The old woman in charge receives a call on the infernal cell phone she needs but curses daily from the only person in town worthy of her friendship. “Someone told me your mule is out of her pen.”
A concerned resident whose property backs up to the boundary of the farm’s north hayfield has seen the wayward beast grazing in his backyard. “We thought she’d want to know where it is.”
The upsetting news comes late on this August day, but if she follows the well-worn tractor path, perhaps she will find her beloved companion in time. “It’s dangerous for her to be out there after dark.”
Leaving her spirited dog at home, she sets out alone, locking the gates behind her when she arrives just as the sun punches holes through the line of trees. “You’ll follow me back to your pasture if you see my car.”
Past the farmhouse, the utility shed, and the cow barn, she steers through limbs heavy with green leaves reaching out and down, gently swaying as if to woo her. “A good car is just what I need to help find my lost girl.”
She drives along the perimeter of the large rolling hayfield but sees only a small gathering of whitetail deer grazing obliviously near the protection of the pine forest. “Have you headed into the woods looking for water?”
She notices a small clearing at the field’s northeast corner, a red-clay trail sloping down into darkness and just wide enough for her vehicle to clear the towering trunks. “Poachers with their four-wheelers trespassing again.”
Gripping the wheel tightly, she creeps and descends deeper now as dusk races toward her, distorting her sense of distance and filling her with an inconceivable revelation. “Is it really possible that I have made a mistake here?”
She is startled when the front of her car drops suddenly and jolts her so violently that her glasses fall to the floor, filling her field of vision with hazy, undistinguishable shapes. “I should just go in reverse and back to where I started.”
She leans forward, and her fingers crawl over the floorboard until she finds the glasses, slightly bent now at an odd angle and no longer fitting properly over her cloudy eyes. “Can you see the lights, girl? It’s time to go back home.”
The car won’t budge because the front wheels are buried to the axle in a large trench caused by heavy rains, and vulnerability wraps around her like a large blanket. “I can call my man to bring his tractor and pull me out.”
The reality of her predicament rushes in when she sees that her phone shows no cell signal at all out here so far from the highway, and she is alone in the darkness. “The horn will only attract strangers, if they even hear it.”
She turns off the car’s engine, fully reclining her seat and closing her eyes to settle in for the night with one final thought occupying her mind as the headlights cut off. “I have nothing to fear because, after all, this is my place.”
She falls into fitful sleep infested with startling dreams and unfamiliar noises of nocturnal creatures that wander like restless spirits around her stranded chariot. “I hope you found a safe place to rest tonight, sweet girl.”
An orange ball of fire on the horizon shoots soft beams between the conifers and the dense morning fog, piercing the windshield to bathe her face in warm light. “If I start walking due east, I should find my way out.”
Grabbing her cane, she carefully exits the useless car, then follows the sun and struggles up the hill until she hears traffic and finally reaches the busy highway. “I need to rest a bit and then decide what to do next.”
The salesman smoking outside at the used car lot across the highway can’t quite believe his eyes as he sees what looks like a mythical creature emerging from the trees. “Who is that and where in hell did she come from?”
The Ozarks is one of those regions of the country that is diverse and interesting enough to be a tourism gold mine. From the bright lights and music of Branson, Missouri, to the gentle flowing current of the Buffalo River in Arkansas, there is something for just about everyone. Although there are no large cities in the Ozarks, there are towns with a few city amenities, like the restaurants, shopping, museums, and entertainment spots available in Springfield, Missouri and Fayetteville and Bentonville, Arkansas. On the other hand, Ozarks visitors can head off grid and commune with nature at any number of conservation areas, state parks, national parks and forests, national rivers, and wilderness regions.
Between those opposite ends of the destination scale, there are a few spots that offer a nice blend of the outdoors with the comforts of the built environment. One of those is the Lodge at Mount Magazine State Park near Paris, Arkansas. Located just below the crest of the highest peak in the state (2,753 feet), the lodge is situated on Mount Magazine’s south bluff overlooking the expansive Petit Jean River Valley and Blue Mountain Lake. Because this ridge is so high above the valley floor, the park includes a launch area for hang gliders within walking distance of the lodge. Other activities to enjoy include mountain biking, horseback riding, backpacking, and ATV riding. The park visitor’s center is within walking distance of the lodge on one of several nearby easily accessible nature trails.
The term “lodge” may be a bit misleading to potential vacationers to the site. Other than the rural setting, the exposed pine log beams, the nature-themed art, and the natural rock accents, the lodge has many of the comforts of a resort. The rooms are well appointed, many of which have a whirlpool spa. The indoor pool is spacious, and there is a fitness center and a game room too. There are multiple seating areas with large glass panels looking out over the valley. The dining room and bar are a real cut above what most guests would associate with a state park. Accommodations range from individual rooms and suites in the main lodge to cabins of various sizes flanking the building on either side, all overlooking the valley. Each cabin has a fully equipped kitchen, fireplace, and covered deck with an outdoor hot tub. The lodge also houses a conference center.
What attracted me most about the lodge and prompted me to book a room for my wife and me in the fall of 2022 was the view. It is magnificent. We spent many hours on the balcony of our lodge room looking out at that incredible vista. The pleasant surprise was how nice the whole facility was. The service was great. The food was quite delicious and plentiful considering the price and the somewhat rustic setting, with buffets offered for most meals, although ordering from a small menu was an option. The park is in a remote part of the Ozark-St. Francis National Forests, but there are small towns only thirty minutes away. It’s a great place for the family that enjoys nature but doesn’t want to sleep in a tent or camper, although the park has plenty of campsites. The lodge and cabins are also perfect for a romantic getaway, and we are always ready for that kind of excursion.
During our vacation in 2022 to San Diego, my wife and I spent a morning strolling around Balboa Park. Named for the Spanish-born explorer and perhaps the first European to witness the Pacific Ocean, this 1,200-acre site has a long, rich history going back to 1868 when San Diego’s leaders set aside the scrappy undeveloped area for public use. It didn’t really begin to take shape as a recognizable park until 1892 when a schoolteacher turned botanist and entrepreneur named Kate Sessions leased 32 acres of the property for her growing nursery’s propagation. She also agreed to plant trees annually in the park and in other public spaces around the city. The species included cypress, pine, oak, and eucalyptus. Some of the oldest specimens in the park today were part of the original plantings. She also introduced exotic plant species such as bird of paradise, Queen palm, and poinsettia. Her efforts eventually earned Sessions the honorary title “The Mother of Balboa Park.”
By the early 20th century, the City of San Diego had installed water systems, roads, and other infrastructural elements to Balboa Park. The origin of the elaborate Spanish Colonial architecture dates to 1915 when the park was selected as the site for the Panama-California Exposition. The Cabrillo Bridge and the buildings along El Prado date to this event, along with the Spreckels Organ Pavilion. More buildings were added for the California Pacific International Exposition of 1935-36, especially in the Southern Palisades area. These structures have a much more Southwestern look in the tradition of Pueblo Indian architecture and even Mayan designs.
After World War II, several of the main buildings were converted to museums and other cultural institutions. Today, visitors to the park can enjoy the San Diego History Center, San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego Natural History Museum, Fleet Science Center, Institute of Contemporary Art, Museum of Photographic Arts, Women’s Museum of California, Veterans Museum, WorldBeat Center, Museum of Us, San Diego Air and Space Museum, San Diego Mineral and Gem Society, San Diego Automotive Museum, San Diego Model Railroad Museum, Mingei International Museum, the Marston House (early 20th-century Arts & Crafts design), Comic-Con Museum, and Timken Museum of Art.
There are fountains and gardens throughout the park, along with the Japanese Friendship Garden (subject of an earlier post). There are restaurants and coffee shops. There are statues (especially in Sefton Plaza), the impressive California Tower, the Spanish Village Art Center, a beautiful carousel, and a miniature train. The park’s visitors center is the best place to start exploring the site. If we return to San Diego, I plan to devote more time to wandering through some of these museums. The Botanical Building and Lily Pond were undergoing major renovation work when we were there, so I definitely want to see those if we go back to Balboa Park, and I hope we do.
In 1909, famed American architect Frank Lloyd Wright began constructing a house on the brow of a hill near Spring Green, Wisconsin. He had grown up in the hills of the state and was inspired by the landscape. His mother was of Welsh descent, and he named the 800-acre estate Taliesin, which is a personal name rooted in Welsh mythology that translates to radiant or shining brow. This was not Wright’s first home, nor would it be his last. He had completed a small two-story residence in Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago, in 1889. Fire almost completely destroyed Taliesin in 1914 and again in 1925, but Wright rebuilt both times.
In the early 1930s, Wright and his third wife, Olgivanna, established an architectural apprentice program at his Wisconsin home called the Taliesin Fellowship, which provided students with an immersive experience that integrated design and construction with growing and preparing food and the study of the arts. The term the Wrights used was “organic architecture.” Wright would continue to make changes and additions to Taliesin over the years after the fires, including converting a chicken coop into a dormitory for his architectural apprentices!
Wright and his students needed seasonal respite from the harsh winters of Wisconsin and found one in 1934 when he rented space for the Fellowship in sunny Arizona. The change in climate was so welcoming that Wright decided to create a winter location for his school. He purchased property in the rugged Sonoran Desert at the base of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale, northeast of Phoenix, where he and his apprentices would construct Taliesin West. This winter camp would become a study in how to blend architecture into a stark landscape incorporating water, shade, foliage, and indigenous materials to create a desert oasis. Wright’s architectural school used both Taliesin locations depending upon the season, even after the master’s death in 1959 in Phoenix at the age of 91. Although the Wisconsin program at Taliesin East finally closed in 2020, the tradition continues to this day with the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture in two locations in Arizona. Both Taliesin East and West are now historical sites open to the public, with guided or self-guided tours available.
During the week following Christmas in 2022, my wife and I returned to the Phoenix area for a vacation. It is one of our favorite destinations in the country and where we hope to spend considerable time during retirement. On this trip we visited Taliesin West, which was my first time seeing the site. We took a self-guided tour, using a mobile phone app with earplugs to listen to a virtual guide describe the structures and surrounding grounds as we walked through a series of numbered stations over the course of about an hour. The whole setup was quite slick – impressive and informative. Along with other visitors taking the same tour, we were able to stroll through the various rooms and outdoor spaces. It is understandable why Andrew Pielage decided to call his photographic exhibition of Wright’s work “Sacred Spaces,” showcasing how the architect skillfully designed structures that seem almost sanctified.
Several design elements of Taliesin West stand out in my mind. A common theme throughout is the use of sharp angles for roof lines, steps, walkways, and water features. This collection of points is reminiscent of the McDowell Mountain peaks visible to the east of the property. The stone and plaster walls, interior and exterior, imitate the rocky outcroppings around Scottsdale and throughout the Phoenix valley. Red, orange, brown, and blue are dominant colors for painted surfaces and fabric, reflecting the palette of the Sonoran Desert floor and the skies above that remain clear most of the time. Although rare in the desert, water is present in the form of rivers, such as the Salt, Gila, and the Agua Fria in Phoenix. Also, the Sonoran Desert gets more rainfall than any other desert in North America. Wright and his apprentices included several modest water features at Taliesin West. Some people have speculated that Wright may have become paranoid after suffering through multiple devastating fires and wanted water nearby as a safeguard. In any case, the presence of water created a literal oasis at Taliesin West.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation that owns and operates Taliesin West does a fine job of managing the site as a historically-preserved house museum. The rooms are presented in a fashion that makes them look as if Wright and his students have left for the summer but will return next winter. Spaces are appointed with original (or at least period) art pieces, artifacts, furniture, and furnishings. The story the curators are telling is as much about Wright’s apprentices and their accomplishments as it is about the master architect himself. There are various places where people could gather together, including a small theatre. There are at least three pianos in the buildings, implying how important music was to the general atmosphere the Wrights were producing. Toward the end of his life, Frank Lloyd Wright was hosting cocktail parties with Olgivanna at Taliesin West for select groups of people in the greater Phoenix area. What fascinating conversations must have occurred at such gatherings, no doubt dominated by the celebrity architect who had grown so fond of his sacred space in Arizona.
Japanese gardens are different from other gardens. They are characterized by simplicity and minimalism, designed to encourage reflection and meditation. They raise landscape architecture to a fine art form, creating harmony of several key elements in a natural setting: stone (from gigantic boulders to pea-size river rock), sculpture, plants, shrubs, trees, paths, and perhaps most important, water. Running water, cascading falls, and shaded pools with large koi fish are almost always included. On the botanical side, there are usually plenty of evergreens, but typically in a wide variety of shades and textures depending upon the garden’s geographic location. Although there are several different types of Japanese gardens based on terrain and purpose, most are composed of the above-mentioned features.
My wife and I have visited many different public and private gardens over the years, from coast to coast in America and a few in Europe too. We happen to have a Japanese garden where we live in Springfield, Missouri. We enjoyed a stroll through the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix, Arizona several years ago. In August 2022, we were on a vacation in San Diego, so of course, we specifically sought out the Japanese Friendship Garden there, which is one of the most famous in the country.
Like other Japanese Friendship Garden cities, San Diego has a sister city, Yokohama, in Japan. The partnership was established in 1957 and was one of the first sister cities on the west coast. The Japanese Friendship Garden in San Diego opened in 1991 and has expanded over the years to a size of twelve acres. Among the garden’s many features are a cherry tree grove, a large section of azaleas and camelias, a water feature that mimics the San Diego watershed, and a beautiful koi pond. There is a bonsai exhibit and places for rotating exhibits of art. It really is one of the finest attractions we saw in San Diego.
I was a bag boy. That is to say, my first job was working as a bag boy when I was 17 years old. I started out for a brief few months working at a grocery store chain called Winn Dixie. My family shopped at this store’s competitor, Piggly Wiggly, which was much more prevalent in our town. One day when I was in the Piggly Wiggly where my folks shopped, the store manager stopped me and asked if I wanted a job. I accepted and ended up working there for the next five years. By the time I left, I had advanced to the position of front end manager, which meant I was responsible for supervising all the bag boys, running a cash register when necessary, and scheduling all the cashiers’ breaks. There were plenty of related duties as required, including making coffee and keeping a cup in the manager’s hand whenever he wanted one.
I couldn’t have known it at the time, but I learned so much about life and people during those five years. I witnessed blatant racism and discrimination against black employees. I saw my share of gender inequity too. I saw sexual harassment for the first time. Admittedly, as an older teen and a man in my early twenties, I got away with inappropriate behavior and language that would have earned me a reprimand 20 years later. I had not yet learned to respect people, especially women, as I should. My college education would eventually help me overcome my immaturity in this regard.
I had lived a sheltered life before starting this job. I was raised in a Southern Baptist home, had attended a Baptist private high school, and had very little contact with anyone who drank alcohol or smoked cigarettes, much less weed. Some of the people I worked with at the grocery store had lives drastically different from mine, and I saw glimpses of an unfamiliar world on many occasions. By the time I was 21 years old, I was working closely with women who were anywhere from 10 to 15 years older than I was. There were generous portions of flirtation and provocative language served all around, and more than my share of stupidity. I was a little more than infatuated a few times. And yet, I have no doubt that these women cared about me and had no intention of hurting me. To the contrary. They were incredibly patient with me. I hope they were never truly offended by my childish behavior.
Some of my fondest memories from those days involve the times the bag boys and I had to stay after hours to strip the wax from the floors throughout the store and rewax them. This was a laborious project that kept us working sometimes 5 or 6 hours after the store closed at 9:00 p.m. Most of these guys were slightly younger than I was, and we had developed a bond working so closely together week after week. Sure, we wasted more time than we should have, and we got distracted too often playing practical jokes on each other. Some of the pranks were over the top, and I would never confess them in writing – just hilarious. I had hints from time to time that some of these fellows had much tougher home lives than I could have imagined, and I probably wasn’t grateful enough for the safe environment I took for granted. I made more than spending cash at Piggly Wiggly. I got schooled. I learned to lead. I found new values. I made friends.
My wife and I try to get to the beach at least once a year. In the past, most of our coastal visits have been to the Atlantic side of Florida; however, we have occasionally made it to other surfside destinations in Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, Oregon, and California. For the summer of 2022, we decided to spend a few nights at Laguna Beach as part of a trip to San Diego and Joshua Tree National Park. We booked two nights at Surf and Sand Resort because it looked like a really nice place where we could get an oceanfront room with a balcony, something that has become an absolute must for us.
We have learned the hard way the difference between oceanfront and ocean “view” when it comes to beach accommodations. Ocean view only means that some fragment of sand and water will be in your field of vision when you are looking out from a window or balcony. If we want to sit outside our room and gaze at the beach, waves, and water (and we do), we book an oceanfront room. When Surf and Sand Resort promises you this type of room, they really come through in a big way. Our room was on the fourth floor, and it was so close to the ocean that when we were looking out the sliding-glass door from inside, we couldn’t even see the resort’s namesake: surf and sand. The view was more like looking out of the cabin of a cruise ship on the high seas!
On our first night, we ate dinner at the resort’s restaurant at a table located on a terrace within a few yards of the breakers. The sounds, smells, and feel of the breeze on our skin all combined to make dinner something more than just a meal. The next morning we walked a few blocks to a charming breakfast spot that served the regular fare, along with some specialty dishes and incredibly delicious fresh fruit. For lunch we dined outside at a nearby Mexican restaurant that specialized in providing way more food than we could eat, but it was fantastic. Later that day we took a walk on the beach, which is bordered north and south by massive rocky ledges that jet out into the ocean, both of which were visible from our balcony. That evening we walked again a few blocks to a dinner spot that was on a deck right at the beach, offering stunning views of the sun sinking toward the flat line of the horizon.
Yes, we did spend a lot of time eating, but we also relished hours relaxing with books and magazines on our balcony. We took naps in the room. We sat for long stretches on the balcony just watching the magnificent Pacific Ocean and the various ships, boats, jet skis, and surfers that crossed our field of vision. The room was comfortable even though it was not equipped with air conditioning. We really didn’t need it. We kept our sliding glass door open the entire time we were there, day and night, listening to the crashing surf. I never saw an insect – not one. That would never happen on the Atlantic coast. Laguna Beach is truly a gem and worth the splurge. I hope we can go back sometime.
There is a bizarre and surreal place at the intersection of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts in Southern California that was several million years in the making. It was worth the wait. With massive rock formations rising up from the flat desert floor, Joshua Tree National Park is like a geological museum that is slightly larger than Rhode Island. It is hard to imagine that these stone towers, created from magma rising from deep below the surface and eventually hardening as it cooled, are what is left behind from millions of years of soil erosion. Boulders the size of boxcars are miraculously balanced on top of each other, like rock piles left behind by the children of gods.
There are also large masses of rounded granite that have been altered and even sculpted by rain, wind, ice, chemical reactions, plant roots, and other forces to form fantastic shapes and configurations. Set against the backdrop of nearby mountain ranges and surrounded by the desert floor, these structures are truly impressive. Throw in a developing thunderstorm billowing above (yes, it does rain in the desert) and you have all the makings of a classic Thomas Cole masterpiece.
Then there is the namesake of the park, the Joshua Tree, which would fit perfectly into the backdrop of almost any picture book by Dr. Seuss or on the cover of a paperback book about planets on the other side of the galaxy. Belonging to the same family of Agave plants native to tropical South America, Joshua Trees are a type of Yucca, which we often associate with the short, dark green spiky plants of the tropics and deserts. Joshua Trees have an almost whimsical character, proving yet again that nature has a sense of humor. The plant takes on many different shapes and sizes, as if taking its cue from the rocks around it. Joshua Trees have a rather limited range within the deserts of California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona.
There are several places in this wonderful park where visitors can get breathtaking panoramic views of mountain ranges and valleys that stretch out for miles. At just the right position and vantage point, the scene is reminiscent of something out of a science fiction movie. At the very least, these vistas could serve as inspiration for visual art depicting imaginary worlds. Joshua Tree National Park is one of those natural wonders of the United States that is somehow liminal, neither here nor there, but somewhere between.
The reversal of a Supreme Court decision from at least one full generation in the past demonstrates that the United States is determined to claw its way back to the Middle Ages. We can now expect to see an increase in birthrates in America, along with an increase in dead pregnant women – a small price to pay for lots more babies though. It’s similar to having very few restrictions on firearms, which results in the mass slaughter of children in classrooms, but then again, we are going to have more babies, so we’ll have children to spare.
We should be thrilled about this new wave of infants on the horizon. Who doesn’t love a baby, right? I mean, deadbeat dads really love their kids, but just not enough to help feed, clothe, shelter, and educate them. And then there are all those devoted meth-head parents whose brains are so completely fried that they leave their little crawlers alone in the kitchen to pick up a bottle of Drain-O for a quick swig – not on purpose of course, so that doesn’t count. I guess it’s also unfair to lump all rapists in the category of men who don’t love the bambinos they end up siring. But none of the women in these situations would have considered getting an abortion anyway, so it’s all irrelevant. Besides, the good congressman from Missouri helped us all understand that if a woman is raped, she has the miraculous ability to “shut that whole thing down.”
Certainly all 11-year-old girls have matured enough to understand parental love. They’re ready; it’s built into their DNA, for heaven’s sake. And they can help the 12-year-old fathers along if they need some pointers, because those boys will no doubt be eager to learn and happy to give up little league and video games. Even better if the man who got her pregnant is actually her father. He clearly already knows how to love and take care of children. Everybody wins!
Thank goodness the only females who indeed get pregnant and have babies are the ones who come from fine, upstanding families who can provide the support and guidance young mothers need. Think how awful it would be if all those people on government assistance were the ones giving birth instead of the sweet white girls who live in gated communities and are married to young urban professionals quickly climbing the corporate ladder to success. Poor people have plenty of access to free birth control, so no worries about an unwanted pregnancy or welfare babies bleeding the taxpayers.
Now, I suppose it would be irresponsible to close this discussion without addressing a potentially troublesome and even tragic dilemma that can arise during pregnancy. Occasionally, for reasons beyond our limited understanding, the amazing transformation of a fertilized egg to a precious baby somehow gets interrupted, sometimes resulting in catastrophic failure. In these situations, the fetus can die in the womb or shortly after birth. In rare cases, the mother’s own life may be at risk while she carries the poor little one to term. But here in the greatest country on Earth, we put our trust in God first and medicine second. We know that God’s plan is the best plan, even if the mother’s life is sacrificed in an effort for us all to enjoy more babies, because that’s exactly what we need. Amen?
In late 2018, my wife and I moved from Georgia to Springfield, a town of about 170,000 people in southwest Missouri. It’s a great location for us because we have family and close friends in Georgia, Kansas, Texas, and Arizona. We really enjoy traveling, especially to the desert southwest, but we like the Florida beaches and places like New York City, Chicago, and Nashville. Living in Springfield strategically positions us near the center of the country and makes it easier to get to family, friends, and fun destinations. The icing on the cake is the small national airport that is a mere twenty minutes from our house, which is serviced by three major airlines and a few budget carriers.
Southern Missouri and northern Arkansas make up the bulk of the region known as the Ozarks. It as an area of the country defined by a variety of factors, from geology and topography to culture and customs. It is also quite beautiful. It is rich in natural resources, especially water, minerals, and forests. It is a complicated region in almost every category imaginable. Although it boasts no major cities, it does have some bustling urban centers. There are some wealthy people in the Ozarks, but there are far more families living in serious poverty. On the political spectrum, it is largely conservative with pockets of progressivism mostly in and around the cities.
Admittedly, I knew very little about the Ozarks. I had never set foot in Missouri and only visited once just a few months before we moved here. To get “learned up” about our new home, I did what I always do when encountering something new and unfamiliar. I started reading. The following is an annotated list of books I have read about the Ozarks over the last three years or so. My bibliography is in no way intended to be comprehensive or even representative; however, these books have given me greater insight into the history, culture, and people of the Ozarks. All of these titles are nonfiction, but I have also read fiction by Ozarks writers or stories set in the region. Perhaps sometime I will write a post reviewing those books as well.
A History of the Ozarks, Volume 3: The Ozarkers by Brooks Blevins Brooks Blevins is the uncontested authority on the history of the Ozarks. He is a professor at Missouri State University in Springfield, where I am also employed. But his full-time residence is in northern Arkansas, so he has his feet planted in the two main states of the Ozarks. He is a fine writer, a serious scholar, a respected teacher, and an all-round nice fellow. I have only read this 3rd volume of his trilogy, but I intend to at least go back and read the 1st volume covering the early history of the region.
Blevins is at his best when he is dispelling many of the misconceptions and over-generalizations of the Ozarks as a place full of backwoods hillbillies with no connection to the modern world. He also does a great job of pointing out the most attractive features of the region without romanticizing or falling into the trap of exceptionalism, which is always tempting to do if you are so identified with a place, which I believe he is.
The chapters on “Ozarks Society” and “Putting on a Show,” along with his “Conclusion,” were the most interesting to me because they highlight how much the Ozarks have changed over the last 150 years and are continuing to evolve. I’m not sure I agree with Blevins that the specific location of the Ozarks, a topic of serious debate for generations, is best defined by where the Ozarkers live; however, there seems to be a strong sense of place appreciated by so many people who live here, quite similar to sentiments held by many people in the Deep South about their region. This is a solid historical overview of a complex and fascinating part of the country in the modern period.
Living Waters: The Springs of Missouri by Loring Bullard This book is well documented and researched. The photographs of the springs and streams they feed are stunningly beautiful. The layout of the book makes it easy and enjoyable to read. However, aside from the technical aspects of the book, Bullard clearly has a passion for his subject that is both personal and professional, which is demonstrated in the text of every page.
The organization of the book is especially fine, with chapters focusing on features and functions of springs rather than on individual locations. Bullard incorporates a considerable amount of history to offer context and appreciation of how past generations have understood and valued springs in the state and have taken advantage of them as valuable natural resources. Of course, the environmental message throughout is of paramount importance — we must take good care of our state’s springs because of the vital role they play in providing clean water for the ecosystems they feed.
White Man’s Heaven: The Lynching and Expulsion of Blacks in the Southern Ozarks, 1894-1909 by Kimberly Harper Harper presents a thoroughly researched and well documented scholarly study that helps explain why the southwestern Ozarks is such a white region of the country. Lynching occurred in many places across the South, and obviously, into the Midwest. Many white people who had lived during the time of slavery, whether they actually owned slaves or not, resented the new autonomy of black people in their communities during Restoration. Over the decades, resentment evolved into a fear. “While blacks may not have been true economic, social, or even political competitors in the region, whites viewed blacks as a threat to their wives, daughters, and police officers.” Obviously, much of the fear centered on the perceived sexual predation of black men. “It was believed that women were not safe in the country or the city, so long as African American men roamed free.”
However, Harper goes beyond the acts of horrible white mob violence to explore why African Americans were driven out of communities, often at the same time lynching took place. Similar action was taken in other parts of the country — Forsyth County in north central Georgia comes to mind. Other areas of north Georgia, especially in the Appalachian foothills, still have small black populations to this day.
In the Ozarks and in the north Georgia mountains, the economy in the early 20th century was primarily subsistence farming, which did not require much labor outside the extended family of the farmer. As Harper observes, “This was in contrast to the black-majority regions of the South, where inexpensive and readily available black labor composed a significant segment of the local economy, making African Americans indispensable to local white employers.” One could easily make the same argument in recent decades for why white farmers have not been so anxious to deport undocumented Latinos from regions of the South where industrial agriculture is dominant and depends on vast numbers of inexpensive laborers.
This is a fine addition to American history and African American studies. Harper’s book joins more recent work on lynching by prominent African American scholars. Highly recommended.
Hipbillies: Deep Revolution in the Arkansas Ozarks by Jared M. Phillips I had the opportunity to hear the author speak on a panel with two people who were involved in the Back To Land movement in the Arkansas Ozarks at a conference in West Plains, Missouri, in September, 2019. The people who decided beginning back in the 1970s to trade in urban dwelling for a rural, subsistence lifestyle among the hills and “hollers” of the Ozarks are often referred to as Hipbillies — a hybrid of hippies and hillbillies.
Phillips does a good job of placing this movement in the context of 20th century back-to-the-land and counter-culture philosophy characterized by the works of people like Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder. He gives proper credit to the successes of the Hipbillies while also recognizing their failures and some of their less-than-pure intentions. He credits them for fighting for environmental health, sustainable agricultural practices, and social justice issues. One of their greatest accomplishments was succeeding in modest changes to how the US Forest Service approached the management of timber.
Phillips admires how the Hipbillies, especially the pioneers from the early 1970s, faced overwhelming odds and even life-threatening circumstances yet still persevered to make it as homesteaders in a part of the country where the land is not so forgiving. He dispels some of the myths about how native Ozarkers rejected the Hipbillies. Instead, they often embraced them and even saved their lives during harsh winters and unpredictable farming seasons. There were clashes in places like Eureka Springs, but that was more a conflict between counter-culturists and town leadership.
The Hipbillies had big dreams when they landed in the Ozarks. “What was sought, then, was a rehabilitation of American culture — one that began in the dirt and grew over time like the forest that slowly reclaims and heals a ruined field,” Phillips writes. He contends that the Hipbillies took themselves seriously as revolutionaries. They “came to the Ozarks seeking refuge and a place in which they might build a new world for themselves, and hopefully, all of humanity . . . . While they did not always succeed, the story is not over — they are still alive and are still powerful cultural, political, and economic forces in the Arkansas highlands.”
Hillbilly Hellraisers: Federal Power and Populist Defiance in the Ozarks by J. Blake Perkins The myths and stereotypes about the Ozarks are deeply ingrained in our consciousness, but they never have painted a true picture of the people and their culture, desires, needs, problems, etc. Perkins’s book reinforces one essential truth about Ozarks people: they tend be proud and fiercely independent, even in the face of long-term adversity.
There is a strong tradition of tension between individual rural families and individuals and/or institutions in authority. Poverty has always been a dark shadow hanging over the Ozarks, even when other parts of the country were climbing out of it. Although many people here petitioned for government assistance in the past, there is a history in this region of distrust of government programs, which ended up being administered and exploited by local and state officials. Law enforcement was fine as long as it didn’t try to stop individuals from scraping out a living, even through illegal means. More than anything, native Ozarkers have always just wanted to be left alone. When their autonomy was threatened, especially by outside forces, they sometime became violent.
Ozarks Hillbilly by Tom Koob and Curtis Copeland Koob and Copeland do a good job here of presenting the stereotypes of the Hillbilly as the term has been used in literature and other art forms to describe many of the rural folk in the Ozarks. The authors argue that, contrary to the traditional image of a lazy, shiftless, ignorant, depraved character, the Ozarks Hillbilly is quite industrious, shrewd, and highly skilled. Hillbillies are survivalists and generations of them have struggled to provide for themselves and their families in a harsh and unforgiving environment.
I found it odd in a book about the Ozarks how much time the authors spent on discussing Appalachian Hillbillies. They seem to have keen interest in the way Hillbillies were presented in Deliverance, the novel by James Dickey and the popular film adaptation starring Burt Reynolds and Ned Beatty. There are definitely similarities between the two regions of the country, which have been explored by numerous scholars. The stereotypes of the rural residents of both areas also share commonalities. Perhaps a comparison/contrast book would have been even more helpful and intriguing.
Where Misfits Fit: Counterculture and Influence in the Ozarks by Thomas Michael Kersen For Kersen, the town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, serves as an archetype for his thesis of how counterculture distinguishes the Ozarks and is among its more charming and sustaining features. As he states it, “The magic of Eureka Springs is that the town is a mass of contradictions and microconflicts that breed [sic] creativity.” No wonder that the book’s title is also the semi-official motto of the town: Where Misfits Fit.
Kersen does a good job of weaving the eccentricities of the people who occupy the Ozarks into the history of the region. He first offers his identification of the region, defining it by geography and culture. He then proceeds to outline its countercultural characteristics through popular myths, artistic expression, supernatural fixations, cult activity, musical influence and inspiration, and the back-to-the-land movements primarily of the 1970s (the author’s parents brought him to the Ozarks from Texas as part of this larger movement).
A thread running throughout the book is Kersen’s use of the adjective “liminal” to describe the Ozarks – a place that is difficult to box in and that continually crosses lines. He writes that “the Ozarks defies boundaries of all sorts — it is a work in progress.” Here again, the contradictions of the area come into play. For instance UFO enthusiasts that have been drawn here for decades rely on scientific knowledge about astronomy and space exploration but scorn scientists who fail to validate their paranormal claims. Kersen recognizes that “eccentric places attract eccentric people — people willing to live and think in the margins.” He also believes the Ozarks “offers something unique for its inhabitants and even American culture at large.”
I found some of the most valuable information in the Conclusions chapter, especially about the impact of in-migration into the Ozarks from countries around the world. The author wonders how Ozark identity will change as the racial and ethnic profile of the region continues to change. The book has extensive end notes, an impressive bibliography for further reading and study, and a decent index. Just a few points of criticism: the book could have benefited from skillful editing. There are too many typo kind of errors for an academic press book. Also, I suspect this book is a collection of separately-written essays because there is considerable repetition of information in the chapters. Otherwise, it is a fine book that is both accessible and informative.
Lake of the Ozarks: My Surreal Summers in a Vanishing America by Bill Geist I was drawn to this book primarily because I visited the Lake of the Ozarks just a few months after settling here. I didn’t know anything about Bill Geist as I never watch Sunday Morning on CBS. I may have read his columns before but am not aware if I have. I can relate to many of the references Geist makes to growing up in the 1960s and 70s, although he is a bit older than I am. Some readers will no doubt be put off by the political incorrectness of the author’s perspectives, language, and the circumstances from his adolescence, but I suspect he is being perfectly honest and straightforward with his recollections and descriptions of his life and times working for his uncle and aunt at their lakeside lodge. There are some really laugh-out-loud passages in this book, which made it an enjoyable read.
Footprints in the Ozarks: A Memoir by Ellen Gray Massey This is a pleasant read. It isn’t challenging; the text is straightforward; it doesn’t reveal anything new about the Ozarks region; it gets a bit sentimental in places; and it is so bucolic that the reader can almost smell the cow manure on the farm where Massey lived and raised her family. She also worked as a high school English teacher, and apparently quite a good one. She supervised her students over a ten-year period as they produced a quarterly journal titled Bittersweet. The value of this book lies in Massey’s descriptions of the social mores of her community, the relationships of family and friends, the tragedies her family faced (including the death of her husband), and how life in the rural Ozarks was fulfilling and rewarding to her, as it has been for so many others for many generations.