The Story of Talking Rock
A River Tells Many Secrets to Those Who Listen - by Reece Turrentine
"We must be close to Cedar Cliffs," I called back to Dick in the rear of our canoe. Dave, the third member of our party, was canoeing solo and out of earshot.
"Couple-a more bends," Dick grunted, tImmg a stern stroke to send us neatly through a chute in the rapids of Talking Rock Creek.
Until then his estimates had been perfect, so I started scanning the steep riverbanks for the cliffs we had waited all morning to see.
The day before, while scouting the river, we heard the story of Cedar Cliffs from Mr. Low.
In the hamlet of Talking Rock, a sign on one side of the road read "Low's Pulp Wood." A sign on the other side advertised "Low's General Store." Through the middle of town ran Talking Rock Creek.
"I think Mr. Low's the man to talk to, don't you?" I asked Dick.
We found him inside the general store, sitting at a rustic check-out counter and surrounded by shelves that held everything from pins to plows.
"What can I do for you, gentlemen?" he asked, barely glancing up from his ledger as we walked toward him.
We introduced ourselves as he rang up a purchase for a customer.
"We'd like to know more about Talking Rock Creek," I said.
Though our introductions had rated little interest, this request created an immediate reaction.
"Yeah?" he responded, turning in our direction.
"What do you want to know about it?"
"To begin with," I said, "can you tell us where it got its name?"
Mr. Low leaned forward, and for the next half-hour, except when he stopped to ring up a sale, we had his undivided attention.
A Native American tribe, he told us, once lived on the creek right across from Cedar Cliffs. Braves would gather on the edge of the creek to dance and shout questions to the overhanging rocks. They asked where to hunt, how to avoid floods, whether or not to go to war. The cliffs gave back echoes-became talking rocksfaithfully answering important questions in the life of the tribe.
"There are other stories about how Talking Rock Creek got its name," he said, "but that's the most accepted. I got it from my father and he got it from folks further back.
"Dad," he said, his voice lowering and faltering, "was a rural mail carrier on and around this creek for 42 years. He walked it, crossed it, lived along it, but he had never been all the way down it in a boat. So when he was 70 years old, I put him in a raft with me to make the trip. Just below Cedar Cliffs, the raft punctured and we had to walk out." Mr. Low recalled the memory with a smile, but the smile quickly faded. When he spoke next, it was with great difficulty.
His father, he said, had been killed a few days before. "Dad still insisted on driving around in his little pickup. A few days ago a big truck hit him just as he turned onto the bridge over Talking Rock Creek."
Dick and I apologized for bringing up a topic so linked to his recent sorrow, but Mr. Low didn't seem to resent that. Talking Rock is a part of his life. To avoid mention of the creek would be to stifle all conversation. For the Lows, and many families before, Talking Rock Creek flowed through all their memories. Yet it was an
awesome thought, as we discussed it later, that one man's life could be so bound up with a river that he was born near it, played in it, worked beside it, and then tragically-yet, somehow appropriately-died on it. In this sense all creeks and rivers could be called "talking." All could tell of the lives and loves and losses of the generations who lived and died along their banks.
We speed over creeks and rivers on modern bridges and seldom give them a glance or a thought. Why, even that day I had belittled Talking Rock Creek from the GA 156 bridge. "Doesn't look like much from here, does it?" I said. I should have known better. Like most people, creeks don't reveal themselves much at points of public viewing. To discover what they are really like, you must journey into the interior and learn something of history.
The fast-flowing water of Talking Rock brought my mind back to the present. Drawing closer to Cedar Cliffs, we darted through the rapids. It was rugged wilderness, all right-far different from my superficial bridge view the day before. The canyon walls all but blotted out the sun's rays. And under the clefts of the overhanging rocks hung great blocks of ice, still untouched by the warmth of that early spring day.
As we rounded a bend, I saw a distinct break in the tree line on the high ridge above. As we came closer, we caught glimpses through the trees of massive rock outcroppings. Then the trees slid by like a parting curtain, and there in full view was Cedar Cliffs. Long ledges and shelves overlapped their way up to a height of70 feet or more. Crevices and caves darkened the surface of the weatherworn rock face. We pulled up to a sandbar to view Talking Rock's main attraction.
This was our lunch stop, so Dick unfolded his little camper seat. Dave found a rock to sit on and I located a leaning tree that provided perfect viewing. We sat quietly for a while, eating our lunches and watching the river
run past the cliffs. I don't know what the others were thinking, but I could almost picture in my mind Mr. Low's Indian camp, with its tepees and camp fires. We were probably eating right on the spot where the ceremonial dances took place and the calls went up to the echoing cliffs above.
In my imagination, ancient tom-toms sounded.
Dave broke the spell with a dream-shattering question:
"I wonder if those Indians back then were like politicians today?"
I took the bait and asked, "What do you mean?" "Well," he said, "some old chiefs probably stacked the deck before the dance, and had a brave hidden in a cave up there who'd call back the right echoes!"
We chuckled and agreed it was possible.
Dave, who closed the doors of a successful contracting business in Atlanta to open an outfitting and guide service called Wildewood Shop in Helen, contemplated offering guided trips on Talking Rock Creek. ''I'll make it an overnight trip, unless all of them are experienced canoeists. This is too hard a push for beginners in one day. Besides," he continued with common sense, "why all the rush? Instead of canoeing 20 miles a day, they should go for 10, and get something out of it."
''And we'd better get started ourselves," I replied.
I was reluctant to leave Cedar Clif£~-with a little more time I believe I could've really heard those distant tom-toms and legendary echoes. But the more exciting rapids lay before us.
I felt a real exhilaration as we shoved the canoes back into the swift current. The creek was more like a friend now than an alien wilderness. We had probed its history, met its people, run its current, and seen its beauty. And also there was the exhilaration of the companionship-really getting to know people. On such a
trip, you don't just share a river, you share yourself. You meet on a common ground where titles, stations, and professions don't count. Pretenses are lost among the rapids.
Exhilaration is not quite the word. Inspiration is more like it. A canoeing trip contains the necessary ingredients to inspire me: a touch of the visionary to quicken the mind and stir the imagination, balanced with rugged realism, common sense, good humor, and companionship. And that explains why, before slipping into bed bone-weary but contented, I went back to the map-to pick out another river, another place, for another day.
Excerpted from "Brown's Guide to the Georgia Outdoors: Biking, Hiking, and Canoeing Trips" (selected from Brown's Guide to Georgia). Reprinted with permission of Cherokee Publishing.