Spring Comes to the Cumberland


Launch:Long Branch Public Access Area, Corps of Engineers, Mt. Juliet, TN

Nearby campsites:Timberline RV Park, Lebanon, TN

Comments: The start of this cruise was a marvelous Gathering, organized by Pat Byrd. After the gathering, some of the boats cruised the Cumberland together. We welcomed springtime to the southland, cruising one of America's finest cruising rivers.
It was a special time, with special people.


-----Mist is rising in twisting curls from the water surface. Dawn's first light is slowly etching a silhouette of the stark forest against the eastern sky. Deep under the forest canopy, a Hermit Thrush, the Beautiful Singer, trills his sleepy greeting to the dawn. Dawn and dusk are our favorite times of the day -- sitting in the cockpit, slowly swinging on anchor, observers of the beginning or end of the gift of a day together.

-----This day seems special -- the dawn chorus especially glorious. The thrush continues his melancholy refrain, but in the foreground are the trills from Cardinals and the remarkably clear, loud calls of the Tufted Titmouse, the sound so typical of the southern woodlands. The bass section chimes in from the far hills, crows noisily declaring their presence. Then, the wild raucous call of our totemic friend -- the Pileated Woodpecker. Secretive denizen of the deep forest, this bird initiated our 2,000 mile hike on the Appalachian Trail and has remained special for us.

-----A wood-carving friend created a marvelous 2/3-size Pileated Woodpecker for us. He and his wife were about to set off on the Trail and we were to be their 'support friends' sending food packages and supplies to them en route. That carving was his last. Within days, he finished his life's trail. Pileated Woodpeckers became more special for us.

-----The Cumberland River is navigable for 381 miles. Our anchor was down in Slick Lick Creek, mile 337.7 -- almost at the 'top' of the river. In the past few days, we had been to the Grand Ol' Opry and had great 'shore time' with friends, new and old. We had all launched just above Nashville and shared some great evenings and Cherokee Restaurant dinners together. Now, most had left the river. A few of us had decided to continue up the River, through the lock, into Cordell Hull Lake. NOAA weather radio had predicted a climatalogical clash for the previous night; a cold front was to smash into the warm air around us and make an exciting evening of "frequent lightning, large hail, and strong wind gusts." We could feel the drama in the air as we crawled into the v-berth, but like many doomsayers, NOAA had exaggerated the effect of the atmospheric collision. During the night, Halcyon tugged on her leash a few times, but the day awakened to the avian chorus through cold, clear air.

Dawn in Slick Lick Creek

-----This was our second trip up to the headwaters of the Cumberland. Our first trip was in fall. Now, we were to greet springtime along this river. The dark, winter woods were free of leaves but the signs of spring were everywhere.






A Potpourri of Springtime

-----Animals were responding to the call of spring as well. One black night, in the Land Between the Lakes, we were awakened to strange howling from high on the woodland ridge above our anchorage. The mournful sounds made our skin crawl, as echoes returned the howls from distant dark ridges.

-----"Coyotes?" I ventured. We're from the west, and often heard the night music of coyotes, but these sounds were different.

-----"Perhaps a southern accent," El suggested.

-----"Could be," I mused, "they sure don't sound like 'our' coyotes. But not like any dogs we've ever heard."

-----The following day, in a marina cafe, a grizzled old resident sat near us. Overhearing us talk, he stood beside our table. "You heard them?" His eyes widened, and he looked deeply into our eyes as though sounding for the truth. "Not many folks have," he continued, sipping deeply from the experienced coffee mug in his wrinkled hand. Looking up, his clear blue eyes took another sounding. "You heard them, at anchor, in the LBL, at night?" He stared out the window to the woods across the lake. "Yep, they only howl at night, in the lonliest of places. Never in the summer or if they know folks are around. You actually heard them?" He took another long draught, and stared into El's eyes. "I've lived here all my life and only heard them twice. Nope, Ma'am, you'll never mistake them for coyotes -- not if you know how coyotes howl. My lands, you folks heard ... our Red Wolves!"

-----He described how 'govmint' biologists had re-established Red Wolves in the Land Between the Lakes many years ago. Well, we won't swear that we heard wolves -- but they certainly didn't sound like coyotes, either.


Cumberland Critters - Turtle, Deer, and Turkey

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Stuffed and Otherwise Critters - Bass, Rana Verde meets Rana Verde, and Ouch!

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Photos (by Wanderer) of Halcyon

-----Three hundred fifty million years ago (whew) this area, like most of the midcontinent, was covered by a shallow sea. The sea floor slowly sagged through time and marine limestones, layer by layer, filled the basin. The shells of clams and clam-like brachiopods littered the sea floor and are preserved as abundant fossils. Each bed of limestones is distinct from the others, and represents a change in the environoment of deposition ... perhaps a period of warmer weather, or deeper ocean, or a pulse of downwarping. Like us, each contains a unique record of past events. Each layer is a page in the book of time -- a page that can be read by careful geologic study.


-----A special pleasure, for us, in the cruising world is the companionship. Here, disjunct from 'everyday' life, folks relax, enjoy and share. The duties and obligations of 'town life' are forgotten and chatting, laughing, and comments about the natural world surrounding us become the norm. Most of the folks we know well from cruising, we don't see except on the water, and these are special times indeed.



-----Another significant activity of cruising times is eating out. One of the quests in this lifestyle is the location of good restaurants or (at least) good ice cream stops along the cruising route. Now, this isn't as easy as it might seem. The restaurant must be within walking distance of the water and a nearby dock is required for tying off the boat.



Well, not always in walking distance

-----Much of our Nation's history is preserved along its waterways. In earlier times, they were the highways for commerce and migration. A highlight of many of our cruises are the stops or views of historic sights. This was certainly true along the Cumberland. U(nconditional) S(urrender) Grant ended the battle at Ft. Donelson by accepting the Confederate surrender of the fort in a tavern that still stands beside the river.


The Tavern,the Cannons, and a Homestead

----There are four locks between the Ohio River and the head of Navigation at Celina, TN. Barkley Lock is the first lock above the Oho. It has 57 feet of lift, and Cordell Hull Lock is the last on the River, with a 59-foot lift.


Locking Up, Coming Out, and Working Hard in the Lock

----From the junction of Poor and Clover Forks, high in the Appalachians near Cumberland Gap, the Cumberland River meanders 720 miles to its junction with the Ohio River. Three hundred eighty-one miles of the lower river are navigable by tows. Although not one of America's longest rivers, it has occupied an important place in our history. Settlers finally breached the Appalachian barrier through Cumberland Gap, built float boats, and drifted down the Cumberland to their destiny. The river was a major avenue of commerce. By 1860, steam power had conquered the upriver passage so completely that 340 steamboats were plying the river. This was a dangerous experience, since the river had shoals, floods, and snags and boilers were prone to explosion and fires. Hundreds died on the rivers. Railroads replaced the steamboats, and the last steamers retired in 1933. Today, pleasure boats share the river with tows.

Prop Wash from a Tow

----This is one beautiful river, and one we recommend for spring and fall cruising. If you are planning to do the Great Loop, do yourself a favor and be sure to include a cruise to the head of navigation of this storied river.


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