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Life on the forks

There are places in this world that seem magical. The Cliffs of Moher, in Ireland, Cathedral Rock in Sedona, and standing at the edge of the Pacific just off ForksHighway 1 near Half Moon Bay in California come to mind. There are places much closer to home that may not be as scenic, but they too are special. 

Jilda worked late this afternoon, and I’d been to a community meeting. On the way home, I came to a stop sign near where the Sipsey Fork and the Mulberry River join to form the Black Warrior River, which flows through the heart of Alabama.

Home was to the right, but a stone’s throw to the left is a finger of land separating the two rivers. I decided to swing in to see what was happening at the forks.

To the casual visitor, there’s not a lot to see. There’s a huge parking lot, a public boat launch, and a few picnic tables under the shade of pine and poplar. But this particular spot is a unique place on earth. It feels magical at times in the evening when the angle of light reflects off the water, making it look as if the river is flowing into the sky. 

I’ve never read the history, but I understand that Native Americans made their home on this land back before Alabama became a state. 

Standing at water’s edge as the lazy rivers amble toward home in the Gulf of Mexico, it feels magical. It’s easy to see why Native Americans loved it here.

These days, people congregate at the forks year around. In summer, you see kids from the community fishing. When it gets too hot to fish, they strip off their shirts and dive into the cool water. When they tire of swimming, they lie back on the bank and bake like turtles in the sun. 

In the spring, you’ll find fishermen from all over Alabama who come to the forks to try their hand at landing a trout, stripe or hybrid bass. Many species of fish migrate upstream to spawn in the cool waters. 

Early-morning Jon boats putter upstream through mist as thick as a veil for a chance to catch a stringer full of stripe.

My old friend Leo Smith is the unofficial mayor of the forks. Most days you can find him fishing, running trotlines or dispensing advice on sloughs, bait and fishing techniques.

Years on the water have baked his skin the color of mocha. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that his veins flow with the water of the Warrior. It seems he can look at the water, the position of the sun, factor in air temperature and tell you if the fish are biting.

People come from all over to fish, but some come to stand and talk, with conversations ranging from pontoons to politics.

Sometimes you’ll see families with young children come to be close to the water. 

The kids run around barefoot catching dragonflies and chasing June bugs while their mothers spread a picnic lunch on blankets in the shade.

Today when I parked, there was a lone fisherman in a canvas lawn chair near the edge of the water. He had a cooler within arm’s reach and was tending a line hoping to catch a stripe for supper.

Standing at the forks for those few moments, it felt magical.
 

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