Mar 072012

By Wesley Houp

To say a river is a living system is a scientific truism that even the most scientifically uninitiated intellect can grasp with minimal cognitive stretching: rivers teem with life, from unicellular diatoms to aquatic invertebrates and on up to vertebrata, fish, amphibian, avian, mammalian.  Watersheds branch like trees, only their life-force moves in reverse from tiniest green-shoot to broad trunk, the faintest spring or rill gaining momentum, joining forces with other rivulets, debouching into larger creeks that eventually embolden the flow of master streams.   Geologists, taking the long view of things, give rivers human-like agency, noting how they “capture” and “pirate” this or that watershed, or “desert” and “abandon” this or that channel, ever insisting on a course of least resistance.  Rivers, like so much of life on earth, adapt to physiographic vagaries and persist through course of time as if accumulating the knowledge of experience.

Lock 3 is nearly topped by the Kentucky River, which ran at 16.5 feet on the Lockport gauge. Photo by Wes Houp.

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Oct 262011

Frankfort to Elkhorn: An imaginative stretch

Editor’s note: The conclusion to the 5-part, dual-author recounting of a 2-night mid-summer float on the Kentucky River. The Slackwater Paddle-venturists have rounded Frankfort, passed through Lock 4 and encamped at Steamboat Hollow, where the current author was visited by the ghost of Colonel George Morgan Chinn.

By Wes Houp

Lyle arose early, started coffee, browned sausage, chopped onions, garlic, and another carmen in the pan.  The smell of sizzling pork wafted through each tent, and by 7:30 the camp was alive.  I sat up in the tent for several minutes and thought it best to sit on last night’s encounter a little longer.  After breakfast, we started to dissemble our constellation of tents, tarps and gear and pack kit and caboodle back into dry bags for the next leg.  In the bottom of my kitchen bag I found a dog-eared copy of Kentucky: Settlement and Statehood, 1750-1800, by George Morgan Chinn.  “Whose book?”  I held it up for all to see.

“Not mine, but I’ll take it if you want.”  Danny examined the cover and opening it to the title page announced, “Hey, man, this is an autographed copy.”  Sure enough, there was Colonel Chinn’s signature.  “A signed copy.  You know, this book is out of print now.  Better take good care.  It looks like someone’s marked the important stuff.”   I stuffed the book back in the bag, chalked its strange appearance and my strange encounter up to too much hootch, hauled my load back down to the canoe, and we pushed off en masse by 10:30. Continue reading »

Sep 282011

An imaginative stretch

By Wesley Houp

The mid-afternoon sun finally breached the cloud-cover as we passed under the tight array of bridges linking Frankfort proper to South Frankfort and satellite communities to the west, and the roar of water over the spillway at Lock 4 rekindled in us all the dreamy exhilaration the summer squall had temporarily neutralized: we would be locking our canoes through the only functional lock on the entire 255-mile mainstream of the Kentucky River.  For paddlers of the otherwise post-navigable Kentucky, such a prospect represented at once a portal to past river-experience forever dead and gone and a shimmer of hope that the future might not be so dismally fragmented for slackwater venturists such as ourselves, that the option of free and open passage the length of the Kentucky might still become a viable reality…again.

Photo by Troy Lyle

Slackwater venturists heed Ricky G's direction while in Lock 4.

After passing Twin Bridges just beyond the mouth of Benson Creek, the gravity of our long-awaited passage set in, and like parishioners on the Sabbath we fell into a solemn line, holding no further confab, our jubilation suddenly constrained, hearts stilled and ready for the lockmaster to deliver sacrament: we would be born again, delivered from this pool to the next without even relinquishing our riverine frames.  There would be no purgatorial portage.  As we neared the upper gate, a figure rose on the bank above the lock-wall and lumbered toward the pit.

“There he is,” I heard Gary mutter behind me. Continue reading »