Take the River Home
Come with us on this father-son adventure as Jake Hester, age 10, and his dad, Don Boklage, who have a farm and swimming hole on the Chaplin River, explore her origin
Water trickles off Parkville Knob in Boyle County, creating marshes that spawn three rivers. The Chaplin joins the Beech Fork of Rolling Fork, and flows into the Salt River, just before she meets the Ohio.
Oldest known maps, now barely legible, call these rivers descriptive Choctaw or Miami Native American names: Cutawai (shifting bend water), Ouback (pushing up water), and Oucspere (beginning water boat). Resource-minded Cherokee call her (as close as what we can tell is the Chaplin River) Wak Nia Ahama, “Fat of Many Animals,” and from a 1784 map it was called Tallow.
Eight or nine years earlier, an early explorer of what is now the Harrodsburg area, Abraham Chaplin, named this fork of the Salt River after himself. Native communities that once inhabited the area might now call her Bass, after the small-mouthed and spotted varieties she spawns.
We named the river Oma Chaplin and we simply call her by first name Oma—that means “old mother” in many languages—for Grandma or family.
We gather and garden foods, tend farm animals, dig clay, and make everything from treehouse to syrup at her side. Oma is mentor, model, touchstone, and door home. She washes away dirt, sweat, and writer’s block. We keep each other in touch.
Wanting to know more about our swimming hole, we go to her source, step in, and take the river home.
Jake: Oma feels good and is fun. We dive, breach, skip rocks, splash, and escape underwater. I find a huge turtle shell and ask where it came from. Dad points upstream and asks, “You want to go where she starts, follow her home, learn what we can?” I say we’re going. I can’t believe it!
I’ve never walked 10 miles consistently, don’t want to jump off waterfalls or walk through tons of fish, don’t want to come back with a million bug bites. Planning for this is fun and exciting, but scary. I’m nervous and happy. Dad says we might write a journal. I want to.
Our First Day, June 23, 2012
Jake: I call our journal Frog Log. It’s a pun. I make up a riddle for Dad, “What is older than you, and being born right now?”
Don: I give up, he tells me, then it’s my turn. I say we’re driving 35 miles to get in our river. He says that’s not a joke. I say we forgot our ozone umbrella.
Jake: We pass Tank Pond and turn around in a marshy place. We don’t get stuck. A black-haired boy lives there. His name is also Jake and he’s two years older than me. He is Choctaw, has canoes, fishes, and knows a lot!
Water comes from the pond. Choctaw says, “There are 2,000 kinds of snakes here, and 200,000 of them live in this part of the creek!” I look at Dad to see if it’s true. Choctaw picks up rocks and a bright green snake jumps out, going crazy. We jump back! Green snake relaxes.
Choctaw laughs. “Size doesn’t matter—a baby can be worse than her mom—but see how her head turns into body, without a neck? She’s a garter, not poisonous.” We laugh, take her picture, and we tell Choctaw, “Come with us.” He likes that name, and wants us to camp and fish with him and Clayton.
Don: Fire clears my mind of all but the garter. His family lives here. This place is theirs, and we are the big scary “monsters” in their woods.
Jake: I ask Dad if these snakes go to our house. He says their cousins do, but run when people come around. I say snakes don’t run. He asks if it’s okay to kill a snake if we are not going to eat it. I say no, and I don’t want to kill anything.
Jake: We go to Connie’s restaurant in Parksville, where Jerome jokes with everybody. Charlie draws a map, but when we leave, Dad takes a shortcut through cornfields that are blackberry patches. Thorns grab us, but those blackberries are good! I feed Dad.
Don: Oma is exactly as dry as bones turned to rock—geodized horn coral, snails, star-like objects, lots of fossils. Another rock bed joins us, also dry, but water comes from somewhere. Just add water and dehydrated rivers are reconstituted.
June 24, 2012
Jake: I wash our apple and we meet Bobby Joe and Lois. They are nice. Lois says stars tell them when to plant their garden. Dad says Grandma, Great-Grannie, and Great-Grandpa followed signs too—making sausage, cutting hair, setting posts, and more—but he forgot most of it. Lois has an almanac that tells what the signs are. I want one. She says we can learn moon signs in her garden.
Don: The whole valley is informative. It has me thinking of our own grocery, pantry, medicine cabinet, and about family. We’re surrounded by and part of a huge almanac. I tell Jake I want to write a comic book about Green Man—learning from it all and how to help with everything.
Jake: I want to, but I don’t want to draw it by myself!
June 25, 2012
Jake: Two small snappers aren’t scary, then we see a big one and I’m scared until we look at it, taking its picture. Then there’s a huge, flat, light green soft-shell turtle. Our first one. It looks peaceful, but we do not touch it. Elderberries grow where turtles live. Dad wants some at our house.
Don: Red-winged blackbirds feed on wildflower seeds. We find clays for making paint and pottery. I want both, but not in our backpack.
Jake: Big and little birds like Oma. Farmhouses are close to the river because rivers are roads for boats. Squirrels run away, but geese and ducks lead us where we want to go. I look up and see a giant wooden building beside the water. Without knowing it, we walk into downtown Perryville! I really don’t know if we can make it all the way, but I
want to, and it feels great we are here. We are accomplishing it!
July 8, 2012
Don: Dennis Whitehouse, at Whitehouse Auto Parts, becomes our impromptu regional tour guide. He sends us to Jackie who studies native arts and culture. Jackie tells us about a mound by Doctors’ Creek, not far ahead. The Mound Builders are ancestors of Choctaw Jake’s family.
Jake: Jackie makes chert spearheads. I ask can he make bird points. He does! He makes cedar and cane flutes, using fire to make them hollow and to drill holes. He plays music like birds talking, and sings a song he wrote about his friend Ernie Brown the Turtleman. Jackie asks if we want to make cane flutes? We’re going to.
Don: Drumroll please…we meet Henry Baker Sr. Henry interweaves stories of Kentucky being voted a slave state at Danville’s Constitution Square, a divided nation, and the Battle of Perryville, civil rights, and assassinations of King and the Kennedy brothers, and his own history, growing up in the ’60s in Boyle County schools. He speaks with depth and sincerity, and with such respect and great heart that Jake and I each give it right back. Instant community! How does he do it? Baker answers, “Just keep it simple. Eat at the Marathon. Granny’s the best home cook I know.”
A few days later
Jake: When Dad asks me what I will remember most about this trip, I say doing it. And Henry. Henry is a hero. Dad says, “I know. He’s my hero too.” We call Granny and say what Henry said. She says I am going to help her cook supper, and Henry will be our Guest of Honor!
August 1, 2012
Don: Springs feed Oma, and she breathes easy. One side is hill, the other meadow, trading places every turn. We pass Crawford’s Spring, gushing across Oma, having a different direction and temperature. Our baby is a two-story river!
Jake: Dad drinks out of the spring, but I do not. We go on, and soon have a big surprise. Dogs bark at us, and some kids tell them to quit but they do not. There is an excited girl playing in the water, and a boy fishing, so I think it is normal then. They can’t believe we just walked down the river! Gladys is 11, Cody is 13, and they are cousins. They ask if we want to fish. Yeah!
Don: I watch, upstream and down, listening and smelling. Oma’s greatest gift is the same as ours, being here. She makes us see. Jake says all this too, and “Oma home.” It’s what he named the tree house seven years ago.
“Plants tell soil conditions. Those along this river told all searchers of healthy, rich organic soils that could feed them and livestock needed to survive the wilderness—plants led people up this river.”
—Jon Pittman, Master Herbalist and Gardener
STUDY KENTUCKY'S GEOLOGY
The Chaplin’s headwaters are less than 20 miles from the geographic center of the state, but there is more than one method of calculating where the center of the state is. Is it 3 miles north of Lebanon, on the campus of Campbellsville University, or somewhere in Bullitt County, south of Louisville? To find out more, go online to the Kentucky Geological Survey at www.uky.edu/KGS.
HOW ARE MY WATERWAYS?
To know which waterways are nearest to you as well as their condition—whether they are polluted and what’s being done about it—use your computer or mobile device to locate waterways with your current location, zip code, city, or state at this U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Web page: http://watersgeo.epa.gov/mywaterway.
Watershed Watch in Kentucky, www.wwky.org, is a nonprofit group of citizens working with the Kentucky Division of Water to train volunteers to monitor and assess streams across the state. Their Web site helps us find out about local waterways not listed in the EPA link and provides opportunities for us to be more involved.
APPRECIATE YOUR WATERWAYS
“How do we ever appreciate water enough? We all require water, but sometimes don’t know anything about where it comes from, the other side of the tap. To truly have an appreciation for it, we may need to step into a stream and experience it. By spending time on and in it we begin to more fully realize its value, and that we are all responsible for maintaining and preserving this precious resource. I strongly encourage every citizen of the Commonwealth to develop a personal relationship with your local waterways.”
—John Webb, environmental scientist, Kentucky Division of Water, www.water.ky.gov
Jake and Don are especially grateful to John for supplying maps noting historical sites, road crossings, and more. They were invaluable for estimating distance, time, and personal energy.