Vol. I, No. 5 Conway, Arkansas: July 13, 2006 Next Edition: Whenever
As a person committed to going ultralight, I can't bear to take two pairs of shoes on a trip. So I tested the sandals out before actually leaving. I'm not a complete idiot, after all. Of course, three hard days on the water is not the same as walking around town. The truth is that I don't see how anyone could wear these for running, much less for running in some water.
The stitching on the instep straps poked holes in my skin which got infected, the back straps rubbed blisters on my heels, and I got stone bruises on my soles from all the pebbles and rocks that kept floating in between my feet and the sandal. I was miserable and grouchy by the third day. The one thing I will concede is that soles did keep an excellent grip through all the rock gardens we had to slog.
So, next time, as much as it goes against the grain, I've decided to wear my wet suit booties on the water (imagine the swell tan lines I'll be sporting for back-to-school) and take a pair of Keds for the gravel bars.
I promised to post the following recipe in December. We made this as a side dish for the roast goose we shared with a couple of friends over the Christmas break.
1 package of sage
sausage (the kind used to make patties)
Pre-heat oven to 350° Grease a square glass baking dish. In a skillet, brown sausage over a medium-high burner until mostly cooked through. Break it up as it cooks. Add onion and celery, and sauté the mixture 5 more minutes. Add broth, Cognac, and thyme; bring to a boil. Turn off heat. Add bread and chestnuts, and stir. Season to taste with salt & pepper. Transfer stuffing to greased dish. Cover with foil, and bake 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 10.
Adventures in Fact: Which Way to
July 8, 2006
I finally managed, by hook and by crook (well, it felt like "crook," since I was leaving without finishing up the work on a project I hoped to have done), to get away for a canoeing weekend. We, my significant other and myself, traveled three days from Rush Landing on the Buffalo River to Shipp's Ferry on the White River--a little over 27 miles--in deep Arkansas wilderness.
Being two of only four people on that portion of the river (the other couple was about a mile ahead of us), we mostly had the place to ourselves. It's always just a little bit scary being out there in the middle of nowhere, alone, with no access to roads, electricity, or any form of communication except for face-to-face. But when you know that a busload full of teenagers has not proceeded you downriver, you can guarantee you'll run into some interesting wildlife (and I'm not talking about the beer-drinking kind).
Close to dusk the first night, we had one of our whispered "I Don't Know Which Way to Look" moments. We had passed about 20-something deer, all of whom sighted us and ran before we could get within 30 feet. But the last one, a doe, had, apparently, found a really tasty willow she was not willing to give up just because of a couple of paddlers. Our canoe approached her within about 10 feet. As she balanced on her hind legs, stretching up for the most tender shoots, I heard something slip into the water on the opposite bank. I thought, "Oh, joy! Otters!" The last time I saw otters, a 10-point buck had splashed across the river, so, naturally, I made the assumption that where you see deer, you see otters. However, this thing didn't move like an otter, and it had a big square head: "Beaver?" I wondered.
It zigged across the river, and it zagged across the river. I watched the doe, and I watched the square head in the water. It was like trying to keep up with a really funky match at Wimbledon. Finally, the head found what it was looking for, and, out of the water, lumbered this massively huge animal. It was, indeed, a beaver--how could anyone mistake that tail? But I had no idea they got that big! I wouldn't have been surprised if someone told me it weighed as much as I do. With one motion of its jaws, it cut a clump of willow branches and, then, dragged them into the river.
It stayed close to the bank this time, as if it had seen more branches that it wanted. However, a mother raccoon and her two cubs (I'm not kidding) had come down from the woods to get a drink. When the mother saw us, she slinked off, leaving the cubs behind. They were so bewildered by the beaver, they didn't notice us at all. Their heads bobbed up and down in curious excitement at the strange beast paddling down the river. One raised up, steadied himself on his sibling's back, and peered over his shoulder to get a better look. When the beaver realized there were two creatures standing on the bank, it smacked its tail on the water, letting out a yelp and releasing its willows, and dove down, never to be seen by us again. I looked back to see that the doe had gone her own way, too. And the two cubs decided it would be a good idea to follow mama when their big black eyes finally spied us.
It was an auspicious beginning. So we camped at the very next gravel bar at the start of Smith's Bottoms, where we would hear two coyotes that night and be awakened by three deer crossing the river the next morning. That certainly wasn't the end of our wildlife encounters. But there was literally so much to see, I don't have room to write about all of it!
Adventures in Fiction: "A Thing
Okay, so I'm sound asleep on a gravel bar in the Smith's Bottoms (Warning: there is no punch line to this joke). My spouse tells me that a coyote started to howl in the night, very close to the tent. So close, in fact, that he clearly heard another coyote growling at the howler and then nipping at him.
All of this registered itself in my consciousness as a dream where a coyote comes knocking at the tent screen (really, there is no punch line). My husband sits up and, without speaking, stares at the visitor in the manner of "What the Hell do YOU want?" The coyote asks, "Is Joe here?" Husband replies, "Does it look like Joe is here?" To which the coyote rejoins, "No, sorry to disturb you, Bub. Don't worry (as if my husband would worry). I'll find him." And then he trots off into the night, as the spouse lies back down in a huff.
From the account of the actual events, I guess Joe wasn't too happy when his friend finally found him.
Animalia: Ask a Stupid Question...?
I know, I know. There's already so much animal life in this edition, how could there be more? Well, let me tell you one last story...
I found myself at 12:49 a.m. being awakened out of a dream by someone talking. I had earlier in the evening wandered, like Goldilocks, to another room in search of a better bed. So there was, even in the dimness of sleep, an awareness that the person talking might not be my husband, who wasn't beside me as he normally was. Slowly I became more conscious: "Who is that?" "What does she/he want?" "Why is she/he waking me up?"
As I finally gained more faculties, I realized my questions were being answered with more questions. Specifically, "Who?" And then another "Who?" And another "Who? Who? Wh-Wh- Whoooouuum?" I smiled and listened more closely. Like mine, the nearby owl's own questions were being returned, from somewhere distant, with more questions—a strange linguistic ricochet. Two of them, like me, out there in the night, trying to get answers.
As I started to fall back asleep, I thought about Poe's raven. It seemed to me that "Who?" was a lot more preferable to "Nevermore." For "Who?" is the exact opposite of "nevermore." Questions are eternal—always and never-ending. We will always want to know who: "Who's speaking?" "Who are you?" "Who's there?" "Who am I?" "Who will I fall in love with?" "Who will I be?" Replete with possibilities.
"Nevermore" is...well...never again, the end. No room for possibilities. Only room for silence.
"Yes," as I faded into unconsciousness, "I choose the owl over the raven as my night-time interlocutor."
The next day, travel from Smith's to the Elephant Head. On the way, you'll pass the trail to the Cold Spring's School House, the only man-made structure left standing in the Lower Buffalo Wilderness, excluding those at Rush--at least that I'm aware of (let me know on the guest book, if I'm wrong). To find the trail, look for Big Creek on your right, which empties into the river next to a really high cut bank. Just a little bit beyond that is another small creek, hidden somewhat by a small, boggy island covered in lush green grass. You'll have to look around a bit for the trailhead. Just a bit beyond that, you'll also see Killingsworth Bluff--from which braver people than I like to dive when the water is at the right level. Always scout first!
On your final day, go from the Elephant Head to Shipp's Ferry on the White. There is no sign telling you that you've entered the White, but you'll know for sure as soon as you start to get cold. You'll also see houses, cars, roads, and railroad track--signs you're out of the wilderness. This 5-mile stretch will go fast since the White is wide and swift. Wear your PFD. It's a different kind of pretty from the Buffalo, but it's still pretty. Once you've loaded up at Shipp's Ferry, head toward Mt. View. Just after you've crossed Sylamore Creek, there's a restaurant called "Angler's" at the back of a cabin-like gas station. Yes, I know. You're tired and you're dirty. But the Angler's dress code permits you to enter (in modestly sober condition, I'm sure) so long as you aren't wet. I have to admit, their catfish is equal to or possibly better than Mr. B's in Heber Springs--crispy, light, and tender. They also make their own tartar sauce! Sorry, I didn't get a menu; I'll try for next time. Oh, and another apology for not having the ritual picture of our feet before the fire: it was too darn hot!
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