Red Eft at Frozen Head



Little red efts were crawling the wet forest floor at Frozen Head State Park yesterday. They’re poisonous to eat but generally won’t bite. They live on the land but they’ve just left the water and will return again.
They’re really just another phase of newts, a flashy youthful stage in which they roam the land.

As I point out in my book they never know their parents, not even as babies.

This was in contrast to me, at age 31, living on my own but still enjoying some time with my parents on a hike at Frozen Head, joined admittedly by 21 people and two other naturalists. Dad, a plant ecologist by degree entertained the crowd by naming and providing facts about the natural world around us, such as the eft and the iris shown below. While at the time our book describes, I wanted to break free of Dad, I realize now, just how good I have it hiking with a Dad who knows so much.

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Trillium time in Tennessee!


IMG_20190413_111039427_BURST000_COVER_TOP.jpgFrozen Head State Park was alive yesterday with trilliums. They come in different colors: red, yellow, pink. Often, according to my Dad, Dr. Larry Pounds, a plant ecologist, they cross with each other. Ants pollinate them.
They’re easy to remember because tri means three as in tricycle. They have three big green brachts and three colorful sepals. Dad led a group of nine people that day while two other groups left with other plant experts led others a total with 21 people showing up.

My Dad and co-author of “Wildly Strolling Along” will lead many more hikes as the spring goes on letting you know more about all the colorful blooming things of East Tennessee. And I look forward to joining him.

Moonshine: America’s first drug war


We romanticize it. We make shows like “Dukes of Hazard” and films and songs like “Thunder Road.” I’ve heard old timers telling campfire tales of their liquor running adventures. We also ridicule it. We show cartoon hicks running around with bottles that show off strings of xs that later generations associate more with porn.

Nowadays in places like Gatlinburg, “moonshine” just means “unaged wiskey for tourists.” They have tasting rooms for flavored ‘shines. I’m not complaining. It’s a distinctive experience and I hope it’s more than just a fad. It makes Gatlinburg different from every other Ripley’s developed collection of roadside attractions.

Old Smoky Moonshine
Still, if it’s from a legal tax paying business, that just makes it … whiskey. But nice marketing.

For more on this issue, you can read what some people in the industry have to say here.

Even in the 1950s, long after prohibition, rural sheriffs considered it a serious matter to enforce liquor taxes. And moonshiners hid in under cover of forest in the mountains.

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The ruins of what might have been a distilling operation in Prentice Cooper.

During my 2012 hikes that inspired my book “Wildly Strolling Along” I remember seeing what might have been distilling-related ruins in Prentice Cooper State Forest near Chattanooga, probably related to the black market liquor industry.

Later on in the trail’s Soddy section, a hiking companion described a rusty truck we passed as a “hoopee,” a moonshine running truck.

Hoopee
A possible hoopee or car used for running bootleg liquor.

The book includes a short sidebar on Moonshine, which actually was at the request of my grandmother.

But I’m no archaeologist. I can’t recognize an illicit whisky operation from any other truck stuck in the woods or collection of pipes and barrel ribs that could just be for water for all my suburban mind knows. And I certainly can’t sort everything out by when it was from.

Given, I even confused a coke oven for a mine entrance in the book, and that was involving the legal coal industry, I can’t think of how bad I’d bee at identifying illegal stuff.

Mariah Prescott a trail builder for the recently opened Richie Hollow Trail recently told The Chattanooga Times Free Press about her wish for signs to highlight some of Prentice Cooper State Forest’s moonshine ruins.

Is it at all worthwhile to remember mere profit-seeking criminals? Especially when there is still an unpopular war on drugs, just different drugs?

I think so. If we can get past marketing gimmicks, silly caricatures and the like and dive into actual history, we’ll have a fuller picture of the past, the present and the future. History isn’t just about battles. Sometimes it’s about booze.

Invasive plants and a wig on the trail


As I stated in my last post, on the day of the new Soak Creek section of the Cumberland Trail’s grand opening, many people had come out to walk the new trail.
But one woman, Lisa Huff stayed behind. I passed her as she worked.
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She pulled exotic invasive plants out of the ground, specifically, Japanese stiltgrass
a grass that as I explain in my book Wildly Strolling Along came to Tennessee as a packing material. Less flashy in its dominance than kudzu, it still takes over whole forest floors.
But among that bundle was something that belonged in the woods even less: a black, curly wig.

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At least it wasn’t this guy’s wig.

For those of you not my age or just slightly older, the guy above is Captain Planet, a guy who taught children such as myself not to litter and about other environmental problems through what now seem to me to be enjoyably dumb children’s superhero antics, sometimes even getting the science wrong. He never told us not to throw wigs in the woods though because such a concept never occurred to most people.

As I say in my book about more conventional litter, tires:

“People leave monuments that they intend for future generations to notice, like cemeteries, churches or pyramids. Then there are relics like these, thrown in order to be out of everyone’s way but telling a more honest story for the noticers that spot them.

Yes, I invented the word noticersTM. No, I’m not going to change that in any later editions. It’s the name of a whole chapter. My book. I make the rules.

I won’t go any further. Anti-litter PSAs are a dime a dozen and sadly they haven’t helped.
Anyway, I salute all those who work on the trails we enjoy to keep them clean. May they continue.

Stinging Fork Falls and new Cumberland Trail


Tucked away on a road closed to through traffic, the route to Stinging Fork Falls is probably quiet most of the time.

Not this time, however. Today, thanks to a ribbon cutting and the anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the parking lot was full and I saw many people coming back as I hiked forward.

I recommend the hike to the falls as a fairly short walk with excellent payoff after rain. Granted recent rain also made the trail’s rocks slippery, and the descent is somewhat steep.

The trail continues along Soak Creek in the other direction eventually rising back up. As it’s a new part of the Cumberland Trail, it’s marked by ribbons not blazes but the trail already has stone steps laid down by volunteers. The recent rain meant occasionally crossing cascades and at one point, I even saw a salamander run from underneath a rock.

I did not reach the end of this new Cumberland Trail section. It was built too recently to include in my book Wildly Strolling Along, which I promoted shamelessly to everyone who walked by. Still, I plan to return.

The entrance is on Shut in Gap Road near Spring City.

This page from the Cumberland Trail Conference is outdated, but it shows the trail head and the route to the falls. The new trail heads to the right along Soak Creek while the falls route as shown here is to the left.

Daddy’s Creek Tennessee with Daddy


As summer is refusing to surrender to autumn here in East Tennessee, the Cumberlands are exploding with flowers.

My Dad Larry Pounds and the co-author “Wildly Strolling Along” along with me recently led a group of wildflower lovers to two unique habitats near each other. Both were part of Catoosa Wildlife Management area.

First was a meadow area with a short access road on which we walked. We would stop every few minutes and Dad would get down, examine, give Latin names, sometimes certain, sometimes speculating, surrounded by others who seem drawn like bees to them.

Next we drove down to a “cobblebar,” along Daddy’s Creek, a which is not a place for booze and homemade desserts but rather a rocky area along the banks of a stream. It too had flowers, some growing out of big outcrops.

A pool not too far from the trail entrance is also good for swimming. I was the only one of our party who jumped in, possibly because everyone else was identifying more ferns and flowers. Which far too often, I can’t do.

But I am me. My Dad is himself. Not everyone can name every flower. But maybe you can at least enjoy them.

Swimming at Piney River


Piney River Pocket Wilderness near Spring City, Tennessee has just a tiny number of trails and even fewer roads (the main one of which is closed now). But it is a glorious place for swimming holes. The clear, cool Cumberland water is delightful in a Tennessee summer, and unlike certain other places, it never gets crowded.

While there are swimming holes further back that are so obscure you can swim nude, you don’t even have to walk far from the parking lot to get in the water. Near the park’s picnic area there are a series of clear pools for splashing about in.

But even the beaten path in Piney River isn’t that beaten. Even on Labor Day, Yvonne and I just saw a few families visiting.

I’m no expert on fish. Fishing and/or ichthyology will probably be something for another episode. For now though I’ll just say that I love the fish in wild Tennessee pools as they’re among the few woodland creatures that actually enjoy a human presence.

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This was my first time visiting with Yvonne. When I visit with Dad, we usually go on the Cumberland Trail, as in our book, with any swimming as an afterthought.

With the Yvonne and me this time, the Cumberland Trail was an afterthought. We didn’t reach any of its more impressive scenery, but rather walked to a tiny rockhouse, kissed, contemplated our surroundings, looked at what appeared to be a whole community of centipedes under the same rock overhang and then headed back, not even getting as far as the first stream crossing the CTC website lists before jumping back in the water. Streams just call to Yvonne and me.

We have the paper company Bowater, founded by the Englishman Bowater to thank for the Pocket Wildernesses, now part of the state park system. His company created privately owned parks out of forests he did not want to use. Bowater area trails and features usually have a flair for the dramatic: tall bridges and long and steep flights of stairs.The Twin Rocks, with its steep stairs protected by a cage was one such feature, although it’s closed now and the trail to the rocks is poorly maintained.