More than 100 miles of road snake in and out of the heart of Dawson Forest, a kind of north Georgian jungle settled five miles southwest of Dawsonville.
Some roads in the 10,000 acre-tract are paved, while most are made of dirt and gravel.
Buried deeper in the woods still are a system of multi-use trails for walking, biking and horseback riding.
Making your way into the forest, you’ll notice these paths are the only human fingerprints. The woods are wild and big.
The woods are so large, in fact, you could spend hours traveling the trails with someone who knows the forest well and still feel you’d barely scratched the surface.
That’s how I felt last month. As the weather got warmer, I got the urge to explore backyard leisure opportunities. I wanted to write about the great outdoors.
Wildlife Biologist Scott Frazier with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources agreed to take me on a daylong tour of the forest, spanning 22 miles from south to north.
We bounced down dirt roads in his company truck, tracing the natural changes as we moved closer to the mountainous top of the tract, all of which is maintained by .DNR and the Georgia Forestry Commission.
Frazier said the two agencies do what they can to keep plants and fallen trees off the roads and trails, but it takes the help of volunteer organizations to clear them.
It’s an ongoing battle, he said. The forest is always trying to reclaim the man-made paths.
Most of the day was spent in the passenger seat, watching the greenery glide past. We stepped out of the truck every half hour or so.
I had asked Frazier to share his favorite spots, the best of Dawson Forest.
As we hiked, I’d take out my point-and-shoot and snap a picture of him examining a tree or a flower.
The mechanical whirring of the camera lens was an alien noise amid the chirping birds and crackling leaves. Like someone cackling in a church sanctuary.
But photographs proved useful. At one point, Frazier stopped to examine an Autumn Olive, a shrub found throughout the forest. He described, in detail, the plant’s role in the natural world.
As I steadied to take a photo of the plant, I grew frustrated. There were so many other natural objects around it. There was no way to frame a picture without a dozen distractions in the shot.
Frazier took hold of a leaf and smoothed it with his thumb. I leaned closer to the shrub, examining the texture. I took another picture. Within that picture, I saw the details, the intricate brushstrokes.
A world within a world within a world.
For the rest of the day, we took note when we saw an Autumn Olive. They seemed to be everywhere now that I’d been told they existed. An hour earlier, it was just another shrub in the woods.
Six hours went by quickly. We’d covered the entire tract. We’d seen so much and yet so little of Dawson Forest. All I could think about were those Autumn Olives.
Some things in the natural world are too big to see all at once. You have to take a step closer and then another step before it comes into focus.
I went to explore Dawson Forest last month, but what I came back with was a hundred pictures of a shrub in the woods.
In a lifetime, I could only hope to grasp one single acre of the untamed 10,000 acres in Dawson County.
Frank Reddy is a staff writer for Dawson Community News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (706) 265-3384.