Snow on a Daffodil – Spring in Rock Island
Rock Island State Park –
It’s been four winters since I’ve seen your scalp. I had forgotten how beautiful your skin truly is with its textures, contours, ravines and ridges. My feet find a rhythm and I begin my morning stroll through your part, the softened and worn bed of fallen leaves which cover your mysterious terra. It’s winter chilly today, but there have been days not too long past when the sunshine reminded me that change is in the air. As I look deeper into the thicket of bald and beautiful grey trunks that cling to you and reach deep into your bone, my eyes soften with the sight of something green. I grin thinking, “Your hair is starting to sprout again”.
I walk to it and touch a gentle leaflet of a blackberry bush inching its way to life, gathering its food from its tangled roots all sipping and burrowed deep into your warm soil. A spider’s web between the branches perfectly holds the remnants of the flurries from the night before.
As I turn to meander on towards a song I hear of water and rocks, a thorn nips at my shirt trying to make me stay a little longer. I slowly release her and can taste in my mouth the burst of berries she will provide in July.
I have been on this walking trail a few times before and I knew that at the bottom of this notch I would cross that beckoning stream, but off to my left something caught my eye. There was no part in the earths scalp in that direction, no path, nothing but woods, all unknown, a quilt of last years leaves, and that was all it took. The crunch of my boot on untouched leaves was like the smell of coffee. My senses lifted, my eyes opened wider and I sucked in a cool breath of morning. I hop over a few dead trees and then turn around trying to envision them as the giants they once were. I notice the smaller saplings, all taller than me, and can only imagine the amount of energy and work that is churning right now, underneath my feet, as those little saplings prepare to send new life juices that’ll burst up into their fibers
I have been blessed with a good sense of direction so I have no doubt I can find my way back. I am no longer looking for white blazes on the trees, the only thing that moves me now is flow. I forgot how winter reveals this so easily. Now that I can see your scalp, I can follow shape, color, sunlight, stone outcroppings, river beds and the critters out here dancing in the woods with me. The grey cloud that has been above all morning disperses and suddenly sunlight emerges and changes everything. I stop and try to take in that moment of transition as a Pileated wood pecker does his best Woody Wood Pecker interpretation and flaps his massive wings and lands on a tree about fifty feet away. The sun felt so good on my face, I decided to stay awhile, lay in the leaves, rest my bones and soak it in.
With my eyes closed and my arms behind my head I could hear the breeze blowing through empty branches. It would swirl around me and in an instant completely become silent. I could hear the sweet song of chickadees in the distance, perhaps singing their spring courtship melody. “That’s a bluebird chirp. Oh…. what bird is that…. sounds like a Nuthatcher I think….”, Somewhere in the music I drifted off into a little nap.
I awake to the sound of leaves rustling behind me. I slowly roll over and see three white tails all in salute and a doe slowly stomping her left front foot trying to make out what this weird looking mound was in the leaves. I could see their noses all pulling in as hard as they could and within seconds they trotted off with a few snorts to announce my presence to any other deer in the neighborhood. I rise from my afternoon slumber and feel a bit hungry and am rewarded with a patch of Trillium, one of Tennessee’s first spring edible weeds. A few steps later I stumbled into a hillside of wood violets and partake of a few tasty leaves and flowers. Spring tastes so good. I follow a ridge line for awhile and at first I can hear it and then off into the valley on my right a small water fall comes into view. Down the hill I go in a full-out run, jumping over limbs, swerving around trunks, dodging thickets of mountain laurel and within seconds have two handfuls of pure cold creek splashing onto my cheeks. It felt so good, I did it again … and again.
“Could that be what I think it is?” I get up from kneeling at the creek and walk a few feet up stream and my grin grows wider. One of my favorite winter and early spring veggies was just waiting for me. Fortunately, I always enter the woods with two bags; one for trash and one to bring home any edibles that I may stumble upon. Within five minutes my Walmart bag was filled to the rim with fresh and delicious Watercress. Sweet Jesus, can I hear an Amen?!!! As I pointed my internal compass back towards camp, I could already imagine and taste the savory creation on our table.
I look back as I leave the woods, stepping once again onto the beaten path. “I’ll be back!” I think to myself. A half mile later I notice a cropping of daffodils all with their buttery yellow cups opened and waving in the wind. “How did you guys get here?” I wonder, pondering and looking around, dreaming about the homestead that must have been built here many years ago. I lean down and pick a few to bring back to my bride. The sun feels so good, the greens are going to taste amazing. Oh how I love seeing the stubble of spring lifting from your scalp. My heart is so warm, and yet the cool breeze reminds me of the ole’ saying,
“The warmth of March can still have a chill and snow will always fall on a daffodil.”
More Details about Rock Island State Park
We love Rock Island State Park, which is located on the Cumberland Plateau in middle Tennessee. The 883 acre park begins at the headwaters of Center Hill Lake at the confluence of the Caney Fork, Collins and Rocky Rivers. The park’s whitewater sections attract freestyle kayakers from around the world. There is also a sand beach and boating access on Center Hill Lake. There are more than 10 miles of hiking/biking trails in the park. Though we have hiked all the trails in the park and our favorite is the Eagle and Blue Hole trail, this story was inspired from walks along the Bluff Trail. Last year when we visited we floated down the Collins River and wrote a little story about that wonderful day here.
The Rock Island campground is located up on the ridge and there are no waterfront sites. But almost every site is well laid out and each offer a bit of privacy. The campground was upgraded a few years ago and all the sites are paved and there are two modern bathhouses with $1 washer/dryers. Wi-fi is included and has worked great all the times we have been here and we do get 2 bars of 4G Verizon too. With booster it goes up to 4. Our favorite sites for larger rigs (35 ft.+) are 1,2,4,5,6,7, 11, 12, 23,24,33-sewer, 34-sewer, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 42, 44, 46. The park has one campground section that is open year-round, which was great for us this March, when all the COE campgrounds and other great Tennessee parks are still closed for the winter.
Some of our favorite places in the area
You won’t find too many conveniences close to the park. Yes, there is a Dollar General about 10 minutes away as well as the Rock Island Market that is known for the best catfish around and you”ll be hard pressed to find a parking spot there every Friday, Saturday or Sunday. However, if you are looking for something a little more unique you will be quite surprised and your taste buds will thank you when you stumble upon the Foglight Food House. This quaint hidden gem is located on the banks of the Caney Fork river and within seconds of walking towards the front door you’ll feel like you have discovered something truly special. I could make you drool describing our favorite dishes, or tell you about the delicious craft brew they serve and let you in on a few secrets, like the best days when the chef experiments with new creations… but part of the magic of Foglight is the discovery and sharing this culinary adventure with someone you love.
There are two full service towns within 30 minutes of Rock Island, both with unique Tennessee southern charm and both with Walmart super stores. Sparta is located to the north and McMinnville to the south. We didn’t spend much time in either, but did find a couple fun spots in McMinnville. Collins River BBQ is located in the charming historic downtown. Most come for the tasty smoky goodness they serve, but upstairs in this 100+ year old building you’ll find quite the music scene. We happened to time our visit perfectly and I was lucky enough to join in on a songwriters night. Smooth Rapids is located on the banks of the Collins river and in addition to being an outfitter for kayak and canoe rentals, they have a beckoning porch overlooking the river, intimate campgrounds, and a tasty diner and once spring truly arrives, they will have live bands and music events throughout the summer.
We also spent an enjoyable afternoon exploring the historic mansion called Falcon Rest. PBS called it Tennessee’s Biltmore and though it is a far cry from the Vanderbilt masterpiece in North Carolina, it did hold a special allure with it’s beautiful grounds, a home steeped in history, a love story and of course a ghost or two.