Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to look at it more closely. Get out and take a hike, go fishing or canoeing, or simply stretch out on a blanket under a summer sky...and take your camera along. We'll talk about combining outdoor activities with photography. We'll look at everything from improving your understanding of the basics to more advanced techniques including things like how to see photographically and capturing the light. We'll explore the night sky, location shoots, using off camera speedlights along with nature and landscape. Grab your camera...strap on your hiking boots...and join me. I think you will enjoy the adventure.

Backroads

Backroads
Kentucky Backroads Wheat Stubble

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Old Days and Places: Musical Waters and a Country Rose

Based on an article originally written for Oklahoma Backcountry - January 1998

...The number of fish I caught that day has faded with time, but the experience of that first visit has remained forever etched into my outdoor history...

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On the crest of the bluff a grove of pine trees swayed in the rising air currents. With a gentle whisper their song filled the little valley and kept time with the musical waters of Flint Creek as it rolled and tumbled across the Northeastern Oklahoma landscape. Dogwoods and Redbuds accented the hills with their flash of color along with cottonwoods and other hardwood trees just now beginning to awaken from their winter long sleep. Song birds of just about every variety added their charm which was bolstered by the occasional bellowing of a dozen or so cattle as they grazed across rolling fields surrounding the creek.

Spring was certainly in the air presenting its calming antidote to the stresses and strains of working and living in the city. Just above the creek not far from the scenic country road stood the old farm house. It was a scene where country living displayed its best flavor and before long the blur of the previous few hectic months drifted away to silence. A most wonderful place was this peaceful little valley tucked into the secluded foothills of the Oklahoma Ozarks. This special day, back in 1978, was my first day to discover the values associated with the charms of Flint Creek.

Flint Creek begins as a trickle just across the Arkansas state line, then it flows generally to the west and south as it winds its way over river gravel, through pastures and valleys, around pine accented bluffs and hills, to eventually tumble into Oklahoma's Illinois River. Along its path can be discovered some of the most beautiful scenery and best creek fishing in the Sooner state.

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The first time it came into view I knew something unique existed here. My old friend Ralph for many years when a young lad would spend time with his parents camping along the banks of Flint Creek. In turn for many years he would bring his family to enjoy the wonders of this wonderful place. An hours drive or so east of Tulsa I turn onto a gravel road north of old highway 33, now 412, to travel maybe 4 or 5 miles negotiating several cutbacks and sharp turns to eventually turn into the long driveway just before crossing a low water bridge.

I stopped at the farmhouse and was greeted by a pack of 6 or 7 country dogs all wagging their tails as they barked their greeting. Scattered along an old rickety fence and growing beside the farm house were a series of country rose bushes just now beginning to emerge into their first spring bloom. I stood outside petting the dogs and felt as though I belonged here as the warm spring sunshine filled the valley. Within a moment or two the screen door screached open and slapped closed again behind as the owners of this piece of paradise stepped outside and began to walk over to where I was standing. Several of the dogs broke ranks from around me and surrounded them, wagging their tails with their enthusiastic greeting as they followed them down the walk way.

I introduced myself to the elderly couple, the Talberts, as a friend of Ralphs which generated a warm smile of acceptance from them. They were most enjoyable folks who had lived on this property for many, many years. After a few pleasantries were exchanged, old man Talbert granted me permission to cross his fields and camp along the creek down by the bluff.

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"Real purdy spot down there by the bluff, good fish'n too. Be careful with the campfire, been kind of dry," he said as he pointed in that direction. "Don't mind the cattle, they'll mosey by after a while to see who you are."

I shook his hand and drove to the gate where his wife lifted the securing chain from the bent nail holding it in place, then pushed it open where it creaked and groaned from lack of use. I followed a cow-track trail that wound just above the creek, bouncing and bumping on the uneven texture of the pasture, then I saw it, the perfect spot for a camp. I walked to the edge of the creek where a small riffle sang a cheerful song as it tumbled toward the bluff. I thought to myself, '...this is something I have needed for a long time...'

Before long my camp was set and I was eager to try some fishing. The creek was low and easy to wade but it was still quite cold. It almost didn't look deep enough to hold fish in places but a couple of quick casts with a yellow Roostertail spinner along a weathered blowdown produced my first Flint Creek smallmouth bass. He wasn't all that big, 11 maybe 12 inches or so, but was typical of their type with a scrappy nature. The number of fish I caught that day has faded with time, but the experience of that first visit has remained forever etched into my outdoor history.

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I spent the better part of the day meandering along the creek making a cast here and there exploring every deep hole and the eddy's below each riffle. It was all new to me and around each tight turn in the creek a new 'fishy spot' presented itself. The whole creek looked fishy.

The day passed much to quickly and as the light began to fade I returned to my campsite and stirred a fire into life. As night fell across the valley a chill fell with it, yet the skies opened their first Flint Creek performance for me with a splendid display of stars. Long into the evening I fed the fire mesmerized by its glow, warmed by it flames. Below where I camped the little creek provided an orchestrated symphony that played all through the evening and I slept to the soft music of the flowing waters.

By the next morning I was awakened by the bellowing song of cattle. I stumbled out of my tent and shivered in the chill of the morning air to witness a shallow haze drifting across the pasture highlighted by the first rays of a rising sun. I rekindled the fire and as I waited for that first cup of coffee, I could hear the fish jumping seemingly calling me into action. A short time later I braved the cold waters and waded over to the base of a blue hole that formed a pivot point at the base of a long bluff. I could not help but wonder who the first person was to stand where I then stood. Surely it was some ancient Native American who made this little valley home. I discovered later that arrowheads could be found in the plowed fields.

I found myself at times sitting calmly just listening to the creek telling its story. I managed to doze off in the warmth of a sunbeam as the verses from Flint Creek; The Story continued to play. Most all the day was spent resting and fishing along with some exploring. Later that evening I sat next to the campfire late into the evening gazing up at the sky which was again filled with stars with an encore performance. Another morning greeted me much the same way as the first one. I felt sad in a way knowing that my time here on this first and possibly most important visit, was soon to end. After a morning of fishing, I reluctantly secured the tent and the gear and chaotically tossed it into the back of my old vehicle. Before leaving I stood one final time next to the blue hole at the base of the bluff to listen to the music of the flowing waters and absorb the sweet smell of pine drifting from the bluff above.


Over the years I continued to off and on return to this little farm on the creek for some much required R&R. The old timer and his wife were always gracious and inviting. Some years later, when Kris and I first started to spend time together, I took her to Flint Creek for a day visit. It was then I suppose, when I first realized she was the one for me.

Circumstances eventually prevented me from returning for a few years but a time came when a longing inside of me boiled to the surface where I needed to seek the solitude of this little valley.

I stopped as I had always done at the old farmhouse. The dogs were gone. A new, much younger face greeted me as I walked toward the porch which now sagged almost to the ground. When I asked the young man about the Talberts he lowered his head and somberly said, "Seems they passed away about a year ago. Someone else owns the farm now, a doctor out of Siloam Springs. I'm only the caretaker and I've been told to no longer allow people to camp on the property. You can still fish it if you want to, but you'll have to park down by the bridge."




I thanked him and started to retrace the path down the long gravel and dirt driveway toward the crossing. Somehow it just wasn't the same. I cut my visit short that day, saddened by the passing of the original owners. Oddly enough I never took very many photographs of the area, just a few fleeting ones.

A void was created by the passing of the kindly old man and his gentle wife, yet they became a special part of a special setting fitting enough to inspire poets. I may never run across such people and places again, yet from the few outings I managed on Flint Creek, all I have to do is close my eyes to hear the musical waters of this little creek and for visions of its paradise to appear, visions as sweet and fragrant as a country rose, like those I saw on that last day still blooming along the old fence and next to the old house.

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