Where Lakes End and Rivers Begin
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: The University of Tennessee Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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I began a journey alone the summer after my traveling companion Jasper died. A German shepherd/lab mix who tilted his head back and forth when you talked to him, Jasper canoed with me thousands of miles, including 652 down the length of the Tennessee River—from Knoxville to Paducah. We locked through nine dams and endured blistering heat, drought, chill, thunderstorms, ...
Part I: A Season Bereft
1. The Big South Fork: Productive Failure
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Drought, heat, and humidity plagued the summer of 2007, a good season to stay indoors and read about river trips rather than embark upon them. From late May onward, haze hung over the valleys and the rivers and obliterated the borders between forest and field, earth and sky, town and country, shoreline and watercourse, lakes and rivers. It was as if you were wearing some kind of ...
2. The Nantahala: The Liminal Unveiled
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The Nantahala River flowed through my memory like a ghost stream from an-other life. I’d taken a rafting trip down it thirty-some-odd years earlier with a church group my sister Melissa was heading up. I remembered following or-ders and paddling backward or forward when I was told. Our guide, a camp leader not much older than me and far from a professional river rat, recom-...
3. My History with Dams
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Among a class of bright students, you can have a pretty good debate about dams—their benefits, the damage they do—and it helps if you transport stu-dents somewhere that they can actually examine one of these engineering wonders. What I do during the first week of my Maryville College nature-writing class, “Words and the Land,” is break the class into pairs. One person ...
Part II: Road Trip of Rivers
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4. The Concept
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In retrospect the summer of 2008 was not the best time for a road trip across America. Gas was on its way up to five dollars a gallon; the country, on the eve of a contentious election fraught with racial and economic anxieties, seemed on the verge of a not-so-civil war; and driving long distance implicated you in global warming, pollution, warmongering, and the senseless murder of bil-...
5. Easy Water: The Tippecanoe and the James
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The toughest boatmen were the French Canadian voyageurs, who not only paddled themselves downstream on rivers that no European had even seen, but paddled and poled and roped their way back upstream from where they started. They got out when they had to and portaged across land, their backs bent under ninety-pound bundles of beaver pelts and sometimes freighted ...
6. The Rogue’s Embrace
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...“What’s there to do in Sisters?” I asked the waitress after I’d settled onto a stool at the counter, where I could watch the cook prepare my breakfast. The waitress, pretty far along in her pregnancy, seemed to be enjoying her job at the Ski Inn, at least for the moment. She mentioned a nearby lake and a museum in Bend. I asked her about the famous Crater Lake, maybe fifty miles south, and ...
7. Aesthetic Convergence:The Clearwater and the Deschutes
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After you take a long trip, people always want to know the best place you vis-ited, the one you remember the most. That’s almost always a complicated ques-tion for me, particularly on multiweek trips, which usually yield a bunch of favorites. After this loop around America, having sampled dozens of rivers and lakes, I had no trouble naming my favorite place, and I always used the name of ...
8. Reconsidering the Liminal: The Dolores, the Conejos, and a Fractious Campground in Folsom, California
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These three places—Folsom Lake in California and the Dolores and Conejos rivers in Colorado—got me rethinking the concept of the liminal. By the time I got to the town of Folsom (yes, that Folsom, famous for its prison), which was roughly the halfway point in my loop, I’d found what I considered the most beautiful liminal zones I’d seen (see chapter 7), and I’d altered the trip accord-...
Part III: Brackish Waters
9. Big Lagoon to Maple Creek: From One World to Another
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When I was ten, in 1968, my father drove me and my mother to California to visit her sister, Emmy Lou, and Emmy’s husband, Mike, who lived in Beverly Hills. We left western Kentucky in a 1965 aqua-green Oldsmobile Delta 88, a long, sleek car whose engine ran for 280,000 miles until I borrowed it in the 1980s and managed to set the engine aflame when a fuel line sprang a leak. This ...
10. Fear, Delusion, and Peace on the Edisto
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I was driving toward Edisto Beach on a flat, patchy two-lane that passed through hamlets dark in the shade of live oaks, Spanish moss drooping in lacy clumps like spirits dropped from the sky. Modest frame houses, some on raised foundations, lined the road, the lawns mown and uncluttered, the houses in good repair for the most part. Up ahead a clump of buzzards met on business ...
Part IV: Damaged Waters
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11. Seeking Damaged Waters
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I don’t confine myself to the pure and unadulterated in rivers—“scenic,” “un-spoiled,” or any of those other adjectives that we use to separate the idyllic from the homely ones, those rivers we’ve judged less deserving of being set aside and protected. At times, particularly on trips out west, it was a relief and great comfort to find a place as secluded and cold and clear as Platoro Lake/...
12. Up Pistol Creek
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Because they rarely show their power unless engorged by heavy rains, urban creeks often hide from citizens’ sightlines. Sometimes they are all but oblit-erated by channelization and concrete, the trees and brush along their banks stripped away, their lifeblood rendered stagnant and stinking with the run-off and discharges of human activity. Which is a shame. Because sometimes ...
13. Finding and Smelling the Pigeon
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You pull off the interstate onto a hidden road that leads to a clearing where they store salt to melt ice. It’s June 2009. There is not one, but two barred gates across the path through the woods down to the lake, Waterville or Walters, you’ve seen it called both. The power company’s signs tell you that walking the trail would constitute trespassing. You stroll past the gate a few yards, just to ...
Part V: Night Paddling
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With the widening of the information superhighway and the ever-expanding role of technology, its presence apparently essential for minute-to-minute ex-istence, we’ve become a culture that thinks it knows it all, knows how to do it all, and knows everything about every place possible to go and what to do there. There’s an “app” to solve every problem, it seems, including running out ...
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I got to Energy at 10:30, just as the waxing crescent moon was about to drop below the horizon of the swamp I was heading for. It blazed orange on its slow descent, as if aflame. The stars shone in great numbers, crisp in their celestial grandeur. Flashes troubled the horizon all around, and thunderous rumbling signaled that the last pseudo-weaponry of July 4, 2011, was being expended in ...
Part VI: Company
16. With Libby on Hematite
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I started this project in solitude, convinced that it would be best to forge my way upstream as far as I wanted without having to consult with or worry about anyone but my own fool self. After a while, around four years, to be more pre-cise, and particularly after the forlorn profundity of the night-paddling project, I felt that it was time to invite someone to come along on one of my liminal ...
17. Navigating by the Stars up Citico Creek
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I was wandering through a Maryville grocery store, lost in the task of gathering the ingredients for a tomato and eggplant casserole, when I came across Drew Crain, a biologist at Maryville College, where I teach. He was staring at the shelf in front of him. He’d harvested a bunch of cucumbers from his garden, he told me, and couldn’t find the pickling spices. I glanced at the shelf and spot-...
18. Warning: German Shepherd in Bow
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I was not seeking a replacement for Jasper when Norm arrived: a fully grown but scrawny German shepherd, smelling like desperation and dog pound, his verte-brae protruding like stepping stones. As Julie led him from her car to our front door, I reminded her that I was not ready for another dog. She ignored this rude remark, which I made right there in front of poor Norm. Rescued by Julie from ...
19. Final Thoughts
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I returned to the Nantahala River liminal zone in the summer of 2010, three years after that first trip when I entered the cool fog bank, and the carp swam up to my boat in the suddenly clarified water. It was this place that got me started on these quests, the memory of it sustaining my curiosity about other similar places. The disorientation of going from one world to another in just a ...
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You would have frowned had I told you where I was going, up May-field Creek, from the Mississippi, at Wickliffe, and I would have asked why. Be-cause, you would have said, Wickliffe stinks. My put-in, below a bridge, smells worse than the nearby paper mill. It’s a slanting incline of mud slick as ice, ankle deep if you put your weight on it, a hubcap-sized snapping turtle rotting ...
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Publication Year: 2013