The Caney Fork


Traveling west on Interstate 40 across the rain-drenched dales of middle Tennessee, my mind is distinctly set in a honing pattern upon home, that cradle necessary as Mesopotamia to ancient civilization. It is a late Sunday afternoon, I’ve been driving for nearly six hours through the rain-riddled Appalachians, and I’m more than a little weary of the pavement and the sunflower seeds I’ve been coddling for some time in an attempt to keep myself both interested and alert to the path before me.

At this point in the drive, a mere 60 some-odd miles east of Nashville, the divided 4-lane thoroughfare dissects and criss-crosses the northwestward-flowing Caney Fork River a number of times as nature and man perform a delicate dance weaving across and above one another, each trying to stay out of the other’s way, neither doing that great a job of it. In my journeys along this route, I have often looked out at the river’s disappearing bends and jealously taken notice of fly-fishermen wading into the shallow depths, congregations of cattle knee-deep in the cool waters, and children tubing on the water’s sluggish surface, all of them partaking wholeheartedly, and in their own method, of this naturally scenic venue. On many occasions I have wanted to stop dead in my tracks just to sit and watch the flow and succession of it all, even to wend my way down to its shores. But each time, commerce or a regimented schedule propelled me forward, and succumb to the river I did not. If practicality were not in my predisposition, I suppose those banks would be all-too familiar with my face, fingers and toes already. But I digress; the extent of my practicality is another journal entry altogether….

This afternoon’s sighting of the Caney Fork, due to the day’s earlier dark quenching rains, hinges upon that which remains hidden, less on that which stands visible to the naked eye. The hidden things of earth do not necessarily always submit to those in plain sight; a mistake we often fail to make. A shallow but unmistakable fog, like a reflection of the river itself, hangs over the waterscape obscuring the liquid flesh beneath it, holding it steady and undisturbed as life itself tends to sleep beneath summer stars’ quilting. The dense pall of water droplets are held prisoner to the river’s banks as it coils and curls itself into a slow ghastly hovering, menacing yet possessing no appendages to stretch forth and stake claim to anything tangible. The fog merely levitates over the river’s surface like a visible aroma, quiet, aloof and hanging on for dear life. Now, as if the sky, already too weary from unleashing its pent-up wrath and anger – a hyperventilating child after a long, shaking sob – is beholden to the very images it helped create in this damp, craggy, wooded corner of earth. Everything stands still: the river held motionless and invisible beneath the plumage of mist, I, rapt with attention in sheer awe of this sight gracing my eyes, and the tired, cried-out sky now limp overhead as it passes without so much as a whimper. And what to do but stand still? We spectators can command no more, the scene demands no less.

Life, amid all its grunting and groaning, sneaks ahead of us, invisible beneath our blanket of stalled being and colorless habit. We float its delicate surface and criss-cross the alluvial boundaries attempting to stay out of its unhurried way. But, occasionally, by breaking the surface tension, we seek to remember and cling to the vitality of life that exists above, below, outside and within ourselves.

Eric Peters, affectionately called "Pappy" by those who love him, is the grand old curmudgeon of the Rabbit Room. But his small stature and often quiet presence belie a giant talent. He's a songwriter of the first order, and a catalogue of great records bears witness to it. His last album, Birds of Relocation, blew minds and found its way onto “year’s best” lists all over the country. When he's not painting, trolling bookstores, or dabbling in photography, he's touring the country in support of his latest record, Far Side of the Sea.


  1. Curt McLey


    An Eric Peters essay always gives me pause, the kind that inspires thought. For a cruise-control guy like me, that’s a good thing.

    This morning your words punctuate and reinforce lyrics from Lonely Moon, a Mark Heard song that I played tonight. It’s one of the songs from Heard’s 1991 album, Secondhand. Heard begins the song with the joy and innocence of youth:

    Was a child and a newcomer to the ways of the world
    Eyes ablaze with the light of high noon
    Just to love and to be loved was all he wanted
    By the light of the lonely moon

    The narrater insidiously–verse by verse–succumbs to the wiles of the world, until he reaches the end, sealed in a tomb of tears.

    But they buried his conscience
    Near to the grave of God
    Sealed his soul up in a tomb of tears
    And they scattered his ashes East of Eden someplace
    On a lonely breeze

    That “shallow but unmistakable fog,” as you describe it Eric, and as we all encouter it routinely–is often generated by involuntary muscles of our own hands. As life busts our chops, we reflexively build walls which are more effective than the Maginot Line at repelling the enemy. And though apparently shielding us from that which would cause us pain, those very same walls also level a side body block on joy, peace and serendipity. And rather than wage a battle, they just vanish into the ether.

    In deflecting the pain, we also keep out the good stuff. It’s no wonder that some days we feel numb. By default, sometimes that’s the only available option.

    So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. I Peter 4:19

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