Tennessee: the good and the bad

Farm land near Reelfoot Lake. There are eagles in the trees...somewhere.

Farm land near Reelfoot Lake. There are eagles in the trees…somewhere.

This week’s assignment was on data journalism. We also had to draw a map through Google maps. This is where my brain goes dead on me. I never took computer-assisted reporting mainly because it’s never been offered anywhere I’ve attended school. A kind professor at the University of Memphis offered to let me sit in on two of his classes this spring where he taught them how to use an Excel spreadsheet. He handed out some simple exercises. Well…yours truly got maybe five in all completed. I simply couldn’t make Excel work plus when it comes to math, the brain circuitry just isn’t there.

I think statistics are wonderful. But I’m terrible at using them. I barely pulled a B out of my research methods/statistics class last term. You get the idea. This is one reason why I’m making my now-9-year-old do addition and subtraction exercises when she comes home from school. After reading this assigned article, the best I can say is that I know what I don’t know. Normal distribution, margin of error, sample sizes – a few terms make sense. Unfortunately, the rest of the essay was totally incomprehensible. So in terms of how I might use interactive databases or data visualizations on my blog, I can see putting together statistics on adoption. Haven’t figured out exactly which ones to do and right now the technology to work this data escapes me.
Anyway, I now had to figure out how to make a map. My first map was of the various moves I’ve made throughout my 57 years. Born in Baltimore, I was six weeks old when my dad got orders to Hawaii, where we lived for two years. I don’t remember it at all. My oldest brother remembers it somewhat. Wouldn’t you know that my parents would take us to this paradise when we were too young to appreciate it, then bring us back to the dreariness of Maryland where I spent much of my growing-up life? We were nine years in Maryland, with a four-year interlude in Connecticut, then – freedom! – we moved to Seattle when I was 15. (Hopefully this is clear on the map, which I named ‘Julia’s Ports of Call.’ Please click on this, as I can’t make an image appear on this site.

College three years later was in Portland. I moved about Portland a lot for the next 8 1/2 years until I began my chase after various newspaper jobs by moving to Florida in 1983, Houston in 1986, the Pittsburgh area in 1990, New Mexico in 1994, Virginia in 1995, back to Maryland in 2008, then out to Tennessee in 2012. I’m vowing one way or another, we will be out of Tennessee this year. Before we leave this state, however, I want to list the good and the bad parts.

One of the prettier settings off a trail at Land Between the Lakes

One of the prettier settings off a trail at Land Between the Lakes near the Kentucky state line.

First, the places that don’t live up to their reputation:
1. Land Between the Lakes – Have visited this huge park twice and been disappointed both times. Frankly, it’s dull. Even the buffalo aren’t that interesting.
2. Oak Ridge – I thought this would be a mountaintop aerie where America thought up all its atomic secrets. Nah – kind of flat and dull. The pretty parts are 30 miles from there and Oak Ridge has a nice museum but, Zzzzzzzz.
3. Reelfoot Lake – OK, I saw the area in the winter when it was dreary, but couldn’t help notice that the concessions and park areas around it were run-down and looked like they’d been built in the 1950s. Won’t go back.
4. Natchez Trace Parkway – Rumored to be this really scenic drive, I drove the Tennessee portion and discovered there are no views. I compared it to a similar parkway called the Blue Ridge Parkway, which has spectacular views. The Trace suffers by comparison.
5. Southern cuisine – This is a state of mind more than a place, but Jackson is full of restaurants that ooze fattening varieties of fried everything: the beans, the chicken, the bread – it goes on. Everything is loaded with sugar. The one thing I DO like is sweet tea.

I decided to make a second map for the 10 places I like and things to do in the Volunteer State.  I left out the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as I’ve not been there in years but hope to get back there this spring. Click on the above words in red to see a map of Tennessee with little stars marking these spots. Then click on the golden stars to get the names of these locales. I also list them below:

The lovely abandoned settlement, about 4,000 feet up, at Cumberland Gap National Park.

The lovely abandoned settlement, about 4,000 feet up, at Cumberland Gap National Park.

1. Go hear Loretta Lynn perform in Hurricane Ridge. That’s where her ranch is one hour west of Nashville and it is such a hoot to go to one of her concerts. She dresses in a long Civil War-style pink ball gown and appears every few months. She’s in her 80s by now.

2. Jack Daniels Distillery. It’s an hour south of Nashville and in the middle of nowhere, but the visit is worth the trip, just to learn how whiskey is made. The visitor center is top-notch and they take you almost everywhere. The kids like it, too.

3. Mud Island. This is a park on the shores of the Mississippi in Memphis where we’ve been twice. There are hills to roll down, an amphitheater, paddle boats shaped like swans, benches to enjoy the view and the neatest representation of the actual Mississippi. You walk an exact scale 2,000-foot-long model of the river and over little bridges so you can trace the river down to the sea.

4. Cumberland Gap National Historic Park – I discovered this place by accident on my way to the serpent handlers, but we’ve been there three times and have loved the hikes and the Pinnacle Overlook. It’s where Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia meet. I had never known the history of how hard it was to find a gap in the Appalachian mountain chain for folks in the late 1700s. (Their web site does not explain this at all, but the visitor center does). A highlight was signing up for the trip to the top of the mountain where they show you old settlers’ homes in the Hensley Settlement. It was beyond lovely – and very isolated – the day we went. Even today it is hard to get to. Cannot imagine what it was like to establish a community there at the turn of the 20th century. Their mailing address is in Virginia, the visitor center is in Kentucky and one of the major trails starts in Tennessee.

5. The Blue Chair Cafe in Sewanee. Been here twice. The granola is always to die for and the coffee is nice too. Cozy and comfortable.

Veeka and a statue at the Jack Williams distillery,

Veeka and a statue at the Jack Daniels distillery,

6. Shelby Farms Park in east Memphis – There is the nicest playground here and lots of bike trails and woods. Wish Veeka was old enough so we could ride on them. Memphis’ best-kept secret.

7. Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville – We loved the huge atrium and spacious interior with thousands of plants, paths, a little river all surrounded by hotel rooms. Ate a hamburger in one of the restaurants.

8. Discovery Park of America – You don’t get much more isolated in this state than Union City in the northwest corner, but there’s this immense place where kids can learn all sorts of stuff and tons of exhibits and lots of places outdoors, ranging from an 18th century village to a Japanese garden. Kind of like a cross between the Smithsonian and Disney World.

9. Union Station in Nashville – an absolute jewel of a hotel. Stayed here once. Loved it.

10. Appalachian Center for Craft in Smithville – This pretty shop and adjoining restaurant midway between Nashville and Knoxville is not far off I-40 – maybe a 15-minute drive through a canyon overlooking a lake. The restaurant serves very nice, cheap meals, as the place is an alternate campus for Tennessee Tech students. Lovely crafts in the shop next door.

2 thoughts on “Tennessee: the good and the bad

  1. Don Warrington

    What? You didn’t take Veeka to the Tennessee Aquarium and the Creative Discovery Museum in Chattanooga?

    I’ve lived in this state for most of my life. I still consider myself a South Floridian.

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