There’s something about the mid-winter hush that sends me inward to stored memories. Maybe it’s my version of hibernation; I can visualize with vivid clarity brighter days from seasons ago.
Lately, I’ve had visions of a current that ran through my childhood — a literal body of water that is as much a part of me as any family member. I can close my eyes and hear the constant roar of whitewater and see the darting flash of minnows just under the surface in the shallows. I speak of a small but wild river on which I spent far too many hours of my developmental years to count.
My lovely Cartecay, sparkling and curving her sinuous way down through the mountains from her headwaters, Tickanetley Creek, was the wellspring of a great deal of the good things in my childhood. When I was still too young to talk, my family began a building project high above the riverfront lot my parents had bought. The construction, which took place on weekends when we could travel up to Gilmer County from our main residence near Atlanta, went on much longer than perhaps expected as money and time ebbed and flowed. The final result was a hexagonal cabin with honey hued logs and white splines.
The accompanying piece of land through which the river cuts an uproarious path houses what I think of as the prettiest rapid on the Cartecay. It’s a fall of frothing foam that makes for an unintimidating drop when the water is low but becomes a formidable swell when rain makes the river threaten its banks. For my parents, two city kids who journeyed south from The Bronx in New York City, the purchase of a piece of whitewater must have seemed an otherworldly prospect. And my mother’s words about her first impression of the stretch of Cartecay that would become theirs indeed reflect that idea: “I had no idea someone could actually own a waterfall.”
The Cartecay, as it works its way toward its calmer twin, the Ellijay River, to combine and form the larger and longer Coosawattee, occupies perhaps more of my subconscious than I realized until recently. Maybe I’m missing it because I haven’t been able to make the journey there very often during the pandemic. For some reason, it has foamed its way up from the depths of my mind, and I feel more of a pull toward it than usual.
I know those waters like my most primordial memories. The way the bubbling, pearly rapids curl back on themselves has always reminded me of a living thing tossing its sassy head and chortling to itself as it flows along, carrying out a private display of mirth, yet welcoming endlessly the various children and dogs in our company who have been unable to resist its burbling invitation.
And there were and are plenty of quiet moments along its path — long stretches of stillness with slow eddies stirred up from the deep. I could look at the way the sunlight slanted down through the water and get a rough feel for its depth. Slanting lines of light disappearing like knife pleats in a woman’s skirt into deep the shade of pine boughs above meant water that was likely over my head.
Sometimes being away from a thing makes us remember how much it means, and I think this period of separation will allow me to appreciate more the opportunity to splash in those beloved waters again. This time, there will be different children — my own — but the rock formations and chutes I know so well will remain unchanged. It’s my recent recollections that have made me realize that more than the sturdy beamed and notched house that affords a glimpse at the swirling rapids below, the river and the land themselves are home to me, and I do look forward to going home.