Arkansas, the Natural State
Escape From Everyday Life
This photo of the water lilies that had overtaken the backwaters of the Ouachita River at Felsenthal lock and dam is one of my favorites. In July, Joe and I went to spend a few days at our tiny cabin just outside of Strong, Arkansas. The days drift by quickly whenever we stay at the cabin. On this trip, it was incredibly hot during the day, but at night, we turned off the A/C and used the window fan instead. Often it got so cool we needed blankets, even in July. We didn't take the four-wheelers on this trip, just didn't want to hassle with packing them up, etc.
Every day, we went for a ride in the early morning and another in the late afternoon, hoping to see wildlife. The lily pads and flowers were one of the prettiest sights we saw. They had literally taken over the backwaters to the point where the fishermen had trouble navigating through them. They were beautiful and, for me, unusual. I had never seen more than one or two at a time.
My husband, Joe, gets up very early, usually between 5:30 and 6:00. One morning he had a visitor just a short distance from our cabin. The small rabbit came by every morning we were there, eating some rye grass sown beside the gate. The rabbits disappeared for a period of time beginning in the late '90s. After seeing them in abundance for years, there was a period where we saw none. Just the last two years, we've begun to see them again. At first, we thought the red-tailed hawks were killing them, but the hawks are still around and the rabbits are becoming plentiful again. I got up early one morning to see our visitor. They are such peaceful creatures and seem to represent everything gentle and soft.
Walks in the Woods
I took a walk twice a day while we were there. There are always flowers, trees, wonderful things to see. The sky itself is an adventure. Every afternoon, it looked like rain was inevitable, but it didn't rain the whole time we were there. Because our cabin is beside the deer camp, the woods are full of four-wheeler trails. One of my favorites leads to Lapile Creek. I avoid the creek in the summer because of the snakes. However, I walked as close as I felt comfortable every day. I saw a tree covered with trumpet flowers. Their orange color stands out gloriously against the green of the trees. I saw a mallow rose. They are stunning flowers and the area by the creek is covered with them. However, I left them to the snakes on this trip.
Thinking of Those Long Gone
Oftentimes, when I take walks in the woods, I think of this poem. It has always been a favorite of mine. There are so many people who have left my life. I remember when my father-in-law was living with us and learned of the death of a close family member, as he walked to his room, he said to his dachshund, "Greta, pretty soon we'll be the only ones left." I truly hope I'm never in that situation. This poem, written in 1932 by Mary Elizabeth Frye, has always been a comfort to me and helped me connect to those who left me behind. It is especially meaningful when I'm outdoors close to the trees, the open sky, and the sun.
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep,
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glints on snow
I am the sunlight on ripened grain
I am the gentle Autumn rain
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight
I am the soft stars that shine at night
Do not stand at my grave and cry
I am not there, I did not die
Although I have lived in New Orleans for 40 years, some part of me still belongs in Arkansas. I miss the cool nights. I miss the almost childlike friendliness of the people. I miss the aqua color of the bauxite pits that are abandoned after the bauxite mining is done. They fill with rainwater and turn a sparkling bluish-green color. I miss the cold winters, the occasional snow, the definite feeling that you've had winter, which we don't often have here in New Orleans. More than anything, I miss the family and friends who lived here and who have long since died. When I go to the cabin in Arkansas, they are with me more than any other place.
Send Me a Sign
One of the things I often do in my life is ask for signs from that watching presence that I know is always with me. When we left on one of our rides, I told Joe:" "I wish we would see something totally unusual and amazing." As we rode through the gravel roads in the wildlife reserve, suddenly Joe pulled to the shoulder. There on the side of the road were three little skunks. One was like a negative of the other two. Where they were black, it was white; where they were white, it was black. As we drove up, the mother ran away. The baby skunks had no idea what they should do without their mother and began running around in a circle, making a squealing noise. I was able to shoot several photos before their mother returned. I'm sure she thought the little guys followed her when she left. She walked over toward the car and Joe said: "Oh, no," thinking she was going to spray, but she seemed to decide we weren't worth bothering with and walked away with the three little skunks following her.
Was it a sign? Maybe it was, maybe not. I took it that way. It was a perfect end to a trip full of the wonder of nature and of renewal.