Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Go West, Old Geezer

I never spent much time in Middle Tennessee. When I was a kid we went hunting for geodes near Woodbury. And then, one weekend during grad school, I did the standard Nashville tour: the Parthenon, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Ernest Tubb’s Record Shop, and the Grand Ole Opry. Once was enough for Music City.

But I’d like to revisit Middle Tennessee.

In particular, I’m interested in the Duck River.

The February 2010 issue of National Geographic has a nice article on biological diversity, and the Duck River is one of several featured habitats. The premise of the story – “how much life could you find in one cubic foot?”

To answer the question, photographer David Liittschwager took a green metal frame, a 12-inch cube to disparate environments – land and water, tropical and temperate. At each locale he set down the cube and started watching, counting, and photographing with the help of his assistant and many biologists.

In some ways, this represents the opposite extreme of the marvelous All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory underway in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – an effort to catalog every species of life in the half-million acre park.

Littschwager was inspired by a sentence from E. O. Wilson’s book, Biophilia:

It is possible to spend a lifetime in a magellanic voyage around the trunk of a single tree.

Wilson, by the way, supplies an essay to complement the Liittschwager photos.

The Duck River is described as one of the most biodiverse waterways in the U.S.:

Evidence of 32 fish species, more than a hundred non-native Asian clams, and seven species of mussels, three of them endangered, further hints at the prosperity of this old man river.

Photo galleries, videos, the E. O. Wilson essay and much more, online at:

The headwaters of the Duck River flow from the “Barrens”, an area with enough rainfall to support woodlands but which white settlers found already deforested upon their arrival.

Located at the forks of the Duck River and the Little Duck River, is the place I’d most like to visit in Middle Tennessee – the Old Stone Fort - a huge structure between the two rivers and believed to be nearly 2,000 years old.

Stone walls averaging four to six feet in height enclose an area of approximately fifty acres.

This was one of the stone structures attributed (by some) to Prince Madoc.

Big Falls on the Duck River at Old Stone Fort

Excavations undertaken by the University of Tennessee in 1966 indicate that it was constructed over a period of several hundred years, and may have served a religious or ceremonial purpose rather than a defensive military function.

And here’s the part that really piques my curiosity – “excavations turned up almost no cultural artifacts within the walls, which implies that the enclosure was kept clean, and was probably never continuously inhabited by its builders.”

So, maybe this year I'll go west and take some time to explore the diverse mysteries of the Duck River.


Vicki Lane said...

Fascinating post. I'd like to know more about the old stone fort.

Litobrancha said...

when you go I sure hope you gimme a holler. i'd love to tag along.