The Mountains Hold Tight Their Secrets
January 13, 2013
A long time ago, when the first pioneers ventured into the Ozarks, they looked at the green hills, the deep hollows, the green trees, the lakes and rivers, the blue sky and saw something that took their breaths away. They saw a new land, free for the taking, and they halted their wagons and settled into paradise. They knew from the French explorers that the Indians used the Osage Orange trees to fashion their bows. So, the French called the region “aux arcs,” a shortened term that meant “where the bows are made.” So, the new settlers called this place, “The Ozarks.”
When I first ventured into the Ozarks hills and bought an old abandoned farm, 80 acres of woods, with a pond and a two-room shack, a collapsed chicken house, I had the feeling that something had drawn me to that place, something I could not define nor measure, nor trace.
The two-room shack was small, unpainted, no glass in the windows. It was constructed of whip-sawed lumber, boards of different sizes. The builder had used oak and over the years the boards had hardened so that it was like concrete. There were square nails scattered on the ground. The shingles on the chicken house were froed by hand and had turned gray, become part of the earth, along with the chicken wire and the siding. The land where the house stood was thick with spiny locusts encroaching on pecan trees, a cherry tree, and fended off the cedars, black walnut and box elders that surrounded that small plot of ground.
We made a home in the wilderness. No one had lived there in 50 years, but the property was full of wonders. It had been owned by the York family, cousins of Sergeant York, famed soldier of World War 1. I got to know the Yorks and fished with the man who sold me the property. I met the granny, Edna York, who lived, with her son Twiman, up the road in a house with no electricity, no running water, except from the branch. The branch was her word for the creek. She cooked on a wood stove and had no electricity. On Saturday nights, they listened to a battery-powered radio to Grand Ol’ Opry and on Sunday mornings they listened to church services.
I felt at home with these backwoods people and later met the younger members who had married and had children. I hunted quail with one of the boys who had become a high school teacher. I fished on Lake Table Rock with the old man York and he told me of the homes that were underwater and showed me the old roads that led into the depths of that lake. This was the mighty White River which had been dammed in several places by the United States Corps of Engineers. The dams had provided electricity to a forgotten part of the country, and the lakes were teeming with fish. I fished them all and camped at them and wrote books in every campground along the White.
Soon after we settled in those beautiful Ozarks hills, what seemed like a spell came over me. I discovered that all I had to do was step off the road and into the woods to find peace and harmony, a blissful existence that seemed untouched by time or civilization. Yes, I was under a spell, and I felt the hills and the hollows come into me while I gazed at them. I could sit in the woods and crows would land on my knee, squirrels would come up to me and stare as they sat on their haunches. Birds chirped in the cedars and the hardwoods, turkeys gobbled and deer crept along the ridges in full view.
I began to write about the country and the people, and stories came to me that were like gifts from another dimension. I began to write books and stories after I finished writing my novel at the end of each day. I began to submit these stories to magazines and they were published. The special books I wrote were published, too, and I realized that they had all come from that special feeling that the Ozarks had given me. I had found my Eden in those hills, those green hills that seemed imbued with a special magic.
Here in these woods was the stuff of dreams and perhaps a primordial memory that transcended time and space.
Here were the virtual hills of Eden.
And they are in me now and for all time to come.