10 mile Creek Greenway mural

Crawdad, 10 Mile Creek Greenway, mural. No, I’m not calling it a crayfish. It’s not a fish. Crawdad is the scientifically accurate term.

So after crossing a tunnel, visitors to 10 Mile Creek Greenway in Knoxville are greeted by this mural.

Green heron on the 10 Mile Creek Greenway mural.

Pictures don’t really convey the mural by artist Curtis Glover accurately, as part of its charm is looking for the individual creatures, some of them obvious, others hiding in details. A sign gives all of their species.

What I applaud this mural for doing is getting people to see what lives in the 10 Mile Creek area. Runners, cyclists and people using 10 mile Creek Greenway to get from point A to point B have no time to dig through the creek and find crawdads, but the mural lets them see just how full of life 10 Mile Creek really is.


Midnight Hole and Mouse Creek Falls

Midnight Hole
Photo via Trip Advisor. I will post some of my own once I find them. I promise.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park can warn against jumping in pools, climbing on rocks and swimming in its water all it wants.

But it’s not going to work. People will do all of the above. Which they did at Midnight Hole on Labor Day last year when I visited.

I’m more on the careful side. I just swim. And so does my frequent hiking companion Yvonne Rogers. But for many, enjoying jumping from a bolder into briefly numbing mountain water is the perfect end to the summer. And I can’t and won’t stop them at Midnight Hole.

(As a side note Yvonne Rogers, my girlfriend who can really rock a two piece on trips like this always reacts with mock anger after being called just called “frequent hiking companion.” Which is why I run the phrase into the ground on this blog).

The water is a deep pool with trout, at its deepest near the rocks where thrill-seekers routinely jump. It’s also frigid beyond belief.

Smokies summer

Summer in the Smokies is like washing yourself in a pool full of shades of green. You don’t see far beyond the trees around you, although those are so tall that they make city trees look like grass blades, in spite of not even being the oldest growth and being silly short-by-comparison East Coast Trees, not redwoods. You’re in a room with walls that don’t end but rather just put up green leaves here and there so you only see in clearings.

There’s a voice inside me that says “Yes, it’s a forest. With trees. Enough already.” Such is the inner conflict of people who write about nature on a regular basis.

The exact look clearings with their summer flowers and butterflies such as the mourning cloak also are unique to summer. None of them will flutter about in the winter.

And just like that it will all be coming to an end. Leaves already began on my trip last year to look yellow.

I will miss the thick green. And I will miss feeling even at all like plunging in ice cold water even for a second once this summer ends too. I’m happy to be posting this when it is summer again.

Last year Labor Day came and went. And I joined many that day at midnight hole, by the side of an old logging road, trying to grab summer before it crumbled on us into dried leaves and artificial pumpkin flavoring gimmicks (which, go ahead and shoot me, I love both of). But we have to enjoy summer when it’s here and fall when that’s here and winter when that’s here.

Mouse Creek Falls

Mouse Creek Falls was our eventual destination. The road to it, was also traveled by people on horses, which we saw passing by and tried to avoid stepping in the manure.

There’s no sign marking Mouse Creek Falls. We missed it the first time passing it, and kept going until we saw a sign telling us just how staggeringly far we’d come past our point. I told Yvonne I’d chosen this spot and Ramsey Cascades precisely because it would be shorter when, in reality, we wound up going just as far. But neither of us were mad.

We headed back to a place we had thought was just a hitching post (see this page for more details on that kind of mistake However, it was worth seeing the site in the romantic light of evening. While not as large as many waterfalls in the Smokies and certainly not the roaring Bald River Falls in Cherokee National Forest, it has what Yvonne called a “fairy-tale” quality, seeming like the kind of place where she figured unicorns might likely live. I recommend it as a spot to visit with your lover, if your lover doesn’t mind stepping around horse crap.

‘A Funny Thing Happened’ to musicals

“It is only slightly overstating the case to say that all American pop culture since the 1950s from Rock n Roll to Stephen Sondheim’s highbrow deconstructions of their aesthetic has been a reaction to Rogers and Hammerstein,” –Stephen Holden,  The New York Times.

I write about what I want. Today, I’m writing about musicals, not travel or nature. So bite me.

I just recently finished seeing “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” in Oak Ridge. The cast and set designers did an excellent job. It brought back memories because I was in a production in college.

Me as the courtesan Vibrata. I do wish my dress showed off my fake breasts better, but still pretty great.

“Forum” might at first seem like a dead end. Vaudeville shtick, gloriously dated gender roles — show tune music that makes no bones about being show tunes, chorus girls. Oh and sex slavery played for laughs. In reality though, it was actually a sign of the direction musicals would take. Or rather the direction they wouldn’t take.

For everything that “Forum” is, there’s a pretty important thing it’s not. It’s not Rogers and Hammerstein.

The stage musical “The Sound of Music,” arguably Rogers and Hammerstein’s most famous, came out in 1961. “Forum” came out in 1962.

“Forum” in its stage incarnation interestingly enough has a scene in which a character tries to think happy thoughts to calm himself down … and fails.

Rogers and Hammerstein musicals have, for better or worse, shaped what people, especially older people, think musicals are supposed to be. People who say they hate musicals are probably thinking of that model. And indeed it’s a model that includes other shows like “Oliver!” “Annie” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” Sentimental, family friendly, and above all else: realistic.

Realistic is the wrong word here. Rogers and Hammerstein musicals do indeed have people singing when singing wouldn’t really fly in our world as a way to address themselves or others. They also make little to no attempt to represent cultures or historic periods accurately, just ask people from Austria or Thailand.* But no one breaks the forth wall, nothing is truly campy or over the top. You aren’t being reminded that you’re watching a play like in “Forum” where the lead actor starts out addressing the audience and explaining the exactly what kind of play you’re watching: one that isn’t serious. A comedy tonight.

In Forum, there’s no attempt to assume this is reality.

Looking on movie musicals with American origins over the past few decades, there are only a few that actually seem devoted to the Rogers and Hammerstein kind of sincerity. The others, “Mulan Rouge,” “The Producers,” “Mama Mia,” “Chicago,” “Rock of Ages,” “Into the Woods,” to a lesser extent “Sweeny Todd,” all exist with either a sense of camp, unreality, taking light things that are serious or avoiding serious things altogether. The only 100 percent sincere in the Rogers and Hammerstein sense musical released recently in movie theaters that I can recall was “Dreamgirls.” Which I doubt many people still care about. Please note: I’m not endorsing the above, I’m just saying that none of them are really following the old model, or if they ever do, they’re not following it closely.

Plenty of modern people’s exposure to old fashioned style musical numbers, outside of Disney is “Family Guy” of all places, which says something about how modern people view musicals: as something that belongs in a realm of unreality and insincerity.

The truth is, I’m not really an expert on the mainstream musical as it’s progressed. I’ve never seen “Hamilton” or “Wicked!” I’ve not even seen “Rent.” But what I can say is that the brief period of Post-Watergate, boomer musicals seemed like a deliberate attempt at skewering everything Rogers and Hammerstein stood for.

Take “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” the movie of which actually references Watergate. It’s silly, forth wall breaking and yet still with a lighthearted view of sex. In other words, it’s not dissimilar from “Forum.”

It was striking that I saw “Forum” after seeing “Urinetown” (from 2001) at the Clarence Brown. It struck me the two shows had more in common with each other than either did with “Oklahoma!”

And at the end of the day, that’s a good thing. Musicals are a place where songs can have unreliable narrators. They’re a place where reality can just end. They can be a place where any idea can become important just by being sung, something which can lend itself to silliness by its very nature.

The world will probably never see another Rogers and Hammerstein. At the very least their model is not the only one. And that’s a good thing.

*As a side note, while I’m definitely not much of a Rogers and Hammerstein fan, I don’t hold their shows’ inaccurate portrayals of foreign settings and real people against them or their collaborators. “The Sound of Music” is really about imagining the reasons affluent Americans might fall to a totalitarian regime: because they might find it sexy or just want to use what they view as history’s inevitable tides to their advantage. It has little to do with why Austria embraced Hitler. The King and I uses Thailand and its class relations to explore American slavery and by extension its current manifestation at that time, Jim Crowe.  It’s so thinly veiled it includes a ballet-within-a-show of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The exotic settings are there to hide that you’re doing a serious portrayal of something that either could happen or has happened and something rather dark at that. It’s a way of sneaking your message to an audience that might not otherwise listen.


Get wet on the Cumberland Trail

Happy summer! It’s time to enjoy wading, floating, swimming and splashing around! Here are a few spots on or near Cumberland Trail State Park to do it, not in any particular order. It’s not exhaustive, but it’s a start. More to come, possibly!

For more on that trail, I recommend getting my book Wildly Strolling Along: Father-Son Nature Adventures on Tennessee’s Cumberland Trail. More a collection of memoirs of day hikes with my father than a guide, it’ll nonetheless give you an in depth look at flowers, wildlife, waterfalls, rockhouses and plenty more. I’d like to thank the Cumberland Trail Conference for providing me with much of my information for that book. All photos here are by me. None of the videos are.

Obed Wild and Scenic River

“Wartburg Beach” near Nemo Bridge. Photo by Ben Pounds

Looking down from Nemo Bridge in the protected area known as the Obed Wild and Scenic River, you may see many people floating about. If you like being with others and not far from the road, this place “Wartburg Beach” as locals call it is the spot for you. More hidden swimming spots await elsewhere in the Obed Wild and Scenic River and Catoosa Wildlife Management Area parts of the CT. I even swam naked at one of them. Just make sure you’re far away from Wartburg Beach proper before you try that.

Imodium Falls

Imodium Falls. Photo by Ben Pounds

A fairly deep pool depending on rain sits right below Imodium Falls on the Possum Creek section. If you can get past the name, it may just be perfect for you.

I’m not usually much of one for jumping from rocks. But apparently some people are.

Piney River

Piney River. Photo by Ben Pounds

The Piney River section in Piney River pocket wilderness area is among the best. Deep pools for swimming shallow spots for wading and, if you hike far enough, a good ways from the crowds. Ideally, experience this area as part of a backpacking trip so you can get plenty of time here like my father and I did.

The pocket Wilderness areas were created by the Bowater paper company. Piney is not to be confused with another pocket wilderness that’s even more famous and often just called “Pocket” by the locals. It’ s below.

Laurel-Snow Pocket Wilderness “Pocket”

Known to locals as just “Pocket” this area is near Dayton, Tennessee.

I’ve written about it in a piece for The News Sentinel and can safely say spending time there with my girlfriend Yvonne apart from my main hike was a relaxing way to spend an afternoon. While on my main trek, the swimming holes were just one of the many things I explored about the place. Yet on return, I had to pry Yvonne, my girlfriend and hiking companion away from the swimming hole we found to look at other parts of the trail there.
I’m not the only one to discover it. Here’s a video from some other visitors enjoying a day there, shot with far better technology than I currently have to film it.

Farragut, Tenn.

An bright orange T-Rex stands in Farragut at a miniature golf course. It’s not a jolly, Barney type dinosaur. Instead he has pained eyes on the edge of tears and a wincing frown as he leans on his bone cane, as though he know’s the asteroid’s going to hit and his time is up. I like him, oddly, even if I don’t recall ever playing miniature golf there.

He seems out of place. While it has two miniature golf courses and plenty of children’s activities, Farragut is not a town of silly tourist traps and roadside nonsense.

Rather, it’s suburbia with no apologies: the precise kind of affluent “respectable” houses no one my age wants because we want to spend what tiny money we have on technology instead. And yet there is resistance in Farragut to apartments or even retirement homes, as I was able to see. Little pretty not-pink houses are the rule in Farragut. In other words, to me it comes off as a dinosaur itself. It’s what our parents and grandparents wanted.

But before the people of Farragut get mad at me, I realize that’s wrong to consider the town a dinosaur. Farragut continues to draw in people. The Chamber of Commerce in Oak Ridge, my current town which I prefer, view it as a threat, pulling away potential residents.

There are two kinds of places a travel writer can write about. There’s the popular destinations: Disney World, New York City, Paris, The Grand Canyon. The stuff everybody knows to go see. You stand there and feel like you’re in a three dimensional postcard, only with real wind blowing around you. Everybody knows this is the place to stand, to sit, to walk, to live!

Then there’s the towns around the blue highways that the great and awesomely named William Least-Heat Moon wrote about. The out of way places, and especially, their unique scrumptious or bizarre food you can claim to have discovered at their diners and restaurants. Plant your flag. You can declare yourself the discoverer. No one else noticed this place before. Doesn’t it feel good?

But seriously, what about places like Farragut? Writers don’t go wild about those ones. Right off the interstate, some decent shopping and restaurants, but nothing anybody goes out of their way to see. And yet it haunts me. Because I had to cover that town often. I got some pretty mixed feelings about it. So I’m writing about this just to get my thoughts out there.

I was stuck covering Farragut for “FarragutPress” because it was my job at that local paper. My editor really wanted me to specialize in things entirely within the town boundaries.

But what are those town boundaries? No one really seemed to know them. Signs didn’t mark them. And the most interesting places in town, like Concord Park or the Pinnacle movie theater were actually outside of town. Many people who lived in Farragut worked elsewhere and people who worked in Farragut lived elsewhere. Knox County Sheriff’s Office provides law enforcement. Lenoir City Utilities Board provides some of the utilities. Knox County also provided the schools and library system. Even the town hall’s receptionist’s desk has pictures of downtown Knoxville behind it.

The town was inhabited in the 19th Century and has one pre-Civil War building,  Campbell Station Inn. But the town, as a town was founded in 1980, in an attempt to avoid paying property taxes to Knoxville. Most of what’s there is pretty recent. My editor there received a call once blaming a threat to that city’s high school on bused in outsiders, something which seems rich given how everyone there is an outsider.

The town desperately wants more of its own identity, the way that older ones have. I sat in on meetings in which its Planning Commission struggled to make a short strip mall with a Starbucks look like a historic downtown. Starbucks wasn’t interested in playing along. Because it’s Starbucks. The exhibitionist mermaid knows no boss. I left the paper before I could learn how that shopping center turned out.

At the time I stayed as an objective journalist, trying to please my adopted town. But now I laugh at their attempt at an old timey Starbucks and furthermore their attempt to trick the public they were older than 1980. At the same time, I understand that desire. A local identity is important. Seeing Farragut struggle to create one made me realize just how powerful a local identity and history can be. To be fair most attempts at a local identity tend to pretend to be older than they are, be they mock-Greek, mock-Roman, mock-Medieval or mock-Mayberry.

Indeed Farragut’s own identity is in some ways quite unique and fascinating, and not at all the history people from other parts of the country would expect. Its statue of Admiral Farragut is one of the few Civil War statues Knox County has, and he fought for the north. He was born near present-day Farragut, long before it was a town. Tennesseeans here in the East were quite divided during that war.

That Starbucks dispute was hardly the only one that I saw which would make outsiders giggle about as first world problems. During another meeting, the citizens who lived behind the famous Turkey Creek development piled in to complain about garbage trucks running too early in the morning. A public housing resident laughed when I told her that story.

Of course, avoiding more serious problems isn’t exactly a bad thing.  Except for us journalists, no one really looks forward to things going really wrong. Indeed, Farragut has at least one thing to admire: through it’s homeowners associations, citizens have a way of organizing outside of government and bringing any issue, no matter how small, to its attention. They have a strength for community organizing of which Barrack Obama could only dream. Every once in a while though, I wish these people would have been more grateful for what they had.

The town has many hidden strengths. West Bicycles remains among my favorite places for bike repairs. The town has a good number of parks, pedestrian and cycling routes, most hidden a bit off the beaten path, but some like Mayor Bob Leonard Park, below, close to main routes.

However much I might mock certain people in Farragut, I have found most of its people quite friendly, whether at Rotary or Optimist Club. I do at times miss those folks and look forward to seeing them again whenever I can.

Farragut is overall an excellent town for the people who live there. It’s just not for me. I prefer my 1940s-era apartment in Oak Ridge with a park nearby that I don’t need to mow. I don’t need a lawn. I have strange but seemingly significant history all around me: an identity that while controversial is an identity that doesn’t have to be manufactured by making a Starbucks look old.* Besides, I’m close to Frozen Head, the Haw Ridge Trails and the Obed Wild and Scenic River and some excellent local restaurants here that Farragut and its charms don’t really hold much sway on me. I don’t want a place to settle down. I want places to explore. And that’s why Farragut’s not for me.

*It’s the site of uranium enrichment for the Manhattan Project. I’ll probably get more into that later.


Pickett State Park, or isolation

Alone, walking.

A rockhouse at Pickett State Park.

It’s been a while since I’ve been alone on a trail. And I like it. Who am I kidding by just saying “like”? It’s amazing.

Being alone, ducking under a massive rock overhang. Being alone seeing the beginnings of fall colors. Being alone watching crawdads dart backwards beneath Crystal Falls. Being alone going into deep green hemlock groves. Sure my thoughts might wander and sometimes getting them to truly focus on my surroundings might be harder with just me. But it is just me. No one to tell me to go back, not a slight bit of phone reception. Not a single other soul, save a trail runner briefly on the way back, no one.

Some people might not recommend this. Even out here away from muggers, if something happened to me, there would be no cell phone reception. But I’m restless. Restless to see new places, at least new to me. Too restless to check if anyone else wants to go with me. My feet just need to walk.

The route (roughly)

Starting at a group cabin area, my route begins on trails that have no official name heading on from there under a massive sandstone rock overhang beneath which the trail continues. It’s easily head-clunk-able, as the trail dips right beneath it.

The fall colors are beginning to show here but haven’t yet conquered the canopy.

Then, after a steep downhill trail, Crystal Falls itself. A series of drips rather than the kind of roaring mass of white like the more famous waterfalls around here. But it’s the sort of sacred-seeming place for sitting and meditating. Or for watching the crawdads … crayfish … crawfish … lobster thingies walk along the bottom of a transparent pool or jet backwards, perhaps in fear of me, although I cannot read their shell encrusted minds.

Crystal Falls amid rhododendrons.

But I can’t stay. Restless, I walk on, through bare exposed rocky spots, through dark hemlock groves, heading onto the Sheltowee Trace trail, with its turtle logo.

Sheltowee, incidentally, is the name the natives called Daniel Boone, meaning “big turtle.” Possibly it was because he looked like a turtle, though most pictures of his usually-elderly face in portraits show no real resemblance to me anyway.

I say a bit more about Boone in my book “Wildly Strolling Along: Father-son Nature Adventures on Tennessee’s Cumberland Trail.

What is it that drives me to come out here? Is it beauty? Then why do I keep moving rather than stopping? Is it exercise? Then why did I drive all the way here rather than just walking or running near my home? No, I love what I love. I must keep walking. I must see what’s next. I must.

You are not me. I won’t force you to forest bathe, when you really may prefer bathing in a bathtub. But you might be like me. In which case, the trails of Pickett State Park may be perfect.

While my route wasn’t on the map picked up at the park office, it can be found on this map as part of the  “Hidden Passage Trail.” The link here is

Picket CCC Memorial State Park isn’t just trails and looming sandstone formations. It boasts a small museum with live turtles in a tank, a dramatic suspension bridge, boat rentals and many different cabins, not to mention a commemorative statue that, while skillfully made, looks like it came from a cheap romance novel cover. Visit it online here http://tnstateparks.com/parks/about/pickett.

Note: This stream of consciousness writing is an account of visiting in early autumn, which I had originally held off on posting until the next autumn. However, I’ve learned that trails change and close so often, it’s better to post sooner than later. You can look forward to more things posted out of order in the future, unless any of you really object. Do you? Please let me know if you do. In the meantime, enjoy your trails in the spring!



Atlanta: The World of Coca-Cola

Photo by Marco Correa – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39697095

What the world wants today
That’s the way it will stay
It’s the real thing.

So, what does the world want today? Might at least some of it want something sweet, fizzy, upbeat, cafinated-ly energizing, mass-produced and only about a bottle’s contents deep, but still … oddly uniting for people from multiple cultures? That, in a sentence, is the Atlanta World of Coca Cola, the most corporate of corporate museums and a guilty pleasure for me.  It stands In Pemberton Square, across from a massive aquarium, It has lots of memorabilia, a bottling plant coke related sculptures, and a room to taste Coke products from around the world.
It’s a happy place. Relentlessly happy. Beat you into happiness with a Coke six-pack happy. The sort of place that if it were a person, it would call Disneyland mopey and diagnose Disney World with a severe, un-treatable case of depression. That’s always been Coca-Cola’s corporate image though, the one unchanging thing in its ads, at least the ones the museum shows: Youth, friendship, sharing, happenin’-ness, nostalgia, but always joy. Also polar bears who want to hug your children not maul them.

“Nothing can ever bring me down,” as the current jingle goes. To be fair though, why wouldn’t it want to convey that image in its museum though? You don’t introduce yourself with everything you’ve done wrong as a corporation any more than Disney ever had any desire to portray its various battles, past and present with unions. Coke wants to put its best and fizziest foot forward.

You can’t even enter the place without at first chanting Coca-Cola, Co … Coca-Cola!” with an enthusiastic guide, then watching an almost totally irrelevant movie about skydivers, people throwing a basketball from a balcony high above the hoop, and a veteran home from Afghanistan, all of them finally ending by drinking Coke.

If I sound a little sardonic and resentful for someone who did pay $34 to return with his girlfriend (whose name, Yvonne, got left out of the recent bottles with names campaign as far as I know) that’s because the place invites it, regardless of the beautiful genuine artistry on display with the many coke-bottle shaped masterpieces representing cultures around the world and different artistic sensibilities, not to mention the also a bit off topic airline trays dedicated to Delta, Atlanta’s other big non-Turner corporation.

It’s just that the place is, in fact, all honeybees and apple trees and snow white turtledoves. Or rather all that, but not the bees. NOT THE BEES! Those can actually sting you. And get in your eyes.

I could try to either be the next Joan Didion or Annie Dillard. Sometimes I aim for it. But no, now I’m making tired Nicolas Cage references. So sorry.

Any place as happy and full of sweet drinks and happy tourists from around the globe as the World of Coca-Cola, you can’t help but wonder if somewhere they might be just luring you in to feed you to the Slurm queen. You want to find the dark edges and they’re there, if you know where to look and if you can think in terms of context for some of the stuff on display. Some of it, like the above video ad, comes off as more poignant, if still calculated to fit with the mood of its time, 1971.

You’ll learn plenty of history and technology there. You’ll learn how carbonation and mechanical assembly lines work. You’ll learn about the de-centralized nature of the bottling process starting from the very beginning and giving Tennessee a probably better claim to being Coca-cola’s true birthplace (not that the museum says that in so many words but I’m a Tennessean with pride). It’s also (here’s my grim side again) led to the company claiming no responsibility for issues with specific plants such as occurred in Colombia a little over a decade ago. I use Wikipedia’s link here in part because it’s probably the best hub for other links about that mess. My sister even wrote a story about that for her college newspaper, although keep in mind the company does not control individual bottling plants. Except for the fun to watch one in the museum itself.

You’ll learn about the admittedly ingenious design of the first Coca Cola bottles, probably the first case of packaging becoming an iconic feature of a product.

You won’t learn about the early days of Pemberton’s original product “French Wine Cola” his being on the wrong side of the Civil War or the racially charged, at least according to The Atlantic Monthly reasons they took cocaine out of it.

But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t drink Coke, specifically Coke Zero usually, regularly without thinking about any of that history. I love drinking cokes at parties. I love the Olympic torches. I love the attempts to show Coke bottles as sophisticated sculptures.

What the world wants today. That’s the way it’ll stay. It’s the real thing.