WALKINGSTICK (PART 1)
After breakfast, John kissed Priscilla good-bye, and we headed for his truck. On the way from his home to the marina, he told me a bit about Fontana Dam.
“Son, it’s a monster of a dam. I mean, it’s the highest concrete dam east of the Rocky Mountains—nearly 480 feet from its base to the top—the highest dam in the TVA system. It’s over 2,300 feet long and over 375 feet thick at its base.”
His knowledge impressed me.
He continued. “I’ve seen a lot of dams in my travels, but in my opinion, Fontana ranks among the most beautiful in the world—sittin’ right smack-dab in the middle of the extraordinary beauty of the Smoky Mountains and its wilderness forests. Man, it’s gorgeous.”
I felt as if I was with a tour guide. But it was good to hear him talk as we wound down the mountain toward the lake—his headlights piercing the mist that was coming off the lake.
John continued his narration. “The dam was built just as America got into World War II. Construction started on New Year’s Day in 1942, and they started to fill the reservoir in November 1944. Since the site was so remote, a railroad had to be built to transport supplies. And an entire community for the workers and their families was erected in the wilderness, almost overnight. The five thousand or so men and women who assembled at Fontana in 1942 worked in three shifts, around the clock, seven days a week. And what was once their construction village is now our resort and homes.”
John slowed down the truck to turn toward the marina. “The saddest part of the whole project was the effect on the towns and the folks who lived in what is now the lake basin. There were approximately six hundred mountain families in the area when Fontana was built. Some were relocated; some moved east to Asheville or west to Tennessee.”
As we drove I reflected on what I had heard locals say about this relocation. They still feel the government stole their land; in fact, many still feel the land is theirs, so that’s why they feel justified in hunting in the park—they’re just taking what they feel is rightfully theirs.
We arrived at the Fontana Marina at first light. The tree line was nearly fifty feet above waterline. In years gone by, Fontana Lake had produced electricity for the Tennessee Valley Authority. Folks around here saw that project as just another plot by the federal government to steal what was theirs and sell it to others—in this case, the folks over in another state. It caused a great deal of distress and was the topic of frequent discussions.
When the lake was low, a ribbon of unsightly red clay was usually visible above the waterline. There could be as much as 100 to 150 feet of treeless, red shoreline above the water. In the years we lived in Bryson City, I only saw the lake full to the top once— and even then it was only for a few short weeks.
When the lake was full, it was a spectacular sight—with massive, sometimes virgin forests hugging the waterline. The tree-lined canyons and fjords were mesmerizing. Waterfalls and creeks tumbling into the lake were a never-ending delight to fishermen cruising the shore.
Since the north shore of the lake made up much of the southern border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it was totally undeveloped and wild. When the lake was full, the wildlife would come to the shore for a drink during the day. To see deer, bear, boar, or bobcat then was not rare. However, when the lake was down, as it was today—and as it usually was—the wildlife stayed in the woods and drank from the streams.
Because of the unpredictable lake levels, the marinas were all built on floats and would be raised or lowered by a winch and cable system. Aluminum walkways would protect the shore and the fishermen as they walked from the tree line to the marina.
The small marina store was already a beehive of activity. People were purchasing last-minute supplies, day licenses, and bait. Others were filling gas cans. Boats with motors idling awaited their occupants. Coffee cups held in one hand and cigarettes in the other seemed common. Laughter and fish stories merged into a soft bedlam that reverberated around the small cove.
Nearly everyone knew John and spoke to him. He greeted them all, asking about their spouses and families. He shared gossip and tips freely and joyously. He introduced me to each person, and I enjoyed watching the way he made each person feel significant.
At the end of one of the aluminum piers, a small group of Cherokee men were drinking coffee and laughing. As John and I walked up, they stood and greeted him. One of the men was very large, with a headful of waist-length hair that was as black as midnight. I think it was the most beautiful hair I’d ever seen on a man. As he stood to shake our hands, I noticed that his left arm was missing; the long-sleeve flannel shirt arm was tied in a knot on the left side. He must have noticed my slightly too long stare.
“Lost the arm in ’Nam, Doc. Lost the arm but kept my life. Turned out better than most of the boys I was with.”
It was my first meeting with Carl Walkingstick. He was about six foot six and weighed over three hundred pounds. Yet he didn’t look obese—rather, he was just a very, very big man. And to the Cherokee, who tended to be a bit smaller than average, he was a Goliath.
“Carl, tell Doc about that pike you caught not too long ago,” directed John.
Carl seemed almost embarrassed. “Aw, Officer John. Doc don’t wanna hear a bunch of fish stories from me. After all, he’s gonna be hearin’ ’em all day from you!”
The men howled in laughter.
“Carl, this here’s Doc’s first trip down here and I been tellin’ him about the fishin’ down here. And you done caught one of the biggest pike ever. I think he’d like to hear a bit about it, wouldn’t cha, Doc?”
John elbowed me. “That’s true, isn’t it, Doc?”
“Mr. Walkingstick, I’ve got to tell you. The boys in Bryson who’ve been telling me about fly-fishing say that lake fishing isn’t really that good. But I’d sure like to hear your views about the matter.”
“Well, I do like to fly-fish,” began Carl. “But, Doc, there’s nothin’ quite like trollin’ for muskie or pike or walleye or lake trout. Some of ’em in the deeper parts of this lake are as big as torpedoes. The muskie is the biggest. And there are some massive trout and pike here also. I love fishin’ in the streams and I love fishin’ in the lake. My dad taught me both. He loved both. And so do I. But if I had to choose, I’d choose lake fishin’ most any time. The fish are huge—especially that pike I caught.”
The conversation paused for a moment. I felt like all eyes were on me. It was almost as though the group was waiting for me to speak next. Unfortunately, I did.
“Well, Carl, just how big was that pike?”
I had no sooner spoken than I knew I shouldn’t have. The snickers started almost immediately. The men tried to hide smiles and chortles behind shirtsleeves and nodded heads.
Carl’s pearly white teeth gleamed as he rose to attention. His right arm was fully extended, his hand outstretched like he was going to applaud, but there was no left arm to match it.
“Doc, he was this big!”
The group could not contain itself. John Carswell and the younger men howled in laughter—belly-shaking, bone-deep laughter I couldn’t help but join in. No doubt, this joke had been told a hundred times before—and would be told again and again in the future.
“You boys have a good day,” said John as we turned to head to his boat.
“Doc, good to meet you,” chimed the group as it broke into peals of laughter again.
“You all got me on that one.” I chuckled to myself.
As we turned to leave, Carl yelled out, “Hey, Doc!”
I turned back toward him. “Yes.”
“You know how you can tell Carswell is lyin’—at least when he’s talkin’ about the fish he done caught?”
I paused—then took the bait. Again. “How?” I asked.
Carl smiled and then exclaimed, “His lips will be movin’!”
The men howled again in laughter—one of them laughing so hard he fell off his bench onto the dock. Again I couldn’t help but join in.
If there was some way I could have bottled Carl’s humor and prescribed it to every patient I saw who had to live with a physical disability, I know I’d have healthier patients.
Actually, I’ve come to believe this might be a true principle for us all. And as I would soon learn, it was his and his friends’ humor that would help save Carl’s life.
TO BE CONTINUED
PAST STORIES FROM BRYSON CITY SEASONS
- Dead Man Standing (Part 1), (Part 2), (Part 3)
- Eyes Wide Open (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Auspicious Accidents (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Answered Prayers (Part 1), (Part 2), (Part 3), (Part 4)
- Rotary Luncheon
- Death by Emotion (Part 1), (Part 2), (Part 3), (Part 4)
- The Invitation (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Barbecue and Bacon (Part 1), (Part 2)
- A Touchy Subject
- Family Time (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Chicken Pops(Part 1), (Part 2)
- Swain County Football (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Hospital Politics (Part 1), (Part 2), (Part 3)
- The Bobcat Attacks (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Dungeons and Apples
- A Tale of Two Surgeons (Part 1), (Part 2), (Part 3)
- Tanned Feets (Part 1), (Part 2), (Part 3)
- Wise Counsel (Part 1), (Part 2)
- An Anniversary to Remember (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Mrs. Black Fox (Part 1), (Part 2)
- The Littlest Cherokee (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Christmas Firsts (Part 1), (Part 2)
- The Silver Torpedo
- Another New Year’s Catch
- Turned Tables
- Doctor Dad (Part 1), (Part 2), (Part 3)
- The Phone Tap (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Labor Pains (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Staph and Staff (Part 1), (Part 2)
- The Ribbon Cutting
- Mountain Breakfast
- Walkingstick (Part 1), (Part 2)
PAST STORIES FROM BRYSON CITY TALES
- The Murder (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- The Arrival (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Hemlock Inn (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Grand Tour (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Interview (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- Settling In (Part 1); (Part 2)
- First-Day Jitters (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Emergency (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Delivery (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The “Expert” (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Trial (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Shiitake Sam (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Wet Behind the Ears (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- Lessons in Daily Practice (Part 1) — Anal Angina; (Part 2); (Part 3); (Part 4)
- White Lies
- The Epiphany (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Becoming Part of the Team (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Monuments (Part 1); (Part 2)
- My First Home Victory (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Fisher of Men (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Fly-Fishing (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Something Fishy (Part 1); (Part 2)
- A Good Day at the Office
- An Evening to Remember
- Another New Doc Comes to Town
- ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (Part 1); (Part 2)
- A Surprising Gift
- The New Year (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Home Birth (Part1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- The Showdown (Part1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- The Initiation (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- Home at Last (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
© Copyright WLL, INC. 2018. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.