Arkansas: Part 1
Arkansas is a beautiful state.
When I was a kid, my grandparents decided to build their retirement home in Batesville, a quiet town northeast of Little Rock. Years prior, they had purchased land there on the White River. It was acres and acres of beautiful woods. And it was a magical place for a kid.
To get there, we drove about 3 hours west out of Memphis. Highways turned into 2 lane country roads. We knew we were close when we started driving up an ever growing hill, and the asphalt turned into gravel.
Then it was several miles - and only one or two well-spaced houses - until we were swamped by pines as tires left tread marks in the orange/red dirt.
Their plot of land was almost at the top of the mountain. The prior neighbor was about 3 miles through the woods...the last neighbor up top another 3 to 4 miles. No street lights. No city noise. Nothing.
One summer - I guess I was maybe 12 - my grandfather asked me to go with him to help begin clearing the land. We were going to try and get as much of the trees and brush cleared as we could....then a bulldozer would come in and set the dirt for where the home would be built.
We had an old pickup truck with a camper on top. We pulled that into the wooded spot and when I stepped out, I was amazed.
I was surrounded by towering pines and cedars, surrounded by brush and bramble. It was as wild as wild could be. And for a kid from Memphis, it was about to get awesome.
By day, my grandfather and I would bring down the trees and clean out the wild growth. He would chainsaw, and I would haul. Everything went into a big pile, and towards the end of the day, we would light it up and burn it away. Being a retired career naval engineer, my grandfather knew how to fix anything, and how to be safe. So every fire was well banked, attended, controlled and then put out.
After a long, long day of work, we would make our own small campfire and sit on overturned buckets as we ate our warmed up dinner. Normally, beans in a pot were heated, and Hormel corned beef hash would sizzle in the skillet. We'd drink water out of old plastic milk jugs.
Before it got too dark, we would take advantage of one of the wonders their land held: a short walk through the woods to a crystal-clear mountain fed stream.
We located a great landing spot on the creek, and that became one of my favorite places on earth. We'd walk through the early evening light, after we'd eaten, and we'd use that clear, cold water to clean our plates and refill our water containers.
The spring started a few miles further up the mountain in a natural spring called "The Blue Hole" (because it was a natural, beautiful blue). The water was clean, icy, and wonderful. We'd see the occasional trout zip over the mossy green rocks, but it was normally all ours. After cleaning our containers, we'd get to my favorite part of the day.
It was hot. And humid. And after a day of working in a blizzard of wood chips and bonfire smoke, I couldn't wait to cool off.
I can still remember the sensation of standing knee dip in that fast flowing icy water. Feeling the hot humid air around me, hearing the mosquitoes buzzing around my head, and steeling my nerves for the descent.
Then I would squint my eyes....lock my jaw....and lay my entire body under that icy cold flow. It sent an electric shock through my entire body...and then would slowly ebb into total comfort and bliss.
I can remember the feel of the smooth stones on my back....how I would grasp onto their edges so I wouldn't get pulled downstream....and how I could feel the heat and exhaustion of the day being pulled off of me as it bled downstream. Total rejuvenation of body and soul.
(That stream will always be a remarkable place in my memories and in my heart. Over our weeks working there, every night as we cleaned our gear and ourselves, my grandfather and I would talk about everything under the sun. Being a lifelong church deacon and leader, he would lovingly answer all my questions about God and life. And it was at this stream that I made a life-changing religious decision, and it was in those waters that I was ceremonially dunked.)
With our clean plates in hand and our clean clothes on our back, we'd walk back up the hill through the woods to our camp site. We'd check the fire for the night, and then get our sleeping bags. Our bed was the bed of the truck. We'd say our prayers and then the orchestra of crickets and frogs would sing us to sleep.
(coming up: we dig our own well and build an amazing tree house! PLUS: a pig chomps on me and more!)