Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Troutfest 2010

I love Townsend. Enveloped by the Tennessee foothills of the Smokies and situated near an entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the town is a welcomed contrast to the hustle and flow of the nearby mountain towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. It’s a sleepy place; laid-back and unpretentious, quiet and relatively void of commercialism. It’s also the host of a gem of a fly-fishing festival called Troutfest.

The event, held annually in Townsend, Tenn., is a fly-fishing exposition and fundraiser sponsored by the Little River Chapter of Trout Unlimited. One of the largest venues for fly anglers in the southeast U.S., Troutfest devotes all proceeds to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Fisheries Department, Friends of the Smokies Fisheries Scholarship Fund and other youth educational conservation projects. Troutfest is an extremely cool, highly-educational event that highlights the pursuit of fly-fishing by focusing on instruction, equipment and education of the craft.

This was my second year to participate as an artist/vendor in Troutfest, and quite literally, I lost sleep in anticipation of it. Friday night’s stay in the mountain-top cabin we rented brought little rest, as Betsy and I awaited the chance to meet new people, to learn more about the sport we love … and to hopefully, sell a few paintings.

On Saturday morning, weary, but faking it as best as I could, I helped Betsy set up our 10 x 10 booth area with an array of original paintings and limited-edition giclee prints.

[Note: There are two reasons why I would be one of the first people voted off the island on the TV show Survivor. One, I’m horribly grumpy when I’m hungry and two, I’m an absolute moron on limited sleep. However, unlike the islands Survivor participants inhabit, Troutfest sold caffeinated soft-drinks, allowing the opportunity for me to stay somewhat coherent for just a mere $3 worth of Diet Pepsi’s. Thank you PepsiCo, for your sweetly-uplifting beverages.]

Despite the threat of thunderstorms and torrential rain (what else?), the weather held off for the better part of the festival, allowing attendees to enjoy Troutfest’s offerings of expert instruction (the phenomenal Lefty Kreh, joining fellow legends Joe Humphries and Bob Clouser), fantastic fly-tying (my good friend David Perry held court for four hours on Saturday morning, entertaining his audience with an array of big-trout streamers), outstanding artwork, great food and live music.

Our booth partners – on one side, Wiley Henson promoted his cabins-for-rent in Idaho and Wyoming, while on the other side, Brent and Chris Bonar showcased some amazing custom-built fly-rods – were fantastic people who made the two-day festival even better than it should have been. Betsy and I were also thrilled to visit with friends we met at last year’s event, including fellow-artist Alan Folger (and his wife, Shirley), Ian and Charity Rutter and Townsend-based watercolorist MJ Montgomery. We also met some new friends and welcomed both existing (it was great to see you and the family, Sophia and Keith!) and new customers into our booth. Everyone in attendance was genuine, friendly and very interested in fishing … making the two days at Troutfest a fantastic and fast-moving couple of days.

Officially rested (sort of), packed-up and back in Murfreesboro, Betsy and I are very thankful for our time in the mountains. Townsend is one of our favorite places to go, and we’re incredible fans of Troutfest and the many Trout Unlimited volunteers who work so diligently to make the exposition so successful. Thanks Byron, Dan, Joe and the many TU folks who made Troutfest 2010 a big hit. We'll be back in 2011.

It wasn't all fly-fishing expo ... here are some other photos from our weekend in the mountains:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tryin' to Reason with Monsoon Season

I first heard it at 5 a.m., Saturday. The initial few drops fell heavy on our rooftop, waking me from a shallow sleep. The raindrops sounded like they weighed a pound apiece, splattering the opening salvo of what proved to be a weather system of downright biblical proportions. My brother, himself an aspiring amateur weatherman (“You know I always wanted to pretend to be a meteorologist!”), had warned me the night before about what was headed our way. He had been enjoying the rain for several hours already in Memphis.

By 8 a.m., the local television channels had switched from the cartoons to wall-to-wall weather (back in the day, this would have infuriated me; as cartoon channels had yet to be invented). Rotation was already being spotted in several storms and hail was predicted. But Doppler didn’t know diddly about what was to come.

The storm system seemed enamored with the Volunteer State, behaving like an obnoxious guest sitting down in your favorite recliner and putting his feet up on your nice coffee table. It was going nowhere until it had completely and utterly worn out its welcome.

By noon, the first flooding reports started coming in. Initially, it was all about flash floods, but by afternoon, the rivers and streams began to swell alarmingly fast. Instead of a quick-moving springtime front with a line of thunderstorms, this beast of a weather-maker unleashed fat, swollen cumulonimbus clouds, which poured their seemingly endless supply of chubby rain on areas which had already swallowed more than they could.

As the ditches, creeks and rivers rose, the deluge continued. Betsy and I had tickets to the Jimmy Buffett show in Nashville Saturday night, but our trip up I-24 to the Bridgestone Arena seemed a little far-fetched. The news carried unreal footage of the tops of cars swimming in what looked to be chocolate milk. It got more weird as a modular home floated by, its roofline only visible, looking like the Merrimac cruising its way to the Cumberland River.

At 7:15 p.m., the rain actually let up a bit and Betsy and I decided to chance it – via the long-route up I-840 to Lebanon, then I-40 to Nashville – and make our way to the Buffett show. Our journey was thankfully safe, and oddly easy. Downtown, the normally-festive, pre-Buffett atmosphere was cloaked in a mist of rain, dampened by the roll of thunder and illuminated by the occasional flash of lightning. Undaunted, 17,000 of us, clad in our best island gear, made our way into the arena.

Jimmy put on his usual good show, and smartly deflected the issue of the weather for most of the concert. During intermission, I chatted with a couple of grass-skirted guys (that only sounds weird to people who have never been to a Buffett show) sitting in front of us. They had traveled the normal three hours from Memphis in a little less than eight, and told us tales of flooded highways, diverted routes and multiple back-tracking through the newly-created west Tennessee marshland. The Styrofoam flamingos on their hats couldn’t shade the weariness on their faces. They were going at it gamely, but one can only muster so much after such a journey. By the encore, both guys were almost asleep.

After a solo, acoustic close to the show (“He Went to Paris,” one of my all-time favorites), the throng of concertgoers exited the arena and many stumbled next door to the bars. The usual Broadway honky-tonks were packed with the usual Broadway honky-tonk crowds, with a large contingent of well-lubricated Parrotheads. With much to do on Sunday and worried about the reports we were hearing concerning additional rain and flooded highways, Betsy and I avoided Roberts’, Tootsie’s and Legend’s, and headed home. We tried Murfreesboro Rd., but flashing blue lights reflecting off the misplaced river that rudely flowed across the thoroughfare was enough for us to reconsider the route and to return to the 'Boro whence we came.

There was something about that Sunday; it was most peculiar gray. The weather system hadn’t moved and the rains continued to fall. By afternoon, flooding was widespread. The Cumberland River, which winds in and around Nashville, began to be a concern as it steadily rose up the banks of the city’s downtown area.

By nightfall, the mid-state had received 10 to 15 inches of rain in less than 48 hours. At 11:30 p.m., sporting my newly-purchased, amazingly-overpriced Jimmy Buffett t-shirt, I went outside to check on the weather just before bed. It was sprinkling. Unbelievable.

While a major amount of the flooding occurred during the rainy weekend, ironically, the worst the disaster had to offer came on Monday afternoon, in the bright sunshine. The Cumberland crested and turned downtown Nashville and parts of nearby Hendersonville into an ocean of brown water. Major landmarks joined area businesses and countless homes as the flood’s targets. The misery reached its peak as the river finally began to fall.

Today, less than two weeks later, Tennessee continues to heal. The Volunteer State has more than lived up to its name, as friends, neighbors and strangers have joined hands in helping those affected by the event recover. Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone involved, but especially to those who lost loved ones.

Rain is in the forecast again for this weekend, but I have to believe we’ve endured enough. Maybe, this weekend’s weather is just a way to rinse off the mud and to clean us out so then we can go on.