Archive for June, 2008

Insomniac Hillbilly says Respect Your Elders

A dozen years ago my parents bought some acreage in Newton County, Arkansas just north of Ben Hur (Yes, that’s a town. Last place in Arkansas to get electricity in 1976) on Highway 16 east.

The land itself is situated just about four miles north of Moore (which is really just a church and a cemetery). Their land stretches across both sides of Richland creek near Jack Jones Hollow and Hideout Hollow.

They own fifty-six acres with two cabins. One sits on a bluff overlooking the river. The other is across the creek on a low ridge overlooking a classic bottom-land hay field.

They’ve built a little “swimming hole” access to the creek on this side of the property and there are trails surrounding it. In fact, the famous Ozark Highlands Trails follows the back line of the property and crosses onto it when it hits road access at Richland Creek.

I start thinking about “the cabin” this time of year. We’re heading up there for the Fourth of July weekend. The way my parents ended up with the land is a long story, but I’m grateful they got it.

That much land up there is hard to come by these days, especially a plot entirely surrounded by national forest and a wilderness area.

A couple days ago I was out drinking at Pizza D with friends and the subject of the “Lord God Bird” Documentary came up, again, because that’s what people talk about when they are drinking — what movies they’ve seen lately.

As regular readers know, I recently reviewed the film.

One guy at the table, I’ll call him J, took the long view: as a species, we’ll be really lucky if we can get a couple million years in. We’ve adapted in the past and we’ll adapt in the future. Isn’t it better, now, to get what we can out of the environment?

J brought up the defunct effort 1970’s era effort by the Corps of Engineers to drain much of the Cache River basin. If the “supposed bird” (as he put it), was going to hold up economic progress, then wasn’t that a problem?

Another friend, who I’ll call C, who also happens to have his own 40 acres just a few miles to the east of our family land near Bear Creek, said over his beer that he agreed in the long run.

But, at the same time, he said, “As long as no one messes with the Ozarks in the mean time. I don’t care what happens after I’m dead, so long as the Ozarks stay exactly like they are until then.”

I pointed out the obvious problem: he was speaking out of two sides of his mouth. C was a little chagrined but kept his point, which is that he agrees we can’t really stop progress but he just doesn’t want it on his 40 acres.

Since I’m terrible at social graces — I never notice when men are concerned more for bravado than actually winning the argument — and since I’m not one to back down from these things, I started to preach my gospel of “respecting our conservation elders. ”

It goes something like this:

Look here, if it weren’t for people just like us who fought to keep the Ozarks they way they are, they wouldn’t exist now. Same goes for the Big Woods.

If it weren’t for various odd coalitions of grassroots groups — wilderness enthusiasts, hunters, tree-huggers, paddlers, climbers, hikers, and locals — neither place would exist in its current form. If you want to keep it the way it is, you gotta fight for it.

Cause the Corps of Engineers is pretty much one huge environmental disaster machine going back to way before the 1927 Arkansas and Mississippi River floods.

If we let them get their protractors anywhere near anyplace we love, there’s no other choice. Even our recent history shows us they are going to screw it up.

It’s not just here in the south that the Corps has managed to erase a place, or irrevocably alter a landscape forever and not necessarily to our benefit. Lake Mead is a very good example of the problem out West.

That’s the group, I said to J, who started the whole discussion, that you’d be putting in charge of “progress.”

J changed the subject to something about Mardi Gras.

C shrugged and said, “If I found that damn woodpecker on my land shoot it.” He flashed an evil grin at me.

At that moment, I decided that I needed to do more drinking when I go out drinking. My over sized glass of Coca-cola looked pretty lame.

Maybe alcohol would have smoothed away my natural tendency to throw out a rhetorical smack-down out when I get the least chance. But no, I opted to take my poison in the form of corn syrup and caffeine.

And so, being the true nerdette than I am, I ended up going all “persuasive rhetoric teacher” on their asses.

My shame over my social awkwardness vanishes when I think about those 56 acres in Newton County, though. There’s nothing more beautiful than the fog rising above the hay field and through the multi-colored leaves on a frigid October morning.

Image of the Ozarks in Fall

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It’s official

I’m actually being paid to freelance. It ain’t much, but it’s a start.  Looks like I’ll be doing semi-regular stories for the Arkansas Times.

I’m, like, totally excited.

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Back from AP Reading

Well, I’m home and settled in from my 10 days working for Education Testing Services at the Advanced Placement reading in Louisville, KY. I read AP English Literature and Composition exams.

I’d never done this summer gig before and I wasn’t totally sure what to expect. However, I must say that ETS did a good job from an reader’s perspective. They put us up in a very nice hotel, fed us well, and offered plenty to do after work hours. The work itself was mind-numbing (as a whole, we read over a million essays in 7 days), but I felt like I was being paid fairly for it.

I met some great folks while I was there, too. The only complaint I can offer is that the pre-reading materials were confusing and didn’t explain the exact dates of the work well, so I ended up showing up a whole day early and had to find a place to stay for that night. Other than that, the experience was definitely a good one. I would suggest any English Composition instructor at the college level should look into picking up this gig during the summer months.

I hear that they will switch the reading over to Cincinnati next year. I don’t know much about Cincinnati but I was pleasantly surprised to find that Louisville is a pretty cool town. I had no idea it was such a happening place.

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Mrs. Hillbilly goes to the Hills to Work

I’m off to Louisville for ten days to grade your snot-nosed over-achieving high schoolers’ AP exams in English Literature.  I’m sure it will be riveting and amazing.  I’ll post an expose of working for Educational Testing Service when I return (and try to finish up those movie reviews I never finished!).

In the meantime, I wish you all a happy early June!

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