By Joe Rector

Amy and I took the long way around on the way to Gallatin this last week. Included in our trek was a visit to Cumberland Mountain State Park and then to Fall Creek Falls State Park. I love the Smoky Mountains for sure (what East Tennessee native doesn’t?), but the Cumberland Mountains offer plenty of beautiful sites and trails for walking and exploring.

I noticed plenty of development along the way. The big machinery in use was busy knocking down trees and scraping the topsoil into big mounds. That saddens me because I can’t imagine where the wildlife will find new homes and hunting grounds. They’ll move toward those and other houses in new subdivisions and be forced to live on the scraps that people leave behind.

The other day I was talking to a neighbor about how it seems more little critters are invading our yards and how I’ve even heard coyotes howling at night. We bemoaned the fact that every large piece of land seems to be scarfed up by development companies who slap together houses that are placed four to an acre.

I love my community. Some say I live in Karns, but they are wrong. I live in Ball Camp. A bit of research will show that Ball Camp was settled in 1793 by a man who fought in the Revolutionary War and was killed by Indians. This wide place in the road is rich with history.

What I know most is that I grew up here, and we boys in the neighborhood spent large chunks of our time exploring the woods that began at our yard and continued to Boss Road. In those wooded areas, we swung on grapevines over a creek; some hunted snakes, but I stayed well in the back of the pack. Sometimes we played army or cowboys and Indians in those woods.

Bill Burns worked with Jim and me to build a miniature cabin from leftover posts used to fence in a couple of calves and a lean-to with pine tree branches that had been cut. We found a cleared area to build these things, and to my surprise, they lasted for quite a while.

Not everything was perfect in those tree-covered areas. Most places hadn’t been cleared in years, so saw briars, blackberry briars and other vining plants set traps for travelers. Almost every time we played there, we exited with bloody arms and legs. Jim and I usually made contact with poison ivy plants, and that led to trips to the doctor for shots and baths in water with a sturdy helping of Clorox. We eventually learned to keep a keen lookout for the useless plant.

Another problem in the woods was muck around the creek. Just one misstep ended with a boy’s leg stuck in the mud. The sucking sound of pulling that limb usually resulted in a shoeless foot. More mud covered the arms and hands as he dug around to find his shoe. Whichever one of us who had been trapped dreaded the fussing from his mother when he returned home.

We baby boomers had many chances to enjoy nature and the woods during every season. We took advantage of all those opportunities. My children played in parts of those woods, but houses lined two roads of a subdivision that had been built and limited their access to those places.

I feel sorry for people today. They want to enjoy the outdoors, but their houses are stuck in the middle of fields surrounded by other structures just like theirs, and yards are little more than postage stamp sizes. They must travel to some other place to walk in the woods and enjoy the thing we took for granted.

I don’t like raking leaves in the fall, but I’m thankful that I live in a place where trees and wooded areas are still around. Ball Camp isn’t a rich community, but it offers plenty of places for kids to be kids and to be outside. Sometimes the woods are more important than the progress.