Saturday, October 22, 2011

A GRAND CANOE PADDLE ON ABRAMS CREEK SOME TENSE MOMENTS AND A WILDLIFE DISCOVERY



click on photos to enlarge
What's wrong with the picture above?

I had a longing to return West to the pretty lakes, streams and rivers I adore so, I threw the Mistral on the trailer and headed out.  Happy would not allow me to go alone.  She appeared on the front seat somehow when I wasn't looking.  I stopped at the local Pilot station to fill up with gasoline and coffee.  I despise that interstate ride to Knoxville and would need all the eye opener I could get.  I'd go for the rich Colombian brew.  After purchasing a egg biscuit for Happy;  we were off.  I can't stomach the darned things.
About half way to Strawberry Plains, where I get off the three lane to bypass Knoxville, the exhaust roared.  Oh no!  I had broken an exhaust hanger on the system a couple months ago but never attended to it.  The whole mess rattled under the truck but, people expected to hear rattles and I ignored the noise.  I guess it had enough movement to finally flex the exhaust pipe at the attachment point to the muffler until the two pieces became separated.  This called for a detour to Midas Muffler.  A long story made short;  I had to go to Lenoir City to have the repair done.  Two hundred dollars and a thank you sir saw us on our way to Abrams Creek.  It was too late in the day for Calderwood and the paddle across Chilhowee to the old club house ruins was to lengthy.  Abrams Creek it would be.
The water on Abrams Creek looked fine.  It was higher in the channel than normal and the current was running up the channel toward the mountain.  I'm guessing this meant that the lake was filling and creating a back flow up the channel toward the mountain.   The beast that stands vertical and creates havoc on nature has that ability, you know.
The canoe felt heavy today.  It was even a bit of a chore removing it from the trailer and getting it to the water.  The little trail down to the water is deeply eroded and has two huge rocks sticking up right in the middle.  
The results of last years tornado were still portrayed on the faces of the mountains.

Trees were twisted together grotesquely proving the power of wind at high velocity.  The mountainside appeared impassible to even deer.  I doubt they would expend their energy resources to navigate these hillsides.
 I noticed scores of tree tops that were missing, removed as cleanly as if a chain saw were used to remove them.  Imagine the power of the wind that did that!

A little duck casually paddled from open water toward some brush.  I also paddled toward the same pile of brush in anticipation of a picture.  He was a Wood duck.  I could see his brilliant coloring even from this great distance.  He did not see or hear me.  This is the advantage of canoes over motor driven boats.  Fortunately, the current was carrying me toward him but, the canoe turned any way it wanted and I had to use the paddle as a rudder to maintain the boat's attitude toward the little duck treasure.


He discovered my presence.  Every now and again he would turn his head to one side or the other to catch the view behind him.  It seemed he didn't want whatever was following him to know he was aware of it.  Funny and interesting at the same time.
 A flurry of wing beats could be heard from the edge of the shoreline as a female Wood Duck took flight and blasted through the big trees heading upstream.  The little fellow I was photographing followed suite.  They were beautiful!
There is nothing prettier than the season Autumn when viewed and enjoyed from the water, especially if that water flows out of the Smoky Mountains.  It is cold and clear and provides the accents for all the artistic views of the colored landscape.  I love the reflective quality of clean, clear water in the late afternoon when the sun creates that "soft" light that makes the images on a photograph jump off the media.
The canoe was drifting along with the slow current, the bow moving this way and that.  A movement on a rock drew my attention.  I saw it a second time but could see no life forms.  Then leaves hanging from a bent sapling overhanging the rock moved.  I retrieved my binoculars from the shoulder bag and scanned the rock.  An otter was standing in such a way as to appear like a rock or horizontal limb himself.  I wasn't very close but should be able to capture some presentable pictures if the canoe cooperates.  I was floating upstream and he was walking down along the rocks.  Some of the shots are a bit fuzzy as I had to maintain the canoe's direction and still handle the camera.  
Funny looking otter.  This guy looks more like a weasel.  There aren't any weasels in Tennessee that I know of and besides;  this thing is sized like an otter.  Has to be an otter.
The tail is not an otter's tail.  What's going on here?  
Ok;  it's not an otter.  Tasmanian Devil maybe?
One thing for sure.  It ain't an otter.  He looks like a Weasel on steroids.  I'll send the shot off to some folks when I get home.  Fishers aren't in Tennessee, nor are they in the South at all.  Whatever it is may concern some folks in the animal communities.   If this is indeed a Fisher;  what's that tell you about the possibilities of Cougars existing in the mountains of Tennessee?  They have been officially listed as extinct here yet, the sightings are fairly regular.  Cougars are indigenous to Tennessee.  Fishers are not and never have been.  I'll keep you posted.

This is going to be an interesting project.  One thing for sure;  it ain't no otter!  The critter saw me and looked straight at the canoe.  He disappeared in the rocks.  I hope I can remember exactly where I saw him as.  I didn't bring a GPS.  What an interesting sighting!
It was time to get Happy onto land for awhile.  Actually I needed to walk about also.  We landed where Douglas and I used to stop on occasions like this.  It's a pretty little spot with flowers and a beautiful view of the water.
It was just as I remembered the place.  Wild flowers were plentiful and the scene was reverent.  I sat on my favorite rock where I used to watch Douglas swim and run up and down the shoreline into the brush and return all happy eyed.  I don't think it was a good idea stopping here.
Thoughts of my golden boy come flooding in.  We'll not stay long here.
I've been on Abrams Creek many, many times with Douglas, my boy, and the memories are vivid.  We've shared a lot of days together here.
 A flower, broken from it's stem, floats by.  It's beauty will remain only in memory but, the destruction of such a beautiful thing is heartbreaking.


Time to get moving I guess.  The breeze has picked up a little but the sky is blue.  It's a good day to be on the water.  I always paddle slower on the return trip because I like to make the very enjoyable moments last and I hate to get to the point where I have to take the canoe to the truck.  These days, hours, minutes and seconds on this creek are precious to me.  I couldn't put a dollar value on them.
Fall is absolutely gorgeous back here.  It is on all the mountain fed lakes uninhabited by humans.  It is that human element that tarnishes the shiny brass.
Sometimes I think I could wear this camera out photographing water reflections.  They are simply overwhelming in their beauty and beg to be put in the camera's memory. 

The tornado downed trees left the forest floor open to the sunlight and flowers finally had their chance to thrive and add their colors to fall.  The flower color on the hillsides was predominantly blue.  The mountain side was covered with them.
The breeze is strong enough that it pushes the canoe about with ease and it's difficult to hold the camera steady.  Even with a stabilized lens one has to hold the camera steady. 

We were nearing the take out point for the canoe, darn it.  I always have a heavy heart when I leave the water after a day like this.  It's so far to travel to get back here to these loved wild places and gasoline costs will soon prevent frequent visits.

We're just about back now.  I guess it's late and Happy and I have a long drive to get back to stone quarry country.
A tired little girl and a super, dedicated companion


The bow bumped the shoreline and I stepped out while still in the very shallow water.  The point where the canoe touched land had a lot of small stones and pebbles on it and I didn't want to have weight in the canoe pressing down on all that aggregate.  They surely would cause scratches.  Happy disembarked and I gently pulled the canoe up onto the edge of the shoreline, just enough to hold it.  I needed to walk Happy up to the truck and put her in to keep her out of trouble.  The road is very close and the cars and motorcycles are racing to get to the Dragon, as they always do.  As I returned down the little grade to retrieve the canoe a shocking sight awaited.  The canoe was no longer where I put it.  Oh no!
Now, here was a pickle!  Instant reaction made me remove my boots, wallet, cell phone, gun and camera and cover them with my jacket.  I pulled my floatation jacket back on and I stumbled down the embankment to the water and walked in.  Ye ow!  This wasn't going to work.  That water was 53 degrees.  Stupid!  Even if I would have made it to the canoe I couldn't have entered it.  I would have to swim back to shore one handed while holding the canoe in the other.  No way.  Hypothermia would have got me for sure.  Back up the bank I went and retrieved all my stuff and jumped into the truck to cruise the road that borders the lake in search of a fishing boat close by to gain help.  There wasn't a boat on the lake.  Not one.
I went back to the bridge at Abrams Creek to have a look.  My precious Mistral was almost out of sight, the wind blowing her further and further away.  I drove to the Smoky Mountain Motorcycle outpost down the road to see if I could use their phone to call my old friend James, who I used to work with.  He has a canoe.  Together we would be able to get the runaway boat.

An old stray hound, bless her heart, lays in the Outpost's lawn


James was working in Sevierville but contacted his son Jeff who has a motor boat.  Whew!  We took the boat to the boat ramp on Chilhowee Lake and headed for Abrams Creek.  The canoe was spotted far up the channel on the left side caught in a fallen tree.  The precious black willow paddle I left laying across the gunnel had fallen inside the canoe and was safe.  That's a $150 paddle.  I was concerned about it.  Another one like it was tied to the thwart as a backup spare.  I held the canoe with my left hand while the fishing boat made it's way back to dock.  Thanks Jeff.
I learned a valuable lesson today.  I will never, ever allow a canoe to be partially in the water without a line tied to it.  If this had happened in the Boundary Waters of Michigan the outcome would have been far worse.  Actually to lose a canoe on any of these big lakes down here would spell disaster.  Creepy feeling losing your ride.

And so the day went.  I think I may have discovered a critter that shouldn't be here or anywhere in the South, for that matter. (a Fisher)    I lost and regained my canoe and started the afternoon in a canoe and ended it in a fishing boat.  I'll post what I found out about the critter.  If it is indeed a Fisher it will gather the attention of a lot of wildlife people even at state level.  TWRA has been appraised of the sighting and photographs forwarded.  Thanks Paul. 
As always;  thanks for dropping in and see you back at the stone quarry (Cherokee Lake)

 10-22-11  6:23 PM
 NOTE:  Further examination of the photos of the critter in question indicate he is a Mink.  They come in varieties of color from chocolate brown to rich, shiny black.  If he is a Mink, he is the largest Mink I ever heard of.  Their range includes Tennessee as well as other Southern states.