(Photos by Art Meripol)
"Black bears rarely attack. But here’s the thing. Sometimes they do. That doesn’t happen often, but – and here is the absolutely salient point – once would be enough." – Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods
I took several walks in the woods this weekend. The jaunts led me along leaf-covered paths of yellow poplar, sassafras, white oak, sweetgum, and red maple so bright your heart could burst. Though I love and grew up exploring the woods, I do not adequately remember the sounds of the woods. You might call me a woodsman right after you call me a Braves prospect. This is why I thought a bear was about to jump me while hiking the Springer Mountain Loop this weekend near Ellijay, Georgia.
The ominous rustling in the woods turned out to be black walnuts dropping 30 or 40 feet and hitting the forest bed. Killer walnuts. Beware.
Like I said, I don’t spend enough time in the woods. A book lays on my sun porch waiting to convince me otherwise. It’s poet Wendell Berry’s collection, A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems, his sage and beautiful tribute to Sundays exploring the woods near his Kentucky home. "I go among the trees and sit still. All my stirring becomes quiet around me like circles on water. My tasks lie in their places where I left them, asleep like cattle." Berry knows the names of trees, the markings of animals, and what a walnut sounds like hitting the ground. He may even be able to translate what such sounds and sights may "say" in our spoken language. Meanwhile, I snap shoestrings thinking an Appalachian terror is on my trail.
North Georgia rolls out hundreds of hikes that will speak to the inner-naturalist. Even if a fog wraps itself around you, blocking the long view of late fall colors, just being under the forest canopy does something, refreshes, awakens, reminds – even spooks. We need the woods.
TWO HIKES IN NORTH GEORGIA
Swinging Bridge: This one is very easy and great for young kids. From Blue Ridge stay on Hwy 515 to Hwy 60 and turn right toward Morganton. Continue toward Dahlonega for 11 miles on Hwy 60 south, passing Skeenah Mill. Another 0.7 miles on the right is a hiking sign- turn right and follow this gravel road 4 miles to the parking area. A short hike down to the Toccoa River brings you to the 235-foot Swinging Bridge.
Springer Mountain Loop: To see where the 2,000-mile AT begins, head to this trailhead. From Ellijay, take 52E to Big Creek Road by Sellers Apples. Take a left and continue 12 miles to the Springer Mountain sign and gravel road. (Ignore the name change on this road.) About 6 miles in, you’ll see the small parking area. The loop runs 5 miles on well-marked AT/Benton MacKaye paths. (Tip: AT blaze on trees is a rectangle; BM is a white diamond.) Though longer and a bit more strenuous, if you can jog 2 miles, you’ll be fine.