I may not have much money, but I sure am rich. Yep, living in East Tennessee really proves that the best things in life really are free. Where else can a working class man have access to beautiful lakes, mountains, blue-ribbon trout streams, and prime hunting grounds, all less than an half hour’s drive from the city? Yes, from Chattanooga to Bristol, Tennesseans from all walks of life can claim the good life right in their own backyard. I submit to you, dear reader, but just a few stories about just how good my life is in this wonderful state.
House Mountain, the only true mountain in Knox County, stands proud and stoic in the northeastern part of the county, just outside of Corryton. Over the years, I have taken many long hikes up its steep slopes, my exhausting treks always rewarded with many spectacular views. I’d say my favorite hike has to be when I took my 7-year old nephew Jordan on his first real climb. House Mountain is not exactly a skip through the daisies, so I wasn’t even sure he’d make it all the way. I must say, with each new level bringing an exciting new adventure, it made him want to keep going. The July heat did not discourage him at all; he only stopped once, and that was just for a drink of cold water!
When we made to the summit at 2100 feet (about 1000 feet from the base), I took him to the edge of the North Overlook just so he could appreciate just how far he had hiked. At first, he was nervous about being so close to the edge, but after I held on tight to his hand, he stood there amazed at the beauty of the view as he watched the buzzards riding the updrafts, flying so close that we could even see their eyes. This was a great moment for us both, and he could honestly say he had accomplished something most people would never put forth the effort to do. Yes, as we went from overlook to overlook, gazing into the endless vistas, we knew the good life was all around us!
A few weeks ago, my brother-in-law Willis invited me to go out on his boat on the Tennessee River for a little fishing. We knew each other for a couple of years, but never really spent time together, so I guess neither one of us knew what to expect. All we knew about each other is that we liked to fish. I waited to meet him at the Pilot station on Rutledge Pike, and he pulled in around 1:00 that afternoon in his pickup, pulling behind him a very old 14 foot green aluminum boat. As soon as I saw that rustic little dinghy, I knew I was in for a great time! When I got into the truck with him to go to the launch, he looked at me with a big ol’ grin on his face and said to me, “Brother, I ain’t got but this old boat. We’re fixin’ to do some REDNECK fishin’!”
“Brother”, I replied, “IS their any other kind?”
We launched his craft at Three Rivers, a primitive little ramp in the City, right at the junction of the Tennessee, Holston, and French Broad Rivers. The water was smooth and glassy, and the sky bright and clear. We cranked up the little ol’ outboard, and blazed across the water up the Holston, to a little spot he knew under some low hanging Poplar and Cherry branches. We didn’t have much luck in that spot, just a couple of stolen night crawlers. But that didn’t matter none, because Redneck Fishin’ ain’t about catching anything. All that matters is a great day on the water, away from the 48 foot Sea Rays and noisy little Sea-Doos of the rich. Yes, after taking in the serenity of the green banks of the Holston, we decided to go up the French Broad River and try our luck.
Our trip up the French Broad was equally splendid. First, we explored the wheelhouse of an old wrecked tugboat that fascinated us both. We cruised upstream towards Douglas Lake, behind the Rubbermaid and Sea Ray boat plants, until we decided to throw a few rooster tails near a small island with some low-hanging Sycamores. Poor ol’ Willis didn’t have any luck that day, but I managed to catch a Blue Catfish, and several Largemouth Bass, one of them weighing in at 3 pounds, 12 ounces. Willis swore that could’ve probably won a tournament! Around six, the sky started graying up, and the water started getting choppy, so we trailered up his little boat and headed home. Willis was a good sport about “getting’ smoked in my own boat” by his brother-in-law, and showed a picture of my bass off to everybody.
Like I said, fishing is not necessarily about catching fish; it’s about getting away from the daily grind of life in the city. It’s about connecting with nature and our ancestors, who had no choice but to live off the land. And that day, it was about getting to know a great man that I am honored to call a brother. That was one of the best days I ever spent on the water, and just another blessing to count in my Good Life.
Sometimes, just sitting home in my green backyard, under the shade of my massive Black Maple, is as good as life can get. Yeah, I am less than an eighth of a mile away from I-640, but I am lucky enough to own a home in an older neighborhood. West Haven is in Northwest Knoxville, and most of the houses here are almost 50 years old. We are blessed with many tall, beautiful oaks, poplars, maples, and even Black Walnut trees. The friendly folks here are proud of their tall trees, and most would never dream of topping them. They take pride in the appearance of their homes and the entire neighborhood, without the invasive iron fist of a homeowner’s committee.
You can paint your house any color you like, and have any kind of mailbox or fence you like. You can even park one of your cars in the front yard without some snoopy Nazi raising hell at you! Sometimes, my wife and I just like to sit out under the stars on a warm summer night on our front porch. Or I might pick on my guitar or mandolin under the shade of my big ol’ maple tree. An evening walk, or a 3-mile run through West Haven is a privilege that cannot be had in neighborhoods just a mile down the road from us. I thank God every day that my and Luchrisa’s hard work brought us here from the trailer park we started out in over 14 years ago!
Yeah, we’re just blue-collar types, doing the best we can with what we have. Sometimes it’s a struggle, and it can get downright tough. It’s not for everybody, working like a dog just to survive, but I think it only makes us tougher, and more appreciative of what we’ve been blessed with.
Ya damn right we live the Good Life!