Wild River, Beloved Land

A year or so ago, I saw the movie “Wild River” (released in 1960).  As usual, the TV was on as background while I was doing other things, so I didn’t watch too closely, but I got the gist of the story.  A government official shows up in rural Tennessee and must convince a stubborn old woman, Ella Garth, to leave her home and her beloved land to make way for progress.

The movie takes place in the 1930s when the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) began damming up the Tennessee River and many of its tributaries, submerging land that had been in some families for generations under brand new lakes.  The purpose was to control rampant flooding and to provide power generation.  On its face, a boring story line… unless you lived it.  And the ending was pretty sad, no matter which side you were on.  There was a romantic subplot, but it struck me as an afterthought–and not particularly engaging–compared to the struggle between Ella and the government man, the river and the land.

The picture at the top of this post is of the Cherokee Reservoir, formed when TVA dammed the Holston River in the early 1940s to help meet energy demands at the start of World War II.  The islands in the picture used to be hilltops.  Now they are islands available for intrepid boater-campers to use for a day or an evening of secluded fun.  In the movie, Ella is buried in the old family plot on top of her island, the only piece of the Garth homestead to remain above water.

I took the shot from the Panther Creek State Park Overlook (I made it, Lynda!). Way in the distance on the right hand side you can see the Cumberland Gap, which Daniel Boone helped to clear in 1775, enabling easier passage across the Appalachians for settlers heading from Virginia into Kentucky and Tennessee, a critical peg in the progress of westward expansion.  A few miles from the state park is Morristown, home to the Crockett Tavern Museum (housed in a replica building representing the tavern run by Davy Crockett’s parents near this location in the 1790s).

fullsizerender-1585This rich mix of beauty, history, and storytelling (Jonesborough, Tennessee’s oldest town, hosts an annual Storytelling Festival early each October) is one of the things that attracts me so strongly to east Tennessee.  That, and the people.

A couple who befriended me in the campground this summer has taken me on several long drives so that I can enjoy the sights from the passenger seat and not worry about traffic and mountainous, winding roads.  They grew up in this area, and its hills and mountains, rivers and streams, roads and trails are mapped in their bones.  They are not content to sit put, enjoying the view from a distance, but instead are always going out on long drives into the heart of the countryside which, ever-changing, never grows old.  Fortunately for me, they are generous, friendly souls, willing and proud to share this piece of their earth, this piece of their heart.

Enough with the sentimentality!  To wrap up, here are two lovely campgrounds near TVA constructs for interested readers:

  1.  Watauga Dam Campground near Wilbur Dam outside of Elizabethton, TN (link:  wataugadam.com).  A TVA-run campground, it is very small (28 sites) and absolutely beautiful.  You need to travel quite a few miles down a winding, narrow road along the Watauga River to get to it.  The campground lies right on the riverside and has level, gravel sites with E/W hookups for $25-$27 per night.  Thoroughly secluded and peaceful, it also looks to be very well maintained.
  2. Panther Creek State Park Campground on Cherokee Lake, Morristown, TN (link:  tnstateparks.com/parks/campground/panther-creek).  The campground is small (50 sites), with E/W hookups for $20/night.  Some sites will only accommodate smaller rigs, but there are larger sites interspersed.  When making reservations, you might want to call and talk to someone familiar with the campground before picking your spot.  The campground isn’t on the lake but it is a short drive to the overlook, boat ramp, pool, playground, and many hiking, bicycling, and horse trails.  At over 1,400 acres, the park itself is huge and has much to offer.

Happy camping, happy campers.  May you ever be happily ensconced on the high ground, with loved ones and friends to share the view.

(Dedicated to Becky and Roger, Karen, and Jean, new friends and gracious travel-guides during my stay in their home, east Tennessee.)


Cue slow exhale.

It is amazing.  I am encountering moments when I don’t even want to turn on the TV.  Oh my, you must be thinking…  What kind of a camper are you, always inside with the TV on?  Well, yes, I suppose it’s true confessions time.  Heck, over two years on the road and I only sat around my first campfire a few weeks ago when some friends had me over to enjoy theirs.  I don’t typically sit outside.  I sit inside, usually at my computer, with the TV on for background noise almost constantly.

Until recently.

It is as if the decluttering and downsizing phase begun back when I sold my house and was preparing an abrupt shift into full-time RV life is catching up to me on the road.  This tenacious little phase had to travel over 26,000 miles to reach me.  I am grateful it made the effort.

It caught me.  Bringing along quiet.  And peace.  Simplicity.  And beauty.

Nothing but the fan blowing, the dog snoring, an occasional stinkbug awkwardly buzzing as it attempts to escape through the ceiling vent fan (they are not very smart).  Outside, a chorus of crickets performs their hit single, Background Music by Your Favorite Bug.  An occasional murmur or bubble of laughter escapes a fellow camper and zings into the night, only to dissipate under the watchful eye of the waning moon.

And diminishing TV.  For a few weeks now, I have grown less and less interested in what is on the boob tube.  The need for its constant company is melting, its voice fading, as I manage to slowly detach.

I hope it sticks.  I hope that, after nearly six decades on this beautiful earth, I am finally maturing to the point that the clutter of noise is not a necessity.  That I can be content enough with my own company and thoughts so that I don’t have to invite TV strangers in to fill space.

I still watch things that I actually want to see, like The Dog Whisperer (hubba-hubba Cesar!), a few comedy shows, and a good movie once in a while.  And, alas, I am remain stuck on TV news.  Poor, pathetic me.  I am addicted to wanting to know what is going on in the world or at least what is going on according to the talking heads on the TV screen.  Although, when I get an ugly earful, especially this particular season of this particular year, I want to plug my ears with my fingers and sing with those crickets… wheeep-wheeep wheeep-wheeep…  Better yet, turn it off.  And let the crickets in.

Quiet, peace, simplicity, and beauty.  Silence.

Honestly, I don’t know if it is a good thing or a bad thing.  Let’s agree not to judge one way or another.  Just accept.  It was what it was and it is what it is.  Ooooo, how Zen!  Wheeep.

Yay for Rand McGoogle and Friends

The maps are out!  Ahhhh, yes, a sure sign that change is on its way.

Check out good old Rand McNally, first, to look for state parks along potential routes.  Then switch over to Google maps to check distances, directions, and satellite views.  Meanwhile, search for reviews and details on campgrounds.  Call the ones that look good and fill in the gaps:  prices, extra fees, E/W availability, and whether or not there is likely to be a spot if I happen to drop in during such-and-such a week.  I abhor making reservations.  And, oh, how I love maps.

Even Dawny is picking up on my excitement.  Her smiles have been of the extra-large variety and she is leaping like a puppy when we get ready for a walk or I pull out her cookies.  She is ready to join those geese we hear honking in the sky as they head this way and that way, seeking seasonal change.

Back to the more mundane, but utterly necessary chores performed by Mom while the four-legged kid over there leaps for joy, ears flapping in imitation of a migrating goose–or maybe just a silly goose.

It’s time to make sure the propane tank is filled.  Colder and colder nights mean that our furnace will soon be a welcome addition to our routine, and it drinks deeply of propane.  Tip:  Check the nearest Ace Hardware for propane–many sell it and can fill not only the portable canisters, but also a built-in RV tank.

Laundry and housekeeping, oh my!  It’s time to make sure all the bedding is thoroughly cleaned, hers and mine. Time to pull out the vacuum and get into all the dusty crevices.  And in an RV, there are many.  Time to defrost the freezer.  Time to thoroughly wash the inside and outside of the house.  Time to make room for new dust and fresh grit.

Time to wash the dog.  Awwww…  Dawny lost a little altitude at that one.

Time to refill any prescriptions that can be refilled.  Sometimes the pharmacy might be short and I have to wait a day or two for them to get it in, so I do this at least a week in advance.  Tip:  Walmart is a great place for travelers to get their prescriptions filled.  They all access the same computer system and can find your information easily.

Make appointments at future destinations well ahead of time.  A month or two may seem like a long time to be in one place and fit in all the necessary appointments, but if I waited until I actually arrived in the area to make doctor, dental, and other such dates, I may well be out of luck.

Let friends and family at our upcoming destination know that we are coming and approximately when.  It’s funny, but I see some of those friends just as much if not more than when I actually lived in the area and we took visits for granted.  I guess we take less for granted nowadays.  At any rate, it sure helps to give notice.

Make dates and visit with friends I will be leaving behind.  Soak up the love!  Today I took off with two campground friends and my doggy-walking buddy to go thrifting.  For $17.00 I got two shirts, one belt, a gift for a Virginia friend, and lunch.  But the best part was listening to the other three ladies, not all of whom knew each other very well beforehand, as they discovered their connections…  How their people knew or were even related to the other’s people, how their histories intertwined and their lives touched one another’s in shared places and memories dating back decades.  This place and its people are magical.  I will miss them.

Okay, enough with the socializing.  Back to work.  A few days before we fly, we shall check our tires.  Tip:  Walmarts that have an Auto Center will often check and fill your tires for free.  We also double check the water in the house batteries and the oil in the van engine and the generator.

Our final pre-flight shopping trip will be to the store that carries Dawny’s favorite cookies (Blue Dog Bakery Healthy Treats).  And no, it’s not Walmart, at least not around here.  I have found it at other Walmarts, though.  Good old Walmart!

Dump the waste tanks.  Fill the gas and fresh water tanks.

Ready…  Set…  GO!!!…  In a couple more weeks.  This stuff takes time, after all.  Especially the partings.