The last pic deserves special mention. It’s blackberries, so full of blossoms the runners almost look like bridal sprays. Just imagine what they’ll be like when the berries are ripe. YUM. Blackberries are a special favorite of mine and I’ve only lived in one place where they grow wild (near Portland, Oregon). I had cascades of them along a fenceline near the house and I picked until my hands were stained so thoroughly nothing could get it off. I canned 40 quarts of blackberries that summer and used them all over the course of the winter. What a delight to see them here so profusely at Stage 1. May the bees get busy and bring all that goodness into fruition.
I put the tree closeup in the gallery because it’s sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), a true Southerner. It will grow elsewhere, to be sure — a friend in Oregon has a huge one on the edge of her yard and gets the stickery balls all over the patio, oops. But it’s native to the South and the leaves with their star shape are beautiful. In the forest it doesn’t matter if the stickery balls fall on the ground, that’s the order of things. It was a delight to see the tree again in a native setting. I can see why it’s used as an ornamental, the leaf shape and its growth habit are wonderful. Pity about those stickery balls …
The title mentions good and bad. We’ve just gone over the good, now comes the bad. First on the list is a thunderstorm that I recognized afterward had a “severe” warning from the National Weather Service which included mention of the possibility of “car damage from hail up to 1 inch in diameter, possibly up to 2.5 inches.” I’m glad I didn’t read the warning before the storm hit or I’d have needed one of my special tablets. I’ve never before seen so violent a storm come out of nowhere, lashing the treetops about like kernels in a corn popper and dropping curtains of rain. Thank goodness we had no hail. That would have required more than one tablet. So now I know what “severe thunderstorm” means in that part of the world. Once is enough, thanks very much. I’ll cherish the memory for a long time to come. 🙂
The other main thing was the astonishment I experienced as a result of observing people in the area and finding every single stereotype box on the list ticked off as purtty as you please. I’ve lived in two southern states and know my way around the stereotypes and how much they can be myth rather than fact. Hence the height my eyebrows reached as my observations matched up with one after another of the chestnuts told around the fire about the locals. I’ll offer my experience itself as baseline data.
At the motel where I stayed the couple next door (Arkansas plates and accents) — after 11PM, more’s the pity — had a knock-down, drag-out fight that could be heard not only in adjacent rooms but on the second floor, I’m quite sure. I learned some new cuss words in the course of it so my time wasn’t completely wasted, but that personal enrichment wasn’t high on the to-do list. The next morning as I got into the car a fellow guest from a few doors down asked me, “That was quite a brew-up last night, did you hear it?” I nodded in the affirmative. He continued, “That happens around here sometimes, I guess even more in crisis times.” I could tell by his accent that he was from Arkansas although the plates on his pickup were from Florida — the wife was the Floridian and he was a transplant. So apparently knock-down drag-out fights with people throwing each other against walls and screaming obscenities at the top of their lungs is Business As Usual in Arkansas. How quaint. Maybe Arkansas should consider adopting New Mexico’s motto: The Land of Enchantment.
Just south of the motel was a greengrocer that intrigued me when I found it on the map — only a mile down the road, cool! So I pulled up the link and saw there were reviews. I thought it wise to see what people said before making a trip so I read the first one. Oops …
Just moved here from out of state and came here for a few items needed for a recipe. I began asking an older woman who worked if they had cut corn in the back and she didn’t understand so I explained I was wanting corn off the cob. Within seconds a man walked over and began yelling at me to stop disrespecting his mother by talking down to her. I literally was just asking about cut corn because their sign said they had some in the back. I told him I was simply asking about corn and I would never talk to an older person like that and he continued to say I was. (I’m a respectful person and he came at me rude and belligerent for absolutely no reason) I put my stuff back and left. I planned on being a regular shopper as we eat lots of produce. They lost about $100 per week income from our family.
That review did two things: it put paid to the notion of my going to see what the shop had on offer and it put a Magic Marker-sized tick in yet another box on the stereotype list. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard the word “disrespect” used as a verb but it all comes back to me now. Dang. All y’all need to slow this sucker down, where’s the damn brake?
Coming into Hot Springs from the trip across the Scenic Byway through Oklahoma brought me to the site of two — count ’em, TWO — major accidents on Highway 270. One was a truck that had gone off the road and lay crumpled in a deep ditch — no other vehicles involved. The second accident involved more than one vehicle but there were so many police cars and EMS people running about I couldn’t tell what happened. After sitting on the road for twenty minutes waiting for traffic to start moving again, I just kept my eyes on the road as we finally went past the scene. Curiously enough, there were no crunched cars immediately obvious. They were the first accidents I had seen since leaving the Bitter North, after some 2,500 miles on the road. Why two of them within 20 miles of each other in Arkansas on a sunny, clear day? Could it be something in the water? Or maybe something in a … bottle?
My trip to the state park was on a two-lane highway with few turnouts. On the way down the experience I had with other drivers made me ask myself if I was being overly sensitive. One the way back the same thing happened and I gave myself the benefit of the doubt: they’re idiots, I was right the first time. In my neck of the woods they’d be called very aggressive drivers. But aggression really isn’t the issue — it’s self-absorption and a lack of consideration, which latter characteristic is so wholly unsouthern that one really can do nothing but assume that their mommas did not raise them right. Of a developed sense for risk assessment we need not even speak. They tailgate something fierce. At the first opportunity they jump into the other lane to pass, after which there usually goes past your side field of vision a beat up sedan or pickup with at least one hole in the muffler. It was all a bit too Dukes of Hazzard for my taste. Another stereotype box ticked, thanks so much, kids. You’re batting a thousand here.
So between the weather and the brawling and the tailgating, after three days I was ready to hightail it outta there and make any return something for the distant future. That said, the countryside is ravishing and I’d happily spend more time with it. The pics should make its many charms abundantly clear.
Oh and by the way, it’s also true what they say about people in Oklahoma and overalls. I saw some people wearing them when I went to the supermarket. So let’s tick that box, too, while we’re at it, shall we?
What I’d really love to have is the opinion of an Oklahoman and an Arkansan about which stereotype boxes I myself tick. Wouldn’t that be good for a juicy post LOL.
Thus end the exploratory stays of this trip. I made one in Texas and one in Arkansas and I will do no more. Tennessee will be to me as chaff that bloweth in the wind because I’m bound for North Carolina, which I know as well as I know my own face in the mirror. I lived and worked there for nearly ten years, so while not a native I have some street creds. There’s plenty I haven’t seen and I intend to correct the deficiencies of the past to the best of my ability during my stay, so stay tuned, there’s more fun to come …