The fall line in Georgia is a narrow border between the rolling hills of the Piedmont Province and the flatter Coastal Plain. Millions of years ago the fall line was actually Georgia’s Atlantic coast line. It’s called the fall line because there is a quick decrease in elevation characterized by waterfalls and rapids. It’s the furthest upstream that the early settlers were able to navigate easily on the rivers. For that reason, towns were often formed at the fall line, like Columbus (home of Fort Benning) on the Chattahoochee River, Macon (best known for the Allman Brothers) on the Ocmulgee River, and Augusta (home of Fort Gordon and the Augusta National Golf Course) on the Savannah River.
The fall line also happens to coincide with another border in Georgia known as the gnat line. Below the gnat line, there is a kind of gnat that breeds in the sandy soil of that region. In the summer, the gnats rise up in swarms so thick it’s hard to keep them out of your eyes, nose and ears. Once many years ago when I was a small boy, my family vacationed at Jekyll Island, one of Georgia’s barrier islands near the southern end of the Georgia coast. My most vivid memory is of eating a picnic lunch and trying to keep the gnats out of the food.
We who live up here in the Valley and Ridge Province, part of the Appalachian Plateau, are not supposed to suffer the plague of the gnats, but lately I could make a good argument against that proposition. I spend a good part of my morning dog walk swatting gnats away from my ears and eyes. It may be only the recency illusion, but it seems like the gnat problem has been getting worse up here in north Georgia.
But maybe it’s not an illusion. The Macon Telegraph had a small article about whether the gnat line is moving north. Jeff Burne, an entomologist at Middle Georgia State University, said the gnats of south Georgia need sandy soil to breed, so they can’t actually move north of the sandy Coastal Plain. However, he said that another kind of gnat isn’t so limited. The reason those gnats may be (or seem to be) increasing in numbers north of the gnat line is global warming. North Georgia is just getting to be a better place for gnats to live.
The gnats I experience every day don’t swarm in the numbers that the gnats of south Georgia do. They are aggravating, of course, but so far I haven’t swallowed any, at least as far as I know. In south Georgia, however, it has long been considered impossible to eat outside without eating gnats, who seem to like human food almost as much as they like human eyes and ears. Down there, it’s just a way of life. When you look down and see gnats all over your food, there’s only one thing you can do: just pretend it’s pepper.