Sept. 13 Near Coosa, Georgia–The Coosa River is huge! I have seen the Coosa many times before, but after traveling the Coosa’s tributaries all the way from the mountains, the Coosa seems like an ocean compared to the Conasauga, Coosawattee, and Oostanaula rivers. I try to hug the banks to stay out of the wind and the sun, but the vistas from the wide, open water draw me back to the river’s center regularly.
Paddling is a completely different experience here. If you stop paddling, you basically stop moving. There is no more navigating through shoals; the only thing to do is propel forward.
Earlier in the trip on the Coosa’s smaller tributaries, I would explore every nook and crany, searching for wildlife and the river’s secrets. The vastness of the Coosa makes thorough exploration impossible. A person could spend a lifetime uncovering the secrets of the Coosa River and only just skim the surface. I have found that the best way to experience this river is to just stand back in awe and try to soak in its majesty.
I always describe the upper Coosa River basin as a giant bathtub with the Coosa River being the drain. When it rains any where in this 5,000-square-mile land area that stretches across north Alabama, Georgia and southern Tennessee, that rain water flows downhill to the nearest stream and eventually to the Coosa. The Coosa is a sum of the parts—literally thousands of tiny streams coming together to create one mighty river.
Every time I switch my paddle to the opposite side of my canoe, drops of water drip from it and fall across the boat. I wonder where their journey to this river began: a spring in the Cohutta Wilderness? a parking lot in Dalton? Armuchee Creek in Floyd County? A roof top in Rome?
It all adds up to an average flow on the Coosa of about 4 billion gallons a day, and today, I paddled past places that put that water to work. The International Paper manufacturing facility in Coosa uses about 20 million gallons a day to turn tree pulp into cardboard, and just downstream Georgia Power Co.’s Plant Hammond uses as much as 590 million gallons a day to produce electricity.
I have not seen a great egret my entire trip, but today I saw upwards of 30 of the tall, snowy white wading birds. Birds of prey also joined the mix. A red-tailed hawk soared across the river and crashed head first into the bank. Moments later, it flew away with a large mouse in its talons.
On the river, blueback herring, a favorite prey of bass, broke the surface of the water constantly, and I spotted gar, catfish, carp, and striped bass that dwarf the fish I saw before I reached the Coosa.
Every once in a while something would break the river’s surface that I could not identify. I’d catch just a glimpse and think, “What the heck was that?” These mysterious sightings made me understand how earlier generations might have come up with the tall tales of river “monsters.”
Despite all that we know about this river today, it is still mysterious and it has an undeniable power. As I shot photos of the river, a nearby fishermen asked me if I was “doing it justice.”
“That would be impossible,” I said.
Amos finishes his journey Sept. 15 at Little River Marina on Weiss Lake. CRBI and the Weiss Lake Improvement Association are hosting a barbecue dinner and river’s end celebration to welcome Amos back to dry land. The event begins at 5 p.m. (CST) and is free and open to the public. Donations will be accepted. At the event, Amos will present many of his photos, videos and stories from the three-week, 200-mile journey.
Readers can also make donations to support Amos’ Odyssey and CRBI’s education efforts at www.coosa.org/events/amos-odyssey. Donations of $35 or more include a year’s membership in CRBI and five raffle tickets to win a new Wilderness Systems Tarpon 100 kayak from Cedar Creek Park in Cave Spring.