Archived Story

Banks makes his way to Holy Ground

Published 1:56pm Tuesday, August 14, 2012

By Harold Banks, Special to The Outlook

Editor’s note: This is the third installment in a fascinating diary chronicling Harold Banks’ 400-mile paddle down the entire length of the Alabama River.

April 3, 2012 – Day 3

High 84, Low 60,

Partly cloudy

Holy Ground

I set my watch alarm for 5:30 a.m., but if it went off I didn’t hear it.

That’s OK because birdsong woke me at 6 a.m. and there wouldn’t have been enough light to do anything earlier.  I had a much better night than the first.  Nothing disturbed the sweet sleeping music played by crickets and frogs except the occasional bold call of a great horned owl, which is always a thrill to hear.

I cook a breakfast of freeze-dried scrambled eggs with ham and green peppers and mix in a pack of instant grits for extra carbs and calories, all washed down with two big cups of strong instant coffee.

I promise it was better than it sounds, or maybe I was just hungry as a bear.

This was a nice campground, but it takes three long roundtrips to get canoe and gear to the boat ramp so I’m tired and sweaty before I even begin to paddle.

I have been generally impressed with how clean and clear the Alabama River has been thus far, but the mile of Catoma Creek I float down toward the main river is anything but with lots of flotsam including cans, bottles, tennis balls, and an ugly scum, all washed down from Montgomery neighborhoods I presume.

I get to the river and immediately encounter a headwind of course, but it is not too strong.  I knew at the outset that prevailing winds this time of year come from the Southwest.

I see my first alligator.  Only his nostrils and eyes are out of the water, and as I approach he sinks without a ripple.  It is the only gator I see all day, but I’m sure more saw me.

The day is pleasant, and I’m surprised how quickly I cover 22 miles to arrive at Holy Ground.

It was here that the Redstick Creeks established a defensive position in 1813 on a river bluff that was supposedly protected by a spiritual barrier that no white man could enter.

But in December 1813, General Claiborne and a force of 1,000 soldiers broke through that barrier.  However, most of the Redsticks escaped including William Weatherford, or Red Eagle, who jumped on his horse Arrow and rode through a hail of gunfire to make a spectacular leap over the bluff, or so the story goes.

I camp at the Corps of Engineers Holy Ground Park.  It is not entirely legal because this park is for day use only, but when I arrive mid-afternoon, there is no one in the park.

I pitch my tent in a remote wooded corner knowing that when I leave by 7 a.m., there will be no trace of my having been there.

I take a long, leisurely swim in the designated swimming area and enjoy having this pretty place to myself.

There are picnic tables and covered pavilions shaded by mature hardwoods, a nice sandy beach, running water, a bath house, and not a soul around.  I have plenty of time to cook supper, prepare for the next day, and retreat to my tent before nightfall.

I catch up on my journal entries and look forward to another peaceful night with no sounds but owls, frogs, and mosquitoes.  Lots and lots of mosquitoes.

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