In less than a month, I will travel to my hometown of Ellijay, Georgia for a few days. Louisville has become my adopted home over the last six years, as I described a few weeks ago, and for good reason. That said, I have a lot of love for my hometown. I love the more relaxed pace. I love getting a Paradise Burger at Mr. P’s Take-Out or a fried apple pie from one of the local orchards. I love my family, of course, and I love the Appalachian Mountains that wind down from the upper reaches of Maine to meet their rolling demise near my home.
I have spent much time in those mountains. I have traveled the old county roads and seen the graves of my pioneering ancestors. I have swam an area of rapids and delta affectionately known as the Shoals. I have fished the Mountaintown, the Cartecay, and Coosawattee. I have camped at Bear Creek with friends countless times in an area near the Cohutta Wilderness where there’s no phone reception for miles. It is called Bear Creek for a reason; the woods are bustling with wildlife, and that wildlife will let you know in no uncertain terms that you are the foreign creatures. When you’re out there on a summer’s night, the woods are a symphony of frogs and crickets. A good campfire will add some pops and crackles to the orchestration, as well as a lot of jokes and perhaps a ghost story or two. Those stories take on new life in the weird shadows cast by the firelight. Step away from the fire and the sky will, if you have vision beyond the trees, become a canopy of a million lights. We can’t see these lights in the city. They are there, but our own man-made replicas send a glow into the atmosphere that blocks our vision of their heavenly splendor.
Yes, there are many things I love about Ellijay. In fact, I had to think quite a bit when explaining to my grandmother last year that I would rather not move back, at least not right now. The answer is simple, however: I simply don’t fit in.
It is an exaggeration to say that there is no one my age in Ellijay. That isn’t true. However, being a single Christian guy in his late 20s with an artistic leaning and a master’s degree in theology pulls me towards conversations I simply wouldn’t have as often there. I would literally have to change my ministry style. I work best in one-on-one conversations with people who are, for lack of better terms, bookish or artistic. There are many places like Louisville where I can thrive and disciple many believers because of these natural traits. In Louisville, it is easy for me to have close friends. Ellijay doesn’t lend itself to this. The one bookstore in town closed last year, the only higher education opportunities in the city are extension centers for nearby tech schools, and the sadly most entertaining thing to do on a typical day is to go to Walmart and people-watch. If Ellijay were a college town, there might be hope for me. There would be more personally stimulating conversations to be had. But the economy rests on apples and chickens, which doesn’t fertilize a soil for such conversations to grow.
I realize I might be called an intellectual or cultural snob. I don’t look down on Ellijay, though. I very much value the environment that bred me, and occasionally some things make me want to move back. However, there is simply little for me to grasp onto there. I have few ways to minister to the people in a manner natural to me. Our common language is now too weak, and I know I would be fighting a loneliness that would become a large obstacle. All that to say, I love my Ellijay… and I must continue to love it from far away.
(Cover image: a portion of Amicalola Falls, a natural attraction in the mountains east of Ellijay, photographed by me.)