DELANO, Tenn. — The searchers are waiting for the water to go down, waiting for the mud to settle. They are waiting for crews to clear logs and branches from the creek.
On Monday -- five days since a man and two of his children went under -- about 50 people kneeled on the creek bank or paddled in kayaks, looking for bodies.
"They are in the water," said a sure Stephen Lofty, chief of the West Polk Fire and Rescue, as he scanned the dirty creek from a bridge.
Nick Alley, 36, and two of his children, 7-year-old Helana Alley and 6-year-old Lazarus Alley, spilled out of their canoe on the rain-swollen Conasauga Creek on Wednesday, and not a sign of them has been found since. Three of his other children who had gone on the creek that day returned safe.
A few miles down the road, past chicken pens, turned dirt and rows of blue cabbage, people gathered in a cabin-style church for singing and sermons in honor of the missing. It was a funeral without bodies. They didn't think it was right to wait. Nearly 500 people attended.
This community, which calls itself Plain People and lives in the Christian tradition of the Mennonites and Amish, is thankful for emergency workers, for the people who drove in from far-away counties and neighboring towns, but they are about ready for them to go.
They are happy for people to come in, talk to them about their farms or faith. Alley had been an outsider welcomed into the fold. His family moved from Virginia to Delano about five years ago.
But they don't want gawkers. They hate the spectacle.
"Be content," said Melvin Yoder, the community beekeeper. "God has hidden them."
A few more weeks, maybe, and the outsiders will leave, clearing the roads again for the horses and the buggies and the clusters of blue-skirted women in bonnets.
The sermon focused on repentance and getting right with the judge of all things, said those who walked home from the service.
"Our day is coming," said Yoder. "Just like Nick's time was up."
The creek was feet taller when the family fell in the water. The rushing water could have taken them to the river, but a flight and a boat search saw nothing at the mouth of the Hiwassee.
Searchers have filled the local farmers market with goodies, cakes and snack bars to keep the emergency workers going. Women sit around a heater and talk.
For the most part, the Plain People, as they like to be called, stay away. They stay near their gardens and barns, on the small winding roads that connect them to each other.
"Don't expect them to talk," one woman said.
No one begrudged them for moving on with the service and saying goodbye. The search is a recovery, not a rescue now, said Lofty.
"There has to be some closure," he said. "This is their way."
Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...