'Round These Mountains

Cool Summer Nights

Tonight promises a lull in the rhythm of summer. Lows in the fifties, dry air stretching south, and the seasonal traffic easing on the highways and lakes. Even what remains of the garden is sighing, satisfied with a bountiful run. A lovely stillness is settling in.

Late summer seems to move slowly along, in no hurry to leave. Is it still true that in much of France, Italy, Germany, and Spain, many citizens flee the continent every August to watch the last of summer simmer by at the seaside? What that must do for mind and spirit!

Perhaps they share the preference for meteorological season changes. Few of us in the southeastern United States would agree that summer does not begin until the third week of June; and many of us are eager to embrace autumn’s arrival September 1, no matter what the day’s high temp might reach. Spring is our only concession to astronomical season dates in these mountains.

Summer’s end in our area means the last hay bales are going in above the barn stalls, farmers’ markets are colorful spectacles of inspiration for dinners on the porch, and dogwood leaves ever so faintly begin to blush bronze—hinting of the new season to come. Pile a few pillows in the porch swing and enjoy a surprisingly beautiful evening or two this weekend.

'Round These Mountains

What Will You Bring to the Mountains?

Packing for a Georgia Mountains stay usually includes hiking shoes, bug (or bear) repellant, maybe a bag of marshmallows tucked in among the t-shirts, socks, and shorts.  Along with the kayaks racked on the roof and the bikes lashed to the bumper, don’t forget that extra patience as you merge into the slow-moving mountain lane.

Our few coffee shops stay busy, and restaurants seem forever slammed these days. Keep in mind that folks here are fond of saying we run on mountain time. Just breathe deep as you step out of the car and notice the bright blue skies and fine air filling your lungs.

Bring along that deep appreciation you hold for great times with good people and let the little frustrations fall away. Stand on the porch at dusk and listen to the owls calling. Before you turn in, slip out to admire the brilliant stars above. Sleep under them when you can.

Each day here is your laidback opportunity to practice really seeing the people you interact with. Get another perspective while listening to advice on trails or concerts or eateries.

Be open to shifting the schedule to experience a new adventure when the chance arises. If you’re not ready to rent a boat, try a paddleboard. See the beauty beyond every turn and in everyone you meet—it is there.

Wander through the Butternut Creek Art Festival in Blairsville this weekend to truly elevate your energy. The National Photography Show also opens Saturday in Blue Ridge at the Art Center. Events in the column to the left of this post offer something for almost every inclination over the coming weeks.

Venturing into the forests? Remember that our cell service is sketchy here and let someone know where you plan to be. Mark your GPS where you park to track your way back from a hike and resist jaunts off the trail.

Whether you come for a visit or to start a new life here, bring your best and brightest self, having shed the aspects we all come here to escape. Dream about opening your second-act shop, offering a new service, or joining a business team already in place here. And if you have the right connections, do bring news of a Publix coming soon. You’ll be the most popular Floridian this side of Blood Mountain.

Just Sayin'

Happy Birthday USA!

Celebrations are echoing through the mountains of North Georgia this weekend with fireworks filling our starry nights and scores of events to enjoy over the four days of festivities—some accessible only by boat or marvelously, by train. Hometown markets showcase artists and produce, even music, while an abundance of summer concerts reverberate across county lines, inviting visitors to trek the mountain roads for bluegrass, contemporary artists, and classic performances.

Along the trek, town squares are the backdrop for local groups sponsoring patriotic floats, riders waving to the roadside crowds. Our boat parades always launch well ahead of the evening fireworks shows in several mountain communities, keeping traditions that span generations. See the column to the left for highlights of area events; and be sure to search online for good eats at fundraising cookouts we may have missed.

Now, please don’t let the following rant frizz your festive mood. It’s a small expression of hope that we will have more fully joyous celebrations ahead for our nation’s birthdays.

July Fourth festivities across this nation this weekend will recall the determination that took our loosely united colonies from serving a king to leading the free world—standing ready to aid the rest. Of course, many of those hosting family and friends this year may ask that attendees leave their phones and politics at the door to preserve the peace on Independence Day.

 Just as in 1776, we are a simmering republic, a still reluctant melting pot of people deeply divided. And just as we started, we’ve again splintered in fear, even turning on one another in attack. We weren’t just the yanks against the Brits back in the struggle for independence; we were brother against brother, then too, as we have been so many times since. Ideas that aren’t our own, lately seem able to frighten us out of our wits.

We are designed to see things differently from one another—to listen to another’s point of view, and sometimes, allow it to reshape our own. In the digital age, our melting pot has become more than a little fond of taking “pot shots,” once a derisive term for self-serving, unsportsmanlike gunfire with the intent of feasting on the carcass of one’s target. Those social media ambushes have now escalated into street brawls and unimaginable brutality.

Mob rule is just as hideous as a tyrannical monarch—and we’ve come close enough to both recently to bring the staunchest partisan to reason. We’re smarter than this, more hopeful than this, and surely more grateful than this as a loving, can-do country. We have overcome such obstacles, accomplished so much as a nation, learned slowly but well from our mistakes, that surely we can find our way back to civility when we’ve had enough of this madness. Aren’t we there yet?

C’mon people now, smile on each other—you know the chorus, sing it loud!

“Let’s Get Together” Inspiring lyrics by American singer-songwriter Chet Powers 

Mountain Mornings

Nature, the Nightly News Neutralizer

For the last hour or so, I was at the edge of the creek watching the water tumbling by, hoping the kingfisher would fly past. Couldn’t hear anything but the rush of the wide waterway, gulping and gushing over the rocks. Much as I have on my to-do today, it was time well spent.

As I sat in the waiting area for my car’s oil change this morning, the usual “how the news suggests we’re all likely to die today” topics were circulating the room—recession, war, heat waves, shortages, shootings, natural disasters, you name it. Not a happy place for someone who records the six o’clock and then zips to the weather. Recent events have been heavy enough without wallowing in it all.

A digital sign across the road from the auto shop showed our temps were in the mid 70s. Warming, but not headed to the triple digits Atlanta is expecting. No person present had thriftily chosen to sprawl in the driveway, doing their own car repairs. None of us appeared physically deprived in any way. But the room fixated on adversity. Yikes.

Yes, there are countless people going through awful situations every minute of every day. But most of our individual moments are lighter than we acknowledge. And experiencing that little touch of nature—a pot of flowers on the porch, an office window over the retention pond, or an awesome hour on the creekbank—can let your mind briefly wander away from the world as we usually see it.

We can decide to lighten up our own space. See the good, find the good, be the good. Little bits are everywhere, and we could sprinkle more as we go along by lifting our minds to that brighter, gentler level.

“The happiness in your life depends on the quality of your thoughts,” said the last emperor of the Pax Romana, Marcus Aurelius. An idea that has inspired mankind for almost two thousand years should be worth a try.

'Round These Mountains

Uh Oh, Otters!

Migrating Sicklefin Redhorse, a fish sacred to the Cherokee people, have been swimming up Brasstown Creek into Georgia for weeks on their annual trek to spawn and then return downstream to North Carolina. Nine years ago, a study was initiated to research the stability of this fragile Redhorse population existing in the Hiwassee River Basin.

Dr. Jonathan Davis, a biology professor at Young Harris College, contacted us back then about hosting one of the study sites. Soon, his students were participating in early spring surveys along the creek behind our home.

Despite being “discovered” by biologists in 1992, the Sicklefin Redhorse had long been a valuable staple in Cherokee culture. Centuries ago, the migrating fish were likely guided through a stone weir in the river, allowing a large catch that would be cause for celebration among the villages. Ordinarily, these trout-size fish were caught by bone hook, spear, or basket and often smoked for winter consumption.

Survival of this rare fish is intensely monitored by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, who are working to restore the Redhorse range. In late 2015, a Candidate Conservation Agreement was signed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service; the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission; Duke Energy Carolinas, LLC; the Tennessee Valley Authority; the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians; and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. This powerful coalition could ensure protection without resorting to listing this Redhorse as endangered.

In March of 2016 aquatic biologist Brett Albanese, PhD (program manager for the GA DNR Nongame Conservation Wildlife Resources Division) took the lead on field research that required weeks of tagging, examining, and counting these fish through various methods. Soon, a solar-powered tag-reading antennae was installed across the creek bed to relay tracking information on arriving Sicklefin Redhorse and the timing of their passage.

Early spring in these Georgia mountains can offer the research teams bright, warm days of snorkeling while installing equipment, or frigid, wind-whipped hours of miserable hand-seining. Just ask DNR veterans Zach Abouhamdan, Peter Dimmick, Deb Weiler, and Brett, who have experienced every extreme. Daily results can vary from a torrent of tagged fish shooting over the antennae to an entire day’s count of a single Sicklefin.

That count was today, after Monday’s fyke netting was scuttled by a hungry visitor. A sly Northern River Otter made quick work of the fish pen net with those sharp teeth. This was the first otter detected on this section of Brasstown Creek in over ten years and that appearance has not sparked joy. Ol’ otter may remain nearby, watching for the next opportunity. Very much like another of the waterway’s rare-local-creek-dwellers, the hellbender salamander, who manages to conceal that two-foot-long reptilian bod along the water’s edge until dinner comes swimming by.

Brett Albanese says that’s nature’s balance. That a healthy Sicklefin Redhorse population is still supporting the food chain, even when that means a sacred fish becomes a wily otter’s lunch.

Find out more about Sicklefin Redhorse research via the links below:


EBCI Natural Resources ᏧᎾᎩᏝ Tsu-n(a)-gi-tla  (Sicklefin Redhorse)

Peter Dimmick’s fyke netting video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roQX8OsUHI8&feature=youtu.be

Report by Dr. Jonathan Davis

Good to Know

Fire in the Mountains

Days of relentless winds require vigilance in March. Spring fires flare up just as ground fuel dries out, and folks decide it’s time to burn away winter’s brittle debris. Although the Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC) advises against outdoor burning in humidity lower than 35 percent or in winds higher than 10 mph, on Sunday afternoon a few miles toward town from us a burn became of one of Georgia’s more than 3,500 annual wildfires. Quickly contained, it soon turned black on the wildfire map, then marked “mopped up.” This site is informed by the GFC’s dispatch system, FIResponse. Try it at https://georgiafcpublic.firesponse.com

Seeing a helicopter racing above the forests with that enormous water bucket dangling below is a chilling sight—both for the threat level it represents, and the awe we feel watching those bringing the fighting to contain it. These teams have already staunched several big fires this year including a dangerous outbreak on Tray Mountain earlier this month that seared through ten acres on its way up. How was the weather? This happened on a Class 5 Fire Danger Day—the highest warning level.

Fires always sprint for the ridgetops, even without wind. A small gust, a moment of inattention, a hose too short—lots of factors can lead to disaster for many people and so much property. Towns County communities embraced the FireWise program over ten years ago and those measures are lifesavers.

At www.firewise.org, the home ignition zones are described in detail. “Homeowners are advised to move any flammable material away from wall exteriors – mulch, flammable plants, leaves and needles, firewood piles – anything that can burn. Remove anything stored underneath decks or porches.”

Within five to thirty feet from the furthest exterior point of the home’s landscaping/hardscaping, they suggest: clearing vegetation from under large stationary propane tanks; creating fuel breaks with driveways, walkways/paths, patios, and decks; keeping lawns and native grasses mowed to a height of four inches; removing ladder fuels (vegetation under trees) so a surface fire cannot reach the crowns; and pruning trees up to six to ten feet from the ground; for shorter trees do not exceed 1/3 of the overall tree height. Further advice on the site explains additional zones and recommendations.

Our GFC’s burning guidelines emphasize: observing safe weather conditions; keeping 25 feet between your fire and woodlands; 50 feet between the fire and structures; burning during daylight hours only; continuously tending the fire until completely extinguished; and a long-enough pressurized water-hose, a shovel and rake ready to manage the fire. And never, ever use flammable liquids to start a fire. [That stunt may have its own YouTube horror channel.] When burning that yard debris, start downwind with a small pile, adding to it as it burns down—then douse the site thoroughly. I’d like to add a reminder here, fires are sneaky. Make sure those embers aren’t just playing dead.

Last July the burn permitting laws in Georgia changed and residents are no longer required to secure permits for backyard burning—described in GA Senate Bill 119, GA code section 12-6-90 as “hand-piled natural debris.” Most burn projects, including agricultural, or land clearing for commercial and residential burns still require permits, so be sure to check with your area Ranger or local agency. Laws still prevent burning household garbage and man-made waste products, as well as moving material from one location to another for burning; and seasonal local burn bans may be in effect. Check GaTrees.org for info.

With this warm weather trees will be greening soon, chasing fire season away for a few months. Winds have dropped today, and rain is expected in the early hours Thursday morning. Hope for a soaking!

DAILY FIRE RATING DANGER   http://weather.gfc.state.ga.us/Maps/fd.gif

 CURRENT FIRE DANGER RATING   http://weather.gfc.state.ga.us/Current2/GARAWS-OUT.aspx

Local Rangers:

Blake Melton
1556 Pat Colwell Rd  Blairsville  GA   30512
bmelton@gfc.state.ga.us 706-781-2398

Mason Turner
25 Ellington Rd.  Ellijay  GA  30540
gilmercounty@gfc.state.ga.us 706-635-2363

Wesley Sisk
159 Crown Mountain Dr. Dahlonega  30533
jsisk@gfc.state.ga.us 706-867-2898

Michael Wood
3997 Toccoa Highway Clarksville GA 30523
mwood@gfc.state.ga.us 706-754-2354

Mountain Mornings

Yeah Hello, Spring

In the opening steps to our adversarial tango, Spring arrives, and I mask up yet again, defiantly stomping mud-caked feet, theatrically gesturing at the dark, bare trees surrounding us. Spring nods to the once verdant veggie garden; I toss a glance to the mini rhododendrons, whose bright blooms are annually smote by a vicious late freeze.

Spring’s sunny smile suggests a ride by the garden center, where trays of brilliant beautifies await a new home. A contemptuous laugh is my “fool me eighteen times, shame on me” reply as we embrace and spin away.

Talk to me again in June, oh alleged happiest of seasons. Until then, I’m piling leaves over peeping peonies, cracking my office window at night hoping the native azalea buds below won’t freeze again, and no, the Georgia Mountains have not forgotten the seventeen-degree Sunday morning mid-April several years ago. A season without many blueberries, strawberries, or apples—just dead leaves in the top third of our trees.

Pay no attention, Spring, to the gorgeous baby hydrangea in the garage window. He’s in protective custody until you’ve drifted out of my hemisphere. Local gardeners say we’re safe to plant after Mother’s Day, but despite all its charms, I wouldn’t trust Spring in these mountains with a WalMart petunia.

For now, Nasalcrom and I are heading out to use your enticing temps and gentle breezes to clean windows and to take out frustrations on honeysuckle vines. Dance on outta here, Sunny, I’m not falling on my Back Sacada this year.

Good to Know

Warping the Woodland Food Chain

[One side of a conversation that could have happened in waaay too many area homes.]

Aww, cute! All those chipmunks are eating the seeds that fall from the birdfeeder. Wait! Where’s the birdfeeder?

Oh, no, the wrought iron feeder pole is bent in half. The bear that stole the other feeder is back. He’s been ripping up the retaining wall drains again, too. Bummer! We quit sprinkling corn for the turkeys after that bobcat family turned them into fast food. Awful, awful.

At least the bobcats aren’t bothering the deer herd that has expanded from three to sixteen since we started feeding them. Sure hope that wasn’t one of ours that the neighbor hit last night. At least it didn’t go through his windshield.

And what about all those young groundhogs on the security video. Cute, huh?

 Nooo, I’ve never even heard of wood rats! Why aren’t the coyotes catching those instead of squirrels? Although we could do with fewer since they keep invading the attic along with the racoons. I swear one of them brought over a possum to see his place last week.

No, the whole house is mothball-scented already. Anyway, aren’t those toxic?

Oh, but Darling, if I don’t toss dinner scraps off the deck for the bears the garbage begins to really smell up the garage and you know that draws mice in.

Well, yes! I’m seeing a lot more snakes this year, too. You’ve said it’s because the birdfeeder also feeds rodents, but—

ME!?!? Raising mice? Inviting in squirrels? Snakes? What? How am I going to get a bear killed?

Yes, I suppose I do want them to run away from me rather than. . .

“Nuisance” bears? Taken where? Or, what?

 Oh, not that.

Would you get us some of the jalapeno-sauced bird seed then? And I’ll start freezing any smelly scraps til garbage day.

Not funny! I never thought of it as killing them with kindness. I meant to share with our furry neighbors. You get the peppery bird seed; I’ll call that wildlife wrangler for the noise in the attic. And the snakes. Are mice wildlife?

Mountain Mornings

Rainy Day Sunshine

My favorite thing about living in the North Georgia Mountains? Fine people. One morning last week as we were leaving the Blairsville eatery where seats for breakfast and lunch are the area’s most sought after real estate—we suddenly weren’t going anywhere. Nearing the field-parking exit, the right front wheel of our truck had made contact with the bottom of a new gulley where something huge had recently damaged the roadside ditch, leaving a very deep pit.

No sooner had I discovered that the passenger door was pinned shut than a man was at the driver’s window, asking if we’d already called for a tow. Just as he was explaining an idea for dragging the truck out, another fellow came up offering to strap and chain us out of our predicament.

In a few minutes the two men had wrangled our big ol’ truck out and were off to catch up with their day. This is one of those places in the world where people don’t look the other way as they pass someone for whom things have gone sideways. It’s a “we’ve got this” mentality that will always outshine the frustrations of life.

This knee-jerk kindness springs up everywhere. Here, an approaching funeral procession still sends cars on both sides of the road to a respectful stop—a vehicular hug for the grieving family. In these communities, people thoughtfully let one another know when unsettling situations arise, without assuming they’re already informed by social media.  

Support squads form and deliver when hardship strikes, whether that help comes as church friends, neighbors, or just folks you know. Should your car refuse to start in a local grocery store parking lot, don’t immediately suspect the person coming over to help is one of those metro scammers with your missing engine component in his pocket and an offer to get you going again for a hundred bucks or so.

Yes, we have our issues and occasional squabbles but let trouble pop-in and help will be close on its heels. But for our phone-use-while-driving law, this post might have been accompanied by a photo of the fellow with a tattered 2020 election flag over the bed of his truck, reaching for his chainsaw while a woman watched from her car—its distinct bumper sticker indicating a differing political stance—as he prepared to clear the downed tree branch blocking access to her turn off the highway. That mental picture will last as long as I do.

Soggy mornings like this remind me of the good people in this world. Driving home in a pesky drizzle, watching dark clouds rolling in, I noticed a nick in the grey above. Soon a brilliant patch of blue sky opened, pouring a lovely stream of light ahead. Appearing like all those good souls clearing the way out of trouble, demonstrating there’s more than one way to keep the shiny side up.

Mountain Mornings

Finding the Peace of the Mountains

Like many others, we long dreamed of moving to the top of Georgia. Leave the city, suburbs, or job behind and start another chapter. Most folks relocating here enjoy making great new friends while enjoying awesome views amid peace, beauty, cool air, and clean water.

A trickle for decades, our mountain migration appears to be keeping up the astonishing pace set after the 2020 census. Such new beginnings are tipping points—we either launch into an invigorating trajectory or sputter along the very same path, but with nicer scenery.

Perhaps, like looking for love, it’s a matter of cultivating the objective on the inside before it can appear on the outside. A kind of be the forest you want to see thing?

We need, we want. We’re endlessly seeking. Imagining the affordable cabin in the mountains or the completing partner, but comfort is closer than that. Behind a long-closed door is the opportunity to get acquainted with our own restorative inner space and its light-filled views.

Don’t just peek. Wander around in there once or twice a day. Think of it as quiet reflection, meditation, or calling home. Getting to know you can relieve some of those running-on-empty sensations that drive us to scrounge for satisfaction.

Sometimes, a bit of loneliness manages to settle over us whether we’re at the center of a busy family, in a long-term relationship, or spending every workday navigating a sea of clients, patients, or students. And, sometimes, “being there” can be depleting—triggering us to imagine our solace awaits beside a mountain stream or with a kindred soul.

Emotional isolation can spark the question “Who’s there for me?” which often leaves the most connected people you know without an answer.

What if life is not so much about finding who or what “completes me,” at all?  Maybe we have more than enough understanding, strength, and genuine love within us to light up the world whenever we’re ready.

People who go through their days with quiet confidence, an easy-going attitude, and generously caring hearts seem to tap that resource. They’re radiant, aren’t they? It’s as though their interactions with others fuel that grace within rather than deplete it.

Discovering that we survive shedding the veneer we’ve spent decades building—the high achieving, validation gathering, career persona—might dawn on us atop windswept Brasstown Bald. But it can happen in our MARTA seat on any day’s commute. Whether in quiet visualizations or among these gentle old mountains, we can allow trailside trees and rushing creeks to lift away the last layers until one day our brilliant inner core glimmers through, leaving us the radiant and abundantly loving creatures we were meant to be, wherever we’re meant to be. Completed.