BEGINNINGS–Mississippi and the Buffalo River, Tennessee
I have been in love with whitewater since I was a teenager. Growing up in Mississippi with long hot summers and slow dark rivers and streams, the allure of fast flowing water over rocks was powerful. Occasionally my family would find our way into the very northeast corner of Mississippi, where the foothills of the Appalachians dwindled into the black prairie land of north Mississippi, or over into Alabama and central Tennessee, where the land was formed by sharp hollows and bluffs and the streams flowed a bit faster and clearer. Those rivers were usually a deep green, as opposed to the brown water of my home state, and often they flowed over shoals and ripples, and it was there I began to appreciate the possibilities that fast flowing water promised.
The Buffalo River in central Tennessee was a favorite destination for float trips, and I began going there with a high school friend. The river flowed between bluffs and through bottoms where farmers raised corn and cows waded into the river to drink. The water was deep green and cool, falling toward the ocean in long slow pools linked by short winding ripples and gravel shoals and sometimes a one or two foot ledge that extended a waterfall the width of the river. My friend, Mark Hollis, and I, paddling clunky old 18 foot Grumman aluminum canoes, lived for the rush of those short “rips.” We would drop off the seats and kneel on the deck and paddle feverishly through the water, working twice as hard as we needed to. On one trip Mark’s father, paddling a shorter canoe solo and carrying most of the camping gear, showed us the science behind the J-stroke, and put us to shame as he angled the shoals with delicate sweeps and prying strokes that looked like an artist working a canvas compared to our broad-brushed slapping paint on a barn.