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Swamp Rat on Leaving the Swamp
By Brian L. Avery, Jackson, Georgia

I reckon I've always been a bit off. One of the clearest memories from my childhood in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains is preparing for our first trip to Disney World in Orlando. My older brother was excited about the rides, and my little sister was excited about seeing Mickey Mouse. Not me, though. I was excited about seeing Spanish moss, cypress trees, swamps, and all the critters that live therein.

As a young kid, I had always been a bit sickly. Terrible allergies and asthma limited my outside time a little, so I spent a lot of time indoors, watching television. My favorite programs in those days were not cartoons, not even that giant, mutant mouse. What I really loved were documentaries on animals. Among these was a documentary on the Okeefenokee that had really fired up my ten-year-old imagination.

Fast-forward about 8 or 10 years, and it was time to choose a college. I considered several possibilities, but ended up settling on Georgia Southern University, in Statesboro, Georgia, smack in the middle of Georgia's coastal plain. The fact that this school was in the swamp country was a large part of my decision.

So, starting in my college years, and through the present, I have learned the swamps: How to hunt them, fish them, navigate them and love them. I remember fondly coming home to Calhoun and the Southern Appalachians and regaling my Granddaddy (now gone), brother and father with stories about my latest exploits in hunting and fishing the swamps of southeast Georgia. It was during these happy days that Granddaddy started calling me Swamp Rat, which I now use as my FAOL moniker.

Every time I went out into swamp country, I would see or discover something unexpected and wonderful. While fishing the swamps, I discovered spotted sunfish, warmouth, pickerel, and mudfish (bowfin), none of which were familiar to me before. I ran across deer, feral hogs, and some of the biggest gray squirrels you've ever seen while hunting. Whether you're hunting, fishing, or just traveling through, you're bound to happen across something new. It may be a 6-foot tall great blue heron, or a 16-foot gator, or a swallow-tailed kite, or one of the many hawks and owls that use such habitat. Just last year, I discovered for the fist time in my life, spider lilies, growing in huge white masses on the lower Canoochee. I've had the privilege to spend time in swamps so thick and remote, that all modern sounds were too far away to be heard. I've been in swamps that are trapped in permanent twilight, giving an unavoidable sense that you are always being watched by something not of this world. In fact, the best swamps are those that feel nothing like this world. My love affair with the swamps grew and grew, and continues to grow even today.

Back in the spring, we decided it was time to open a new phase in our lives. I have wanted to move closer to my family for a couple of years now, and my wife has wanted to move from the "God forsaken humidity" for longer than that. So, with a heavy heart, I threw my last flies and molested my last Canoochee river red breast back in June. We moved to Jackson, Georgia, which is about halfway in between Atlanta and Macon, and is a different world from the coastal plains I had grown to love.

In those last few weeks in Savannah, I grew steadily more pessimistic about the fishing and hunting opportunities I would have so close to Atlanta. My heart was torn in two, between excitement and joy of buying our first house and starting a better life, and the sorrow of leaving the land that I had truly grown to call home. In my dreams, tupelo and cypress trees melted and were reincarnated into cold glass and steel high-rises. The black waters that I so loved turned sickly yellow with refuse washed down from Atlanta.

Thank God it didn't turn out that way! We moved to Jackson, alright, but it was nothing like I feared. We got a house very close to Lake Jackson, which is one of the oldest power producers in Georgia. The fist fish I caught was a warmouth, on my old buddy, the brim killer. I came to the lake with my microlight spinning rig (gasp!) and live bait, but the fish swung on the fly. After that, I knew it would be alright! I have since discovered the rivers feeding Lake Jackson, and coming out of it, are beautiful and full of fish. Sure, there's no Spanish moss on the trees, and no gators, but it's still nice. Also, just to my south is the Oconee National forest. The land there is a really interesting mix of very high foothills, smaller rolling hills, streams, and swamps! I think I'll feel right at home hunting there.

I'm now looking forward to discovering all the things I don't know about the piedmont. I wonder if Granddad is looking down on me and calling me "Piedmont Rat" now? ~ Swamp Rat

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