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I grew up north of Atlanta in Gwinnett County where urban conveniences like grocery and clothing stores were a short trip away. Now, I live about 30 minutes from either of those outlets, but what I do have close by is a wildlife management area that offers the kind of refreshment for the mind and soul that I rarely find in town.

It was a cool April morning that really felt like spring when I loaded my children into my car for a little trip. The air was just crisp enough for a jacket, but there was no bite to it, and I knew the day would warm up.

We set off up the road that leads away from our house and north toward the places where John’s Creek forms alternating rapids and pools as it twists down from the mountains. We wound through dragon’s tail curves that mirrored the creek as we looked for a good place to settle.

We pulled into a small campsite and ate turkey sandwiches and pickles on a flat-topped boulder, washing them down with grapefruit seltzer while the creek bubbled like an open faucet below. Full and relaxed, we set off to explore, making our way down to the rock-lined water.

We found a path, winding off into the woods beside the stream and lined with winter’s leftover leaves. We spotted glowing landmarks of spring: five-pointed fire pink blooms, star chickweed with its brown anthers scattered like confetti above delicate white petals.

The bubbling creek drew us onward until the leaves gave way to sand the muted buff of natural sugar. It spilled down to the water, and we kicked off our shoes to feel the grains slide under our feet as water burbled over mossed rocks beside us. The woods was just greening with the unfurling of early April. The untouched forest painted a timeless picture — it could have been 1800 or 1930 or 2020. We found a fallen log stretching all the way across the creek, and my daughter and I took turns inching out halfway and teetering back to the bank — at least, I did. She shambled out like a raccoon on a porch railing.

In a place where water collected in the crevice between two large stones, a perfect little whirlpool sparkled as the flow exited under one of the rocks. We experimented by floating leaves into it and watching it suck them straight to the stream floor. We pushed on the leaf matter underneath the little funnel, deepening its spout, and much to our delight, it took on a sound exactly like a toilet flushing. I’ve been playing in rivers and creeks all my life, but that was a new one for me.

Sometime later, weary and sated from a long morning exploring and with a bouquet of wildflowers in hand, we made our way up the embankment to the car to head home for naps. I brushed soggy sand off little legs and fumbled with car seat buckles before sinking into the driver’s seat exhausted but thankful once again for country conveniences.

Elizabeth Crumbly is a newspaper veteran and freelance writer. She lives in rural Northwest Georgia where she teaches riding lessons, writes and raises her family. You can correspond with her at www.collective-ink.com.

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