was in sight.  No humans.  I had the entire lake to myself and the water had a mirror finish on the surface.  Totally perfect canoeing conditions!  I was traveling light today as I didn't want encumbered by dogs and "stuff."  My cameras were in the waterproof Pelican case, a bottle of water would be by the seat and a spare paddle was all that would go on this trip.  Oh yes;  my pet log.  I forgot.  I have a log that I use for ballast.  He has to go also.
I would keep a sharp lookout for eagles and otters.  It was a bit late in the morning for sighting either.  Most wild critters get an early start and don't worry about rain and foul weather.  I didn't care.  I was out here.  It's been a long Winter.
I would paddle up the West (right) side of the lake and cross over to the other side at Slick Rock Creek.  I wanted to paddle past the creek and ease along the shore line as quietly as possible just in case the otters were out and about.  I photographed them along this bank last year.

Just past Slick Rock Creek I heard a shriek that I thought was an eagle.  I pulled the camera out and watched.  The chirping and shrieking was coming from the forest far back from the shore line.  Then I saw an enormous hawk fly out of the trees and dart back into the forest.  I got a quick shot at him as he flew by.  This huge hawk would not allow me to approach close enough for good photos.  He landed in a tree close to the water.  I slowly, quietly paddled in a straight line parallel to him.

He was beautiful.  He landed and commenced chirping and shrieking nonstop.  He wasn't looking at me though.  Then I saw the object of his attention.  A second hawk was barely visible back in the trees.  He would sort of hop on the limb and face me for a second or two but, then he would turn toward the mate in the woods.  Still, he wouldn't allow me any closer than I was when I clicked the picture to the left.  He was very far out.  I'm using a 500 mm lens for these shots.

I wished more than anything that this bird would permit me to close the space between us. 

This is the best I could do.  I couldn't get an inch closer.

And a fast as he appeared;  he was gone
Last year while on an overnight camp on Calderwood, I made mention of a sinister looking shelter back in the woods on the East side of the lake.  I was fighting a furious wind at the time and only could take one fleeting picture of the apparition.  That shelter was not there when I paddled past the previous day back then.  That means that sometime during the night, someone constructed it.   Today I noticed it was still there and a decision was made to go over, tie off the canoe and check out this mysterious  habitat.
The structure had the same affect on me as it did when I saw it last year.  Sinister.  It sat back far enough from the water line to indicate that someone didn't want to be seen.  Of course;  it could simply be a fisherman s shelter.  But, I doubt it very much.  The effort to get to that spot would be an enormous undertaking.  And, fishermen wouldn't be that far from the water.  Nor would they be way out here. 

It appears from this vantage point that the thing is covered with black plastic.

I tied the canoe to a tree and started to climb up a very steep hillside toward the mystery camp.

This hillside is a cliff.  I can see it starts to level out onto a shelf above me where the black shelter sits.  I've been on a lot of mountains in my life but these mountains surrounding Calderwood Lake will rival the most challenging real estate anywhere.  Notice the canoe getting smaller?

Another two hundred feet and I'll be over the top and at the black camp.  Whew!  I must be getting old.  Na;  just kidding.

Ok;  one last shot of the canoe way down there and I'm over the top and onto the flat ledge.

And there it was.  Plastic.  A plastic house.  This thing was amazing.  I could see carefully cut limbs sticking out from under the roof as if rafters were created to support the plastic.  I couldn't believe what I was seeing.  This was a completely framed in structure covered with black plastic.  It's the kind of plastic used in housing construction and comes on a roll.  What in the world is going on here?
There is a mirror and several metal tubs probably used for washing.  The roof, sides and back of the structure are created by the cutting of very straight timber and tying them together with a strong twine.  The plastic is stretched over and around the framework and secured with what appears to be half inch long tacks with a head the size of a half inch metal washer.  Look whats inside this thing.
There are double bunk beds created out of sawed pieces of tree limb.  The wood pieces are straight.  There is even bed springs on the bottom bunks.  There is a very basic stove made out of a metal drum against the wall with a smoke stack to the outside.
No;  this is no fisherman's hut.  I suspect there is more to this than meets the eye.  It is obvious how this thing was created so quickly last year when I passed it.  Remember me saying  it wasn't there the previous day when I paddled in to my camp last year but, it was there when I came back down the lake next day?  The plastic will blow apart and disappear.  All someone has to do is attach one end of a roll of the stuff and walk around the structure and recreate the walls and ceiling.  What I don't understand is how they got up on that flat the night I was camped down the shoreline two hundred feet downstream from them.  Douglas didn't even hear them.  There certainly was no boat engine that night.  The only other way is to walk in to it.  There are no roads behind that mountain.  Someone had to be very intent to walk in to that area.
This is nuts!  Someone designed this place for a lengthy stay.  This is not just an overnight shelter.  This thing is fixed for a week or more.  The wooden construction is designed to stay here and last a long time.  Great looking heater, I might add.  Note the springs on the bottom bunk to the rear.  I got a funny feeling that I didn't like.  I've had them before.  It's like you're being watched .  Or, that feeling I get when I can see the wind coming across the water and I know action will be required to manage the situation.  I was in a hurry this morning and I left the Glock at home.  I never paddle this lake or hike these mountains without the security of that cold friend.  But, today I didn't have it.  I didn't even have Douglas who sees and hears all.  I got the feeling I had better leave,  now.
What type person could exist out here in this?  And, why would he want to?  These mountains are full of wild boar and black bears.  Poachers?  Who knows.  It's none of my business here on this mountain or on these waters.  Why do I take that stance?  I take it because I want to return here often.  There are some strange folks in these parts and a fella wants to stay on the right side of them.  This isn't the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania.  This is a primitive  mountain range and lake located adjacent to or in the Joyce Kilmer Wilderness area.  It's a huge territory and it contains some very primitive thinking people with primitive ways.  Most are wonderful folks but, there are the exceptions.
It felt good to feel the palm grip on the paddle.  It was familier and friendly.  The wood felt soft and comfortable as I planted the paddle blade into the water and pulled the boat to it.  I would go across the lake to visit the submerged train tunnel once again.  I am attracted to it like a magnet.

The water completely covered the tunnel.  Only the opening was visible.  The lake is full this time of year.  It could be months before the level drops enough to paddle completely through and out the other side.

Here's the little site I like to use when I camp up here.
But, I'll not use it again as long as the black camp exists.

Only Calderwood has views like this.  Breathtaking!

Above and below is a wood duck.  These ducks are beautiful.  They are one of the most colorful ducks on the lakes.  The sharp white stripe on the sides of their heads is unique to them.  Again, I could not get close.  Wood ducks are impossible to get close to.  A duck blind is the only way.  They're worse than kingfishers to photograph.  This is the best I can do.  I tried to photograph several groups of them and they all took flight when I would get approximately two hundred feet from them. Cautious bird.  And, fast!
I could not find any bald eagles or otters today.  It was time to turn the canoe around and start the paddle back.  I would go slow.  The water was very calm and the quiet was loud.   I found myself placing the paddle blade carefully into the water and pulling back on it with much thought.  I didn't want to add foreign sounds to the landscape.  Everything appeared as if it were a painting.

I pass under last years bee's next.

Wood ducks pass in front of me

They become startled and lift off quickly, almost out of camera range

 I think I'll pop in at Slick Rock Creek for a look.   It's hard to paddle past that place and not visit.

Oops;  threw you a curve.  Black and white.

That is solid rock on the right mountain side there.  This is very rugged country indeed.

There's a better shot of my pet log in the front of the boat.

Slick Rock Creek is just up ahead.  The scenery is beautiful, even in the Winter

This is Otter Creek.  I named it so.  This is where I photographed the otters last year.  I am hoping for another meeting this year.

I don't think there is a prettier brook anywhere.  The otters were on shore along side this little waterfall.  I blundered past them and they took to the water.  Their inquisitive natures compelled them to surface to see what the strange apparition was that invaded their territory.  Not to worry little friends.  I am a friend.

This shows the upper part of Otter Creek

The pictures above and below are reflections off the surface.  This is smooth water.  This is tranquility.  This is the Calderwood I love.
 And this is Slick Rock Creek.  The water is crystal clear in this cove.  It is straight off the mountain.

As I was paddling out of Slick Rock Cove,  I saw the sun concentrated upon one obscure spot on the mountain ahead of me.  I've never seen anything like it.  This photograph is not retouched or created.  It is pure nature at her best.
Another photo is below:
 The paddle back was uneventful and very enjoyable.  Calderwood is still gorgeous.   Douglas and I will have many adventures on this lake in the coming months.  I will keep my eye on the sinister dwelling.  It bothers me enough that I won't be camping on that side of the lake anymore.  Anyway;  until next time;  be kind to a dog and help them any way you can.  They are silent blessings.