Instead, we turned the truck toward Ellijay in Gilmer County. I lived in Gilmer County all of my high school years. It was a weird and wonderful place. It is also the setting and inspiration for James Dickey's novel DELIVERANCE. For good reason. In those days it was full of inbred, violence prone, ignorant, hateful monsters. Much like the USA, only cubed. But I've covered that angle here before, and I may do so again in the future, but not now.
It had been more than forty years since I had seen Ellijay. It is indeed a changed place. Today, it's a huge tourist destination for people who hail from points south in Georgia. Most of those drive up from Atlanta, I suspect. The old stores that were there when I was a teenager are gone, replaced by antique malls and art shops and ice cream joints and restaurants and boutiques of various types. And the people are not the ones I recall. The inbred monsters have been replaced by entrepreneurs and their non-inbred families. Hispanic people live there now, and even black people! The old Klan creeps who dominated the Ellijay of my youth must have shriveled in horror (the county was 100% white when we lived there).
But we were not there to see the shops and tourist boutiques. We were just passing through, on our way to visit Lake Conasauga high in the Cohutta Mountains north of Ellijay. We made it through the busy downtown crawling with curious Atlantans up for the weekend and headed north to the Forest Service roads that would take us to the high country and to Lake Conasauga.
Again, it had been forty or more years since I had seen the Cohutta Mountains. The last time I'd visited I wasn't yet twenty years old and so homesick for the north Georgia mountains that every curve in the gravel roads that took me to the ridge tops brought tears to my eyes. My heart was aching and I hardly knew what to do with myself. Then, I had only a couple of days to revisit the beauty of the mountains of my childhood and then I knew that points south and flat were calling to me of responsibility. It was sweet and it was horrible.
The drive to Conasauga was fourteen miles of rough, rocky Forest Service roadways. We climbed from roughly 1,000 feet above sea level to 3,300 feet above sea level, passing through forests of hardwoods and pines and dying hemlocks. At about 2,500 feet the mountains met the clouds and we were socked in by flowing mists and the temperature plunged from the low 80s in town to the 50s on the ridges. Carole had not brought a jacket and I had to give her mine.
Our secondary plan had been to unload the kayaks at the lake and paddle around there and enjoy the peace. But it was too cold and wet up there and you literally could not see more than ten feet in any direction, so we decided just to sit on the shore of the misty lake and have lunch and listen to the silence that was multiplied by the cloaking mists.
|Spider web capturing the droplets of mist and rain.|
|Bear country. There are lots more bears there now than when I was a kid.|
|One of the nice picnic shelters that they've constructed at the lake.|
Everything muffled by the pea-soup mists.
|There was no view of the lake, at all.|
|Lake Conasauga is the highest lake in Georgia. About 3,300 feet above sea level, as I recall.|
|Part of the trail around the lake.|
|I had to use a towel around my shoulders to keep warm. It was really chilly. We had a good time eating lunch by the shore of the lake.|