State of Arkansas or State of Mind?

Last night, as we sat outside our cabin at the Shangri La Resort watching the sun set over the vast and pristine Lake Ouachita, I was struck by the feeling that we could be anywhere… Western Massachusetts, upstate New York, northern California, Pietermaritzburg or Mae Hong Son…

There were no visible signs to tell us where we were … just birds skimming the lake, a gentle breeze on our faces and a vista that seemed to go on forever across the distant Arkansas mountains.

I started to wonder what it was that made one place different from another and how it was possible to find the essence of a place that connects it to its geography.

As we sat there, a young boy walked past and smiled at us. We said hello to him and he politely stopped to greet us and said something about the “courts around the corner”, which Skip later translated as meaning “quartz” in his broad southern drawl.

Then it struck me. It’s the people.

No matter where you are, there are always those interesting characters which define a place and its region.

Whether it’s the red leather-clad blues singer in New Orleans who told me his wife was born in Brighton (not far from my mother’s home) or the young waitress in a diner in Greenville, MS, who couldn’t find Greenville on our map of her state. Or perhaps it’s seeing the chain-gang of prisoners crossing the road or chatting with the elderly woman who has owned the Shangri La for 53 years and trusts her patrons enough to collect payment as they leave (and has “never been burned yet”).

We’ll be talking more about some of the other characters in a future post as we have found so many along the route who warrant their own personal descriptions.

This is the color of the road. It’s the fabric of travel. And it’s one of the things that keep us seeking more as we traverse this huge country day after day.

It’s a State of Mind. It’s being able to get up in the morning, jump behind the wheel and point our car west, not knowing what adventures lie ahead. It’s having no responsibilities other than putting gas in the car and finding a place to stay which is a notch or two above the esteemed Executive Inn.

It’s also learning about each spot as we visit (or drive through); whether with a Google search on my trusty BlackBerry or by reading the reams of materials I pick up at every stop. Getting a sense of history. Taking the back roads. Stopping at out-of-the-way wineries and driving up dirt roads to the top of mountains just to see the view.

Spending time in this remote region of Arkansas has given us some time to reflect as we took a two-day break from being road warriors. We also learned some interesting history of this spot. As, in 1835, an adventurous fellow named Granville Whittington from Massachusetts became one of the first settlers in this region and the area was named Mount Ida after a girls’ schools outside Boston.

In turn, the school had derived its name from a mountain near Troy in Asia Minor.

Lake Ouachita extends almost 39 miles in circumference with more than 600 islands, and the area is the quartz crystal capital of the world with dozens of mines digging up the beautiful, sparkly geodes

The attached photos will tell some of the story. But I can’t help but wonder how they would have felt in ancient Troy if they’d known that, in years to come, we’d be sitting at a Lake in Arkansas named after their city, watching the birds swoop for fish and getting ready for our fried catfish meal of the evening…

      3 comments

      • fbk

        What a sweet, sweet post, guys. The pictures show two relaxed people (NO suits, NO tension in the brow, NO anxiety). And the flavor of the road comes clear and strong, as does your pleasure in it and the discoveries you’re making. It is indeed the people of the world that give a place its character. Your anecdotes about them — and yes, along with your word pictures about this country — are what keep me riveted. Your posts are indeed a 21st century On the Road.fbk

      • Suzie Weldon

        MY father always wanted to retire to Arkansas and my mother steadfastly shot that idea down for years. She wasn’t leaving her home and friends. I don’t believe she had even been there. Obviously, he knew something the rest of us didn’t. She was a city girl, he a farm boy. I’m sure it would have been perfect for him and she would have acclimated. Aren’t you both just looking great! FBK is right—so mellow and happy. Snowing here in Salem this morning–ahhhh, yes, spring!!!

      • Kathleen Haverkamp

        Hi Gabi and Skip!I am enjoying your posts and keeping up with your adventures! Do I detect a book evolving? Maybe "A State of Mind".Sending you lots of love until we see each other!Kathleen

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