Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Into Wildest Yocona

Pretty, right? Don't eat them.  You'll see unicorns, but then you'll die.
On numerous occasions in this blog, I've spoken about the Yocona River, which runs about a mile from where I now sit.

My steamboat in Passing the Narrows is named the Yocona. I've used the woods around here as the setting for Mama Hog's ancestral homeland of Pot Lockney. I even blogged about strange sounds I recorded along the Yocona River a few weeks ago.

Today, via the twin miracles of photography and waterproof boots, I'm going to take you on a journey through fields and forest and right down onto the sandy banks of the Yocona River itself.

While one might not simply walk into Mordor, that's precisely how we arrived at the River. Walking is the best way, at least under certain circumstances. And by certain circumstances I mean this:

That's ice. Shaded water remained frozen all day, which means the nine-foot-long water moccasins with heads the size of piglets are all snug in their winter beds, dreaming whatever it is that venomous monsters dream. 

Which isn't to say there are no perils along the way, even on nice cold days. There are. First and foremost, we have the over-eager deer hunters with their rocket-propelled grenade launchers and their cavalier disregard for property lines. Next on the list are the wild boars, which is what happened when Mother Nature saw an Abrams M1 tank and decided she could do better with tusks and hooves. 

Then we have feral hogs, which can be nasty if they have piglets around, and coyotes, which -- nah, I'm not really afraid of coyotes. I've run into them before and while I got the distinct impression they wanted to sell me something on Craigslist, I'd put their physical threat level somewhere between 'Hay, bales of' and 'cheese, slightly off.'

Even so, I armed myself with the Mantle of Sarcasm and the Breastplate of Snide Remarks, gathered my valiant companions, and off we went.

You can shave off a half-mile hike through the woods by skirting this soybean field. That line of trees in the distance? That's the halfway mark on our journey.

But let's stop here a minute. I acted as expedition leader and Bearer of the Mighty Camera. Lou Ann, self-appointed safari guide and ad hoc legal counsel, took point. Karen armed herself with a stout length of oak and listened politely while I misidentified trees and took on the air of an experienced game tracker, even though I once got lost going to the refrigerator and I'm vague on where ham comes from. 

And thus we sallied forth. 

The first 400 feet revealed my folly in not bringing along a secret stash of Snickers bars. The sun beat down, well, to be honest, like a distant 40-watt incandescent bulb. The wind bore with it a deadly chill. Um. No.

Actually, it was quite pleasant. We saw many tracks -- deer, turkey, raccoon, stegosaurus, Muppet, alien greys, wolfmen, and the Creature From the Black Lagoon. Or maybe just deer and turkey.

Lou Ann amused herself by bathing in a slew, much to Karen's dismay, as the water did not smell of hyacinths and lavender.

Lou is at my feet this very moment, and her fragrance is redolent of rotting leaves, pond-slime, and the subtle hint of something best not explored any further. I'm sure among dogs, such a thing is equivalent to Chanel No. 5.

Soon, we entered the woods.

As you can see, many of the leaves haven't fallen yet. It's beautiful, though.

I wish the photos showed the true scale of these trees. They're very large. Tree-like, I suppose. Most, er, arboreal.

And if they're not monsters, they're close together. It's slow going, because briars are the fashion accessory for forests everywhere this season!

So far, so good. We encountered no boars. Took no artillery fire from Bubba and crew. A pair of shifty-looking coyotes did try to sell me a pair of speakers from the back of a van, but I know that scam, so we kept walking.

You know how you're getting close to the river? Pick one:

A) You fall in and drown.
B) You see the first line of bamboo.

B. Always pick B. And there it is, bamboo amid the briars. Perfect for cutting a fishing pole along the way, if you must. We must not, since this is a a scientific expedition and anyway I'm looking forward to a Red Baron pizza for supper.

Here's another amusing aspect of hiking near the river. Beavers are busy, and they're everywhere, and here is what they leave behind:

So if you do find yourself falling, don't fall flat. Those things are sharp.

Keep walking, being careful with your footing (the pics don't show it, but the ground is full of exposed foot-catching roots and hidden holes left by rotting stumps), and soon you'll see the Yocona River itself.

There it is, muddy and lazy, meandering along like it has all the time in the world, and I suppose it has just that.

What you're seeing is the River from atop a twenty-foot bank. Your next task is to descend down to the water without descending down into the water, and that is a critical distinction. The river still has two pairs of Tuttle eyeglasses, and it wants a third, I just know it does.

As usual, Lou led the way, scampering down in an instant while the clumsy humans climbed and slid and leaped.

At last, we all made it. The sand bar is covered by leaves, but it's the same sand bar I fished from as a kid. I'm 50 now, so that's quite a few years ago.

I've changed. The River hasn't. Make of that what you will.

It's still a peaceful place. Of course in the summer, we'd have heard frogs and crickets and a hundred, a thousand other critters, but with ice on the ground, the river is silent.

Above you see the adventurers triumphant, nattily dressed in their Day-Glo PLEASE DON'T SHOOT ME gear. Note Karen's Stick of +5 Striking, and my Haircut of +7 Feral Pig Intimidation.

The above photo is the result of asking Lou to pose for a picture. Note her immediate charge toward the lens.

Finally got it, though! Note the head of the Loch Ness Monster emerging from the water to Karen's right.

And what good is a river if you can't swim in it? I declined, as I was wearing my good socks.

Cryptozoology is dirty work.

Did we find anything strange on our trip?

Well, there's this.

Tracks in the sand. Look, the river is home to all kinds of critters. Beavers. Coyotes. Nutria. Bobcats. Rabbits. Raccoons. You name it, and they all come here to drink, sooner or later.

So something made these marks in the sand. They can't be more than a day old because it rained hard Friday and there was loose sand in the bottom of the impressions.

My guess is a coon or a possum was digging for grubs. But I can see how other opinions might vary.

Finally it was time to head for home. Lou Ann took a last swim. Then we made the climb back up the bank and marched back into the woods.

A red-tailed hawk wheeled overhead when we emerged, probably laughing at all the trouble we were having pushing through the briars.

And that, my friends, is the photographic record of the 2013 River Expedition.

Sadly, the above image of big feet is the only such image I can offer, at least today.


I had a pretty good week, all things considered. I didn't quite hit the magical 10K word count, but that's okay. I taught my writing class Thursday evening and I was in Memphis as a guest on the Steve Bradshaw Show, talking about my books, so that was time well spent.

I'll close with a brief excerpt from the work in progress, THE DARKER CARNIVAL. In the book, I've established that what they call a 'riding wheel' is what we call a Ferris wheel. Big wheel with seats and lights and no apparent purpose, smells of corn dogs? That clear? Everyone cool with it? Good.

The riding wheel flared to life. A man climbed it, leaping from seat to seat, finding handholds in the rusty iron frame. If he cried out, we never heard it.

Something leaped onto the wheel below him. At first I thought it a man, but when it began to climb, it used too many legs. It scuttled up the wheel effortlessly, leaped on the climbing man's back, and after a moment of awful stillness it flung his limp body to the ground and climbed down after him, moving like some monstrous eager spider.

I'll end on that note. Take care, everyone, and if you're in the US I wish you and yours a happy Thanksgiving.


  1. Love the description of coyotes!

  2. Thanks. Coyotes are the shifty used-car salesmen of the canid clan.