First in a Series...
Developer T. Earl Gerbley points to the planned location for the 20,000 sq. ft. Olive Garden restaurant for his new golf course development on sacred tribal lands. (Sacred Persimmon Spires loom in the background.)
Persimmon Spires at Poking Buffalo Lake...the name, alone, inspires visions of spectacular mountains and bucolic settings balanced along the shoreline of this pristine and sacred Chockasoutauk Tribal site just 30 minutes west of Persimmon Pines via State Route 13. Of course, because it is a sacred site, few of us of non-Native American ancestry have been privileged to see the area; unless we took one of the $40 mule-ride tours of the area led by Chockasoutauk guides and only offered on weekends during the summer.
So, imagine this Reporter's surprise, a few days ago, when well-known area golfer and land developer T. Earl Gerbley contacted me to ask if I would like to accompany him on a trip to this sacrosanct natural wonderland. He said he wanted to show me something. Or, to quote him exactly: "I want you to be the first to watch me point at the stuff I’m going to knock down and tear out for a new golf course development that are gonna blow your socks off!"
We made the drive out of town last Thursday afternoon in Gerbley's Mercedes. Our guide was Proudfoot Dibbledick, Chockasoutauk Tribeperson and Natural History Professor at Traylor County Community College. As we turned off Old Broadway Extension, onto Route 13, the Developer put his right arm over the back of the passenger seat and slouched sideways - steering with only the first finger of his left hand. He looked in the rearview mirror to make eye contact. "Of all the land I've had a hand in leveling and reshaping to my liking, I have never been more excited about a project than this one." We swerved slightly across the yellow line as Gerbley tousled the hair of Professor Dibbledick. "And, this guy is the one who is making it possible. He went to bat for me with the Elders of the Chockasoutauk Nation at their annual tribal meeting over at their Casino in Looseneck Falls last month. And, by ‘to bat,’ you know what I mean!” Gerbley rubbed his thumb and forefinger together in a way that seemed to suggest something untoward.
Dibbledick smiled sheepishly. "My role in all this is fairly small. I simply presented the elders with the visions, philosophy, spreadsheets and bag of money Mr. Gerbley gave me. But, I'm glad to be onboard as an advisor to Mr. Gerbley. You know, so we can preserve the Chockasoutauk heritage as we provide public access to our reservation and an area our religion and tribal customs have always been off-limits to outsiders. Some say, for good reason.”
We slid back in our seats momentarily when Gerbley floored the Mercedes and blew the horn as we slipped over the double yellow, around a slow-moving pickup, just ahead of an oncoming coal truck. "So Professor," I managed after catching my breath, "tell me about Persimmon Spires."
Dibbledick paused a moment to collect his thoughts as his boss steered into the slide. "Well, as a Natural History teacher, I can tell you that Persimmon Spires is a natural granite formation created over millennia by the forces of erosion, wind and water. Agronomists insist the three, perfectly sculpted rocky outcroppings look exactly like huge persimmons. So, it was probably this amazing resemblance to the very fruit which sustained my ancestors that caused them to conclude this was a holy place."
Dust filled the car as we skidded onto the reservation's gravel road. I asked how the lake got its name. The Developer was quick to answer. "I know that one! When the Braves went out to hunt buffalo, they'd force 'em down the Chumtaw Crick toward the shore of the lake where the women would be waiting with spears."
"Poking Buffalo Lake." I weighed each word carefully.
Gerbley chuckled. “If you’re a buffalo, you’d best be leaving…” The anti-lock brakes stopped the car in a straight line as the gravel dust billowed. The Developer flung his car door open. “…because, we’re here!"
We got out of the Mercedes under the awe-inspiring spectacle of Persimmon Spires. I have lived here all my life. But, like most Persimmon Pineseans, had only seen the Spires in vacation brochures published by the Chamber of Commerce...never in person. They do, in fact, look like three perfectly sculpted 200 foot long persimmons - standing on end. Just beyond lies the unspoiled beauty of Poking Buffalo Lake. Proudfoot Dibbledick turned his palms skyward and seemed to offer a silent prayer to the long-dead spirits of his ancestors. Gerbley patted him on the back. "We'll put pictures of Indian chiefs in the golf course pro shop...which we'll build right over there where that burial mound is now."
Over the next 45 minutes, Gerbley walked us through his designers plan to "improve the natural flow of the environment by imbedding architectural creations that will illuminate the landscape and create vistas heretofore unknown to those who, until recently, held sole title to this land. Because, you know, I want to do right by these folks.”
The plans are quite impressive. Thumbnail sketch: Three Championship golf courses - a marina with access to the Plunker River 500 feet below via private lock-controlled canal - 50,000 square foot club house and four gourmet restaurants open to the public - including a 20,000 square foot Olive Garden - requested by Chockasoutauk leaders. “Turns out, Tribal leaders like the idea of all-you-can-eat bread-sticks,” smiled Gerbley.
Yet, I had to ask myself...and later, T. Earl Gerbley himself, “Since you seem to be saying you paid Tribal Leaders to get this deal to build a luxury golf community on their holiest site, do you think there will be any legal issues in the future?”
Gerbley smiled and pointed to Proudfoot Dibbledick. “He gave ‘em the bag. I wasn’t even there!” As the Professor turned a pale green, the Developer took me by the shoulder. “Come on - let me show you where I’m gonna build the water park and go cart track!”
Larry Caringer has been writing humor for broadcast for a long time. Now, he's writing it for you. The stories, here, are from a collection of short stories from his book "Golf Beat: A Year in the Life of Persimmon Pines."