Saturday, November 11, 2006

Speaking of Arkansas and Things Southern...

Mrs. Arkanblogger "mugging" for me at one of the childrens' birthday parties.
Photo taken by Mrs. A. Taken at Silver Dollar City in the Ozarks.

Aunt Phyliss and Mrs. A preparing for the Thanksgiving feed in the den.

The first morning of last years' hunt. We did leave the neighborhood. Photo by Mrs. A.

The White River at Gastons' Resort. Photo taken from the top of the Dam.

Closeup of the White River and lodging at Gastons'.

I've been noticing a little dialogue of late, which concern the good and bad traits of our fair state of Arkansas. So, being myself a 4th generation Arkansan and more specifically of Arkansas county itself, I thought I'd take a couple of minutes to weigh in on the subject.

It is true that Arkansas is widely known a place where broods of mostly toothless hillbillies reside deep in the woods, stilling their moonshine and searching for spouses at their family reunions. It is also the general belief of the rest of the country that Arkansas women walk around in public sporting both bare feet and the condition of being pregnant. The town of Harrison has in the past been known as home to the national headquarters of the KKK and we shan't forget that there is still a place called "Hope", which spawned the likes of our former president William Jefferson Clinton. Our current Governor Mike Huckabee lived in a triple wide trailer while having the gov's mansion renovated, which prompted a quest spot on the Jay Leno show and made for fodder at the office water cooler for months on end. This is also the birthplace of Wal-Mart (which many good folks have held in favor and contempt over the years), although it's founder, Sam Walton, was born in our neighboring state of Oklahoma, just to the west of us. We're even home to the Arkansas Razorbacks, whose many fans will very proudly and spontaneously offer up the "hog call", consisting of a long and loud, "WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO....PIG...SOUIXEE!!!", to complete strangers in airports, grocery stores and in church (I've been there when it happened), should the spirit so move them. Bearing in mind those little highlights, we have somewhat of a history of being maligned...and sometimes painfully and truthfully so.

Now there is another side to the story, as the man once said. Let me say that I have lived in Oklahoma and Colorado and then had extensive dealings with customers as I traveled the states of Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska. I have also spent time, some of it considerable, in Florida, Washington, California, Nevada, Montana, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Georgia, Alabama, Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Pennsylvania, North and South Carolina, Maryland, along with Washington D.C., the Bahamas, Cabo San Lucas and The Florida Keys. So we can safely say that I've been around the "block" a time or two....not as much as some...but I also know folks that have never left the state. Bearing all this in mind, I can say that Arkansas has some of the nicest people and prettiest countryside in the U.S. Yes, the Rockies and the Tetons are majestic and the Smokies are green and luscious. Our domestic coastlines offer captivating views and even the "plains" states have their vast beauty and cleanliness. I'll admit being quite taken with such places as Key West, FL, Bozeman, MT, Sheridan, WY, San Francisco, San Diego and Sonoma Valley, CA But as much as a cliche' as it is, for me, there is simply no place like home. Some people spend their adult lives escaping from their place of birth for one reason or another. Others embrace it. I've done a bit of both.

Let me share with you some of the places I love and things I love about Arkansas...

The Boston, Quachita and Ozark mountains must certainly they look as if they are mere foothills, if set aside the rugged mountain ranges of the west, but their colorful peaks and rolling beauty is quite engaging....and I've stood atop Mount Evans, Colorado on many occasions, which at it's peak is over 14,000 feet, so I have a pretty good frame of reference, as mountainous beauty is concerned. Arkansas' notable mountains include, Mount Magazine (often called the highest point between the Alleghenies and the Rockies at 2,753 ft.), Mt. Nebo and Mt. Petit Jean State Park. Another beautiful spot is Gaston's Resort, which is located on the White River just a few miles south of the Missouri border near Flippin, Arkansas. Gaston's sports world class trout fishing (with or without guides) , lodging and a fantastic restaurant located on the bank of the White River. I've been twice and I highly recommend it. There is Blanchard Springs Caverns, which is a 3-level cave system and is the only cave currently administered by the United States Forrest Service. Also the Ozark Highlands Trail roams some 180 miles around north west Arkansas and will eventually link to the Ozark Trail in Missouri. The future combination of the two trails will result in approximately 700 miles of trail in the Ozark mountain range.

Some towns worth a visit are Eureka Springs, which is a Victorian village with a European flavor with steep winding streets, lined with cottages and manors. It is the only city in the United States where none of the streets meet at right angles. The city is dominated by a 7-story 2 million pound white statue of Jesus, which sits across the valley from the downtown area. I'll admit that I could do without that one...but Thorncrown Chapel is most certainly worth a visit. This chapel in the woods was designed by E. Fay Jones, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. A retired schoolteacher purchased the land for his retirement home but felt that the land was too beautiful not to share and commissioned Mr. Jones to design a structure where folks could feel welcome and close to God. Take the highway east out of town and follow it for a couple of hours and you'll find Mountain View, host of the annual Ozark Folk Festival. This celebration, along with the Arkansas Bean Fest and Great Championship Outhouse Race, causes the population of the city to swell from it's 2,800 folks to 100,000. It's not uncommon to find musicians playing and "jamming" together on the downtown square at all times of the permitting.

There is much more to say regarding the north part of the state but I am a child of the "Grand Prairie", which borders the delta region of the eastern part of the state, which has it's own beauty. The delta, running north and south, along the Mississippi River, variates between massive rice, soybean and cotton farms and thick hardwood forests. Stuttgart, my hometown, is in the heart of the Prairie and is known as the "Rice and Duck Capital of The World". The city is home to Riceland Foods, the world's biggest rice miller and is named after Stuttgart, Germany, which is also a leading rice producer. There are world class waterfowl hunting facilities throughout the Delta region and the "Cabelas of Waterfowl", known as Mack's' Prairie Wings and Rich N' Tone Duck Calls are both headquartered in Stuttgart. Dividing the northern and southern regions of Arkansas is our state capitol, Little Rock, which has become a vibrant city that's highlighted by The Clinton Presidential Library and is the headquarters of Alltel, Axciom, Heifer International, Family Life, TCBY and Stephens Investments. The opening of our River Market District was part of a very successful revitalization program for the downtown area of Little Rock and just last month The Big Dam Bridge was opened to the public. The bridge runs parallel to a lock and dam on the Arkansas River and spans 3,463 feet, making it the world's longest specifically bicycle and pedestrian bridge. Little Rock is also now home to a Peabody Hotel...where every day at 11:00 a.m. the Peabody ducks are escorted from their penthouse to the lobby via elevator. The ducks, accompainied by a Sousa march, proceed across a red carpet to the hotel fountain. Then at 5:00 p.m., the ducks are ceremoniously led back to their penthouse.

Now I don't have a southern accent, nor does my wife or our children...maybe our son has a "tad" of a twang...never the less, I love the many eccentricities about Arkansas' Southern Culture. Such as the fact that farmers and country folk wave at you when you meet them on the highway. You need to wave back. Grandpa's pass down pocketknives and shotguns to their grandsons...and granddaughters. In fact, a man without a pocketknife is probably a yankee or "one of those Californians". This is a place where many grandmothers still hand down family recipes and teach the younger generations how to cook such delicacies as fried green tomatoes, smothered steak and fried chocolate pies. Food is very important here. Much of our gathering and socializing takes place around a meal, laid out buffet style. Sweet tea is a staple for folks having milk in the fridge. When we meet a hearse on the road and it becomes obvious to us that there is a funeral procession approaching, we pull over out of respect for the families and friends of the departed. I love that. Deer hunting season is such a part of the culture here, that school districts have recognized it and have at times, closed their doors, so the students can participate in the sport with their families. Camo clothing is always in style. If we're doing our jobs, we teach our children to say "yes sir", "no ma'am", "please" and "thank you". Another part of doing our job is to write thank you notes. The good southern men open doors for women, children and older folks. If someone treats us poorly, we call it "being ugly to us". When grandpa dies, unless one of the family moves in and takes over the property, we don't tear down his old country home. We'd rather let it sort of a conduit to the past. That explains the old houses, sheds and barns that you see littering the landscapes of the south, particularly in rural Arkansas. This is also a place where, though they are few, old country stores still exist. You can stop in have a homemade bologna (beef and sliced thick please on white bread only) and cheese sandwich, a doubledecker Moon Pie and Soda Pop. These establishments also generally offer a smattering of fishing and hunting gear, fuel, a selection of canned goods and frozen foods, a bit of hardware and tools, along with some local conversation. If you see one of these little "mom and poppers"...stop in a make a purchase, so they don't disappear from the landscape altogether.

We like for our friends to come on up, down or over, as it were and depending on the season, sit in front of the fire, the wood stove, at the kitchen table, on the porch or in lawn chairs under the shade of the big pin oak in the backyard and talk about politics, religion, northerners or whatever comes to mind. We want to connect with you here....just at our own pace. We want to know who your people are and where you're from. Not to size you up...but to have some empathy with you and find some common ground for discussion. So, we'll see you soon and you be sure to give your mama a big hug around her neck and tell your daddy hello for us.

p.s. Deer season (guns) started last week.

-The Arkanblogger


Kayleigh said...

Isn't Arkansas just splendid? :) I loved the pictures by the way!

<3 Kayleigh

Phinehas said...

Mr Arkanblogger,

Wow, that was inspiring! If you should ever feel the need to leave your present employment, every welcome center in Arkansas will be begging you to come and work for them. I hope that my comments toward your state were never seen as mean, because I really enjoyed my time there among the mom and pop shops, southern cooking, and even the razorback fans. Besides, I save all my negative comments for Louisiana!

Arkanblogger Family said...

Hi Kayleigh-yes it is and thanks for the comment on the pictures. We had fun taking them. I'll see you in about 30 minutes....or hear you at least.;-)

Hi Phinehas-I knew you were clowning around. So was I with some of it. Thanks for posting. I've visited your site and like your writing as well. We've done the "interior" of Florida a couple of length. Lots and lots and lots of pine trees. Did I say there were lots of pine trees in Florida? I'm an ocean man myself. It is transfixing. Is that a word?

-The Arkanblogger

Bryce said...

That is quite a piece of writing. Thanks for sharing about your home country. Arkansas is a piece of "God's country", and has its beauty like anywhere else.

Phinehas said...

Yep, transfixing is a word, at least it doesn't come up as misspelled in spellcheck. Pine trees... pine cones all over the yard, pine needles all over the roof, pine sap all over the vehicle and those weird little things that spread that nasty yellow powder(I guess its pollen) everywhere. Yeah, pine trees.

Little Southern Pride trivia: During the War of Northern Aggression from 1861-1865, what Southern State Capitol never fell into the hands of the invaders?

(Laugh) I'm still trying to hang on to the slightest thread of anything southern in this state!