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On the banks of the Chestatee

Rain on a tin roof. How often I have dreamed of reliving those nights under the eaves of my grandparents old farmhouse, tucked up under several handmade quilts between my aunts in the soft down of goose feathers while listening to the sweet patter of a fall shower as I fell into a deep and innocent sleep.
My wish was granted last weekend when our friends the Bratchers invited us to spend a few days and nights with them in their camper perched on the bank of the meandering Chestatee River.
Sheridan picked us up and drove us smoothly through the surface streets of Atlanta pointing out some of the lovely landmarks of the past and present. Bill especially enjoyed being a passenger and seeing so much of a city where he worked every day for more than 15 years but never truly laid eyes on. Some of the lovely brick and wrought iron apartment buildings — new in the 1920s and 30s about the same time GWTW was premiered at the Loews Theatre — were a charming contrast to the new steel and glass living spaces squeezed in among or replacing some older structures, even historic or beloved landmarks which had been allowed to crumble and decay (like the fated Loews, where now the magnificent pink marble Georgia Pacific building stands).
Turner Campgrounds sits in a triangle just 10 miles from Helen, a Bavarian-styled tourist village, and 10 miles from Dahlonega, the gold rush capital of Georgia. Today the RVs at Turner’s (no tents allowed), most occupying permanent sites, are dressed in festive Halloween decor. It is like visiting a village full of laughing pumpkins, ghoulish skeletons, and giant spiders whose webs cover entire camp sites!
Some residents (one lady mentioned that she had been here for 15 years — the first and longest lessee in Turner Camp) have installed covered patios and have planted native flowers and shrubs around their “second homes.” Outdoor kitchens that would make Martha Stewart cry or Rachel Ray die from envy, are part of about one-quarter of the sites. At the Potluck Rodeo held on Saturday night, when residents brought big pots of various soups and stews plus cornbread and mouth-watering desserts (yes, I ate my weight in Banana Pudding), I met many of the friendly folk who live here. It is evident that they believe in this lifestyle which provides a second neighborhood of friends, many who have become like “family”!
I have seen beach campgrounds where retirees have bought tiny tin cans scrunched up in teeny tiny lots the size of a sand dollar and that sit baking under a scattered palm or palmetto, many with green artificial turf pretending to be a lawn. None of those compare to this little village where the RVs are nestled under giant gnarly oaks and colorful maples, even a few stately magnolias, all of which help provide shade and beauty.
If this area reminds me of anything it is strangely enough our once favorite place to camp on the beach at Isle of Palm, S. C., and whose gorgeous water oaks and tall pines were bulldozed under in order to build condos. I grit my teeth with the memory of the night we drove from our home, then in Little Mountain near Columbia, S.C. and almost three hours from the beach near Charleston; the night when we discovered the entrance to the wilderness campground among the sea grass covered dunes and just steps from the ocean — fenced and padlocked. A large sign shone in the headlights of our “woody” station wagon: Coming Soon! Modern Condominium Complex.
Angry and disappointed, and packed to the gills with a 10-by-14-foot tent and supplies for a long weekend, we chose not to wake the girls sleeping soundly in the back as we made a U-turn and, close to midnight (Bill had worked a full day before leaving for the beach), we headed home. Condominiums my hind foot!
I hope there will never be condos on the lovely Chestatee River where I renewed my interest in cleaning fish as I watched James expertly behead and gut the seven lovely trout he had caught early that morning fly fishing at Dick’s Creek. Just perfect size for eating. I learned how to tell a “stocked” fish from a wild one; generally the stocked trout has bottom fins rubbed down by the concrete runs where they are raised; both spotted beauties (the browner the wilder?) have pink lines shimmering along their bellies, some more pronounced than others (the stocked trout?). Maybe I need a few more lessons! And I relearned the value of a very sharp fish knife and a handy whet stone.
The rain had finally stopped and we were blessed with a beautiful Sunday sun. I could have stood for several hours and listened to the sparkling clear river sing her burbling song. At that moment, squatting among the roots of an ancient oak whose limbs hung over the river, I was grateful for Nature’s calming sights and sounds. For her gifts of trout to feed us and for her rain on a tin roof.
But…we had miles to go before we could sleep…and tons of bags and boxes to pack, tote, load, and unpack! But all more than worth the time spent with dear friends on the banks of the river, its now rushing water fed by two days of heavy rains. Splashing over and around the large flat rocks and magnifying the smaller stones lying in the sandy bottom, her surface was bright with rainbow rays of the afternoon sun. Just glorious and as yet…unspoiled.

Lynn Horton is a freelance writer and editor who in another lifetime taught English and Creative Writing at McIntosh High School and later worked in the Starr’s Mill High School Media Center.

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