Archived Story

Haunted night at Tallatchee Creek?

Published 1:32pm Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Editor’s note: This is the 10th installment in a fascinating diary chronicling a 400-mile paddle down the entire length of the Alabama River. 

By Harold Banks, Special to the Outlook

April 10, 2012 – Day 10

High 80, Low 48 – Clear

Tuesday night – Mile 216 – Tallatchee Creek

I awake to a place as lively and noisy as it was last evening.  There is more variety of bird song than I recall hearing at any one time.  I am not too good at identifying many bird calls, but even if I were it would be like trying to pick out a single conversation in a full auditorium before a show.

I eat a leisurely breakfast, pack, and leave this happy ground along the pig trail to my canoe.  Like many mornings, there is a blanket of fog on the river.  It is cool, cold in fact in my damp swim trunks and short sleeve shirt as I launch my canoe a little after 7 a.m.

I paddle hard to warm up, and it feels good.  I keep up a good pace and don’t stop until my normal 9 a.m. break and realize I’ve covered over 8 miles in less than 2 hours.  I’ll have to slow down or I’ll soon burn out.  The increasing heat is giving me the incentive to slow down, however.  In a while I come to very high bluffs on river right called Yellow Bluff.

Swallows are numerous and perform amazing aerial acrobatics as they appear to alternate between feeding and darting in and out of their nest holes dug into the bluffs that make great places for them to hide their eggs and young from predators.

I paddle on the shady side of the river when I can even though this means I sometimes have to take the long way around a bend.  But between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., there is no shady side and the intense sun with no wind wears on me.  I remind myself I prefer no wind to headwind.  Eventually I come to Tallatchee Creek that purportedly has good camping ground.

Some have described it as a beautiful place, but I find the creek exceedingly murky and the surrounding land low, wet, and uninviting.  I paddle about a mile up the creek until I can proceed no further.  I am very close to Bell Landing with its primitive campsite, but unusually low water levels prevent me from quite reaching it.  Maybe I could force my way up, but then if the river dropped further overnight like I have seen it do before, I could be stuck.  I paddle back down to the second old pier I had seen coming upstream and decide to make camp there.  The old pier is covered with an inch of dried mud and it looks like no one has been here in years.

There is some fairly decent ground to pitch my tent on and the woods are open and kind of pretty, but this place obviously floods often.  Silt and mud three feet up tree trunks show the height of the last flood.  A layer of silt on the leaf covered ground tells me the flood occurred after the last of the leaves fell.  I set up camp and paddle back down to the river for a swim.  Tallatchee Creek is just too dirty even for a sponge bath.

I cook supper and build another smoky fire to keep mosquitoes at bay.  I try every alternative before I resort to putting DEET on my body, though sometimes that is the only thing that works.  As darkness approaches, I’m struck by how silent it is.  Few frogs, no owls, and only an occasional bird now and then calling from roost.  I don’t even hear many crickets.  How different from last night.  Where are the critters?  Is this place haunted?

It is too warm to sit close to the fire and too early to turn in so I decide to take a night stroll through these silent woods with my headlight.  I come to a spot where I see glitter on the ground everywhere—spider eyes.  I know of nothing that reflects light as well as spider eyes and the ground here is crawling with zillions of them.  They look like baby wolf spiders, but I’m not sure.

I eventually spook something that must be large because it breaks sticks as it scampers off and I decide it is time to go back to my fire and tent.

Inside my tent as I get ready to close out my journal, I hear something of size moving slowly towards me.  I estimate it is 30 feet away when it stops and makes a long, low, rumbling grunt.

I hold my breath and strain to hear another sound.  I wait and wait.  Nothing.

The night is absolutely still and I wonder how an animal that sounded so big could be so close and then move away without crunching a single twig or leaf.  Wild hog or something else?  I’ll never know.