by Rev. John H. Farmer
Along the shore
As a kid, my feet were the happiest when toes escaped shoes, so I could dangle them in a warm, wet, boggy shore. I even liked wading in mud. Yet I’d be a bit cautious where nature drew a blanket over the water. Green blanketed water harbors things that slip and slide through life. Never did my toes appreciate such acquaintances. Thus, in my youth, when life welcomed me waterside, I tried to find a place to introduce my toes to the wetlands.
Alas, now in my antiquity, open toed sandals are about as risky as I dare. It is far too burdensome to shed socks and shoes without a safe resting spot, which allows creaky bones and retired muscles to sit. If such were the case, getting back upright would negate the effort…
While living in northwest Tennessee decades ago, I would ache for things Tidewater. My heart longed for the Northern Neck. So, nothing to do but get closer to water: any kind of water, even mud puddles. Thin shallow brown rivers, which nipped at the levies were even OK.
Both the Nile and the Tennessee Rivers flow north, dump into other bodies of water then journey to the sea. From the Nile, over to the Suez Canal there are persecuted Coptic Christians. It is rumored that they have unique information relative to the first century Christian Church locked away in their sanctuaries and hid amongst their private libraries. They are quite closed-mouth about the issue and about the family of Jesus who might have lodged there.
Along the Tennessee rivers, many Christians adhere to free experiential expressions of faith. Gospel music lubricates the exploding sermons and ejaculatory prayers. It takes a certain amount of stamina to worship in those houses of faith.
In the early 1800s, the mighty Mississippi changed course: actually, ran backwards for a spell. (Tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor.) God shook the earth and a quake depressed the land along the shore, east of the Mississippi. A hole opened up. Between Lake and Obion Counties, near Tiptonville, Tenn., God pulled the river backwards to fill Reelfoot Lake. Some 20 miles long, five miles wide, it is a shallow body of water, ranging from about two to nine feet in depth. The lake drew its name from a 19th century Indian chief who had a bad foot.
The lake became a favorite sanctuary of mine. It was, and is, a grand place to meet God. All along its shore stand mighty Cyprus trees with their knobby knees thrust aloft to sip a bit of oxygen. The lake had so many roots and stumps barely submerged that an interesting type of watercraft evolved. The boats I first saw there (ahead of the fiberglass explosion) were affectionately called stump-jumpers. A bit of a wedge rested just stern ahead of the prop and encouraged the boat to bounce over things lying below the waterline. They had small gas inboard engines, started by pull ropes. They looked a good bit like canoes, though wider. Those waters are calm for the most part, so the sides of the boats were low. With a bit of practice, one could dive off, swim about and jerk down on the sides and pop out of the water quick enough to keep from swamping the craft. I suspect I would sink everyone dare I tried that these days.
The 15,000-acre Reelfoot Lake was sequestered into the state fish and game preserve. Along its shores restaurants, bait houses and boat rental spots enliven many nature lovers. Water-hungry eyes of retirees—just like here on the Northern Neck—have grabbed much of the shoreline. However, vast parts of the region now remain open to the public.
I used any excuse that I could to be around Reelfoot. When I found out that there were nesting American bald eagles in the area I organized frequent church safaris. We would drive slow through the bean and cornfields, cross over the shallow muddy regional rivers and eventually pop in to a clearing where the State of Tennessee had built a pavilion. Fried catfish, hush puppies, chopped raw onions, bacon grease-wilted lettuce salads and meringue-covered pies fueled the tourists well enough.
After lunch and a bird-watching bus ride, I would retreat to the pavilion to meander slow about the piers and terraces constructed along the shore. High safety railings with wide bench seats made pleasant spots to stop, look and listen. Those were easy meditation areas. Deep voiced toads sang. Jumping fish, ducks, geese and wiggly creatures would unzip the waters.
Late spring, early summer, that portion of the lake greens over with duckweed (little pearls which laced themselves tight across the water). It gave the illusion that you could step out on the water and free of the piers and walks, float across the lake.
Jesus once walked along the shore and instructed some lake fisherman as how to increase their haul. One chap stepped out upon the water and flitted across the lake, until that is; he took his eyes off the Lord.
My time along every shore is devoted to thanking our creator for the view.