Saturday morning found me meeting up with Gary Baker in front of Fairmont Headstart school building, which is located on Fairmont Ave., on the west side of Pine Hills in Harriman, Tennessee. The school sets on property that also takes in about 10 to 15 acres of land that was once a nursery farm for Bob's Flower Place, a local nursery where I once worked along side Woody Adkisson, the adopted son of Bob Adkisson, the owner. The neighborhood kids all called him "Uncle Bob" and you'd have to look hard to find a better person.
Uncle Bob raised his children, Betty Anne and Woody, in the church, and every time the doors were open, he expected them to be there! I can't say he was a strict man, but he did expect his kids to perform chores around the home, and Woody worked for him just like any other hired hand. He got the same wage and performed the same jobs, and I think it was all an attempt by his father to teach him the business. However, Woody never had the desire to be in the "flower" business.
Woody learned to work hard in the heat of the East Tennessee summer sun and humidity, and I often had trouble keeping up. However, that work ethic rubbed off on me back in the summers of '62 and '63, and dripped off my brow down in a little hidden valley behind Pine Hills Subdivision; down next to Bumgardner Creek. If you follow that creek, and the railroad bed on the south side of the creek, west, you will eventually come out by McDonald's near Exit 347 of I-40.
Woody and I toiled with pick and shovel, wrestled tillers, sowed burlap bags that formed giant balls around bundled roots and earth, and pushed mowers back and forth for 75 cents an hour. We worked hard, trying to get to the next break under the shade of a line of slender saplings that grew straight and tall in the best bottom soil around. That soil was irrigated with Bumgardner Creek water that pooled up behind two concrete and 2X6 board dams that Bob had constructed years earlier. The water level was determined by the number of boards inserted into the concrete slots on each side of the dam.
The water was cool in those pools and we often sat on the dam walls, dangling our bare feet in the water, while sharing a Winston, and a cup of cool thermos water off the back of the ol' "Green Bomb", Bob's '48 Chevy pickup. We shared many a conversation, about which is lost in time, but needless to say they involved the coming weekend, girls, and an occasional heated discussion about the differences between calling a church South Harriman Baptist verses the Church of Christ! Never of us ever won these exchanges, but we forged a bond over those years.
Woody and I ended up joining the Air Force in August of '64, along with Tom Hall, and after that, well, I only saw him a half dozen times. Where he is today...even his family don't seem to know for sure?!
Anyway, I said all this just to point out that the land below Fairmont School holds a special place in my heart. So, Saturday, Gary, who now owns the property, and I walked down the hill and into the past.
The dams are almost too overgrown to see anymore, and their purpose is lost on anyone who does not remember "Uncle Bob" or the nursery he owned. Gary remembered it though, having roamed Pine Hills as a young boy, along with our mutual friend Bennie Lowery.
Besides the dam walls, little is left that would indicate the area was ever used as a nursery farm. However, if you look real close, you can still see trees that are in perfect alignment, and a huge juniper bush or two that would seem strangely located to an uneducated eye.
We crossed the creek and walked the fence line that separates the land from the railroad right-of-way and into the heart of the property. We each took turns pointing out trees and shrubs that were obviously remnants of the past. We stood by the creek and marveled at the tranquility, which was only broken by the distant traffic on I-40. Over those muffled sounds, you could almost hear the ol' Green Bomb sloshing across the creek!
We left Pine Hills and drove to Clifty Creek. Gary had called Dr. Ahler and asked him to join us.
Together we walked back into another past, a past where young boys (me, Woody, and Barry, among others) used to come, again in the ol' Green Bomb, and do boyish things. We shot cans lined up in rows, and regrettably bottles, that we had tossed in upstream, ambushing them as they passed. I like to think that after fifty years of so, that the water had ground off all the sharp edges, or tuned them back into sand, but I'm sure that's wishful thinking.
Each of us told personal stories of the "Pepper Box" area, as we sat on a big sandstone rock and looked up Clifty Creek, remembering the past.
Dr. Ahler spoke of leading Boy Scouts across the creek, and the time he slipped and fell in.
Me, well, all those cans and bottles were rolled into one event, just like the camping trips. They all turn into one great adventure, in the dark, around a camp fire, listening to the "peppering" sound the water made after falling a couple of hundred feet and splattering on the rocks below.
Today you can enjoy a variety of wildflowers, waterfalls, and old growth forests along the valley. One day, I plan to take a pilgrimage to the back most regions of this area. They say there is a second canyon area, with steep sandstone walls, that makes the first canyon envious! I want to find that wall!
The area, at least on the Morgan County side of the creek, is now part of the Nature Conservancy, and that makes me very happy. The area, its flora and wildlife, is now protected and should be available to future generations for many years to come. There should be no more "bad boys", who had no sense of legacy back then, shooting bottles in the creek. And yes, as the years go by, the chances of those bottle being turned back into sand increases!