Walking at Home in the Arkansas Ozarks
Simon got out of school for a two-week spring break on March 6th.
Our plan was to head to Arkansas, soak up time with friends and family for a couple of weeks before Taido would fly down and join us.
Then Taido was going to drive home with Simon and I was going to go backpacking in the Arkansas Ozarks with my dad before heading back to Illinois to pack up and go to Italy.
The only part of the original plan that happened was the part where Simon and I drove to Arkansas.
It’s funny how plans change.
In making the trip from Rock Island to North Little Rock, we drove from winter into spring.
I started telling Simon to look out the window as soon as we crossed the Arkansas border, as it seemed like the redbuds appeared out of nowhere along the highway. Bright little spurts of purple branches welcomed us back to the south.
At home, we had a few precious days of walking our favorite trails and meeting up with friends.
We did a long walk from the Big Dam Bridge out to Two Rivers Park.
I met up with friends for coffee, drinks and walks.
But it wasn’t long before things started to change.
In just a few days, my trip to Italy was cancelled and all the schools and restaurants were closed. Taido went to help Ben and Mary Polly move out of their college housing instead of coming down to Arkansas.
I chatted on the phone to friends instead of meeting up for coffee.
Illinois put a shelter-in-place order in effect, and so Simon and I made plans to head back home.
But before I left town, I made a quick trip with my dad to the Ozark Mountains.
We left early Friday morning and drove gorgeous, winding hills to a trailhead on the Ozark Highland Trail.
The trees were still pretty bare, but you could spot serviceberry trees blooming like snowflakes suspended in the air throughout the forest.
Up close, the flowers had shades of pink.
We hiked over beds of moss up to a couple of campsites and the last remains of an old homestead.
On our way up, we spotted these rocks that reminded Daddy of a pulpit.
Ever the preacher, he tried it out.
We reached the top in time for lunch and were delighted to find a picnic table at the campsite. We enjoyed imagining how it had gotten up there.
The temperatures were dropping as we hiked back down and it started to rain a little after we reached the car. We drove to Castle Bluff, where Daddy was draining the water and shutting things down because the spring camps had all been cancelled.
Since he was working in the main building, he built a fire in this old stove.
If I had an hour log of all the time I have spent sitting in front of this stove, it would serve as a record of some of the happiest moments of my life. Daddy and I sat here a while talking and just being warm in front of it before we headed off to the lodge for dinner and to check in on the latest news from home.
Daddy made Tuna Mac for dinner, which is mac n’ cheese, cream of mushroom soup and a can of tuna mixed together. (I have since made this meal for my boys while home in quarantine and they devoured every bite.)
I woke up to familiar views over the valley and sounds of Daddy making coffee. I bundled up and sat on the porch for a while, reading and writing. (And recording this meditation.)
Soon the sun started to come out and we packed up and got ready to go see a few waterfalls before heading home.
We walked down to the waterfall that is on the Castle Bluff property first.
Spring is the best time of year for waterfalls in the Arkansas Ozarks, but we’ve had an exceptional amount of rain this year so the water was really running.
And the hills seemed especially green.
We stopped and hiked both the King’s Bluff and Pedestal Rocks loops.
Again, with the trees still bare, you could see for miles.
It was the first blue sky we had seen in over a week, so we soaked up the sun as we walked.
The serviceberry blooms seemed to stretch upward toward the sun.
And the little flowers on the trail seemed brighter.
Daddy and I both took loads of photos of rocks. The formations on this trail are just amazing.
It’s hard to do them justice in a photo.
I kept turning around and looking back at places we hiked over to see how far the cliffs fell below.
There are parts of the trail where you can get down below the rocks and explore the caves and caverns.
We had our picnic lunch in the sun and tromped through a few more caves.
I loved every minute of it.
After more than a week of constant cancellations, I had the feeling that this day was going to be my last time out freely adventuring for a while.
So I was reluctant to see this day come to an end.
I wanted to stay hidden underneath the rocks and along the waterfalls.
I even texted Taido that day and suggested we hold our quarantine in the hills of Arkansas.
In the days and weeks since Daddy and I hiked these trails, it has seemed like the world has grown smaller and smaller.
We are closed in on one another.
And when we gaze out, we see the whole wide world closed in just like us.
We are closed in together,
all of us wondering what will happen next.
Daddy and I made one more stop on the way home at Falling Water.
As soon as we got out of the car, the sound of rushing water drowned out any other noise.
In that moment, there was only that water, constantly crashing over the rocks, flowing downward, finding the lowest place.
A picture of grace.
A picture of God.
And a picture for me to carry with me into many quiet days.
Though it was shorter than what I had planned when I was first heading down to Arkansas, I am grateful for these moments with Daddy.
As I drove back home to Illinois, with my sad Simon riding shotgun, I carried in my heart the days of being in Arkansas. The friends I saw and the ones I missed. What was lost and what was gained.
The gifts were many.
And so shall they always be.
Come what may, friends. Come what may.
And one day I’ll be walking back home in Arkansas again.
For now, I’ll be holding these sweet memories in my heart. They are keeping me as warm as the fire in that old camp stove.