Monday, September 12, 2011


click on photos to enlarge

I sat on the porch last night with my feet propped up on the railing thinking about Douglas.  I have been avoiding looking at his pictures ever since the accident that took him from me.  I have even tried not thinking about him because the vision is always the same--him laying in the ditch along side the road, eyes wide in terror and crying out in constant pain.  But, tonight I can't resist letting the memories drift through my mind.  I am surrounded by my girls Happy, Shade, Chestnut and old Sigh and I find comfort in their presence.  I needed to visit Calderwood and Slick Rock Creek;  the sooner the better.  I had to find something out about myself and whether I could put Douglas in the past, and if not, why.  I got up and loaded the canoe onto the trailer at 4:30AM.

It was a terribly long drive to Calderwood from where I live now.  I left home at around 5:15 AM and ran the gauntlet of traffic and four lane highways all the way to route 129.  The cars heading to Knoxville on Alcoa Highway were so numerous they appeared as a single piece of long orange rope;  their headlights blending together creating a solid orange streak that went unending for miles.

Tellico Lake
Route 129 brought us to Tellico Lake.  Oh;  Happy came along.  I couldn't get her out of the truck if I tried.  I could see the stump field that I have paddled through so many times.  The water was beautiful with rich green shorelines.

Chilhowee Lake
Douglas and I came here often to hike, canoe and explore the mountains.  What a great place to spend time outdoors!  Abrams and Panther Creeks are right up the road at Chilhowee.  It's all here in one place. 

Chilhowee was the next lake to pass.  It was vast and the rising sun reflected beautifully from it's surface.  The curvy Dragon lay ahead to be negotiated and finally Calderwood Lake, located directly across the road from Cheoah Lake.

It felt like I was returning to hallowed ground when I pulled onto the little road that goes to the shoreline.  I opened the door and thoughtlessly exclaimed, "come Dougl, I mean Happy."
In a few minutes Happy and I were cruising on crystal clear, mirror smooth water.
It seemed a shame to disturb the surface with paddle strokes.  We owned the lake this morning and no one was around to make noise or cause disturbances on the water.  It was a wonderful scene.  Ten minutes into the float I noticed a beaver swimming along the shoreline.  I wondered how close I could get to him.  He would swim twenty five feet along the shore and exit the water to grab and eat a stalky, green plant.  He selected the same species of plant at each stop.  He wasted no time devouring his greens as he made a ten inch long piece of pencil thick grass disappear in about five seconds.   Then he would be off on his swim again.

This was a young pup beaver and he didn't seem to even see us.  Either that or he just plain didn't care.
This little guy took my mind off things and really gave me a show.  He was a delight to watch and photograph.
He was beginning to show concern as he headed away from shore to deeper water.  I followed at a discreet distance.  He did not speed up or show any alarm at our presence.

He finally swam directly away from us.  I applied more effort to the paddle and caught up to him and actually touched his rear end, at which he smacked the water with his big flat tail and submerged. 
He reappeared about thirty feet away and swam parallel to the canoe.  What a little daring guy!   I veered off to the left and away from him so not to stress him out.
In a short time he disappeared.  This was just one of those great unexpected wildlife encounters that happen infrequently.
The mouth of the channel to Slick Rock Creek was just ahead.
As I turned the boat to enter the cove;  my eyes automatically fell on the front of the canoe.  Normally Douglas would be sitting there; his eyes trained toward the back of the cove where Slick Rock Creek entered the lake with a rushing sound.  The bow of the canoe was empty.  A sudden loneliness started to overwhelm me.
I envisioned his golden form in the ditch in pain, him running through the forests, his golden form seeming to flow over dead falls and logs.  My throat became tight and tears started to flow.  Oh, how I miss him!
I looked down at the little dog between my knees and gently pet her her head.  She raised her face up and I said to her;  "we miss him, don't we little girl?"
This trip might not have been the greatest idea.  But, I had to do it.  The biggest reason that I love this lake and Slick Rock Creek, other than the lakes supreme beauty and the creek's swift, cold water, is that Douglas simply adored it here.  He loved the cold, fast water of Slick Rock and would entertain himself in it for hours.  This was our special place.  I walked to his favorite pool.
Cold mountain water rushed into it.  This is the pool where my boy went over the water fall while swimming against the current.  But the pool was empty now.  There is no sweet golden dog to bless this beautiful pool.  This ain't working.  Gotta get out of here.  Happy and I walked back to the canoe past the old camp where Douglas and I camped.  Later we invited Shade and Happy.
The warmth of it disappeared with his passing.  I found out what I needed to.  Douglas had been closer to me than any human ever was.  It was his innocence and total devotion and dedication to me that committed  me to him for life.  We were bound to each other through dependency and respect.  He was my confidant on endless cold Winter nights and the one I would simply drop meaningless sentences to on a whim.  He was attentive to my every phrase;  meaningless or otherwise.  When I spoke he would look into my eyes as if listening to my every word.  When he needed my attention, he would walk to me, tail wagging and look straight into my eyes while making almost inaudible guttural growls.  We were tuned in to each other.  He was my friend, my closest, dearest friend.  Everything was for him;  the big canoe, the trips daily to the ruins at the old state park, the hikes along Tellico.  The other dogs were guests that went with us.  I knew he needed to get out of that yard, often.  A whole lot of me left with Douglas when he went away on his final journey.  At the canoe I turned and took a last look at this beautiful place.  As tears filled my eyes I realized I wouldn't be returning here for quite sometime, if ever.

I made the above picture to assure I would remember this particular moment for all time.  Today would either be a turning point where I could get on without his memory driving me crazy or allow his memory to bring me joy.  I didn't know how it would go at this point.  I know that all the tears can not bring my innocent golden dog back to me.  But, in a way, the fact that I can cry for him does him honor;  and that's all I can do for him now.  I can show him honor.
We paddled close to the shoreline going under overhanging branches that grew from trees that made their homes precariously close to the water.  Eventually erosion would end their glorious lives.  Life is indeed fragile, especially among things natural that depend upon a completed chain of prime ecological factors for their existence.  It is a privilege to be able to gently come and go within the confines of that chain circle without disturbing any of the links.  

I had thought to visit this beautiful place and take away pleasant memories of it.  No other lake begins to compare with Calderwood's majesty.  I will take away the visions of a beautiful dog on a beautiful lake.

But, my heart and mind are focused on my golden boy.  Ahead, on the left, is the hillside camp site I complained so much about, yet, Douglas, the other girls and I made our camp here more times than can be recalled.  I've carried all the gear up that hill from the canoe many times and complained each time.  This is the camp site I awakened at one morning with a sciatic nerve attack and had to place my clenched fist under my spine and roll over onto it in order to alleviate the pain.
Coming up on the hillside camp
How many times have I parked canoe's at this spot? 
When I would pack things away to leave; Douglas would always run down and lay in the canoe ahead of me.  He was something else!
Douglas swam after a beaver over to the left one night.  That beaver played games with him.  But, my boy enjoyed the meeting and that's all I cared about.  Douglas would lay or sit beside a big tree just outside the reaches of the camp fire light.  He would come down to Shade and me when he wanted attention.  Then, he would go back on the hill by the tree.  But, every morning I would find him laying asleep just outside the tent.

Douglas's tree with the sun on it

Pressure has been behind my eyes many times during this day's paddle trip as I spotted places of significance for Douglas.  As I said before;  I know that he is never coming back to me and I guess I'm trying to find a middle ground between letting him go and enjoying the memories he gave me.  To date;  I can't find it.
Our tent spot
This Aztec Temple grows larger and larger each time I see it.
This lake was "our" special place.  It was "his" favorite.  The other girls came along by invitation only.  Of course they were always welcome and loved.  To be here without the golden dog is a superficial experience lacking purpose.  It was all about Douglas.  It was about the golden dog of the lake who motivated me to explore and experience things with him at my side.  As we paddled away I turned for one more look at the hillside camp.  I could see "him" running across the bare shoreline and cutting straight up the hill till he was out of site only to suddenly appear running full out, eyes wide and body stretched out in one of his happy laps, as I called them.  He was sensational!  He was and is my first love in Tennessee.

"Douglas;  I hope you are watching us travel through your favorite place today.  You were definitely with me my boy.  I suffered heart ache this afternoon allowing myself to see you on the boat and swimming in your favorite pool at Slick Rock.  I even watched you run happy laps at the hillside camp.  I am forever missing you golden boy.  I'm going to try harder to put you in perspective, Douglas.  It's for my own sanity and not because I am trying to forget you.  That will never happen.  I'll see you on the porch one night this week and we'll talk."

And then the eagle appeared.

Note the band on his right leg
He landed in a tree close to the canoe and stared at us.  A fitting tribute to Douglas. I wonder??????
Golden Dog of the Lake--I Love and Miss you