Samantha Christen 03/11/2014 | Posted in Journey, Recreational/Touring
I know school is back in session and I’m deep in Full Teacher Mode when I pull my boat out to hit the water and there are cobwebs in it. Wow… Has it really been that long?! Now that school is beyond the first nine weeks, I’ve begun consciously putting effort towards remedying this travesty by weaving threads of dedicated water time into my weeks.
The most recent episode of Quality Time in the aqueous environment was spent at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, in Birchwood, TN. I’ve shared here before about the Refuge. For myriad reasons, it’s one of my perennial favorites. Regardless of the season or weather, it never fails to not disappoint; this most resent visit was no exception.
For those just joining this particular conversation, the HWR totals just over 6,000 acres of farmland, hard and soft wood stands, and water. It is located on the Chickamauga Lake, and sits literally at the confluence of the Tennessee and Hiwassee Rivers.
The geographical area that we now know as the HWR has a significant place in Native American history. For centuries, the confluence of these two rivers was an important crossroad in regards to the development of Native American culture, specifically of the Cherokee Nation. Between 1836 and 1839, a darker cast fell over the area. This Northwest corner of the geographic boundaries of the Cherokee Nation served as a primary gathering and removal site of Cherokee during the forced relocation of the Five Civilized Tribes following the enforcement of the Treaty of New Echota. This document was never accepted by the Native American peoples, yet was signed under the provisions of the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
At present, the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park, a joint venture between several different organizations and entities, stands at this location. The Park’s purpose is to honor and memorialize those who were forcibly uprooted and removed from their ancestral lands. It serves to educate the public of the historical significance of both the area, and of the Cherokee Nation. The Memorial Park is also a biological study area, and a protected wildlife habitat and refuge for both resident and migratory birds. Areas in the planning phase of the Memorial Park include resource facilities for those seeking information about their own Native American ancestry. Additionally, the Park is the site of many different programs throughout the year, ranging from cultural to biological to fundraising.
From a paddler’s perspective, the HWR is an incredible area in which one is presented with many opportunities to get up close and personal with over 100 species of waterfowl. To protect migrating flocks of Sandhill cranes and endangered Whooping cranes, the area is closed each year from November 15th through the last day in February. Not to worry, though; you’re not without opportunities for birding! There is a viewing platform that is open year round to visitors, and the HWR affords many opportunities to celebrate and study the area’s avian and waterfowl diversity throughout the year, with the highlight being the annual Sandhill Crane Festival.
Year round in the HWR, it is quite common to see American Bald Eagles, Osprey, Kingfishers, Great Blue Herons, and Grebes. On the cusps of the HWR closure dates, the more quiet of kayaking visitors will find themselves slipping up on migrating flocks of the exquisite, yet elusive, wood duck. Also to be spotted are blue wing teal, the endangered Whooping crane, and the occasional golden eagle. A couple of years ago we were stunned to observe a Japanese hooded crane that had somehow joined the migration!
Time on the water this particular evening was shared with several feathered friends. Unfortunately, while we did have a pair of binoculars between us, we did not have a good enough camera to capture many images. Sightings included, but certainly weren’t limited to: two separate flock of wood duck; several small groups of teal; a bajillion Pie-billed Grebes; several great blue heron; a good number of Northern Shovelers; kingfishers (one very persistent one in particular); and too many shore birds to name.
We also saw a pair of tagged Great egrets. It’s difficult to say if this pair, or the wood ducks were my favorite…
For those who have happened upon the joys of flatwater paddling, you know that there is a sacredness found in the calm waters. It never ceases to intrigue me how different we humans are, and how we each have our own way of recharging and reconnecting (or disconnecting, as the case may be). Personally, I seek these types of journeys for this purpose. Surrounded by the seeming simplicity – and for many, completely boring – of quiet waters, with limited to non-existent conversation, the intricate cacophony of “quiet water” will quickly reveal itself. Our own lack of noise that evening served to highlight, and even amplify, the sounds of life found only in the environment through which we were tiptoeing. Birds calling, wings on the wind, water lapping, water plants aspiring, fish feeding and jumping… All united, with the ultimate result being a brilliant, dazzling, and hypnotic dusk symphony that reverberated throughout my body and soul.
My wish for you is that you find your own sacred waters in which you are able to rest, and in which you find yourself invigorated. In the meantime, happy and safe boating, and I’ll see you on the water!
For those of you interested, the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge does have a Facebook page.