On the upper reaches of Lake Hartwell, just south of the mountains where the lake gives way to river and the city gives way to country we have a house. In this remote section of the lake, even during seasons of high water, we seldom in a single day see more than a handful of boaters. Duck hunters frequent these river banks as do white tailed deer and Canada geese. Tales of Cherokee ghosts, brave pioneers and small gauge railroads are told about these surroundings by local historians and naturalists alike. Except for the occasional flock of flying geese or an air-boat propelled carp hunter, it is quiet here.
Yet, beneath these green waters lurk secrets and treasures and even creepy things.
These things, usually covered by the shadowy waters of the Tugaloo, rear their heads when the water recedes. Tiny, living seeds lay dormant waiting for an opportunity to burst forth into life. Huge, old stumps hide their past, clutching the river banks as if still waiting for a rescuer to retrieve them from the rising waters that flooded these shores more than 50 years ago. Hidden household items from the 1980’s, dumped from some boat or washed away in some flood are now ensconced in mud and grass. Their glinty edges catch the eye of a passerby demanding to be picked up and pondered.
Around Thanksgiving, we ventured out into this strange land that we call the lake bed. Mournful children, so saddened by the encroaching mud at Labor Day, were now mesmerized by this peculiar beauty that awaited them.
Launching ourselves from the dock, we tip toed across the soft mud toward the river. A good 10 pair of shoes were heavily soiled in the process, but eventually all of the family plunged forth into the straw colored meadow. A drone came out of its box and buzzed overhead. I heard a child yell out, “It’s amazing! It’s so soft.” I peered 50 yards across the prairie and saw my 10 year old making a grass angel!
“What are these mom?” asked another as he picked a tightly packed bud from a tan colored bush.
“Not sure,” I mumbled as I noticed the fall leaves on the South Carolina side framing a backdrop to our activities .
A quick glance north and my black dog came into clear view, her shiny coat juxtaposed against the monotone grasses.
We lingered here a bit and then walked on toward the water’s edge. There we saw several, old craggy stumps, remnants of days when this was a fast flowing river winding through a fertile corn field. Downstream we saw symmetrical ripples in the sandy bank, formed when the water drained out bit by bit, like a bathtub needing a shot of Drano.
Suddenly, I was startled away from my amusement with the ripples by a thud to my left. This was the sound of my teenager whacking autumn toned bushes. Each whack produced a cloud of tiny, poufy seeds dimly lit by the late autumn sun. We took a few minutes to whack some more of these tender bushes and take photographs. How did these shrubs grow so quickly? Wasn’t there water here just two months ago?
Next, we moved a hundred yards down river to a flat, sandy area on the shoreline. It was the perfect slate for practicing cursive. It’s much easier to form capital letters in the damp sand!
After handwriting, I found myself sitting in the supple grass for a few more minutes, taking in the autumn colors and the stumps. So many stumps!
“They’ve been down there this whole time,” I told my boys. “We just swam over these giants a few months ago!”
“That is creepy, mom, ” a boy announced.
“We’ll have to remember where they are when the water comes up,” I noted.
By this time, like the lake, the late afternoon sun was running out. It was time to get home.
As we shambled back toward our dock, the most amazing hues of a pink and blue sunset caught my eye. “Probably the affects of all the smoke,” I mused, remembering the fires just north of here up in Rabun. The big sky, without trees or water, gave a vast, open feeling, like being out on a Montana ranch. We North Georgians don’t typically get big openness, I figured.
At dark, we arrived back at the marooned dock; that stark reminder that things are not as they should be.
“You certainly can’t have a lake without water!” my husband maintained later on the phone.
“Yes! But, you can have a lake bed!” this nature nut retorted.
Out on the lake bed, we’d been given a consolation, a little silver lining to an otherwise very disappointing situation. Nature was there, all around; and it was lovely.