05 October 2011

where clouds begin

To get there, we had to paddle through a cloud. When we reached the far side, the cloud had moved on.

Williams Island Farm is located dead smack in the center of the Tennessee River just after it swerves around Moccasin Bend. The River begins near Knoxville where the Holston meets the French Broad (hidy, Suttree would say), and ends on the Kentucky line where it is swallowed by the Ohio.  A couple miles from my house, she shears downtown Chattanooga in two. 

Chattanooga itself is a city of conjunctions - three mountains, three valleys, a snaky gorge, a river cutting through the center, and railroad tracks and interstates playing tic tac toe all over it.  So what do its residents do? They build bridges over the river. They cut railroads into the mountains. They hanglide out over the valleys.  And the oldest practice: they farm the island in the middle of the Tennessee River. 

A thousand years ago, people did the same thing.  And they've been doing it on and off ever since.  Today, it's cultivated by my brother and a couple other farmhands who grow vegetables there. Beets, turnips, radishes, eggplant, chard, kale, collards, peppers, squash, carrots, okra, arugula, herbs, shiitakes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, cabbage to name a few. I go there every other week to hoe my fair share, but really it's the island feeling that I savor. Paddling across the river. Gazing south to Lookout and north into the Gorge. The clouds never lie the same way twice.

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