Trains, Towers and Time


A leaning oak tree questions its existence in the fog. Photo by me, March 2023.

Some people are spring and summer people and others, like me, are fall and winter people. I will gladly accept a gloomy, cool to cold day over a blazing hot and humid day that can occur here in the northern third of Georgia anywhere from April through early October. I compare it to music: I would rather listen to the Cocteau Twins, The Cure, Echo & The Bunnymen, Nirvana or Joy Division than Aerosmith, Poison, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga or whatever passes for the computer-generated pop music these days. Do not get me wrong; I can relish a hot July day dipping my toes into a lake or squeezing hot white Florida sand between my toes, but I love the gray, damp and cozy winters of home much more.

This past March, I experienced the perfect weather day, if such is possible, like it was one of the scenes from my novel Dweller On The Boundary when I lost my dog Raven in the fog. It was an early March day as I went north into the higher elevations of the mountains. The temperatures dropped into the upper forties and drizzle made everything dripping wet. It was the type of weather that makes me want to walk forever or rest my bones by a fireplace and look at old photos.

Better times in Clarkesville, Ga. Photo by me, March 2023.

Take the last train to Clarksville
And I'll meet you at the station
You can be here by four thirty (Train)
'Cause I made your reservation
Don't be slow
Oh, no, no, no
And I don't know if I'm ever coming home.
-The Last Train To Clarksville by The Monkees.


The first town I loafed into was Clarkesville, no connection to that 1960s Monkees song Last Train To Clarksville. The Habersham County town of nineteen hundred residents has been bypassed by newer and bigger highways, pinching it off from the eyes and dollars of passing motorists. The last passenger train service, via the Tallulah Falls Railway, ended in 1946. The isolated situation might not make for a thriving economy, but it has preserved the town's character and identity from the newer and more cheaply built development that is devouring much of northern Georgia like a fatal disease.


My thoughts are not original on this topic; I share them with the late writer and Atlanta newspaper columnist Celestine Sibley, who lamented the changes during her lifetime in her beloved Sweet Apple in what was then rural North Fulton County. I, like many longtime residents of Georgia, have watched the rolling wooded hills and mountains become parking lots and cul-de-sacs with names that only remind us of the natural landscape that existed before. This is a concern that I have also written about in my novels.


Progress only seems to come in one shade and which is newness and not in another, which is better. The zealots of progress would likely disagree, but I could never be convinced that a metal building is more attractive than one made of brick or stone. A patch of kudzu is more attractive to my eyes than most of that ghastly and inhumane plastic-looking crap that is built today for people to live, work and play. In modern design, beauty has been sacrificed for cheap progress.

I might be wrong and overly sentimental too, so think for yourself. Those who are most certain in their opinions are most certainly wrong.

My childhood cookie jar. Photo by me, March 2023.

I poked around a couple of antique/junk shops located in a former textile mill without buying anything. I am now of the age where these kinds of shops are museums of my childhood, filled with objects I grew up with. Sometimes people from the past show up too, but that is another story for another time.


The blue/green glass canister above was the exact same one my mother had in my childhood home since the 1970s. My grubby little hands were always prying it open and sneaking cookies before bedtime. I was tempted to open this one and see if it smelled like the homemade oatmeal cookies she made. 


It is tempting to buy these unnecessary items and recreate the past. These objects set off a physical tingle and produce a smile, but it would feel wrong to have them again, like reconciling with an ex - you just know it is not going to work out no matter how good they make you feel. It is a fight sometimes to avoid succumbing to nostalgia for objects that were once a part of my life. I do not want to slip on a permanent pair of rose-colored shades that block out the negative realities of the past. Also, I do not bake cookies and have no need for a cookie jar.


I touched the smooth glass of the jar but did not open it. I feared disappointment that it would not release the aroma that my mind and heart hoped. My memory was more important to keep intact than to potentially spoil it. I exited the temporary haze of nostalgia and then I left Clarkesville. Stephen King's town of Castle Rock, Maine and that novel of his that I read as a teenager, Needful Things, were on my mind.

The Big Red Apple outside the old Cornelia train station. Photo by me, March 2023.

Cornelia, Ga. Photo by me, March 2023.


A stopover in nearby Cornelia had me standing next to a monument of a big red apple and the old train station. I do not associate Cornelia with apples in Georgia, but apparently they grow them and required a large monument to them, maybe to appease the apple gods. Who knows and I am not sure? Since the nineteen eighties, I have associated Georgia's apple industry with Ellijay and Blue Ridge where my family would buy them in the fall and I still do today. 


The plaza was empty in Cornelia, as I imagine it is most days; the flags flapped in the breeze, a pink magnolia showed off and the daffodils entertained themselves. No one waited for a train that does not stop there anymore, though Amtrak does make stops in nearby Toccoa and Gainesville. The passenger train that once ran through here went to Clarkesville, Tallulah Falls and into North Carolina. The leftover caboose was a prop for when or if the Instagrammers of the world find Cornelia or for an older person to explain to a child what the big red relic was. 


What a fine day it was to stand in the mist as my hands grew cold around my camera. I knew of a place outside Cornelia that I wanted to visit and this seemed like the ideal day to make the detour up there. I had found my destination and no train could take me there.


On the edge of the Lake Russell Wildlife Management Area stands a stone tower built in 1937 by the Works Progress Administration for the National Forest Service. To reach it, you drive a narrow paved road through a residential neighborhood planted on the side of Chenocetah Mountain. The tower is fifty-four feet high at an elevation of one thousand eight hundred and thirty feet above sea level. On a clear day, from the top of the tower, you could see for miles. It served the same original purpose as the metal fire tower atop Elsberry Mountain that was behind my childhood home: spotting forest fires.

This was not a clear day; this was a perfect weather day.

The fog on Chenocetah Mountain. Photo by, March 2023.

A tree indicated the way. Photo by me, March 2023.

I parked on the side of the road and could not see the tower further up the mountain through the fog. The crunch of gravel underfoot was the only sound as I went uphill. The atmosphere was eerie and the experience thrilling that I came on the perfect day. I was a boy again in the woods. There was no other world except where I was at that moment, which blurred with the past. It happens every time I set foot on a wooded trail: I am inspired. Dweller On The Boundary was born on a trail lined with Chinese privet on a hot summer's day.

Photo by me, March 2023.

Chenocetah Tower emerged in a clearing at the top, behind the gray sentinels, awaiting orders for when to begin to grow leaves again. The tower appeared like a sweet memory among the often mundane and trivial thoughts of the everyday that populate Facebook and the television news. Tell me what you really think or what is important and not some politically inspired pose for attention.

Photo by me, March 2023.

A pleasing land of drowsy-hed it was,
Of dreams that wave before the half-shut eye;
And of gay castles in the clouds that pass,
Forever flushing round a summer-sky.
The Castle of Indolence, Canto I, VI by James Thomson in 1748. Also quoted at the opening of Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

The fog dressed the landscape in a cloak that distorted time. A person could have stood in that spot for almost the last one hundred years and it would have looked similar. In that distortion, I imagined myself calling out for my lost childhood dog, Raven, into the wall of gray. The conditions were the same as that 1980s day that I sank into the ground of Rabbit Tobacco Field. This was not a nostalgic trance, but history rattling my bones as if I needed to remember.

Photo by me, March 2023.


This was like walking through one of my stories or how I imagined the landscapes to be in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. If the Headless Horseman rode past, I could not see him in the dense water droplets suspended in the air. Raven could have been out there too with her jingling vet tag, but I would not know; all sound was muffled.

Photo by me, March 2023.
Photo by me, March 2023.

Photo by me, March 2023.

I could not climb the tower as much as I wanted to do just that. The blue door was locked tight to keep the vandals from having their way with it. The wood and stone were spared from high school sweethearts pledging eternal love and devotion on it. The tower is only open to the public one weekend a year, during the Cornelia apple festival. 


I admired the tower at ground level and thought about how structures of this quality are not commonly built anymore and have not been during all of my fifty years. I like the older architecture and craftsmanship, but do not confuse that with my liking older times better. My admiration for old buildings probably was spawned when I first saw the stone house of my great-grandparents in Tennessee as a child or visiting the Biltmore Estate in Asheville in the 1980s. I simply saw that when it came to buildings, the older ones appealed to me.


When my twenties arrived, I chose to live in some old places: a former Atlanta Ford Factory built in the 1920s and a Victorian mansion from the 1880s in Louisville, Kentucky. Living in places that old is living inside history and sharing them with the unseen past, which is kind of similar to living in an eternal fog. Sometimes in those places I caught a whiff of the scent of the past or a glimpse of it darting around a corner, but I never came face to face with it as I did as a young boy in my backyard underneath an oak tree or again much later in life.

Whatever ghosts are, I believe in them. They can exist in foggy woods and fields, creaking mansions, antique stores, words in a book, in a mind and in a heart. I carry them around with me, write about them, sometimes encounter them and try not to be haunted by them.

Photo by me, March 2023.
Photo by me, March 2023.

There on the foggy mountaintop, the time distortion was strong and I traveled on the perfect weather day. Despite my possible resemblance to Ichabod Crane, no pumpkins were hurled my way as I stood next to the tower with cold cheeks and damp hair. Raven still ran through my memories as black as her namesake. Time travel is not only an H.G. Wells story or that television show I loved as a kid, Voyagers!, but a real phenomenon and that can be achieved by closing one's eyes. The keys are imagination and memories. A person can go to any place or time that they can imagine or remember, but there are reservations to be considered. The past is as set as the stone in the tower and cannot be changed, as some might want. However, time travel can influence the present and future if you allow it, so be wise in making those choices.