Places I’ve left behind

The very first outdoors column I published in our weekly newspaper. I had published some pieces in various regional outdoors publications, but this was my break into the newspaper industry — the launch of a weekly column that would eventually lead to me taking on a role as a sports writer and, later, a full-time journalist position.

Looking back on it now, it all seems so distant and far away.

Yet I know that just over the next hill lies this remembered place that I am writing about, separated from me only by the inability to go back.

It is a place where the fields are filled with wildflowers and clover, disturbed only by the deer that feed there — and the bobwhites, cottontails and woodchucks that make their home there—as if humans never set foot on the place.

The evergreen groves beyond the field provide a dark, damp place full of shadows and mystical imaginations that only the human mind can conjure. Beyond that, the terrain opens into rolling hills of hardwoods, which eventually end abruptly at a cliff’s edge. It is here that you will find whitetail deer, wild turkey, ruffled grouse, wild boar, graytail and fox squirrels, redheaded woodpeckers, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, red-tail hawks, an occasional bald eagle and even a bear or two.

I only wonder how many more creatures call this their home, unbeknownst to man. Many claim to have seen or heard cougars here. Others swear that they have heard the cry of a gray wolf on a late summer night. The old man in the cabin up by Walker’s Grove even says that he saw a Sasquatch take down a fawn in the back pasture one morning … but common sense refuses to let me believe that.

My mind takes me back to sitting on the cliff’s edge, tossing rocks over the side and watching as they fall out of sight. It is here, perched high above the river that roars below, that you can watch the eagle soar across the canyon and listen to its piercing cry. If you look close enough, you can almost see a smallmouth bass surface in the deep, dark pool of water hundreds of feet below.

At night, you can sit here on the same rock and watch the moon rise across the sky as a coyote howls somewhere across the divide. You can continue watching as the moon descends out of sight, like the time that we have spent here. Soon, all we have left are memories, kept alive by our love for the outdoors and fueled by our longing to go back.

I think of the oak tree on the hill, the tree from which I deer-hunted last fall. The oak tree sits on the same hill all the year round. He sees the dogwoods bloom in the spring, the bright stars on a clear summer night, the golden leaves of autumn dropping into the clear pool in the creek, just below the roaring rapids. He watches as the stream’s flow becomes more and more sluggish, finally succumbing to winter’s freeze. He then watches as the snow blankets the forest floor against the dead silence of winter.

Spring mornings bring the turkey’s thunderous gobble and the sound of a beaver slapping the water with his tail somewhere upstream. An otter slides down the muddy bank and into the water across the way.

Something is missing … the sound of an elk’s bugle cutting through the morning still, perhaps. Other than that, this might very well be heaven on earth.

Although I’m sure time has colored the way it really was, it seems there was not a care to be had; just me and the outdoors, a man absorbed by nature. That is life and I, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way.

What happened to this place? It’s still there. Just over the next hill. A little free time and I’ll be back there again, just as I was last week.

But looking back on it now, it all seems so distant and far away.

Cross-posted at

Ben Garrett is a journalist from East Tennessee. He is publisher of the Independent Herald, a weekly newspaper serving the Big South Fork region of the Cumberland Plateau, with a sideline in website development and digital marketing. He is also an erstwhile blogger.

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