On the Arkansas Travelers
On the Arkansas Travelers
John wrote me this week. He was fondly remembering the Arkansas fall – all those mornings when the maple leaves sway, blushing at the advances of a low-slung mountain mist. John had spent time last week, good should-be-working time, remembering the goodness of Ozark stone farm houses and adjoining cattle ponds where the Canadian troubadours unfold their wings and spread webbed feet in the winter. He reminded me of those lichen crusted rock churches, the ones scattered in counties named Madison and Carroll, where sacred vows are exchanged, where real-wine communion breaks unspoken prohibitions, where saints and sinners are offered a way back home.
Ashley and Jonnie were married in that kind of church. Actually, Ashley and Jonnie were married on the front steps of that kind of church. It was summer and the little Anglican chapel was without air condition or other modern amenities. So, we all sat in white foldout chairs on the front lawn, and we leaned forward into their vows in an attempt to unravel promises whispered at an invisible alter.
Behind us, a bubbling stream muted vows as it ran to wherever it was running. We fanned ourselves with wedding orders, mostly lawyers and their wives trying to retain some modicum of respectability. Only once did a lady three rows up indicate that “da-yam it’s hot,” in the middle of the priest’s unity prayer. But his prayer was difficult to hear as we sat so far away from the limestone steps, and it was so muted by the gurgles of water running to nowhere in particular, and she was a law school transplant from New Jersey. With all these mitigating factors, we forgave her for profaning the solemnity of the moment. Cindy actually passed her an extra wedding order so she could stir up twice as much hot air.
Ashley and Jonnie moved up to New York. They took jobs with tall-building law firms, the kind that bear the names of Yankee & Yankee.
John, that long distance emailer who stretched his legs to find a muse, lives in Colorado now. They, like much of this state, are transient – Arkansas Travelers, it might be said. And I think that maybe this country is, too, always looking for a place with less lichen and more air conditioned spaces, always looking to find where the stream empties itself. But each, in their own subtle way, has let me know that they will always think of this place as home. It’s where they toilet papered houses in high school, stole kisses of liquor in college, and whispered wedding vows in adulthood. It’s where they met God in the deer woods, in the duck blinds, and in the stone-chapel revival meetings. They’ve carpet bagged elsewhere, but knowing they remember the flirtations of an Ozark fall, even the one that is only now unfolding, does my heart well.
It’s fall in the Ozarks. I’m looking forward to watching the green heron fish in my stagnant ornamental pond and watching the horses run wild in chilling rain. The maple off the back porch is already yellowing. The summer heat has been replaced by the fireplace here in the rock house. We are settling into the magic of the cedar incense that drifts across the field from the neighbors’ house. I’m glad to be in the midst of the autumnal Ozarks. I’m glad my boys will know it. And as much as I’ve come to marvel at the majesty of grand handiwork in grand miniature mountains, I realize that I’m little more than a carpet bagger myself, always craning my neck to get a glimpse of home.