Oconee Joe: Who am I?

Oconee Joe

Look into these waters and tell me who you see.

As I paddle down the Oconee River, I contemplate the instinctual thoughts of the giant ground sloths, the haggard dire wolf, or the last of the mighty mastodons, which must have cocked their heads in prehistory and considered the First Peoples that tramped upon the woods and paddled the waters. Interlopers, they saw them no doubt. Worse still, Northerners from a land of ice and snow. Finally, and to retreat from at all costs, Move-Ins, which is still better than, God forbid, Yankees.

I often wonder if in some far-off future an Oconee River resident will one day pick up pieces of old plastic bottles and in awe stare at the rarity of the worn polyethylene relics? Will it be any different than when I step out of my boat today and find a piece of clay-fired pottery, 2,000 years old, embedded in the sandbar alongside an ’81 Pabst Blue Ribbon pop top? Would tomorrow’s trash have been treasuring to the ancients, or the bane of their existence? Is our future just a showcase of things that once were when one considers the present conditions of the Upper Oconee Watershed?

And what conditions are their conditions in? Take a moment and just drop in.

This river story is mine, though there are many other tales that define me. I arrived here from my own tributary. It starts in that vast watershed to the immediate Northwest of the Oconee River headwaters. In those days the Chattahoochee wasn’t sued and bickered over by multi-commercial, quasi-governmental powers that fought for the flow, the intake and discharge, or the fate of those downstream delicious oysters in Apalachicola Bay. The deep blue-green of Lake Lanier was where I originally filled my sails and first saw the secret language of the wind take canvas form. My boat moved across the water, and it was good. To this day, one of my favorite memories as a child is careening my father’s 21’ foot sailboat, Sirius, and scrubbing her hull on the pink beach of an ancient ridge top that now formed an island in the middle of the lake. Flooded out to the eroded quartzite and red clay of the forgotten Pleistocene epoch, one can only imagine what the cave bear would have thought at the sight of a sailboat, laid on her side at the top of its secluded granite foothill.

As I grew, I wandered. Like so many thousands of others since 1787 A.D., I was sent by family to the promise of a better society, to form a collection of humanity’s finest in the Classic City of Athens. Together, we could perhaps unlock the door to a more perfect union for our future kin... through our local community, and heretofore, a higher education. I therefore stepped through the Arches of UGA tradition. Athena, and her patron city, has continually blessed me.

Beyond all other lovers I found in college, however, were the connecting tri-waters surrounding our Athens area. Those boundary waters that form the Upper Oconee River Watershed.

While my story might have begun on a different watershed, I have always maintained I was truly birthed between the muddy brown thighs of the Middle and the North Oconee Rivers, along the waters of Whitehall and Flinchcum’s Phoenix. There, among the blind-eye homeless camps of Raccoon City and the College Station Sewer Plant, I breached and brought forth a perception of the river. Our river. The sweet hussy under the Atlanta Highway Bridge cut my umbilical cord, the tweaker of Norfolk-Southern’s trestle anointed my head in spray paint. Thereafter, my cup did floweth over.

But You Knew My Name... Long before it was even asked. I’ve been through here before. So have you. Let us flow downstream together once again and explore what it means to be from the Oconee, A People of Water.

I never said I was the first to paddle these waters, I never said that this history is known only unto me. I never claimed that I was the greatest to paddle these Piedmont rivers... I am just the one that paddles now... I have shared the waters with many a friend and family throughout the years, and I now run guided ecological and historical based paddle trips on the Oconee River from Athens, downstream into Lake Oconee.

Many others past, many others to come. Follow along as we share these waters together.


Oconee Joe has lived along the Oconee River for over 10,000 years. The River is his Mother, the Land his Father. You can continue to read about Oconee Joe, guided trips, and his explorations along our local river, here at Classic City News.

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