Lake Tenkiller and The Seasons  

Text and Photography Ron Day

There is a place in the hills of the western Ozarks where a Native American family once operated a ferry, providing early passage across the pristine Illinois River. Long after the ferry closed, a dam was built at the site. Born was "Tenkiller Ferry Reservoir", a sparkling 12,900 acre body of water with 130 miles of picturesque shoreline winding through northeast Oklahoma. When the lake,  commonly referred to as Lake Tenkiller, was completed, the upper Illinois River became a protected "Scenic River".

    Winter Sunset at Carlisle Cove, Lake Tenkiller

Far removed from Oklahoma's western prairie, Lake Tenkiller and the Illinois River are located in the rugged hills and hardwood forests on the western boundary of the Ozark Mountains. The Lake and River are known for clear water, and the towering stone bluffs scattered along their shores. Abundant habitat  in the area supports three wildlife refuges:  Cookson Hills Game Refuge, home of a  substantial elk herd;  Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge, winter home to thousands of migratory geese; and, Cherokee Game Refuge on Camp Gruber. Whitetail deer, fox, squirrel, raccoon, and turkey are frequently spotted throughout the area.   

The seasons reveal different aspects of this area, but considered together, they define the whole. The sighting of  blue birds at Carlisle Cove is a harbinger of spring. Soon the redbuds and dogwoods sprinkle the forest with pastel hues of pink and white. White bass start their movement up the lake to spawn in the cool clear waters of the upper Illinois River. Wildflowers and butterflies adorn the meadows with eye-catching color. And pairs of cardinals, wrens, and titmice join the blue birds in their nesting activities.

By June, foliage is lush.  Visitors are attracted to the warm water.  Camping, fishing, scuba diving, water skiing, and boating are the activities of summer.   The Illinois River becomes host to hundreds who come to canoe its scenic waters.   By  late July, whitetail does are seen teaching the ways of the woods to young spotted fawns. Long summer days often end with multicolored sunsets reflected on still waters.

In autumn, bald eagles and white pelicans migrate to the area.  The pelicans are joined by loons and gulls at the water's surface to feast on baitfish chased by hungry white bass. The  harmony of  snow geese is a welcome tune.   And the oak and hickory forest puts on a coat of striking colors in celebration of fall.

   Morning Frost on Leaves

When the winter wind strikes the towering stone bluffs,  eagles ride high on the air currents in search of fish.    The fur of the deer is in sync with the season, providing  camouflage  in the barren hardwoods. Migrating wood ducks and mallards  stop over for a  winter visit.  The cold forest becomes quiet, and a single leaf drifts to earth like a floating butterfly.

And, with each new season comes fond memories of what has been, and fresh dreams of what can be, in this majestic place I call home.