Monday, January 9, 2012

Only This Moment

An armored personnel carrier sitting on the grounds of the local VFW............

We both needed to be outside, but on a mild and cloudy and rainy and foggy morning LC and I looked at each other unsure of how we wanted to spend a couple of hours.
It was an unusually bland morning for both of us and truthfully neither one of us felt overly adventurous. 
I should have gone trail running but did not feel like trail running. 
Visibility was lousy so heading outside to seek out panoramic nature views was not going to happen.
With the exception of only a few days, this Winter so far has been very mild and truthfully I am missing the cold and snow.
So two uninspired people eventually decided to drive out to explore an area that neither one of us has ever been to before.
A section of the base close to the Interstate known as Sinking Pond.
Part of Arnolds Air Force Base, LC and I had both seen the large sign for Sinking Pond many times as we drove by it over the years, and every single time we passed it LC commented that we needed to go and check it out one of these days.
Just to see what was there.
We never did get around to checking it out before leaving for Juneau.
So on a vaguely depressing and very cloudy day my Mountain Boy and my eager dog and I headed out, determined to finally find our answer to the burning question of what exactly Sinking Pond was.
Both LC and I fully expected that we would pull off the highway when we reached the sign and drive only a short way before running into.........something.........presumably a small pond.
That may or may not be sinking.
We would then both look at each other as if to say "OK we've seen it" and move on to doing something else.
That did not happen.
I was teasing someone one day way-back-when and remember saying in a joking and smart ass way "research is your friend".
Well, research is my friend as well.
If I had thought to do any research on Sinking Pond I would have learned that:

Sinking Pond, a National Landmark located on AAFB, Lat. 352504N  Long. 0860332W, is a 400-acre seasonally flooded, forested wetland and site to one of the largest Great Blue Heron heronries in Tennessee. It has been in continuous use since at least 1965. Numbers peaked in 2000 with 743 nests. In 2004, there were 117 nests. No reason is known for the decrease

Sinking pond was nominated for consideration as a national natural landmark by the National Park Service by Dr H R DeSelm, University of Tennessee in 1973. It was accepted for registration by the U S Department of Interior in 1975. Sinking Pond received national registration for the Society of American Foresters as a registered research natural area in 1975. Sinking Pond is a 394 acre site containing 149 acres of bottom land hardwoods in a karst area which also contains a small pure stand of overcup oak.
This area is a virgin swamp forest with secondary fringing upland forests typical of the highland rim of Tennessee and Pennyroyal of Kentucky. It is a superior example of the swamps so characteristic of the eastern highland rim. Sinking Pond also contains one of the largest Great Blue Heron (Arden Herodias) nesting colonies in the state of Tennessee

I also would have learned that this place is an even larger heron habitat than what I have seen in years past on Bird Island (Elder Island).
That it is also known as a swamp and the land surrounding Sinking Pond is a widely used hunting area and a local "mudding" place for 4-wheeling enthusiasts..............
We began on paved road and quickly transitioned to dirt roads, some of which were in good condition and some which were deeply rutted out, but all of which (after the past few days of on again off again rain) were filled with mud.
We were definitely not going to travel only a short way to a pond. 
As we continued to drive the area and while we were avoiding large potholes and four-wheeling through mud pits we began to realize that there was an extensive road and trail system back there that we had, until today, known nothing at all about.
Together we delighted in our unexpected and welcome find.
How could we have lived here for so long, and visited the base for recreation so often, and not known that this was here??
Dirt road continued in front of us for miles on end, and other dirt and grass trails were shooting off from this main road in both directions every 1/4 mile.
I smiled inwardly as we continued driving, realizing that I had just found a whole 'nother world to explore on bike.
When the hunters are finally gone.  At this time of year we saw trucks parked at pull offs frequently..............
After traveling slowly on uneven, muddy, gravely, rutted out road we finally saw a sign for the trail head that led to Sinking Pond.
With so much mud, so much water, and so many hunters in the woods Sinking Pond was regretfully going to have to wait for some other day.
But in the meantime, on this day that had started out with so little promise, LC and James and I decided to simply continue to explore the area.
Another 1/2 mile and we pulled into one of the many bush-hogged sections we found, climbed out of the truck and explored for a short while on foot............
These wide open grassy areas were abundant throughout this place and we walked to the end of this one to explore, hoping that it would veer either to the right or left so that we could circle back towards the truck.
It did not, and we ended up simply turning around and heading back the way we had come.
We were a few miles from civilization and deeply embedded in a world of grey and green and brown and gold and quiet............
A picture filled with untold layers of muted color................
Scenes of the area as we continued wandering - trying to get the lay of the land.
Except for open grassy fields that we saw frequently there was only very deep woods on both sides of us.
It was a rough and tumble area, and as we continued exploring I kept imagining just how dense this vegetation would be once Spring arrives.
Once everything begins to grow again I can easily imagine this place will be beautiful..............
One of many swampy areas we saw today..............
After leaving the roads and trails that we had been following for a couple of hours LC and I were no longer feeling unambitious and slightly lost.
The drive, being outside, unexpectedly finding a whole new world of roads and trails that were ours for the taking had energized both of us.
Instead of heading straight home after we were done, we drove through the base a little more and made two more brief stops so that I could take pictures of a foggy day on the lake...............
There was a serenity and peacefulness to the lake at Woods Reservoir today.
The air was heavy, the water looked flat and cold and grey, the plateau was obscured completely by fog and so was much of the opposite shoreline.
No noise from planes or birds or wind or boats.  Only the incredible quiet of a grey day.............
The shot of color I had unconsciously been searching for.
A large bright orange buoy floating on the surface of the water............
And one more unexpected and beautiful example of color today sat for a long time in one of the bushes in our backyard.
The beautiful and fat cardinal perched on a branch for a long time before finally leaving...........
We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand - and melting like a snowflake.........Marie B. Ray

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