Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Forgotten Nashville-The Mystery in the Woods at Hidden Lake

How many adventures have been ruined by guide books? How many mysteries are still-born because we insist on knowing too much at the beginning? Why, when we set off down an old road in the woods, do we need to know where it ends? Or what we will find.

I say it is better not to know, for even the most mundane, though pleasurable walk through predictable terrain, can lead to the unexpected as one follows the red brick road-

A friend and I set off Sunday morning on a walk into the Harpeth River State Park at Hidden Lake. The park is off Highway 70 in Pegram. Highway 70 was once known as the Nashville-Memphis Highway.( It ceded its title to Interstate 40 many years ago.)

Neither my friend nor I had been to this park before, and when we arrived my concern was whether my dogs were welcome. They were, but on a leash. So said the park rules, which warned us against making away with any artifacts we might find. I assumed this meant arrowheads or pottery left by the Mound Builders, the Native Americans who once lived along the Harpeth. Had we walked around the kiosk, seen the map of the park and the park's history our adventure would have dwindled to just another walk into the expected. But we did not.

I have learned through experience that anyplace with "hidden" in its name is usually not. The more hidden it is, the more well trodden. Yet this park seemed sparsely visited. We walked down to the predictable Harpeth, walked through predictable bottomland and old fields now shaded by cedar stands. We went by an old iron gate, and soon came to a fork in the road-

A few hundred feet up the road we found a duck weed covered pond. Was this Hidden Lake? We hardly thought so, so we pressed on. And to our right rose great limestone cliffs.

And then the lake, which I thought at first was just a bend in the Harpeth-

"That sign we saw back there said swimming was allowed", said my friend, but I wondered. Where were the signs warning us to do so at our own risk? We turned back, and at the fork of the road, we decided to walk a bit up the ridge trail. Here we met two humans and four dogs. Three of the dogs were aggressive, and the fourth was a Pekinese carried by its owner. They retreated off the road so we could pass. And once again I had the chance to ruin our adventure by knowing too much. "Is there anything up there?" I almost asked.

And here is what we found next, though the real surprise was on up the trail-

If I was a child again and found this, it would be my treasure. My fort. My secret place. I would build a campfire ring with the rubble. Make chairs of stones. Tell ghost stories to my little brother-

But the trail went on-

My friend and I left the road and headed up a path along the cliff top. On the edge of the cliff, the blue heart-leaved aster was blooming, and far below we saw Hidden Lake. My friend was not sure we should go on. I protested that we were almost at the top-

Where we found something we could neither fathom, nor explain.

I thought I knew what this was. The Middle Tennessee Veterans" Cemetery was over and down, along the Harpeth. Perhaps some veterans did not want to be buried. Perhaps they wanted their ashes to drift away on the wind out over this valley-

"I don't think so ", said my less fanciful friend," There's no place for the bereaved to sit- And this is a state park".

Befuddled, we went on back down the hill, through the bottomlands and a field of nothing but wild blackberry bushes. Back to our cars.

But first- to the kiosk. Where the mystery was solved. I will let you read for yourself.

Imagine then, a summer evening, out in countryside where suburbs have yet to be. The Volstead Act is still law of the land, but the friendly folks down the dirt road will fill your flask, with no questions asked. You smell the pork barbecue, hear Jimmy Gallagher's band playing "Minnie the Moocher", hear the screams of a girl who has just broken off a heel trying to get up the trail- And the moon shines on.

Postscript: It is likely that Jimmie Gallagher was Jimmy Gallagher, formerly of Francis Craig's Nashville high society orchestra of the late twenties and early thirties. Francis Craig wrote "Near You", the first great Nashville hit. He also wrote Vanderbilt's "Dynamite" fight song. Craig's orchestra played on WSMV radio, at The Hermitage Hotel, and at Belle Meade parties and debuts.


Out on the prairie said...

It is fun to explore new areas.This has lots of charm to revisit.

ted kelly said...

Very nice. I'm going to try to make it there this fall.

Amy said...

It pays to check out the info kiosks BEFORE you set off on your hike! :)

Jon Tate said...

I discovered this place on a mountain bike about eleven years ago prior to it being a state park. It truly gave me the creeps; I had no frame of reference for any of the things that I was seeing out there - the house, the steps leading down to the pond, the platform - I thought I might have stumbled onto some weird Indian ceremonial site. Did you notice the basketball hoop grown into the cedar tree by the hold house? Did you see the half-buried tank at the top of the hill? It's a really neat place. I'm glad it's being preserved and visited. Thanks for writing about it.