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.)


I’ve mentioned before how I only have a roof antenna on my rig.  I crank it up when I get to camp, search for channels, swirl it around until I get the best reception on the greatest number, then enjoy.  Or not.  Sometimes absolutely nothing comes in.  Sometimes, like now, I only get a small handful of stations.

This isn’t a big deal if I am in travel mode and will be moving along in a day or so.  But I may be in this location for almost two more months.  That’s a long time to be at the mercy of limited local programming.

I am lucky that the Movie Channel is one of the channels I get.  Some of their best flicks are shown in the wee hours of the morning.  That’s when I caught the 1967 black and white film “In Cold Blood.”  Yikes!  It is based on Truman Capote’s book about a real-life case of two killers on the run after brutally murdering four members of a family in their home in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959.  Robert Blake played one of the killers.  Absolutely stupendous performance and a really well done film, even though parts were hard to watch (thankfully the TV reception broke up and I saw very little at that point).  One of these days I’ll have to pick up the book.

Speaking of books, Harper Lee of “To Kill a Mockingbird” fame accompanied Capote to Holcomb to help him research and gather material for his book.  Turns out they were childhood friends back in Monroeville, Alabama.  In “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Scout and Jem’s friend, Dill, was based on Truman Capote.  Talk about a small world with big people!

Yesterday I saw bits and pieces of the 1935 film version of Jack London’s book, “The Call of the Wild.”  Clark Gable and Loretta Young starred in it, along with some unnamed St. Bernard who played the role of the star of London’s book, but his poor tale was clipped by Hollywood’s romantic priorities.  The movie-version dog was lucky to get a howl in edgewise.

Did you know Clark Gable and Loretta Young made a baby out of wedlock during the filming of that flick?  Gable was married at the time.  Major scandal for that day and age, or it would have been had it not been kept tightly under wraps.  Loretta went to Europe where she had the child (a daughter) in secret, put her into an orphanage, and then adopted her.  Ah, yes, it was a different world indeed.  You could never keep something like that under wraps nowadays with paparazzi swarming over every minor celebrity, cameras on every smart phone and under every dumb blanket, and YouTube a bare click away.

Returning to today’s world, to supplement my paltry channel choices (when my one major network station just won’t come in and John Wayne is on the movie channel… yes, I know… he’s a classic… just not my type), I’ve decided to learn Spanish.  Immersion style.  MundoFox has all-Spanish language programming and is a rip to watch.  Everything seems to be a soap opera–heaving bosoms, manly men, and colorful sets… love scenes, fight scenes, and intrigue behind the scenes… female eyes brimming with tears and manly men bulging with machismo.  Most of the dialogue is shouted, even when whispered.  Loads of drama, loads of fun.  And occasionally I catch a word or a phrase that I can actually understand, such as  “Esta muy loca….”

You know who’s crazy?  The Three Stooges.  I usually feel the same way about them as I do John Wayne, but a few months ago I caught them on the Movie Channel in one of their earliest short films (1935), “Restless Knights.”  Set in medieval times, they discover from their dying father (Walter Brennan!) that they are of royal blood.  They set out for the Kingdom of Anesthesia to–but of course!–save the queen.

All sorts of slapstick silliness ensues but there were a few great lines that had me rolling on the floor.  (Please be kind.  I was sleep deprived at the time.)

“What were you doing in Paris?” … “Looking over the parasites!”

Later, while waiting in front of an execution squad armed with crossbows, Larry exclaims, “Maybe they’ll miss us.”  To which Curly responds, “That’ll be an arrow escape!”  (Cue two-finger eye poke.)

Yup, it’s a crazy world.  Then.  Now.  Looking on down the road.  I suppose it’s best to just smile and enjoy the ride.  And try to pick and choose where I want to bury my head, especially when the choices are limited.

Meanwhile, I think I’ll add Harper Lee’s new novel, “Go Set a Watchman” to my book list.  It will provide a nice counterbalance (along with many other wonderful reading suggestions from friends and family) to the TV fare and, if I actually read it, may resuscitate a few of those brain cells that have drowned in the tube!

(Re photo:  This is what I look like at 4:00 a.m. when I can’t sleep and I’m watching the Movie Channel.)