Driving home after a stormy blustery day, the sky is terrific. The clouds have such dimensions and colors that I have to take a moment and study them. They are flying across the sky but rather than just being a distant layer in the atmosphere, they seem to be globular members of my normal community, connected to the earth, somehow, just taller than the trees.
As I pass through the town of Rockwood's way too many traffic lights, putting the last one behind me, I noticed the typical pecking order in the sky as smaller birds harrass larger birds in a common springtime ritual. This is probably because it is nesting season, though it occurs at other times of the year also. A sparrow sized bird was working over a crow...normal enough...but the crow was attacking a much bigger bird that was proving surprizingly agile for its size. At first I thought it was a turkey vulture and then an osprey, but as the distance shortened between us I could see the white head and tail of a mature bald eagle. Wow! Three way aerial combat right here in almost downtown Rockwood, Tennessee.
On my left was the small flagstone sided Tennessee State Patrol building that was the last outpost on "Thunder Road" of song and movie fame. I pulled over to the side of the road and watched as the trio battled their way over the tree tops and out of sight. That was yesterday.
Today it is even windier and the light on the gorge seems stark in the clear air. It's only like this just after a storm washes the haze clean.
From the cliff above the house you can see Signal Mountain at Chattanooga and the Smoky Mountains all the way to the North Carolina State line. Before coal power days you could see this most all the time except for the most humid days of summer...Not any more. I have sat on the overlook rock with binoculars and figured out where most things are on the other side of the Tennessee valley. On my side, the official edge of the Valley is well defined. it's the rock I sit upon on Walden Ridge. On the Smoky Mountain side...who knows, maybe somewhere near Townsend. On the South end of the mountian range I can pick out Chilhowee and Gee mountains. That's where the Ocoee river and the Hiwasee river flow out of the hills. The Little River drops out of the heart of the Smokies through Townsend and Maryville, eaten by Tellico Lake before it gets anywhere else. The Litle river gap is difficult to find but I've managed...I think. Somewhere in there is Cades Cove, the intended sight of President Bush's visit to the Smokies on Earth Day 2005. We had a fine thunderstorm and he decided to give his environmental speech from the inside of a concrete aircraft hanger, which if ever there were a metaphor for this President's environmental record that was it. So he was a twenty minute drive from the Smokies but didn't go because of rain, which had stopped by the time he spoke.
I don't know, folks, anyone who has ever been in the Smokies after a thunderstorm remembers it as a life experience, the air washed clean, sparkling light, waterfalls everywhere. The drive into Cades Cove alone next to the Little River and Big Creek is fabulous. It's not like he didn't have time...he was headed out to Crawford Texas for another vacation. Let me see...Cades Cove....Crawford Texas...Cades Cove...
What moron would blow off the chance to spend time in Cades Cove after a Spring storm in order to get to godforsaken Crawford, Texas quicker?
I guess we have our answer.
Back here in Whites Creek Gorge, a spring ritual is unfolding. The gorge lines up with the setting sun this time of year and instead of the sunlight being clipped by the far ridge, it lasts on into the evening. Turkey vultures are ripping up the air, doing things folks rarely believe that buzzards are even capable of in the blustery afternoon wind currents. They are actually phenominal flyers. We hiked up to a rock point in the gap to watch them and were rewarded as they would scream by us in one direction lopp around and hang motionless facing into the wind before performing a wingover and dropping out of site below us, surfing the invisible ocean of air, wave after wave. They would come within twenty yards of us even with our eyes at times. What a site.
Not all Turkey vultures do this kind of playing in the air on a spring day. Here is a great photo of a buzzard from the Captain of the Rocky Top Brigade, South Knox Bubba. It was taken on Friday afternoon from his back porch in South Knoxville...The side of town next to the mountains.
Vultures, it appears, are ubiquitous things and may be seen, even in urban and suburban environments, looking for dead things to feed upon:
The name "turkey" and "vulture" would be well applied to this specimen, don't you think?
There's more and please check the comments at Bubba's site: