The Ocoee River at the Dawn’s First Light

On Sunday I went with a group of friends to kayak the Hiwassee River, just across the North Carolina border in Tennessee. I had a totally fantastic day paddling this beautiful watercourse surrounded by all the glories Autumn can produce. When we left the cabin before 5 am it was about 30 degrees Fahrenheit. By late afternoon it was in the high 60’s. I was so inspired by what I experienced there, that I got up before dawn the next day and drove two hours to the Ocoee River to take pictures when the sun came up. I was not disappointed.

Again, I drove in the dark, but this time I was alone with my thoughts and the slow break of day. Full moon was just a few days prior, so I had this beautiful moon to keep me company and partially illuminate the passing landscape.

As the sun’s first incipient rays reached the hills and mountain tops surrounding the Ocoee River canyon, the contrast between the dark, flat lower regions with the warm full spectrum, fully saturated color palette painted by the Autumn leaves was incredible. The mist rose from the still waters between more turbulent stretches of river and gave the whole scene a wonderful quiet grace and soft nurturing mood.

Aide from light traffic out on the road, I had the whole beatific scene to myself. I feel so quietly blessed by the sublime majesty of the world around me.

The growing light revealed new perspectives and visual treasures with each passing second and this slow evolution informed and directed my artistic inspirations. It led and I followed, but not passively. Nature put me in this play to participate and be a part of it all.

I drove and hiked quickly, but with focus so as not to miss any of it. When I took my gaze away from the water and up into the forest I saw things in a whole new way. One of the things that really fascinated me was the juxtaposition and contrast between the vivid colors of the changing leaves and the obvious signs of decay already eating into and corrupting their beauty. The first blush of entropy and death necessary for rebirth and growth. The way of all things.

Though the water levels were low for the Autumn and Winter seasons, you could still see the power these rapids would have at higher volumes. In fact, it was here on the Ocoee that the 1996 Olympic Kayaking events were held. The course ran between two bridges and still mark the upper and lower boundaries. Several rafting companies run the river and it’s not hard to see how exciting it would be running at full steam.

I really loved the patterns and sounds the river made in its present state, though. Like a bear going into hibernation – all coiled sleeping power and dormant carnivorous appetite. This aspect of the river is every bit as appealing to me as the adrenaline producing rapids engender. I love and appreciate both aspects. Balance.

I noticed the fallen leaves in the river, some still floating and some waterlogged, drowned and resting on the bottom. Embraced and honored by the river, they made fascinating imagery as they interacted with the currents, patterns and textures of the water and rocks. I also loved the complex interplay of bright light reflecting off the surface while illuminating the depths below. I’ve always been fascinated by that sort of thing in water, store windows and car paint.

It’s so easy here to interpret that Autumn beauty as marred by decay, but I don’t see it that way. I see a new kind of aesthetic being created by the process and interplay of water, sky and earth. By the cycle of growth and evolution.