FLETCHER: Finding respite along the banks of the Flint River

Opinion column

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

If there’s one thing in my life that’s missing, it’s the time that I spend alone sailing on the cool and bright, clear water.

Little River Band

Looking for a moment of clarity in what had been a day filled with confusion, I left the office earlier this week to take a walk down by the majestic Flint River.

Were my soul a bit more poetic, I could have a field day describing in detail all the goings-on as I did something I rarely do these days: sit quietly.

I was at once fascinated by the swooping of birds mere millimeters above the water as they sought some river-born morsel, their skillful maneuvering interrupted by perhaps the most unathletic — or maybe daring — of the aviary diners who came up sputtering, no doubt embarrassed, when he got a little too close to the river’s surface and found himself swimming rather than flying. … Fish jumped in the (relatively) calm pools among the swiftly running shoals, and I found myself thinking about the old 100-acre-plus cypress pond that was part of my growing-up homeplace in rural Irwin County.

Over the murmuring of the Flint’s south-flowing waters, I heard the voices of a young couple enjoying a moment together in the unseasonably cool of the gray, overcast day, the few raindrops that fell intermittently offering further proof that, even with computers thrown into the mix, the folks who used to call themselves weathermen and -women before they became meteorologists are still pretty much practicing a craft based on educated guesses.

I laughed as a young boy no more than 3 or 4, trapped outside the women’s restroom while the gaggle of females he was with went inside, took the moment to “water the lawn” in that way only young boys can.

Revived somewhat, I left my reverie and headed back toward the familiar surroundings of The Herald’s newsroom, a place so much a part of me now its various quirks and imperfections no longer register.

As I walked the block or so from Front Street up Pine Avenue, I looked around and marvelled at the tens of millions of dollars spent in that one small area, the tons of concrete poured and formed in the name of progress. I listened to the pneumatic hammering as workers continued to rebuild the old Broad Avenue bridge.

In that moment I got a sense of the merging of old and new Albany. Streets that once teemed with thousands upon thousands of shoppers and scenesters, drawn to Southwest Georgia’s most swinging locale, were vacant save for the few city workers headed back to their offices and the random straggler looking to enjoy a Cool Scoops hot dog or find a stray Coke can worth recycling.

I thought of the people sitting in the city’s and county’s seats of power, mostly seasoned citizens with enough time on their hands to devote to the three, four or five meetings a month at which policy is made. Most of them are people worthy of their fellow citizens’ respect and votes. Others are nearing or have surpassed their use-by dates, either unable or unwilling to look beyond “the way we used to do things” in search of new ideas that will guarantee the future citizenship here of their children and grandchildren who choose to continue tending familial roots.

Before he was elevated to his current position, Albany City Manager James Taylor told me the city of Albany was missing the boat by not tying a significant portion of its future to the waters of the Flint. “Not many cities,” Taylor said, “have a waterway that beautiful running through them.”

I thought about that as I ended my riverside walkabout. It dawned on me that I hadn’t spent my few moments of introspection merely looking out at a Southwest Georgia natural wonder. What I was seeing in the flowing waters of the Flint was the lifeblood that had sustained this city — and others like it along the watershed — for centuries past and would for centuries more to come.