On Sunday, I went looking for Corona.
I've been spending some of these glorious early fall days kayaking and fishing local lakes — Shelby Forest, Wapanocca, and elsewhere. Last Saturday night, I was looking for new water online, scanning Google Maps images of Arkansas, north of Memphis. That's when I spotted Corona Lake. Because I have a simple mind, I thought, "Wouldn't it be cool to go paddle Corona Lake during the coronavirus pandemic?" Also, I thought I might get a column out of it. So ...
- Bruce VanWyngarden
- Tipton County, TN
I googled "Corona Lake, Arkansas," to see what I could learn about it. No results. There was a Corona Lake in Tipton County, Tennessee, that came up in the search but none in Arkansas. Then I remembered something interesting, something I'd forgotten about: There are parts of Tennessee on the west side of the Mississippi, due to the meanderings of the river channel over the course of time, which pay no attention to state lines created by mere mortals. Corona Lake, in Tipton County, Tennessee, was on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi.
So now I was intrigued, and off I went Sunday morning in search of the mysterious Tennessee lake that looked like it was in Arkansas. I hopped off of I-55 North near Turrell, and soon I was headed east on unmarked roads — no signs, no other vehicles, no houses, just big yellow fields, high blue sky, and car wheels on a gravel road. Anything vertical was covered in kudzu. The roads weren't marked, but my phone seemed confident we were on the right track, so I kept driving, stirring up dust in the rearview for miles behind.
As my GPS indicated I was getting near the lake, I drove past a very large, very Southern-looking house — white columns, red brick, large lawn, grand trees. The road ended a few hundred yards later, next to where two puzzled-looking men stood near a combine and a pickup truck. I got out, grinning an innocent man's grin, and said, "Hey, looks like this might be private land. I didn't realize that. Didn't see any signs. Sorry."
The men approached, saying nothing, looking me up and down. They were wearing ball caps, field shirts, and khakis; they looked like farmers — like Delta money. The older man, a shortish fellow, turned sideways while looking up at me over his right shoulder, an interesting conversational gambit.
"Oh, this is definitely private land," he said. "What is it you're looking for?"
I blathered on a bit about seeing Lake Corona on a map and trying to fish some new water, suddenly conscious of my shorts and Tevas and Subaru and kayak — a stranger in a strange land. Finally, I ran out of words.
"I'm John Tipton," the man said. "This is my son, Will." I introduced myself and we bumped elbows and said nice to meet you.
"Where are you from," John asked.
"Memphis," I said. "I write for a paper there. I might write about this."
John paused for a beat, still looking sideways at me, then he said, "You know what? You go on ahead and fish that lake, but I'll tell you, it's mostly bighead carp. If you catch something, you let us know."
"Thanks," I said. "That's kind of you. I'll give it a shot." Then I said, "This is Tennessee, right?"
"Yessir, it's Tennessee."
"And I'm guessing this county might have been named after you?"
"Well, not me, but my great-great-grandfather, yessir."
"Well, it's really nice of you to let me paddle around your lake. I appreciate it."
"No problem. Good luck."
Turns out John Tipton was right. Corona Lake was a muddy slough, not worth casting a line or even dipping a paddle into, so I didn't stay long. But it was a good day, even though the kayak never left the car roof. I explored some new country, met two nice fellows, took some cool photos — and I got a column out of it.