Category: ‘Round These Mountains

Points of interest along Georgia’s northeast border

'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.

'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:

Report by Dr. Jonathan Davis

'Round These Mountains

Chasing Flakes

Our winter snow events this season have been frequent—a relief after the weirdly warm last months of 2021. At our house, a forecast snowy night calls for “flake checks.” That means leaving a spotlight on outside to watch for fat feathery flakes tumbling by.

Flurries no longer keep me up to watch, after many adventurous winters as a mountain dweller. When one particularly disappointing year offered zero accumulation, I found lots of folks who are just fine with a dud year. They remember well the awful frozen hurricane of 1993.

These days we aspire to comfort as we hibernate. Ideally, a powerful standby generator; maybe a mini-snowplow for the trusty Mule; and ample firewood at the door, for the heavier snowfalls that linger a while. Note: concrete driveways—especially on the north side of a home—hold ice magnificently. Many days after the roads are clear, there is still an ice field between you and lane to the highway.

No doubt all this is as amusing to those from truly snowy regions, as whacky as the Atlanta newsrooms dispatching crews to Blue Ridge or Dahlonega to kick roadside grass for evidence of a dusting, or to point out accumulations on deck rails and cars. But in all the southernmost states, and certainly here in the Far North of the Deep South, the sight of falling snow can be a mystical delight, no matter your age or journalistic gravitas.

'Round These Mountains

Color Georgia’s Mountains Brilliant

Native pagoda dogwoods are our Chattahoochee Forest’s fashion icons. Trust them to lead the season with radiant white blooms heralding spring in the woodland understory, then offering choice nesting sites beneath their fluttering tiers of summer foliage. Too soon these graceful trees are whispering of the mountain autumn to come as leaves begin bronzing in late August, distinguishing themselves in regal burgundy at the peak of fall color, and twinkling through winter as birds feast on red berries at the tips of sculpted branches.

The dogwoods crescendo in early October, with notes of orange and red appear in the sweetspire, and black walnuts releasing their bright yellow leaves to reveal the green husks of their nuts. Meanwhile, the hickories begin to trend from lemon to gold, as do locust and beeches as those two compete for earliest leaf drop. By mid-October our glorious maples are stealing the spotlight in their glowing transition from green to scarlet by way of brilliant yellows and oranges.   

As peak week approaches our sourwoods are shivering with the scarlet coursing through their green leaves. Chestnut oaks offer muted color but share fat, handsome acorns. The more subtle butternuts, our white walnut trees, are said to end their Appalachian range here. Fickle persimmons vary their seasonal shows, some years bursting into orange that rages to deep red, other years anonymously shedding nondescript leaves as though protesting the autumn pageant.

Magnificent white oaks are often reported to exhibit wine-colored leaves in October. Ours are always the last trees to turn as they deepen, but to a coppery brown. Here, those leaves hold until new growth pushes them off in spring. The leaves of our plantings of Natchez crepe myrtles (unmurdered still, Steve!) usually bronze about now, but this varies from one grouping to the next. Added oakleaf hydrangeas are also happy here, their hues from orange to purple rival the maples’ glory.

Last year it seemed conditions were perfect here for a spectacular fall—little rain in September which some say will muddy the colors, several crisp nights to shift the leaf sugars to “bright,” but then a hard freeze at the peak that perhaps closed the show early. So enjoy every tree’s performance as you pass. Each is its own masterwork.

'Round These Mountains

We Have Leaves!

So far, this has been a year of high expectations and false starts. Spring 2021 is on that wobbling track—following those tantalizingly warm weeks in early March with a few frosty nips and then the crisping of tender new growth as temps plummeted to mid-20s in the days before May arrived.

Cool air always settles along our creek banks when a ridge to the east corrals chilled winds.  That may lead to our trees’ leaves always appearing later than those we see in Hiawassee and Blairsville. And here, too, among the freshly filling treetops are my greige crepe myrtle casualties. We’re not seeing the brittle ruins of 2012’s late freeze, but rough enough.

For all its setbacks, 2021 is coming through with an extra burst of vitality, like the rhodos, wild azaleas, and determined peonies. Most of us are steadily recovering as are our landscapes—and hopefully, the pinched apple, blueberry, and strawberry crops. Many growers are still awaiting a verdict on the vineyards. Despite our frustrations and apprehensions, everyone seems eager to see life surge into our communities again.

Weeks ago, once I had bumbled through my minimalist WordPress launch, the latest round of national stepping-back was settling in. Enthusiasm for re-openings had been tamped again. And I was also learning that writing the last lines of a book was by no means the end of the process. Not even close.

This week, as the radiance of spring races up the mountains surrounding the rising lakes that reflect brilliant blue skies, our new growing season is finally underway. Excitement is also blooming in our mountain towns as stories of economic growth and revived events are filling my notepads. We, too, are finally underway at the Georgia Mountains Journal.