I find it almost unbelievable that we have lived here for just shy of 40 years now and are still discovering special things that our area has to offer. Sure, we have always enjoyed the Smoky Mountains, have frequently taken advantage of our Tennessee state parks, and camped and hiked with our family through the years, but this past Monday we had a wonderful surprise as we took a winter nature excursion sponsored by the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. We boarded a boat at 9:45 am with a temperature of 27 degrees for a 2 1/2 hour cruise along the Tennessee River. Having made the reservations about six weeks before, we had chosen the Martin Luther King holiday thinking that by then we would be past the coldest part of winter and had hoped for at least normal temperatures, which would have been mid 40’s to low 50’s. I must admit that I’m very sensitive to cold and was wondering as we boarded if this event would be something I enjoyed or endured.
I hadn’t been on board very long, though, before I knew that this was going to be a great experience. Our guide, a naturalist employed by the aquarium, was superb in every way. He made the natural history of the area come alive as we began our journey, and his enthusiasm was contagious as he began to let us in on what was in store on the river ahead of us. This route, a major migratory flyway for a great variety of birds, would allow us to view sand hill cranes, pelicans, tundra swans, eagles, kingfishers, cormorants, whooping cranes, hawks, and many kinds of ducks. About forty minutes into the trip, we had the option to leave the comfort of the heated cabin and go up on the top deck to begin some serious searching for the migrating hordes. Cameras and tripods in hand, up we went and were immediately greeted by frigid air. However, that discomfort was soon forgotten as frequent sightings were pointed out on both sides of the boat. The time passed quickly, and I was disappointed when I realized we were turning around for the return trip to the marina. We had seen everything that had been mentioned and gotten pictures of most of them. During the trip, I kept thinking that we would definitely make this a yearly tradition, so regret set in as our guide shared the sad news that this tour was the last one because the Tennessee Aquarium was officially going out of the boat tour business. Hopefully, another similar option will become available through another company, but I am so grateful that we were able to be a part of this amazing adventure on the last day!