The region encompassing NE Oklahoma, SE Kansas, SW Missouri, and NW Arkansas is known to locals as The Four-State Area. Except that the North-South boundary slipped almost 40 miles like a rift in the tectonic plate, it would be another Four Corners like NV, CO, AZ, and NM.
Northwest Arkansas has been a wonderful surprise. I was expecting it to be the space that filled half the map between Joplin, MO, and New Orleans (NOLA). On my map the space is pale green, and the only text is, “here be varmints and chiggers.” I had no plans to do any canoeing, but were I to, I’d be alert for banjo strumming.
Turns out the sister of one of my best friends lives along the route, in Bella Vista, AR. Here I got my first taste of the warm and generous hospitality that has since proved to be the rule in this corner of AR. I parked in sis’s driveway and was taken to dinner at their local yacht club, which is as classy as any in the Bay Area, although half the yachts I saw would fit in your driveway and the other would fit in your trunk when deflated. The following day sis provided a gourmet breakfast and, later, sis’s boy friend barbequed smoked ribs for a great dinner. During the ‘tween hours, there were the visits to the tourist spots and neighborhood drives. If there were any dives, I did not get to see them. Bella Vista is a pleasant, church-going, community of upscale retirees who watch Fox News.
I had one long-scheduled coffee date in Fayetteville, AR. The town is home of the University of Arkansas (UARK) and the Razorbacks, whose mascot red hog image is emblazoned on everything, whether in motion or still. I was given a driveway to park in, dinner, a tour, breakfast, a sack of the organic muffins baked that morning to take with, and some anecdotes about Lynn Fried, a regular at the Squaw Valley Writers’ Conference.
During the weeks I was making my final gliding approach to NW AR, people mentioned Eureka Springs, a town I’d never heard of. So, although the prelude to winter was nipping at me like a teething puppy, I turned east along latitude 36. The view from the road up and down the lumpy shoulders of Ozark forests was the stuff of postcards.
While foraging for a hitching post for the Jolly Swag, I passed the local Occupy Protest–five people waving placards at the intersection of Route 62 and Wall Street. I’ve been following the Occupy Protest in the news for two months, troubled that the media has covered only the billy clubs and pepper spray and little of the substance of the protest or the protesters. Although I was certain that ER’s handful would not be representative of the national uprising, I thought it would be an opportunity to meet some people on their turf and terms.
This group was not there for only the standard marchers’ testosterone release, and they were happy to talk with a prospective recruit. I identified myself as someone passing through the area and was immediately offered a bunk and supper. I declined but came away with some phone numbers and email addies. Later that evening I had an email invite to be shown around ES. Hospitality like that would be cause for red-alert suspicions in any city in this country. But I sensed that this was just the natural inclination of folks who’d shed their urban armor.
More in the next post, but here is a teaser.