Monday, August 22, 2016


I grew up and have lived in Louisiana most of my life and now live on one of the highest elevations in New Iberia (25 ft.) part of the year and Sewanee, Tennessee (2,000 ft.) the other part. I find it strange when “Sewaneeans” say “I’m going down to the Valley to shop,” and they’re referring to several towns, the peak elevations of which rise 1,000 ft. Now that I live during the spring and summer on The Mountain, the elevation of a town like Cowan, Tennessee, which peaks at 954 ft., doesn't seem to be much of a valley.  

At the western base of the Cumberland Plateau, which juts out in ridges that create small valleys, stands the town of Cowan, which drains via Boiling Fork Creek (a dry bed the first year I glimpsed it), a tributary of the Elk River. I love to drive through the little town on the way to Winchester, Tennessee for groceries, and I don’t ever remember much water running through Boiling Fork. I’ve experienced perhaps two downpours while shopping near Cowan. Many of my poems include the landscape and vegetation of the Valley where corn, soybean crops, pastures of yellow rapeseed, and rolls of hay dot the fields.

Cowan’s claim to fame can be traced to the mid-19th century when it became the site where railway lines met the Nashville to Chattanooga trunk of the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway, and trains traveled through the Cowan Tunnel. Pusher engines assist
ed trains to climb the steep ascent to the Cumberland Plateau, and are still being used today. When I pass the station on my trek to Winchester and see the engines, I wonder if they were the prototypes for The Little Engine That Could, a children’s classic with a moral about what a positive attitude can do for a machine (or a human) wanting to achieve success. It was a book popular during my childhood and is still found in most contemporary libraries.

Last week we stopped at a renovated restaurant renamed “The Valley Cove Bistro” in Cowan and discovered an excellent menu for a restaurant in a small town of 1,770 people, including classic French Onion Soup, the original Corner House (former name of the restaurant and a Tennessee Back Road Heritage property) Gazpacho, Grilled Salmon and Cucumber Wrap, and Apple Rose Puff Pastry (the latter filled with Maple Custard served with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream). I asked about the Chef and was told he’s a native of the Valley area.

Further down the road in the Valley, we stopped at a fruit and vegetable store supplied by Amish farmers from Lawrenceburg, Tennessee and purchased ears of sweet corn, a cantaloupe the size of a watermelon, and home-grown tomatoes. The store was attached to Lapp’s Greenhouse, a nursery where we’d bought herb plantings earlier this summer, and which have survived the drought.

I read that one of the characteristics of a valley is “low land” and that most of them are deep and narrow, but this one must be an old one because it isn’t steep sided like younger valleys  still being uplifted to create mountains.

When we travel home from the Valley, we often try to guess how many degrees cooler the temps are at the higher elevation of The Mountain, and today The Mountain proved to be seven degrees cooler. However, I hasten to mention a major advantage of living in the Valley: real estate is $100,000 cheaper down below than on The Mountain! The main thoroughfare of Hwy. 41A running through Cowan is lined with lovely homes and businesses housed in quaint buildings that were built during the town’s heyday when the railroad came through.

Photographs by Victoria I. Sullivan

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