The peak of leaf color in the North Georgia mountains was past. Family members had reported it was the most beautiful fall ever and, though we’d missed the best, were sure we’d still enjoy fading colors–even on a rainy day!
We drove towards Helen from Clarkesville. The Nacoochee Valley is beautiful whatever season it is. Riding past the little steepled white church on the right and the historical Indian mound on the left, I was swept to other times when, as a little girl, our family took this trip. Also, I was reminded of the many times I traveled this road as a student at Young Harris College. Along the way towards the Chattahoochee River we exclaimed over bright gold hickory trees, a few tulip trees with golden leaves still clinging like birds against the sky, and red oaks standing brightly amongst the gold.
Our first stop was at Nora Mill. This mill and granary hugs a curve and stands on the brink of the Chattahoochee River where the waterfall still gives power for grinding corn into meal and wheat into flour. We purchased a bag of yellow cornmeal just so we could make cornbread at home and remember the quaint mill and its companion river, white water and all.
Driving around curves and finding wonderful views of trees still bright, we arrived in Helen. It is a busy little town even in off seasons, many happy tourists visiting quaint alpine shops. The German theme is captivating, drawing thousands to its Oktoberfest every fall. We were glad to catch it on a quieter day. Glimpsing the beautiful murals on sides of some original shops, we talked about our artist friend, John Kollock, who brought new life to this little mountain logging town. He had been in service in Germany and envisioned turning Helen into a Bavarian village. Years later I was so thrilled when he illustrated the second edition of my book, Stone Gables.
We had intended to drive to the intersection with state road 76 which would lead us to Clayton. But by the time we arrived at that intersection we had decided to go on up to Lake Chatuge, Hiawassee and Young Harris. Charles had sensed my strong pull towards Young Harris where I’d spent such happy college years.
On one side of a ridge the trees were almost bare, but on the other side the foliage was still full and bright. I reveled in every burnished gold beech tree or stray red sourwood. But I was absolutely enthralled when we came around a curve to see a mountainside carpeted in color. At times the sun came out long enough for shadows to dapple the mountainsides, a sight that had always thrilled me.
At Young Harris College we drove everywhere cars were allowed. Of course it was exciting to see all the handsome new buildings, new library, dining hall, sports facilities and all. But I treasured the sight of the buildings I could remember, the little chapel in particular. Young Harris was a junior college when I was there in 1961-63 but is now a four-year college. But the dormitories I lived in are still there backed up against the mountain. As we circled about I vividly remembered faces of many who had helped shape me, like Mrs. Dowis with whom I worked at the Henry Duckworth Library, Mr. Clay Dotson who taught political geography trying to make us understand what was happening in Vietnam, and Miss Hunter who took such kind notice of me though I was a disaster in her algebra class. Driving on beyond the college we saw llamas grazing and, farther on, little Cupid Falls still merrily tumbling along as if years had not passed.
As we traveled on over to Clayton we took some side roads just to see what we could see. Everywhere there was beauty, the sun coming out at intervals, then the misty rain again making the colors seem to bleed into each other.
Past Clayton towards Dillard we stopped for lunch at The Cupboard, a favorite restaurant of our family’s. We jabbered about what we’d seen all along the way as we ate delicious hot bowls of chicken pot pie, the special for Saturday.
The ride back to Clarkesville on 441 took us along the dear familiar landmarks like the Tallulah Gorge. The color wasn’t as magnificent as it had been earlier, but it was beautiful. I’m remembering a time many years ago during another chapter in our lives when we, our children, and special friends climbed down into the gorge, explored rock formations and hiked along the river before climbing back out. It’s hard to believe, looking at the awesome steep gorge, that we ever did that!
As I write this I can enjoy again the beautiful sights on that misty mountain ride–the slopes of color, the distant blue mountains, amazing changes along with the old at Young Harris College, the hickories and beech and red oak all along the way. I can see the drift of clouds on the mountains, the white water of the Chattahoochee flowing past Nora Mill, the tiny steepled white church in Nacoochee Valley. And I picture the church near Hiawassee where we stopped for a midmorning snack. The church was surrounded by autumn color including a brilliantly red pear tree. We viewed it all through a rainy windshield.
Returning to Clarkesville, we were grateful for and delighted with the comfortable apartment where we stayed with Michelle and her childen, Katherine and Joseph. Michelle’s husband, my nephew, Nathan Knight, is presently on assignment with the National Guard in Mexico at the embassy.
What a gift, that rainy misty ride in the North Georgia mountains! Even after the peak was well past it was wonderful to us.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. James 1:17