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The Clinch River is one of my favorite places in Tennessee. Sure - It's a creation of TVA and that in itself is a strike against it. But it's such a beautiful place that I find even that can't diminish my love for it.
TVA or the Tennessee Valley Authority has a very mixed heritage in our area. During the 1930s, the Tennessee Valley was a very poor area, even by Depression Era standards. TVA projects displaced over 15,000 people, covering over towns, native burial grounds and land that had been in families for years. On the other hand, TVA provided jobs to an area that was surrounded by poverty. Marcus's grandfather was an electrician at Norris Dam and a few other TVA projects. TVA reduced the devastating floods in this area but they also destroyed pristine areas when they built projects like the Tellico Dam. The creation of the Tellico Dam ruined one on of the best trout fisheries in the area when they dammed the Little Tennessee, and land that TVA acquired through eminent domain at a very low cost is now being sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars per acre to developers.
No matter what my feelings towards TVA are, Norris Lake is here to stay. The Clinch River starts in Southwest Virgina, near Tazwell. The Clinch and Powell River meet up at Norris Lake, formed when Norris Dam was built in 1936. Norris Dam is the first dam built by TVA and at the time was constructed in a modernist style - considered quite advanced and controversial at the time. It really is an impressive sight, especially at dusk.
Because the dam is 285 feet high, it impounds a large quantity of very cold water. This cold water is the perfect temperature for trout. In the 80s, TVA constructed a weir dam that speeds the river back up about two miles from the dam - this adds oxygen to the water and makes it even more habitable for trout.
On a hot summer's night, not many things are more refreshing then walking alongside the tailwaters. Not only is it beautiful but the rushing, cold water kicks up a cool breeze, even on a hot night. During the summer, there's usually fog that begins to form as sunset approaches.
Norris State Park, Cove Creek Wildlife Management Area and Chuck Swan State Forest all preserve areas around the lake. We've seen groundhogs, hawks, osprey, deer, skunks and foxes around here.
On Friday, Marcus and I went blueberry picking at a farm nearby and stopped by the river so Marcus could fish for a bit. It was one of those days when the fishing alchemy was perfect and in the hour we were there, Marcus quickly caught several brown trout. Two were too small to keep and one was too big so they were quickly let go. Marcus asked me if we should keep the other ones to eat and I told him he could make that decision. It was a cop-out. If he decided to keep them, I wasn't responsible for their death. But even doing that made me feel bad - I could have asked him to let them go and he would have.
I'm a bit of a hypocrite when it comes to facing the cruelty of my cooking head on. Sure, we buy the majority of our meat from local, humane producers and we eat a lot less meat than the average consumer. But I don't feel guilty when I eat that meat. I don't feel like I personally caused that animal to die and it's because I'm so insulated from the process.
I think there's a lot of truth to the saying that if slaughterhouses all had glass walls, we'd be vegetarians. Most of us have insulated ourselves from the cruelty of our choices. We buy pork or beef at our grocery store, sanitized and packed in a neat little package. We don't have to see the horrific conditions those animals were raised under. We don't even have the courage to call it by it's animal name - cow meat or pig meat.
I've had people throw a fit when Marcus has mentioned that he sometimes hunts and fishes quite a bit. These people stand there in their leather shoes, holding a burger from McDonalds and tell us that hunting is cruel and have no idea of the irony of their statements. We've created a world where we don't have to see the consequences of our actions, at least when it comes to the meal on the kitchen table.
There's no getting away from the fact that creatures on this planet will die to produce the food that keeps you alive. You can be a vegan and animals will still have died to produce your food. Even humans will be harmed and possibly die to produce the food you eat. All kinds of animals die during the harvesting process. Merely using the land for the growing of food, rather than animal habitat, causes death. If you don't eat organic produce, farm workers will contract cancer because of the chemicals that are used in the farming of your food. Even if you eat organic foods, farm workers in foreign country will go hungry when the organic peaches they grow to provide for their families are turned down for not being up to standard. Even if you buy local, organic produce, you're still not blameless. An organic farmer I know lost 600 tomato plants in one night to deer. His losses were so great that he had to get a depredation permit in order to get any kind of harvest at all and to control his losses for next year.
I grow a lot of our produce in my suburban garden. Every year we fight off the birds and possums so we can harvest our tomatoes. They don't usually take enough to cause severe losses but I know the frustration of going out to the garden and finding nibbles and pecks in almost all of the not-quite-ripe tomatoes. A few weeks ago, we had a difficult choice to make. The biggest groundhog I had ever seen was in our back yard. They may be cute animals but anyone who's gardened knows that devastation they can cause in a garden in a single night. It disappeared, never to be seen again but what would we have done if it had decided to make its home nearby?
We need to strip off the marketing gloss of our dining choices and come face to face with the cruelty that comes as a result of our choices. That doesn't mean we need to go out and shoot a deer or kill a chicken ourselves, although I greatly admire people who are willing to do that. It does mean that we need to be aware that our food comes with a cost. We need to treat our food with the reverence that it deserves - we need to use it wisely. We need to appreciate the farmers that grew it and the lives that were lost in the production of it.
This life can be an amazing gift - full of beauty and wonder. But none of us can escape the fact that it can be cruel as well. In the gorgeous surroundings of the Clinch River valley, I was responsible for the death of three living creatures. The best thing I could do is to be grateful for the loss of those lives so that I could live.
Trout with Brown Butter-Caper Sauce
1/4 teaspoon olive oil
2 trout fillets - about 4 oz each
Salt and Pepper
2 tablespoons shallots (We used Egyptian Walking Onions from our garden)
1 heaping tablespoon of drained capers
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter
First off, if you caught your own fish, you need to clean them and fillet them.
Chop your shallots and get your capers and lemon ready. Add oil to a non-stick skillet and put over medium heat. Heat for 2 minutes. Salt and pepper both sides of fillets and add to pan.
When the edges of the fillet start to turn white, flip. This will take 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. After flipping, cook for another 1 1/2 or until fish flakes easily with a fork.
Add butter to skillet. Watch carefully because in a non-stick skillet it's hard to see when it begins to brown. It usually takes about 2 to 2 1/2 minutes for us.
When it's beginning to turn brown, add shallots and sautee for two minutes until they begin to soften.
Then add lemon juice and capers, cook for another minute.
Pour sauce over fish and serve.
This meal is part of my One Local Summer meal for this week. Admittedly, capers aren't local but I'm hoping that next year, I'll have pickled nasturtium buds to use as a substitute. The butter was made from Cruze Farm milk and we used some of the caper juice to sub in for the lemon. Instead of shallots, we used Egyptian Walking Onions from our garden. We served this fish with roasted Dragon Langerie, Masai and Purple Trionfo Violetto beans from our garden. Dessert was a blueberry cornmeal cake made with local blueberries and local cornmeal.