"Grinnin' like a mule eatin' saw briars."

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

An Essay of Memories, by Brandon Robinson

The following contribution to The Sevier County Fisherman is by Brandon Robinson of onebugisfake.com (you can follow Brandon on Twitter @OneBugIsFake). Brandon sheds light on the eschatological mystery of Smoky Mountain fly fishing and family -- passion and pursuit. When it's in your blood, it's never gone, no matter the waters you fish.

"There does not exist in this world, a place that owns as much of my soul as the Appalachian Mountains.  As far back as I can remember, when my family ever took a vacation, we went to Eastern Tennessee or Western North Carolina.  People oft use the tired phrase, “God’s Country” but surely though, as the Creator was divining our world and his: He gave that area to showcase what awaited.  I am certain that when I get to heaven, it will be lush and fertile, with old-growth forests, and cool clear streams.  I’m willing to bet the Creator has a “See Rock City” birdhouse on his front lawn too.

As an adult, when I travel to the Blue Ridge or the Great Smoky Mountains, there is an ancestral stirring deep within me.  As if long forgotten kin are speaking to me.  The feeling itself is indescribable, but as comforting as a mother’s embrace.  My grandfather used to call me “Smoky”.  A crude joke aimed at my parents, derived from his knowledge of my conception.  Maybe that’s the reason those hills talk, maybe the call is from something else.  Legend has it, I am Scotch-Irish.  My mother’s a Montgomery (Scottish), my father a Robinson (Irish).  In the early 1700s there was a large Scotch and Irish population that migrated to the Southern Appalachians, feeling what I can only imagine was a similar attraction to these mysterious mounds of rock.  Perhaps the blood in the soil, perhaps it’s the ghost in the trees; something knows when I come home.  Every trip back proves to me that this is where I want to be when the end of my run comes.  When my last breath has been expelled, don’t worry about family plots.  Mix my blood with that of my ancestors.  Just make sure it is near a stream.

Photo by

The first vacation I can recall was when my Father was still Active Duty at Charleston AFB. We went to “camp out” in a cabin trailer in Franklin, North Carolina.  This was of course, my Mom’s version of camping. My Dad’s stepdad (my Grandstep-father?) Papa Ben gave me a bow and arrow set that trip. Apparently I was a natural with the arrow because even at just seven years old, I remember that as being the first time where I felt his love and pride in me.  I would only feel thin tolerance from him for years after that, and would be an adult before I felt anything else.  He was very excited that I found fly fishing, and we bonded over the lifestyle.  I felt the love and pride from him again before he passed on.  I don’t know what happened to that boy and arrow but I never really picked it up again. The bullet-shaped practice tips didn’t seem deadly, so I might have tried to test my skills on a moving target… and was caught.  Mothers tend to frown on such behavior, especially since by “moving target” I mean my sister.
A few years later, we stayed in some chalets in Maggie Valley; this time with the Montgomery tribe.  The stand out memory then involves hiking with my Dad.  I remember literally trying to walk up one of the mountains, and searching the streams for arrowheads.  I was convinced I found one, and I can still see it my mind’s eye.  It was a triangular river rock, with a rosy granite hue when it was wet.  I remember my Dad light-heartedly trying to dissuade my conclusion, but gave it up when he saw the determination behind my proclamation.  This was the same guy who had me completely believing in the legend of the Cherokee outlaw who was still on the lamb named, Chief Falling Rock.  I really wasn’t a bright child, and I remained vigilante watching for Falling Rock.

My Dad’s father (Grandpa Robbie) used to take me to Sam and Andy’s in Knoxville, and sometimes I wore my University of Florida clothes to needle my grandfather. The burgers there were amazing.  When I graduated high school, my Gemaw told me she would take me on a trip anywhere we could drive to as a graduation gift.  You can guess where I chose.  That is when I walked about three hundred feet of the Appalachian Trail and found what I think is the most heart-stopping view in the world.  There is a sign to the right as you leave Clingman’s Dome pointing out a footpath that leads to the famed trail.  Take it and it will meet up with the actual Appalachian Trail.  Hang a left at the junction look for a small pathway on the right.  It leads to a rock jutting out from the absolute apex of the mountain’s side.  Stand as close to the edge of that rock as you can on a clear-ish day and look straight ahead.  Your peripheral vision has nothing in its field to anchor you to and you begin to feel like you are floating. 
As a kid I was in the water, it didn’t matter the season, I was enamored by the mossy granite streams and could not be kept out.  There was a certain calmness that came over all the parents that allowed the kids to get away with things never imagined at home.  We couldn’t break the forcefield of the bathroom with a wet head, lest we get pneumonia but could play in the streams and creeks until our lips turned blue.  I built dams and eddies, skipped rocks, and splashed stones.  Some things will never change, and my inner child “Trevor” is ecstatic that there isn’t an adult anymore to force me out of the water.  I don’t build dams anymore, but I still harass nature, doing my best to make fish late to their appointments.  The mountains of the Pisgah National Forest gave me my first trout, first trip out.  A treasure I might add, that Texas waters resisted for months after.  Fly fishing deepened the affinity for the region, though my love for those hills goes back further than that.  When I have kids, they will experience it too.  The magic, the cool damp “smoke”,and just maybe their long forgotten cousins will speak to them as well.  I just hope they can hear the whisper."

Thanks, Brandon. You're an honorary Appalachian for sure, just don't wear the Florida gear!