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Thursday
Aug022012

And now, for something completely different...

I've decided to take a break from Paris- believe it or not, the story continues and worsens- and take us all on a little vacation right here in the Ozarks. Earlier this year, C3, the pups, and I all loaded up the Shmoo and headed north to the Buffalo River. Arkansas is absolutely beautiful once you get away from the Arkansans, and fortunately, this is pretty easy to do. Coming from East Tennessee, where natural wonder is bought up and 'civilized' at a terrifying rate, I longed for the great open horizons out West. Once I got there, I couldn't help but notice that, again, the expanse was being quickly gobbled up, paved, and dotted with 'developments'. When I first arrived, the drive from Denver to Boulder traversed a no man's land; within ten years the corridor was home to two new planned communities sprawling across the distance. It's sort of depressing, really- there's few places to feel happily solitary left anymore.

Enter Arkansas, or rather, I discovered the Natural State. C3 was born and raised in the timberlands of the southwest, descended from generations of proud Ark- La- Texans. Note: there is no love lost between AR and Texas. My sweet, passive father in law has been known to throw out of his house any visitors who dared wear Longhorn gear. Fortunately, he's got no beef with TN, but I'm careful about what shade of orange I sport.
Anyhow, Arkansas is fabulous, and please don't tell anyone. Historically, the state has been a gateway to the Wild West, and due to its relative inaccessibility, a sense of frontier spirit remains. Some call it hillbilly, I call it home. Once you cross the Delta Plain in the east and head toward the mountains northwest, the land becomes dramatically less populated and increasingly untamed and beautiful. As C3 and I cherish isolation, the Ozarks and the Ouachitas are perfect for our impromptu getaways. Thus, the Buffalo River (I promise I'll get to the story now).
This particular adventure began in Jasper, a cute little town on the river. We rented a cabin for a couple of nights at the Cliff House Inn, and should you ever find yourself there, please eat a cheeseburger there for me. We enjoyed taking aimless driving trips through the national park and exploring Jasper, which has a hippy bent much like most mountain towns. It was there we encountered one of the strangest restaurant/ shops in all of our journeys. This joint specialized in local wild game and other exotic meats- elk, buffalo, quail, etc.- and quite the collection of texts and artworks puporting that Jesus Christ was an alien. I'm not kidding. But the crowning glory was the wild caught Razorback (mountain boar) burger. Proud Hog that he is, C3 had to try it. I swear to you, that thing was the worst thing I've ever put in my mouth. It was so virulently pungent we had to air out the van for a while, and in my worst dreams, I can still taste it. Shudder...
After a few days around town, we ventured off to one of many campgrounds on the river with a swimming hole- Ozark Camp. We arrived Thursday before Memorial Day, and we couldn't believe our luck- we found a secluded and shaded campsite near the river trail. The only other people within hollering distance were a family- mom, dad, kids and dogs- and they seemed content to keep to themselves.
Once we arrived, C3 and I unloaded our gear, and then, while he ran a few errands, I struck camp. I may be sort of a fancy pants, but by God, I can put up a tent right quick...usually. I hadn't encountered anything like this shelter, a four sided, screen walled canopy that looked oh so simple to erect. I staked down the base tarp and went to work. And I worked. And worked. The design was simple enough, like a big square umbrella, but after wrestling with the damn thing for an hour in 90 degree heat, I realized that I had a two person job on my hands. Thankfully, just as I was ready to throw my hands up in despair, Mom, youngest son, and Chihuahua from the next camp came to my rescue. The kid and dog were friendly, but Mom seemed very fearful and cautious of me. I don't think I helped my case when, after she helped me get the tent supports up, I hugged her and said, "Oh my God, I love you!!!". She practically ran back to her campsite, looking over her shoulder all the while. I'm very imposing, I suppose, all of 5'2", skinny, and bikini clad. Terrifying, surely.
As I finished camp and waited for C3 and the boys to come back, though, I started putting the pieces together- this crew had three sturdy teenage boys and a grown man with them, all of whom pointedly avoided looking my way as I wrestled with the tent from hell, leaving any help- thy- neighbor stuff to the woman and child. The kid had told me about their dogs, named Victory and Rebel, and once I noticed the Stars and Bars flying from their tent, it became clear - we had struck camp next to a family of white supremacists. Thankfully, they started packing up soon after, and I heard the patriarch encouraging the boys to hurry up and get loaded 'before more of THEM' showed up, with a nod in my direction. Wow, maybe I am threatening.
C3 returned then, and we had a glorious afternoon with the swimming hole and campground to ourselves. We had purchased some cheap sheets (peacock print, naturally) from the Dollar Store earlier, and after a swim, I set to making up the air mattress for the night. We built a fire, burned some hot dogs (any kind of tubular meat is necessary for camping, but hot dogs are the best by far), and turned in for the night.
The next morning, we woke up early and set out for forgotten provisions. I realized at some point on the journey that I was blue- literally. The dye from the cheap peacock sheets had rubbed off onto my skin, and I looked for all the world like a corpse. This would, and did, only happen to me- C3 and the boys were all normal colored; this little treat was mine alone. We picked up some plain white sheets while we were out, and once we returned to camp, I grabbed a bar of soap and ran to the river.
A note on bathing in nature- do it. I'm extremely neurotic when it comes to hygiene; I use six different cleansers on my face alone, and I refuse to wash with anything non- antibacterial. However, a bar of Ivory and river water makes me feel completely fresh and new, utterly purified. One of my many, many quirks, I guess.
Anyhow, by Friday afternoon the campground was filling up quickly, and eventually two women, one very young, one older, settled into the site next to ours. At some point the younger one came over and somehow managed to spill out the fact that she was with her aunt who was on the run from an abusive husband. Rule number one of being on the lam- don't tell randomn strangers you're on the lam. But okay, whatever. Do your thing, freak.
This chick kept coming back to our camp, though, trying to get us to give her a beer, some pot, some anything, and after us telling her to go away several times, the aunt got freaked out. They loaded up their stuff and were gone within the hour. Rule number two of being on the lam- don't bring your blabber mouth relative along.
With their departure, we had a very nice set up for the holiday weekend. Even though the campground was full, we had privacy all tucked up under the trees, our own little tent city. It was sublime. We took Woo Bear and Fozzie down to swimming hole, and we all played in the cool, clean water for hours at a time. Then we'd come back to camp, burn something for dinner, and collapse happily exhausted onto our non- blue leaching sheets.
Sadly, paradise is finite. Tuesday morning I woke up and took the puppies out, and as we walked around, I noticed that all the sites that held the holiday campers until the night before were empty- but for a reservation ticket on each of the site poles. It seemed a church group had staked claim to the campground for the next few days. We were disappointed lose our little haven, but by then we were ready to go on home. As we broke camp, the church group started to arrive- they were Mennonite. Now, I don't judge anyone's belief system, but I couldn't get over the women lugging gear in the blazing sun wearing ankle length dresses and bonnets. Honestly, why? Of course, I was running around in a bikini again- the best apparel for physical labor, I think- just sweating in sympathy for my Little House on the Prarie neighbors. If I had scandalized the white supremacists before, I stunned the Mennonites into silence. It was time to go...our neighbors were erecting a revival tent, and getting struck down by lightning seemed like a bad way to end a vacation. We'll be back, Ozark Camp...

Next installment: Atchafalaya- gators or cops?

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