Couchville Cedar Glade is a family favorite because it’s easy to get to and the loop trail is only one mile. Sometimes, we walk with people for whom one mile of Nature is enough. Proximity to a Sonic drive-in is another plus. Our Pavlovian response to a walk at Couchville involves Tater Tots and vanilla shakes.
May I show you my field trip from yesterday? It was special for two reasons. One, I was alone, which is rare. Two, I was in a cedar glade, which is also rare. Not that my being inside a cedar glade is rare. I am in them as often as possible. No, it is the cedar glades that are rare. “Globally unique” is how the Nature Conservancy describes these pockets of paradise in Middle Tennessee. I describe them as ecosystems rare and redneck and beautiful.
Imagine the parking lot of an abandoned strip mall: cracked concrete and gravel with stuff growing wherever there is an eddy of soil. That’s the redneck part. But instead of concrete, what you are looking at is bedrock: Ordovician limestone in sheets, chunks and clitter, with every inch pitted by erosion and studded with fossils. And the stuff growing between chunks are native grasses and wildflowers: all gorgeous; some rare; and some which only happen here. That’s the globally unique bit.
Where soil is allowed to settle and deepen, native shrubs and red cedar grab root room, and farther out, even deeper, hickory and oak do well.
Paradise: glade and prairie and forest. (And ticks too, so don’t lie on the moss, no matter how tempting the year-round green.)
In summer, the glades fry. In winter, the glades drown.
Yesterday’s walk at Couchville was a perfect example of the drowning.
If you start the loop on the right-hand side, the first half of the journey is on rock. With heavy rain, it becomes a running stream. Yesterday, what is usually a clinkety, dry path was under water. It actually winked in the sun and babbled.
The rain did more than soak me halfway to my knees. It made the sinkhole roar.
Midway through the loop, the footpath stream joins a wet-weather stream under a rickety footbridge. Don’t step on the sides of the first few planks or they will pivot under you like a Three Stooges gag, or like when Bugs Bunny steps on a rake and gets thwacked in the face. Keep to the middle.
But here’s where the trail water drains to the chorus frog eggs and the salamander larvae and the aquatic isopods, and on and on down to a swampy bit off-trail.
You can hear the stream wash through grasses and over stones, and see it twinking towards the woods, down, down, and were you to break the rules and leave the trail to follow it, you’d see picturesque crescendo into the sublime.The sinkhole.
You’d see it race over limestone steps and slide toward massive fissures and drop straight into darkness. Gone in one go.
Who knows where that water goes next? I don’t. Beyond it is only more moss, more cedars. Under your feet is a textbook example of karst system: a network of hidden holes and cracks in layers of limestone that gives us our caves and sinkholes and our cedar glades.
I do know that any walk through a cedar glade is a marvel any time, any weather, with or without a large order of Tots at the finish.
And I know I have much, much more to say about them.