My obsession with rivers never fails to land me in interesting situations.
Those of you who attended Trees Columbus' hosting of the Wild and Scenic Film Festival over the weekend were given the first look at the product of a truly outstanding experience.
Perusing Instagram, a photo of a pillow mapping out all of Georgia's rivers caught my attention and started an exploration into the work of Cathy Fussell that led to the commission of a quilt depicting a section of the Chattahoochee River.
Cathy's bio on her website describes her as a quilter of 50 years experience who maintains a studio in Columbus, GA where she produces quilts by hand and with the assistance of sewing machines. Retired from a 28 year career in education (literature and composition), Cathy has devoted herself to her artwork full time for the past 6 years. Perhaps most notably, Cathy was commissioned a few years ago to create a piece for then-First Lady Michelle Obama.
The studio Cathy shares with her husband Fred, an accomplished artist in his own mediums, is housed in one of Columbus' old textile mills and directly reflects the Fussell's experience in curating exhibits. Every surface features the original work of artists local and abroad, famous and unknown. A portrait of Fred with angel's wings and a halo was given as a gift from Seale-based folk artist Butch Anthony who credits Fred with his success and fame.
Careful placement appears in even the book shelves lining the hallway and the titles range from Southern folk-lore to edible mushrooms found in the North Georgia mountains. As an obsessive bibliophile and aesthete, the Fussell's studio is to me a haven, an oasis of eccentricity arranged in a manner appearing both simultaneously random and deliberate. If I was to attempt to arrange such a variety of objects in a small space it would come across as cluttered but the Fussells achieve purpose and creativity in a manner that appears effortless.
Overshadowing all other works in the studio are Cathy's quilts. The moment I saw them I knew I may have come for a pillow, but it was a quilt with which I would be leaving. We discussed ideas for the commission and Cathy was eager to hear our contributions but in the end, I felt any influence I had over the piece would detract from it's originality and this quilt is, after all, not for me.
Following Cathy through the process of constructing this quilt was an enlightening experience. The idea of taking a topographic square and expanding it to the size of a quilt to show every single detail was entirely Cathy's. The area shown on the quilt is a 9 square mile region about 20 miles south of Columbus known as Snake Shoals. This particular area appealed to Cathy because of the dramatic double bend in the river's course, a friend's family history, and the fascinating historical significance of the area. Her and Fred's research found this area was inhabited by the Spanish in the late 1600's, a plantation in the 1800's, a ferry helped travelers cross the river at some point on this stretch, and in 1928 the Holy Trinity Catholic Mission was founded here.
Cathy's description of the quilt's construction is as follows:
"The quilt is made of cotton canvas and features both machine quilting and hand quilting. The contour lines are true contour lines, derived from U.S. Geological Survey Maps. The red lines indicate 50-foot differences in elevation; the smaller dark brown lines indicated 100-foot differences. The blue threads indicate creeks and marshes. While this region is primarily rural, a few roads do traverse it. I opted to omit the roads and focus on the natural landscape. The only "human element" I have included is the hand quilted suggestions of plowed furrows in the big flat regions."
As mentioned above, this quilt is not for me. It was commissioned for you. It is with great hesitancy that I follow through on my plans. If I had the financial ability to reimburse Chattahoochee River Conservancy for the organization's investment, I don't know I that I could resist the temptation for this beautiful work of art to hang above my desk in my home office where I could break from working into the night to reflect on what a great experience this has been, both the creation of the quilt and the last 18 months at the helm of this organization.
Cathy's outstanding work of art will be the sole focus of a raffle in September, held at our 8th Anniversary Dinner event on September 14th. We will enjoy a Chattahoochee-inspired dinner prepared by Chef Austin Scott, beer and wine from B&B Beverage and Omaha Brewing, and there will be a separate drawing for door prizes.
Ticket sales to the dinner are open now. The event is posted on our Facebook page with links. Raffle tickets will be available for purchase August 16. The funds raised from the dinner and the raffle will support our conservation work in the Chattahoochee River and tributaries. Please join us for this fun, casual evening and celebrate the Chattahoochee River, friends, and the power of art.
The title of this post is derived from a quote by Cathy Fussell in which she promises her quilted maps are accurate within the width of her needle.
Cathy's website is hyperlinked above and here.
To see the quilt in person, stay tuned, we will be displaying it throughout the community and will notify of its location via social media.
My note to Cathy: I hope my words and photos do justice to your creation. Thank you for your work and dedication. It has been an honor.
- Henry Jackson
"This year it has been crazy with temperatures fluctuating up and down affecting fish spawning along the ACF. I will keep you updated."
This message didn't come across as a positive one. I had checked in with Carlos Echevarria, Hatchery Manager at Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery, knowing it would soon be time for annual stocking along the Chattahoochee River. Carlos had promised me last year I could follow along and document the process...but now it sounded like it might not happen due to the unusually cold spring.
8 days later a much different message landed in my inbox. Carlos had 800,000 striped bass fry coming up from a Florida Hatchery in a few days and if I could be in Warm Springs on Friday night I could get a look.
Fry are baby fish. They begin as eggs and hatch into larvae which carry around a yolk-sac for nutrition. When the yolk-sac goes away and the fish are able to feed themselves, they are called fry. Quickly showing my naivete, I was shocked to discover 800,000 fry easily fit in the back of pickup truck.
Water quality parameters are checked and the bags holding the fry are removed from the boxes and left to float in the ponds for about an hour so the water inside the bag gradually warms to the water outside of the bag. From the bags the fry are slowly introduced to the pond by way of a trash can with holes in the bottom. The rising water from the bottom of the can gently finishes the adjustment process and after an additional hour the fish are released to spend the next month swimming, eating, and growing. Once scales and fins are developed, the fish are considered fingerlings and are ready for release.
A few weeks later I get a text from Josh Simmons, a biologist at the hatchery. "We are harvesting our last four ponds tomorrow morning and then after we clean them up half are going to Blackshear and the rest are headed your way Friday morning."
Friday morning there's a break in the weather and I get another text, "Chad will be there between 9 and 10." True to their word, a Fish and Wildlife dually pulling a tanker trailer rolls into Lake Oliver Marina about 9:30am. Chad clearly enjoys his work and is extremely accommodating to being followed with a camera while he informs us of the process. Water is released from the tank as river water is pumped in, allowing the fingerlings to adjust to any differences before being released. Water quality parameters are measured and adjustments are made. Quicker than expected, the gate is opened and 40,000 striped bass fingerlings are dumped into the reservoir.
Hatchery programs are never without controversy and striped bass aren't always a crowd favorite but the fish are native to our watershed and this annual program is maintaining a fishery that would likely not exist otherwise. Being anadromous, meaning they migrate between fresh and salt water, striped bass originally entered the Chattahoochee River from the Gulf of Mexico, swimming upriver to spawn. The construction of dams along the river basin caused fish to be landlocked in the reservoirs. These landlocked fish will still migrate upriver in the spring, traveling north until blocked by a dam or a geographic feature.
The native range of stripers is the majority of the Atlantic and Gulf coast and the species has been introduced across the central U.S. through hatchery programs as far west as Arizona. Stream flow of a distance of about 50 miles is a requirement for a successful hatch so most reservoir populations are not sustainable without hatchery stocking. Lake Eufaula along the Chattahoochee River is potentially an exception because the fish are able to travel as far north as the Fall Line in Columbus.
In April we started with 800,000 fry. Hatchery managers expect about a 20% survival rate over the four weeks the fry are growing into fingerlings. Of the 40,000+ fingerlings released into Lake Oliver this year, it is unknown how many will survive to adulthood. If we stick with the 20% rule, that equals about 4 striped bass per acre. In researching other hatchery programs across the U.S., 4-5 fish per acre is the general goal to maintaining a balanced system. As always, this will be too many for some and not enough for others.
A big thank you to Carlos, Josh, Hale, Chad, and everyone else at the Warm Springs hatchery for being so accommodating.
For more information on the fisheries program: https://www.fws.gov/fisheries/
The Warm Springs hatchery is open to visitors and is family friendly. https://www.fws.gov/warmsprings/fishhatchery/
The title is derived from a quote by John Buchan, "The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope."
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