From the time we retired in August and began sharing our activities on Easin’ Along, I have tried to remain disciplined about continuing the habit on a weekly schedule. I have been able to maintain that schedule every week since our debut and have enjoyed doing so very much. I did take a break for Thanksgiving week and to cheer for our Tennessee Vols on New Year’s Day, but aside from those two days, this is one retirement activity that I intend to continue.
Nevertheless, there was not much happening on the first week of the New Year. Helen and I have another adventure planned for later in the month that we are looking forward to sharing with everyone, but that is for later, and I needed inspiration NOW.
On Monday of this week, as has become my routine now that I don’t have to rush out to work, I rose at the usual time, followed Wilbur (our fat cat) out to his food bowl, filled it up, put a K-cup in the coffee brewer, then walked outside to pick up the newspaper where Bobby, the newspaper man had left it on the driveway. The temperature was in the low 20’s and I was grateful that, on this morning at least, I was going back inside to hot coffee and a newspaper in the man cave instead of hurrying out to a cold job site. I threw a little creamer in the coffee (never black, and never sugar), walked into the man cave, flipped on the TV, sat down and spread out the paper. I know this pace is killing you, but hang in there…remember we’re Easin’ Along here.
One story in the newspaper caught my eye. On page one of the business section was a picture of Norris Dam. We’ve had a lot of heavy rain in recent weeks and the newspaper was running a story about the need for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to spill the excess water through many of the dams in the Tennessee River system, including Norris Dam which is about a 30 minute drive to the north.
As I sat there sipping coffee while listening to Wilbur grumble about a food shortage, the sun peeked over the horizon to reveal a stunningly clear, albeit cold, morning. That was all of the inspiration I needed. I got up from my chair, showered, grabbed the camera, a Slim Fast, and coffee in a go cup and pointed Freddie (my car) in the direction of Norris Dam. It was a beautiful day for a drive and I was pumped.
The route took me north along I-75 to the Andersonville (TN) exit, then east. It had been several years since I had been to Norris Dam. When I was in my 30’s, I used to go there often to fish for trout in the Clinch River, and was very familiar with the roads at the time, but there had been a lot of road work since those days, and many of my landmarks had been removed. Norris Dam was not an available destination in my GPS. I missed one turn, but after locating the route on my IPhone, I was able to get Freddie turned around and on the way once again.
I had it confirmed that I was on the right road when I spotted a small church on my right and to my front. I remember passing by the church in my fishing days and always thought it was a grand old structure with its tall steeple and exposed bell. It has the classic look of old churches from bygone days. I pulled Freddie over to take a few pictures.
Back on the road, it wasn’t long before the Clinch River came into view on my left. The river was roaring and barely within its banks. The speed of the water was incredible and it was hard not to look away as I steered Freddie into a parking area along the bank.
TVA had constructed a weir dam at this point in the Clinch some thirty years ago to help improve the oxygen levels in the water and thereby improve the conditions for fish and other aquatic life below the dam. I may not be exact about this, but if my memory serves me well, I think the oxygen levels were being depleted in the deep water at the bottom of Norris Lake and needed some turbulence to bring oxygen back into the water. Supposedly the weir dam helped with this. I hope my facts are somewhat close to accurate, but remember, I’m recalling thirty year old facts with a sixty plus year old mind. That can be a challenge for anyone.
I took a few pictures of the water rolling over the weir and a video that is posted on Easin’ Along YouTube page. Pretty amazing…
Freddie and I moved on up river to the dam which is about a mile away. I thought I would see water coming over the top of the dam but that was not the case. I had seen this once before at Norris and it is pretty dramatic – and rare. On this day however, water was being sent through the sluice gates at the bottom of the dam at a rapid rate. According to TVA, 103,000 gallons per second were being sent through the gates, and that was to continue for three more days. As the water came rushing from under the dam, a large mist was created and rainbows were everywhere in the mist. The cloudless blue sky in the background made the rainbows stand out even more. This sight made the trip worthwhile and memorable. (Picture at top of this page).
For most of the time I was at the dam I was alone. I suppose the thirty degree weather had kept most folks inside, although with no wind to blow the cold, the day seemed pretty glorious to me. One car pulled up after a few minutes however and out came a young guy with a tiny black and tan Chihuahua. Apparently he had come to try his hand at fishing, but when he saw the rushing water, he decided he’d better postpone that notion for another day.
I wrapped up the picture session below the dam and decided to go above for a better look.
Norris Dam was built in the 1930’s by TVA as a way to control flooding and to provide low-cost power for the people of this depressed region of the country where very few had electricity at the time. Norris Dam was the first dam completed on the Tennessee River system and was dedicated in 1936. I stopped on the road that travels over the dam for pictures and admired the elevator tower in the center of the dam. The lettering on the side of the tower is in the art deco style that was popular during the Depression. The green mildew on the side of the tower gave it a look of aged distinction.
The view from either side of the dam was spectacular on this bluebird morning. To the north is Norris Lake. Although the banks of the lake were exposed, it was evident that the lake was well above normal winter pool. To the south is the Clinch River. I eased up to the guardrail for pictures of the water below. I’m not one who is ever comfortable with heights, but I had to peer over for a shot of the river, and my hands were a little shaky as I snapped the shot. I didn’t drop the camera, but I did think about the possibility. Since I was again alone on the road, I lingered a bit to take in the view.
It was now time to go a little higher and take in yet another view from the overlook above the dam.
When I was a small child, our family used to travel monthly to the town of LaFollette, Tennessee where my father grew up and my grandmother was living. This was before the days of the Interstate Highway and we would travel from Knoxville to LaFollette along Highway 441. This winding road is the highway that crosses the Dam and passes by the overlook. My brother and I would always plead with my dad to stop and let us run around at the overlook and the adjacent woods. Occasionally, he would relent and pull our 1955 Plymouth in to give us (and him) a break. I was looking forward to reliving some cherished memories.
On this day the road into the overlook was blocked by a closed gate…bummer! Not to be denied, I parked Freddie in front of the gate and walked the several hundred yards back to the parking area for the overlook. The road in was on the north side of the woods we played in during my childhood. As mentioned earlier, there was no wind and also no leaves on the trees. The silence of the woods was deafening. That silence was soon punctured however by the sound of two, large, Pileated woodpeckers that flew in from somewhere and began hammering away at an elm tree at the edge of the woods. I fumbled for my camera—this was too good to miss.
It took a few seconds to focus on these beautiful creatures and a few more for them to give me their best side, but finally one of the pair decided to cooperate and I was able to snap away. These two could have cared less that I was in their presence, but when a pesky squirrel decided to invade their space, a fight broke out and turned the event into a laugh riot.
I watched as the squirrel came across a limb and then down the trunk of the tree to where the woodpeckers were working. One of the redheads flew higher, but the other seemed only annoyed and moved to the back side of the tree away from my view…and the squirrel’s. As the chunky rodent came further down the tree head first, he paused at a spot where the woodpecker sat waiting precisely at the same spot, but on the other side of the tree. Standing dead still and afraid to lift my camera and spoil what was about to happen, a red plume appeared to one side of the trunk with its beak aimed squarely at the left toe of the unwanted invader. Rat-a-tat-tat, as quick as a cannon shot, the woodpecker drove his pointed beak into the toe of that squirrel and quickly flew out of harm’s way. Just as quickly, the squirrel circled the tree as he climbed upward in search of the now departed assailant. It was a scene to behold. I’m just sorry that I have no pictures.
I reached the overlook parking lot where a TVA employee greeted me. He was sweeping the asphalt lot and asked me if I had walked in. Answering in the affirmative, he apologized but explained that he had to lock the gate in order to clean up after some vandals had spun mud all over the lot, then used chains to pull down some guard rails and other barriers. He was very angry and talked almost non-stop about the senseless damage. I could only agree with him. It was senseless.
I took a few more pictures, then waved goodbye to the attendant, and walked back to Freddie to begin the trip home, stopping first at an old Grist Mill and Threshing Barn located near the dam.
The Grist Mill was adjacent to Clear Creek about a mile from the dam. It had first been constructed in 1798 in Union County, Tennessee and operated until 1935 when TVA bought the property of its owner before the land was to be flooded. TVA preserved the mill and reassembled it at its present site after it was acquired. According to information beside the mill, the inner gears were hand made from hickory and the main shaft was made from yellow poplar. The mill stones were original and had been imported from France. It is a handsome structure indeed.
At the same location is a barn and threshing machine built in the 1830’s. This building and the machine were hand made from wood and had stood in the Cosby community before the property was flooded by what is now Cherokee Lake. It had also been preserved by TVA and assembled on this site in 1978. I positioned Freddie in front of the barn and photographed it.
The drive back to Knoxville was a quick one, and I smiled the entire way. What had started out as a “do nothing” day had turned into a great one. I was grateful for the trip and for the time that has been afforded me by my retirement. I promised to do more of these. That will not be hard as there are many sights like this in Tennessee, a state of staggering beauty. I hope you will be there to Ease Along with me.
As I walked in the door to home, Wilbur sat, staring. I was late for lunch…