Campfires, katydids and world peace

My newspaper column this week:

I imagine the woods were a lonely place for prehistoric humankind who had yet to discover what happens when you touch a butane lighter to dry kindling and have a couple sticks of seasoned hickory on standby.

One of summer’s most enjoyable activities is camping. And one of the things that makes camping enjoyable is a popping fire.

It doesn’t matter that you don’t need a fire here on the Cumberland Plateau, where midsummer temperatures rarely drop below the 60s at night and where humidity often makes it feel much warmer than it actually is. No camper in modern times — which I’m defining, loosely, as the days since Fleetwood began building tin boxes for us to sleep in — has built a campfire because he needs to. He builds it because he wants to.

And why wouldn’t he want to?

Our grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfathers needed fire for a variety of reasons — protection, light, heat, and as a means for cooking their food.

Nowadays we cook over a bed of charcoal briquets or on a blue flame courtesy of Mr. Coleman — who also makes lanterns for our light — and those Fleetwood tin boxes are climate-controlled.

And, yet, a night on the river bank with only the katydids for company would simply be a night on the riverbank without a campfire. It wouldn’t be camping. Not really.

You can have the hiss of a lantern hanging from a tree limb, the putrid odor of the jar flies that drunkenly fly into the flame and are frying their butts to a toasty, stinking crisp, you can have a hunk of some sort of dead or dying bait on a hook in the murky depths of the creek, patiently awaiting a flathead’s tell-tale pull on the line — in short, you can have all the things that a spectacular camping trip make. But if you don’t have a campfire, you don’t have a camp.

Without a campfire, you don’t have a conversation aid. Some of the best stories are told while staring into the depths of a dancing flame atop a glowing bed of coals, as if those embers are a window into yesterworld. Without a campfire, you don’t have s’mores. Without a campfire, you don’t have fire-roasted hot dogs.

The stories are nice. The s’mores are nice. The hot dogs impaled onto a stick and cooked to a comfortable blackened state over an open flame are a necessity. But it still isn’t camping.

Because the campfire is more than any of that. The campfire is a camper’s soul food.

The woods can be alive with grizzly bears, panthers, sasquatches, warlocks — whatever the imagination can conjure up once the sun has disappeared over the horizon and hidden the forest depths from view — stalking camp, just out of sight and waiting for an opportunity to pounce, and the humble flames of a campfire are enough to keep them at bay.

Even the katydids sing a little louder when they can look down from their perch in the forest canopy to the sight of a crackling fire . . . or so it seems.

Country music recording artist Tracy Lawrence once sang about how the world would be a lot simpler if everyone had a front porch. “We’d all have our problems,” he sang, “but we’d still be friends.”

There’s no denying the front porch’s place in American culture. But just imagine what would happen if Barack Obama could get Vladimir Putin to sit down in a pair of $5 Big Lots collapsible chairs with a couple of Oscar Meyers held over a fire burning hot enough to singe the hair from their knuckles. We could end this silly game of political oneupsmanship and usher in a new era of world peace.

Because it doesn’t matter if you hail from the shores of the Potomac or eastern Europe — when the fire is crackling and the ‘dogs are slathered in French’s mustard, the katydids speak a universal language.

■ Ben Garrett is Independent Herald editor. Contact him at

Chuck Fleischmann’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

Yesterday wasn’t the greatest of days for Tennessee’s 3rd District incumbent Congressman, Chuck Fleischmann.

First, the Chattanooga Free Press hit Fleischmann with a scathing editorial:

Where is the dignity from the congressman who appeared to chokeup talking about the country at last week’s Chattanooga Women’s Leadership Institute forum or who believes, as his ad says, the election is “about the country’s future?”

Is this the best we can expect from a man who wants a third term in Congress, who is happy to talk about presiding over the House when it passed the recent water bill, his part in rescuing Erlanger hospital last winter and the veterans clinics that opened on his watch?

And so did the Chattanooga Times:

The citizens of the 3rd District deserve to have two reasonable, thoughtful and honest candidates to choose from in November.

Fleischmann does not meet that standard.

Later, WATE-TV Knoxville’s Gene Patterson put Fleischmann’s campaign claims about his Republican primary opponent to the truth test, concluding that Fleischmann’s claims were misleading and false.

This comes on the heels of primary challenger Weston Wamp’s endorsements by staunch conservatives Tom Coburn and Rick Santorum — after both the Times and the Free Press (Fleischmann’s and Wamp’s hometown newspapers) also endorsed Wamp.

At the rate this week is going for Fleischmann, it probably seems like forever since he was earning the endorsements of the NRA and the Knoxville News Sentinel, even though that was only last week.

Whether Fleischmann has cause to be concerned is a different story, however, and remains to be seen. It’s tough to unseat an incumbent congressman, and Fleischmann may very well be banking on that, because he has certainly been out-worked by Wamp, at least on the northern end of the 3rd District. In Scott County, Fleischmann has not placed any signs, and has not purchased any advertisements in print media. He has aired some advertisements on radio. Wamp, on the other hand, has a significant amount of signs scattered throughout the area, and has published ads in both print and on the radio.

No. 32 UT player: John Henderson

(Note: The No. 34 UT player was Marcus Nash, and No. 33 was Deon Grant. The blog has been down a couple of days due to technical difficulties.)

When Billy Ratliffe went down with a broken leg in 1999, Big John Henderson emerged as a force to be reckoned with at Tennessee’s left defensive tackle position. Henderson started the final eight games of the ’99 season in Ratliffe’s absence, and almost immediately showed why he was rated by many prep recruiting services as one of the nation’s Top 10 players coming out of high school.

Against Notre Dame late in the ’99 season, Henderson recorded seven tackles. A week later against Arkansas, he recorded eight tackles. The week after that, against Kentucky, he recorded three sacks. It seemed that Henderson was getting better with every game.

Big John recorded 10 tackles in a game against Georgia in 2000, and had at least eight stops in three other games, finishing the season with 71 tackles and 12 sacks as he was named a consensus All-American. He also won the Outland Trophy as college football’s top defensive lineman.

Considered a strong draft prospect, Henderson opted to return to Tennessee for his senior season. In 2001, he recorded 48 tackles and 4.5 sacks. It was a big step down, productivity-wise, but he was still named an All-American for a second consecutive season.

Henderson finished his UT career with 165 tackles — 130 of them solo, and 39 of those behind the line of scrimmage. He also had 20.5 sacks, which was fifth in school history. He had four forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries, along with seven passes broken up.

The Jacksonville Jaguars selected Henderson with the ninth overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft, and he had a strong rookie season with 53 tackles and 6.5 sacks. He would play with the Jaguars through the 2009 season, then spend a couple of seasons in Oakland before retiring. He finished his NFL career with 493 tackles and 29 sacks.


Storms make their presence felt

Sunday’s unusual bout of July severe weather didn’t result in any tornadoes locally, but it did result in quite a bit of damage . . . and mother nature decided that my chainsaw and I need to become better acquainted, so she unleashed her fury at my place.


The brilliant blue sky of the autumn-like morning after the storm, highlighted by a sign of all the work that lies ahead.




The storm wreaked havoc on my line of shade trees. In all, I have five large trees to cut up in my yard. Along a swath of approximately 250 yards on either side of my house, there is quite a bit of damage from downed trees.



Crews work to remove trees and downed power lines from the highway in front of the house.


And of course my almost-ready-to-harvest corn was destroyed…because if there’s anything more attractive to thunderstorm winds than a Bradford pear, it’s a corn stalk.

Under the River Wild

We swim it, float it and fish it, but most of us never stop to think about what’s beneath the Big South Fork River that bisects the northern Cumberland Plateau.

Actually, there’s quite a bit of life — some of it endangered — in the BSF. And nowhere is that more prevalent than along the “cobble bars” that mark the river. There, the river is teeming with plant and animal life both above and beneath the surface. You won’t find any endangered species in this clip, but this is a two-minute video I put together from some footage shot along the cobble bars upstream from Leatherwood Ford on Saturday afternoon, as part of a bigger video project I’m working on:

No. 35 UT player: Peerless Price

When Peerless Price was born in a rough neighborhood in Dayon, Oh., his mother named him after a moving company. She liked the name, she said. And, she hoped her son wouldn’t fall victim to crime the way so many other kids in the neighborhood did…in other words, she hoped he would stay true to his name and move on.

Move on he did. Price excelled as a wide receiver in high school, and was named a high school All-American. But he was not widely recruited, and wound up at the University of Tennessee. There, he proved wrong all the college recruiters who had failed to give his game tape a second glance.

Price played sparingly as a freshman, more as a sophomore, then became one of the Vols’ primary receiving targets after Joey Kent graduated in 1996. In 1997, he led the team with 42 catches for 698 yards and 6 touchdowns, as UT won the SEC championship.

When Peyton Manning graduated in 1997 and Tee Martin took the reins, Price continued to prove himself the biggest target among the receiving corps. In the storied 1998 season, he proved to be one of the Vols’ most valuable players. Against Alabama, he had a 100-yard kickoff return for a score to help UT to the win. In a come-from-behind win over Mississippi State in the SEC Championship Game, he had the Vols’ go-ahead touchdown — a 41 yard catch — in the fourth quarter to propel the team to the inaugural BCS national championship game.

And in that national championship game against Florida State, he had four catches for 199 yards — including the play that no Vol fan has forgotten: a 79-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that would prove to be the game’s pivotal play. He was named the game’s co-MVP as Tennessee defeated Florida State to capture the national championship.


Severe weather threat for Sunday

The unusual summer being dealt the eastern United States continues today, with an un-summer-like upper level trough developing that will not only deliver some unseasonably mild weather later this week, but that will deliver a potent severe weather threat to the Mid-South this afternoon and evening. The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center has an elevated risk of severe weather in place for much of the region, especially the northern Cumberland Plateau region and points northeast.

Here on the northern plateau, we’re under a “slight” risk for severe weather, with a 30% chance of damaging winds and large hail. The attendant tornado threat is relatively low — though not nil — here. But you don’t have to drive far to find a “moderate” risk for severe weather, with a 45% threat for damaging winds and a 10% chance for tornadoes:

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The NWS’s Morristown weather field office summarizes the risk for East Tennessee like this:


And adds this in a forecast discussion:


The actual forecast from the NWS is for a 40% chance of thunderstorms today and a 60% chance tonight.

COOLER WEATHER: In the aftermath of today’s severe weather, milder weather returns to the region, as previous posts have detailed. Output statistics from the GFS computer model continue to show high temperatures in the 70s or struggling to get above 80 through this next week and weekend, with low temperatures in the 50s most nights. The raw data from this morning’s GFS shows the temperature here on the northern plateau bottoming out at 51 on Wednesday morning, which is quite remarkable for this time of year. The heat returns next week.

Here comes the cooler weather

I’ve been blogging for a while now about another unusual summer “cold” front that will impact the region, and it is still on tap for this upcoming week.

The latest model output statistics from the GFS computer model Monday-Wednesday here on the Cumberland Plateau, and struggling to get above 80 Thursday-Sunday, with low temperatures in the 50s from Tuesday all the way through the weekend.

The raw data from the GFS actually shows temperatures dropping into the low 50s a couple of mornings, bottoming out at 52 on Saturday morning.

The storm system that will usher in this next cold front will create an impact tomorrow across parts of the eastern U.S. — perhaps even here at home. The National Weather Service in Morristown has a 60% chance of “severe thunderstorms” in the forecast for Sunday afternoon, while the NWS’s Storm Prediction Center has much of the state under an elevated risk for severe weather. The bulk of the threat, though, should be across the Ohio Valley and points east of there, where tornadoes — a rarity in July — are a very real threat.

You ready?

I’m sure there have been years when I’ve been more ready for the opening of college football season — and, specifically, the opening of the Tennessee football season. But, to be honest, I can’t remember when.