Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Marion County, May 2006 (Part VII)

It’s Jason’s second day on the job. We’re working lower on Aetna Mountain, skirting a neighborhood known as the “Devil’s Poket” (sic) in Whiteside, TN. The neighborhood is comprised of nothing more than one dead end street located nearly at the bottom of the mountain, merely a small notch of land cut out of the surrounding timber holdings. There are about eight houses on the street. One is a trailer that has been burnt to the ground, only its steel support beams remaining intact, rusting out of the melted debris. A second house looks habitable from the street except that “No Trespassing! Private Property!” is spray-painted across the front in big, black letters. From behind it can be seen that the roof of the house has caved in, the backyard littered with shingles and splintered 2”x 4”’s. The home nearest the outlet of the street is flying a massive stars ‘n’ bars on a pole in the front yard. Railroad tracks run just beyond and when a train stops, as will happen soon enough, there is no way in or out of the neighborhood.

For sometime we have been hearing gunshots. We’ve assumed that someone is hunting birds or getting in a little target practice. Jason and I split off from Carl and the shots become louder now as we come up just behind the neighborhood. Carl has continued on through the woods, but the coordinate were tracking seems to put us somewhere smack dab in the middle of the Devil’s Poket. Rather than stumble through backyards, we opt to cut down onto the road. For a few minutes the shooting ceases.

We enter the neighborhood and pass a woman and child. They appear to be doing some yard work but as we get closer it’s hard to tell if the property they’re tending is abandoned or not. We wave hello and the woman waves back, then quickly crosses the street with the child and enters another home. Now our GPS unit indicates that our point is actually in the backyard of the house at the end of the block. We have no intention of going into anyone’s yard, but figure we can get close enough from somewhere on the street. Of course, we look ridiculous with all our gear. Soaking with sweat and filthy, holding a GPS unit in one hand and a compass in the other, I spot two people watching us from the top of a driveway near the end of the street. For a moment I consider whether to go up to them and explain what we are doing, but something just doesn’t feel right and so we decide to keep moving through the neighborhood, picking up our pace a bit. Suddenly there’s a crack and a bullet cuts through the trees about 20 feet away. A few more shots are fired before we can take cover behind a row of twenty or so strange brick ovens that have been filled with trash. It’s possible these ovens are the remnants of a coke operation decades previous or maybe they were built when Aetna Mountain was being heavily mined for coal. Whatever the case, they are now protecting us from the residents of Devil’s Poket.

The shots keep coming and I radio Carl, still using the handles we’ve developed in reference to our cheap radio brand, Cobra. “Cobra Two, Cobra One has come under fire and has sought shelter. Please hold your position.” Carl comes back quickly: “I’m on the ground. I hit the dirt as soon as I heard that first round.” It sounds like he’s started laughing. “I’ll lie here until you’re clear.”

We follow the ovens down to the railroad tracks. They can’t hit us at this angle, but we can still hear the gunfire. We skirt the tracks, hop a dirty, trash-filled creek, and head deeper into the woods, finally lining ourselves up with the proper transect. The shots sound further away and finally stop altogether. I radio Carl and tell him we’re safe and he continues on his way. As we walk on Jason and I discuss what’s just happened. “They probably weren’t trying to hit us,” he says. “Just scare us a little. Besides,” he continues, “It sounded like a .22. At that distance it just would’ve stung a little.” I knew right then that I’d hired the right person for the job. And we’d have to come back the next day.

That top shot isn't actually from Aetna Mountain, but was taken at the head of a driveway near Cagle Mountain in Sequatchie County. The second shot is also from Sequatchie County, but the third is out the back porch of the check-in station at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, Birchwood, TN.


Unknown said...

Ha i like the no trespassing sign. I know exactly where that is

jmhouse said...

Owen Maclellan, is the no trespassing sign still there?! It's been several years since I took that photo. It is a heck of a sign!

Thanks for your comment! JM