The Coming of the Summer People.

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A VG Serial: Hills of Eden

Episode 18

June gentles the land with sun. The ridge between the old Forsyth ferry and Kirbyville  greens itself like some farmer’s field, the oaks and cedars blazing emerald from dawn to dusk. The valleys beyond the old freight road seem like a fairyland in morning, the hills rising like islands, the far ones bathed in a gossamer mist like the smudged underpainting of an artist’s canvas.

The morning lake is still, a sheet of polished steel snaking to a point miles away, where it disappears like the ghost of the river it once was. A few moments ago, my dawn whippoorwill moved close to the open bedroom window, filling my room with his piercing, high-pitched cries. He sounds like a maddened flutist stuck on the same notes, and he sounds, too, like a friend who just happens to sing in a foreign language. At my neighbor’s, across the hollow, a rooster crows. The whippoorwill goes silent suddenly, as if the cock’s crow signaled a fatal sunrise. I have never seen this bird whose cry is so loud for a few brief moments, but only his shape, silhouetted among the leaves of an oak tree. He is only a shadow to me, without form, isolated, the source mysteriously hidden somehow. He comes when the world goes to sleep, and he does not leave until the woods awaken.

A gray squirrel chitters at my shape in the window, furling and unfurling his tail like a quilled flag. He is young, bold, and I wonder if he has seen the whippoorwill or only a shadow streaming across his tree branch before it disappears in the silence of the deep woods. I wonder where the whippoorwill goes.

On Lake Taneycomo, as the sun rises, the first boats pull away from the shore, chug up toward Table Rock Dam through low fog. The men who work the docks on Bull Shoals are busy, the fishermen still sleepy-eyed, impatient to head for the sunken trees where the crappie lurk, or the sandstone banks, where the bass hide. Table Rock Lake, too, is teeming with fisherfolk who want to beat the sun to their favorite spots. A pair of farm boys, barefooted and cutoffed, trip to the pond after catfish, lugging a can of squirming nightcrawlers, carrying poles with hook and line, clutching stringers and cans of pop.

Branson, Hollister, Forsyth, the villages near where we live, and all those along the tourist roads, from Kimberling City to Eureka Springs, like movie sets being prepared for a day’s shooting, open up, as if someone was pulling open the giant doors of a sound stage. The whisper of brooms and the rattle of door locks crackle down the streets; the dusters and sweepers and Windexers urgently spiffing up their shops for the summer people of Ozarks Mountain country.

The family driving up the last steep hill in their station wagon can feel the magic coming on as they look up at the bluffs. With their windows open, they can smell the fragrance of the countryside, see the acres of trees across endless hills. One can almost hear what they are saying. “Will one week be long enough to see everything?” “What shall we do first?” “Why didn’t we come here before?” “Why didn’t we leave earlier?”

In the back seat, the children make their wishes known. “I want to go horseback riding.” “Can we go to White Water first, Daddy?” “I want to stay a whole day in Silver Dollar City.”

These are just some of the conversations in all those out-of-state cars streaming down from Springfield, or up from Harrison, Arkansas on Highway 65, or along the cross-threading 86 and 13 and 248 and 76 roadways. These are just snatches of private communiqués floating on the heady June air.

So, for some of us it is truly summer. The sleds are stacked darkly silent under the back porch, the hunting rifles oiled and put away for the season, tents and camping gear dragged out of the loft or the storage closet, airing out for a trip to one of the campgrounds that border the string of impoundments that form the lakes: Beaver, Table Rock, Taneycomo, Bull Shoals, Norfolk and so on down the line deep into Arkansas.

The summer people flow here, towing their boats, little toy cars behind monster motorhomes, swaying in their pickup campers, driving mere cars with luggage racks loaded with canvas and Coleman stoves. They become part of the permanent Tri Lakes community for a brief time that sometimes seems endless. They come on weekends and stay over extra days. They take their two weeks with pay and come to a place where time doesn’t matter, a place with the oldest hills in America, the richest earth, the sweetest air. They take off their ties and their tailored suits, their chic city dresses and nylons and high-heeled shoes, trading them in for shorts and T-shirts and sandals.

It’s Mauna Loa time and Acapulco afternoons, River Gauche strolls with blossoms scenting the air. It’s spectacle, the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, Fiating over the Pyrenees and through vineyard-laced Italy, catching the bullfights at Pamplona on Sunday at four o’clock in the afternoon, bumping elbows with brown-skinned Filipinos along the Escolta in Manila, sipping a Daiquiri in San Juan.

This Ozarks country is a place for summer people. It always was, even for the Indian tribes who swam the creeks and fished the mighty White River that once coursed through this vast green valley.

I was one of the summer people once.

I came here, like you, and heard the whisper of older times, heard the faint talk of pioneers settling in places where the Osage Indians camped in summer over a hundred years ago. I heard the clang of axes ringing through the hardwoods, saw images of the roughhewn cabins going up, glimpsed the cooking fires searing fresh-killed meat, listened to the guitars playing plaintive on clear summer nights, discovered my own heart beating in time to this ancient tugging rhythm.

We stayed here, after being drawn back time after time, for no explainable reason, knowing this was where we wanted to be.

This is a place to stay, all right.

And, if you go away, some of this summer will linger with you all your days. You may find yourself returning again and again, as a visitor or in your thoughts. You may even find yourself trying to explain, as I am, why the summer seems so much richer here in the Ozarks.

You might even become, as we, one of the summer people who stayed on, perhaps destined to spend all the rest of life’s seasons here, among these gentle hills.


Hills of Eden will be published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Please click the title, Hills of Eden, to read more about Jory Sherman and his books.

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