As a small child, I was confused when someone asked my mother if our lake was a natural one and further baffled at her answer. She said no, it was formed by a series of Georgia Power dams and hydro-plants that stepped their way through the mountains, creating lakes between them as they went. From Rabun, to Burton, to Seed, and finally to ours, Tallulah.
Not natural. Man made. Bound by steel and concrete on either side. How strange, when we knew the lake as we knew our own skin, our hands, and the feeling of our feet on the ground. Our bodies flashed during the summer like white fish bellies in the sun. In fall we paddled our canoes along the shore, reaching for the muscadines that grew low and heavy above the water. In winter, we remembered the lake like a dream, waiting for the first spring day when we might find the courage to throw ourselves in the deep green; gasping wordlessly at the cold.
When my mother says no, not a natural lake, I feel something shift—I must change the geography of my memories. I begin to picture these mountains before the water filled them in. A small river perhaps, a greater expanse of woods. A world before and a world after. Now, Tallulah has secrets. The forests leading down to the edge of the water are words on a page. They are a story that sinks in this emerald mystery—continuing down into the deep.
Over the years I have learned more, and now the lake brings with it a history of habitats lost and made, displaced people, and created economies. I know all this, and yet the feeling of swimming through the sun-dappled water remains. A memory of floating, a cool, green place; a natural lake forever in my mind.
Arielle Parker-Trout. Tallulah Falls, Georgia.
Call and Response is a photo-literary exploration devoted to the relationship between photographs and words. Using photographs from the Looking at Appalachia project, writers are encouraged to respond narratively to a single image in 1,000 words or less. We hope to use this platform to expand our community and encourage collaboration between photographers and writers. Learn more about how to submit here.