Monday, July 18, 2011

THERE’S MORE THAN GOLD IN ‘THEM THAR’ HILLS…

The Nook said “battery charge is too low to operate;” the remote for the television set needed a battery; the computer needed rebooting, and my cell phone needed recharging – all those messages came during the course of one day last week, and my irascible mood told me that I was the one who needed recharging! So off we went to Dahlonega, Georgia, a 2 1/2 hour drive from the cottage in Sewanee, Tennessee, for a “busman’s holiday,” as one friend describes our hops from mountain state to mountain state.

Many of our trips are along the Appalachian Trail, a 2100 mile trail stretching from Georgia to Maine; however, we didn’t hike even one mile of the thirty-mile segment that runs along the northern border of Lumpkin County.

Dahlonega touts that it is the site of the first major gold rush in the U.S. In fact, gold mining burgeoned there in 1828 after Benjamin Parks, a frontiersman, stumbled on the gold while deer hunting in the woods near Dahlonega. He discovered the gold on Cherokee land and the ensuing production of it led to the establishment of a U.S. Branch Mint in the town; the first coinage appearing in 1838. However, the Mint was only in existence 24 years as the onset of the Civil War caused its demise. At the apex of the Gold Rush in Dahlonega, 15,000 miners scrambled for the precious “yellow money” as the Cherokees called it.

We visited the Dahlonega Gold Museum and watched a 23-minute film about mining techniques and the prospectors’ lifestyles during the Dahlonega Gold Rush and were saddened by the story of Georgia declaring ownership of the Cherokee nation when the gold rush flourished. Federal troops rounded up the Cherokees and forced them to move to Oklahoma on the infamous Trail of Tears.

BlackStock Vineyards, Dahlonega, Georgia
At lunchtime we visited the BlackStock Winery where for $12, wine tasters can taste eight different brands of wine with the BlackStock label and where glasses were filled to a volume surpassing any wine tasting I’ve ever witnessed. In fact, one tippler remarked “they must want us to spend the night after drinking all that.” The winery has an open pavilion where we lunched and where pickers and pluckers tuned up for free entertainment, bluegrass style. They were still playing when we left, and wine tasters were ordering more wine that they had sampled in the tasting room.

Dahlonega boasts a small theatre, the historic Holly Theater, which is host to a public radio broadcast, “Mountain Music and Medicine Show.” The music of the mountains is also heard in the public square on Saturdays from April – October where pickers and pluckers show up for an Appalachian Jam from 2 – 6 p.m. We showed up as they were winding down from the four-hour gig.

Apple trees, Ellijay, Georgia
I was too tired to visit the Lumpkin County Cemetery but really wanted to see Mt. Hope and the infamous grave site of Harrison Riley, who was reputed to have fathered thirty children but never married and whose tombstone bears the inscription, “Let his faults be buried with his bones.” This kind of fundamentalist fatalism is characteristic of mountain people, and I heard it again when we stopped at a fruit stand on the return trip. I tried to have a conversation with the proprietor, a gray-haired woman in a pink apron who kept looking at me and sizing me up as a ‘come here,’ I just knew. “What do you all do when the apple season ends?” I asked. “We just rest,” she said. I told her the story about my godfather’s grandfather who farmed in the Mississippi Delta during the early part of the 20th century. “He’d have a good crop one year and spend the next one, just sitting and reading,” I told her. “Hmmph,” she answered. “I reckon if he was reading his Bible, he prospered.” End of that story for her. Although I respect Bible reading, I didn’t bother to tell her that he was probably reading a romance novel and that he prospered anyway.

At the Holly Theatre, we watched high schoolers from the Holly Performing Academy enact an 80’s musical, “Fame,” that took us back to the rocking 80’s. The musical was based on a story about the last graduating class to come through a public alternative high school in New York City that operated from 1948-1984. I certainly never expected to see this famous motion picture and TV series re-enacted in a small north Georgia town in the Appalachians, but we’re always finding serendipity on our week-end jaunts.

We arrived home with bags of peaches, home-grown tomatoes, blueberries, peach jam, and two bottles of BlackStock wine, and immediately turned on the computer, electronic readers, television, and recharged the telephones, hoping the electronic rush would inspire us to escape somewhere on a “bus man’s holiday” again next month.
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