Each episode of Tennessee Uncharted documents the experiences of Erick and his crew across the State of Tennessee. This is the full text of the short story that resulted from their adventure in Knoxville.
Another season has come and gone. And from here on out, the temperatures begin to drop as the days start to get shorter. And as the crisp air begins to cool our suntanned skin, the world sharpens as the haze and heatwaves of summer slowly start to blow away. Soon the lush greens of the surrounding hills will give way to a canvas of red, yellow, and with the start of football season nearby, lots of orange. But while this area is noted for its beautiful foliage this time of year, today we’re looking above the tree line.
That’s right folks, it’s fall in Knoxville and for many, that means football time. But for me, this time of year means a lot more than just tailgates and touchdowns. Because as you’ll see, even though it’s harvest season, there are still a lot of opportunities to keep growing. We’re kicking off the fall, searching the skies above Knoxville for an opportunity to connect with some of yesterday’s traditions that still pack quite a punch.
But before I get ahead of myself, it took a lot of brawn a few months back to ensure we’d have blooms to bask in come August and September. Now, don’t be confused—by brawn, I don’t mean me! No! Back at the beginning of the Summer I stopped by Forks of the River WMA, to help TWRA sow the seeds of one of my favorite TN hunting traditions… And it just so happened to mean me getting to drive a big ole’ tractor.
You see, as much as big wheels still bring out the kid in me, the truth is The smell of plowed soil is something I’m very familiar with. It seems like only yesterday that I was spending my summers with dust between my teeth scoutin’ cotton and haulin’ beans. These days, the closest I get to those dust covered memories is pouring a bag of potting soil in a planter on my front porch. Sadly, It’s not the only pastime I’ve parted ways with over the years, because, if we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s easy to get separated from our traditions as more and more seasons turn the pages of the calendars on our wall.
Living inside the city limits of Knoxville over the last 15 years, I don’t really think about agriculture that much. Knoxville is full of green spaces and parks, but like most, when I think of an open field, I just think of the one inside Neyland Stadium. However, agriculture plays an essential role in the health of our state’s wildlife. Thankfully, in a few months these 50 acres will be filled with thousands of yellow blooms providing a home to as many varieties of birds, butterflies, and small mammals as it does to visitors looking for a warm walk among the wildflowers … or a like-worthy backdrop for their selfie.
East TN is not known for it’s dove hunting. Yet TWRA’s hard work here has made the wildlife management area bordering Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness a sportsman’s oasis for a few weeks each year, consistently offering up one of the state’s best dove hunts to residents that would otherwise have nowhere to go.
This is the first opening day of dove season that I’ve gotten to take part in since I was in high school. Dove hunting used to be a big part of my life every September, but when I moved away from home my access to hunting grounds flew the roost right along with me. For me, like many of my city-bound counterparts, the only land to my name is the lot of patchy fescue outside my front door. And while I may tease my daughter that I’ll be pulling my shotgun out when the day finally comes that she starts dating, there is otherwise no acceptable reason to step out into my yard and start shooting. With land like this set aside however, TWRA is not only providing habitat to hundreds of varieties of wildlife year round, but connecting friends and family to afternoons of teasing one another about the easy shots they missed and taking home some table fare.
Doves aren’t the only things flying through the skies over Knoxville. The airwaves of a Knoxville musical tradition are there too. And while the station and staff at WDVX began out of a camper, they’ve become an international bluegrass authority, showing us that we can all learn something new even in our own backyard.
For me, my taste in music can be traced back to my grandmother and granddaddy’s old hi-fi radio, which I still have sitting on the console in my office. Nothing sounds quite the same to me. It even makes today’s radio sound different. And every time I turn it on, I’m transported back in time. No matter what song is playing, I can always see them dancing in the living room. It reminds me to stop and ask my wife to dance from time to time. For me, that means that, no matter how technologically advanced tunes may one day become, there will always be a place for radio in this romantic’s life.
But as society moves more and more into a world of “on demand” and forgets the days of tuning a dial, WDVX’s mission becomes that much more profound. Each day their DJs are introducing people to new music that’s been around for many years. What’s more is, through shows like The Blue Plate Special, they are also introducing people to the city where they’ve always lived.
The dove is a symbol for many things in our culture, but for me it’s one of the symbols of my youth.
I will never forget the first time I went dove hunting. Truly a boy amongst men, I had been invited to move from the kid table to the adult table. And nervously, I laughed at jokes not having a clue what they were talking about, quietly observing the foreign rituals of “men”.
I honestly don’t remember if I killed anything that first day, but what I remember most are a few impossibly long shots my dad made with his long barrel 12 gauge. I had always admired my dad, but even today it still stands out as one of the many moments that I’ve wanted to be just like my dad. Unfortunately, I still can’t shoot as well as my dad, but since the start of this show, I’ve improved a little.
Even with the power of editing, I think it’s pretty clear to see that I didn’t do great. By the end of the day, I think there were more doves in this area than when I started hunting. But honestly, I could care less. Today took me back to an easier time. A time when a gun wasn’t a weapon, it was a key that opened the door to a whole new world of the outdoors. But, maybe I’ll make sure to bring my dad’s old long barrel with me next time, all the same.
Just as opening day brings people together to get a taste of a time-honored tradition, food does too. The buttermilk skies I saw on my dove hunt were amazing, but they don’t have anything on Knoxville’s Buttermilk Sky Pie Shop. Pie is a big part of that.
If you ever happen to pick me out of a crowd at a potluck, you’ll learn just how big a deal pie really is to me. I’ll admit that right off, without fail, I always do a quick fly-by of the desert table to see how much room I need to save. Because no matter how many trips through the main line I may make, I’m a firm believer that there’s always room for pie.
But as much pie as I’ve eaten, I’ve never actually made one. So, first off I headed back into the kitchen to see how it’s done.
There’s no question that the folks here at Buttermilk Sky are passionate about pie. And thank goodness, because, more and more, pie is becoming another one of those tasty traditions that stands to be tossed aside. But, the truth of the matter is that more than filling and crust are brought together by pie. We celebrate with pie, mourn with pie. Pie brings people together. And given that pie is big a part of what the south tastes like, the folks at Buttermilk Sky sure have captured a true slice of TN.
As I sit in the September sun, I can feel the slight hint of cooler weather to come, and along with it, the questions of a new day. What will this new season bring? For me, this is a time for reflection. It’s a time for reconnecting, not just to our families and friends, but to ourselves. An opportunity for renewal. A challenge.
Yesterday is gone, but what once was, can still be again. This episode allowed me to revisit a big part of who I used to be, and it showed me a lot of things that I’m missing out on today. It’s a reminder that it’s not just a place you’ve never been that’s right where you want to be, but maybe more importantly, a place you haven’t been in a while.
Maybe it’s something you thought you’d outgrown, or something you haven’t thought of in a long while. Growing as a person is not necessarily about changing who you are, sometimes it’s just about reconnecting with who you once were.
And as our busy day to day lives scatter us across the skies, it’s often thanks to our traditions that we’re brought back together.