03-Aug-2014 -- As about 400 geography educators were gathered in Memphis for the annual conference of the National Council for Geographic Education, a confluence visit seemed inevitable. Extending back to 2002, I had visited a confluence point in just about every location near to where these conferences had been held. These visits included a memorable boat ride on Lake Tahoe, a trip to a golf course in New Jersey, a walk in a mosquito-infested field in Michigan, and a hike in the woods in Alabama, among several others. This week, my colleagues and I had given many presentations and workshops on the value of spatial thinking and the use of geotechnologies: Another reason to practice what we were preaching and to get into the field for a confluence visit, using geotechnologies as we did so. At midday of the day following the last day of the conference, I was in a rental car en route to the airport for my flight out of the Memphis area. I could not resist the opportunity to stand in the woods at 35 North 89 West.
And therefore, I found myself heading east out of Memphis, on what were surprisingly traffic-choked freeways on a Sunday. As I have written about in many a confluence narrative, the amount of traffic on roadways, even in rural areas, continually amazes me and actually depresses me a little. At any rate, it took quite a while to leave the suburbs of Memphis behind, first on I-240, then east on Highway 385, and finally east on US Highway 72, where I crossed just barely into Mississippi. This road cut through some magnificent rolling hills, many filled with pines, though for one stretch, nearly choked with the invasive plant kudzu, at which I stopped on the return trip and made a video. The street view photos in this area look just like the day I traveled--magnificent sunny skies and clear air. I wanted to stop for something to eat but there was scarcely any convenience or food stores. I stayed on Highway 72 until I reached Road 103, were I turned north on a narrow road. Now the real adventure began. What would I discover?
The road wound in a northeasterly direction; next I turned northwest on Road 101 at a rural fire station. The road was very scenic, with wonderful vistas, and farms, churches, and patches of woodland. No state line sign existed, but I crossed into Tennessee, and a short time later, I parked beyond the 35th Parallel at an overgrown track that led to the southwest. This was the exact spot I had identified on the satellite image during my planning. It was very warm - about 90 degrees F (32 degrees C) with some haze and very little wind. It was midafternoon in early August in the south central United States. After gathering a few supplies and donning some sunblock, I set out into the weeds, walking southwest and downhill. I spotted a house that I had seen on the satellite image to the south of the clearing and past a wide band of trees.
Now, during these years of confluence hunting, I've been in hundreds of remote places, but this was one of the few times I've gotten "the creeps" a bit. Perhaps it was the large hobo jungle that I passed on the right about 60 meters down the clearing. Perhaps it was the abandoned Winnebago camper that sat in a remote spot just about where I began taking confluence photographs. Was there anyone living inside? I wasn't sure, but I did not want to linger long. It was good that I did not read many mystery novels. As (1) I was in my work clothes, (2) the 30 meters that separated me from the confluence contained thick woods, a barbed wire fence, and probably some nasty ticks, and (3) the GPS reception in the woods would probably have prohibited any "zeroing out of the GPS receiver", I called it a success at the west end of the clearing with 31 meters to go.
I stood there reflecting: I had been to 35 North from California on the west to North Carolina on the east. I had stood on 89 West from Illinois on the north to Mississippi on the south. This was my third confluence in Tennessee and my third and last confluence of the day. Each had been wonderful; with different colleagues present at the first two, and now here by myself at the third. With Barbaree Duke, I had in 2008 visited 31 North 89 West, four degrees south of here. It was good to be back in the region.
After only 10 minutes on site, I hiked largely back the way I had come in, through the clearing, which was about 30 meters wide. I saw no one in the jumble of couches and other items in the woods off to the north, and headed straight for the vehicle. I saw no animals and very few birds. I felt better after I started driving south on the road, pausing a few times to photograph some of the views while listening to some 1950s rhythm and blues vocal groups. I encountered great traffic again in Memphis but made it to the airport in time. This point was indeed a fitting end to the week filled with so much geography education.