As I was paddling across the lake toward home, somebody yelled, “Hey!” I scanned the shoreline behind me. Again, “Hey!” and I saw the guy standing on his lawn, near the shoreline, beckoning me with big arm waves.
I thought he might want to ask about my boat or about the great blue heron I’d photographed just a few minutes before. Turns out I was the star suspect of a crime he had imagined. His hailing me marked the end of what had been a near rapturous paddle near Concord off the Tennessee River, otherwise known as Fort Loudoun Lake.
I’d put in at the Cove/Concord Park boat ramp about 6 o’clock in the evening on a warm breezy Wednesday, aiming to see how far I could go up Turkey Creek proper. But the wind was stiff, so I headed directly across the bay toward a railroad trestle that marked the mouth of Little Turkey Creek. There, hoping for calmer waters, I planned to try my luck with the old fly rod and poppers I’d inherited from my father.
I was across the bay in about half an hour. Behind me, on the Northshore side, were mega-mansions packed tightly along the bank for as far down the creek as I could see. On the other side, where the Norfolk Southern Railroad ran, were houses that were older and more modest, and I thought to myself that it would do you good to live there and to hear the train run on one side, and then to have the lake and the birds and the passing boats right there in front of you on the other side.
Beyond the railroad bridge and into what I’d call the creek proper, I paddled past some derelict houses and a collapsing shack on the left bank, houses with small pontoons on the right, two roads running above on each side, thick with after-work motorist traffic and cyclists. This kind of abrupt change in landscape has always fascinated me on Knox County rambles.
At the next bridge a young man was fishing off the bank, his pickup parked nearby. His line went taut, and he pulled a decent sized smallmouth from the creek, what we agreed was a borderline keeper. As he worked the lure free (a shaky-head worm), he told me he liked to fish here after work, that the bass were moving up to shallow waters to spawn. He was a little amped up because he’d caught a fish on each of his first three casts. An experienced tournament fisherman, he was giddy with the prospect of catching more bass from what was now a creek four feet at its deepest, clear down to the bottom. He told me where to fish under the bridge and encouraged me to paddle across where he had just been casting. He hooked another one. As he reeled, he said Little Turkey was fed by a spring on Willow Creek golf course and another on land his family owned.
On the way out I could see the bass cruising below my yellow hull. I cast at a fallen tree, half submerged. Some tiny blue gill bumped at the trailing popper and one got on the hook for a few seconds and freed himself.
As I approached the railroad bridge, a train chugged across, blowing its whistle. By the time I put up my fishing rod and got my camera out, it was gone. On the other side of the bridge, the wind had calmed, and, as if on cue, the train returned for me to photograph it.
I took one shot of a great blue heron that flew down onto the bank and headed across the bay to the boat ramp. I was thinking how great it was that so many people could be on and around the water and enjoy it different ways in harmony.
That’s about when the resident summoned me. As I glided toward him, I said hello, how you doing, and he replied with this question: “Did you just take a picture of my house?”
“I just took a photo of a great blue heron on the bank,” I said.
“What great blue heron? Where’s a great blue heron?”
I pointed out that great blue herons were all over the lake. Did he know what they looked like? “And why would I want a picture of your house?” I asked.
“That’s what I’m asking,” he said.
We went back and forth like this for a while, and he asked if I lived nearby.
I told him I lived in Maryville.
“Why don’t you turn your little boat around and head on back to Maryville,” he said.
There was nothing for me to do then but turn my little boat around and head back to Maryville. I should have known better than to argue with an old man who imagined he’d been violated. Ousted from a public waterway, I dug into the water with long angry strokes and began to ponder the incident. Had others taken pictures of this man’s house? If so, I could not imagine why. It was a nice house but ordinary in size and architecture, particularly when compared to the castles across the bay. Did he have something to hide? Was there something about a motorless boat that irritated him, my quiet transport implicating me in something sneaky? Did he think he had the right to expel people from the Tennessee River?
Near the ramp, I spotted a great blue heron roost at the top of a pine tree, three nests with the big birds outlined against the fading light of the day. They didn’t squawk when I took their photos, and I took this as a friendly invitation to return.