Monday, February 21, 2011

The Red Mountain Blogger

Tennessee River & Cumberland Plateau

Call me Tom. This blog is about many things, but you might say that its cornerstone divides an angle in northeast Alabama where the Tennessee River, flowing southward from the Blue Ridge and hard against Sand Mountain, abruptly turns north and cuts its way through the Cumberland Plateau.

That’s where I grew up and I was born to be a lover of landforms! Most of the remembered dreams from my childhood, save the usual night-mares, were of landscapes. Those dream-scapes very much resembled the bouldered gorges on the margins of Sand Mountain that have been scoured out by oft flooded creeks that drain into the Tennessee. My earliest walks into these gulfs, as our local place names call them, as in Coon Gulf and Pisgah Gulf were with my father.

Twin Rivers: Paint Rock and Flint

Why the Tennessee left the gently sloping Sequatchie Valley and went-at the Cumberland Mountains is a mystery for which I have yet to hear a comprehensible explanation, but that is the way of things with geology or at least with the geologist!

 The landscape through the cut is characterized by the land-form that is emblematic of the entire Cumberland Mountain region. Grant; Lewis; Bishop; Merrill and Keel Mountains are flat-topped mesas surrounded at their highest elevation, like a crown of thorns, with high rim-rock bluffs formed in the sandstone.  Under the sandstone cap-rock is limestone which is honeycombed by an extensive network of caves, sinkholes, waterfalls and streams that appear and disappear. Eastern red cedar loves this karst terrain and for me is the most noble and characteristic tree of the region.

These mountains are dissected into a patch-work quilt of differing terrains by the twin rivers Paint Rock and Flint. The alluvial fields are first-rate farming country; my mother’s people, gentle farmer folks, the Butlers have lived on and worked their land at the base of Keel Mountain, where the twins are so close that they almost touch, since the end of the Civil War. 

Sprawl, urbanization and climate-change is closing in on Maple Shade Farm and making life a little difficult for these hard working and admirable people and how they are coping is something I would like to write about.  

Cave Springs and Dinner On The Grounds

 When I was very young my family used to attend the May Meeting and take dinner on the grounds at the primitive Baptist church, just down Cherry Tree Road from he farm. After dinner we would hunt for fossils and try to swim and pick out polliwogs in the much too cold waters flowing from the cave at Bethel Springs. That was my first time to be really out in the woods.

My father was attracted to this country, not only because of his affinity for the natural world or because what he really, really wanted to do in the world was be a farmer, but because he was an artifact hunter and the plowed fields by the rivers and the bluff-shelters in the mountains, full of the artifacts of Paleo-Archaic-Indians, were irresistible to him. Finding and exploring those places was his passion and I was his apprentice.

 In that more innocent time people weren’t so touchy! You could still do that; you could actually go out into that country, walk the plowed fields, pick up arrowheads, put them in your pocket and walk off with them and nobody seemed to notice or even care. We did that a lot; we wore that place out.

Much, much later after I became a backpacker and a caver, I would become aware of the Skyline Mountains which is the source of the both rivers. Those are not even the highest mountains around, but their remoteness, the prevalence of limestone and karst-topography gives them a rugged character and biodiversity that makes them, for me, the most noble and formidable of mountains!

A Sentimental Attachment 

Well that’s a brief tour, a sentimental journey if you will! The issue of place is a big deal for me and the beauty of landforms in this little corner of the vast Appalachian Mountains, along with its connectivity to the larger region with its human-history, natural history, geology and biodiversity, will be a common subject in my future post.

 This blog will be an advocate for the responsible use of natural resources and the preservation of non-game species and biodiversity, especially those on public land and most especially in Lake Guntersville State Park.

A part of it will be a memoir of growing up in that legend-ed place called Sand Mountain and my father and how the wide-world looks to an aging man from northeast Alabama and how it looked to a younger man way back in the day! That’s a lot I know, but give me some latitude and I’ll connect all those dots.

In ‘The Geography of Nowhere’ author James Howard Kunstler after bemoaning the careless destruction of the American  landscape and using some exuberant prose to describe himself as always having been ‘unusually sensitive to the issue of place,’ almost apologizes by saying, “The sentimental view of anything is apt to be ridiculous".

When it comes to the issue of place, I am such-a-one and I too am apt to be sentimental. But I would rather not be seen to be ridiculous, so I promise to at least try and keep it between the ditches!


  1. I enjoyed this and look forward to the next installment. :)

  2. hope to visit when we are ready. please visit my website to enjoy outdoor activities in Malaysia.


Hello, please leave your comments here.

/*Wrap text around image ----------------------------------------------- */ .left { float: left; margin: 6px; } .right { float: right; margin: 6px; }