The end of January and ere February makes its 2017 debut. Jonquils are pushing up and encircling the stump of the large diseased elm that once stood just beyond my front stoop. The tree, long under assault by mistletoe, died last year and was taken down. Left standing is a 15-foot portion of trunk surrounded by various vegetation in various stages of decay; a straggling of vines resisting the cold temperatures of winter breaks through the matting and reaches always to the top.
The jonquils in small, scattered clumps of green thrust themselves upward through winterkill and even now are beginning to bud. Not the first fruits of springtime’s bounty by any means, still, first of the several species of flowers that will make their way to my home here in Alma from now into late autumn. If past experience is an indication, they are a harbinger to considerable labor.
Beginning with the arrival of spring, there are lawns to mow, flower beds to maintain, watering and weeding, roses and shrubs to prune, general up-keep, all of which was a health related incentive when I purchased the place after moving here from out of state in 2006. Not so much an incentive now, as an aging frame must adjust to another 10 years of nature’s onerous ways and the labor of it becomes a bit more tedious.
The “short Guy” tends to weight without adequate exercise and here was enough yard to keep a man busy 24/7 had he the ambition to lay hand to the plow. Not that in these later years sweat always results in the body of a Greek god, but even old muscle gone to flab needs ‘toning up’ now and then so’s not to atrophy and waste away to sag.
As if there’s not enough to keep me busy and sweating here at Alma, there’s other “fish to fry” down at the far end of the northward looping bend of the Arkansas River, a place that of late, the “old guy” finds an interesting hangout.
One might say I’m duty bound. My bride of eight months has a home at Webb City across the river from Ozark. There at lays a large spreading lawn, a grove of Sweet Gum trees, a crabapple, two maple, flowering shrubs a couple beds of roses a row of black berries, blueberries, a bed of asparagus and various vegetable plots bordered and staked. Welst’ there were once vegetable plots ‘till I ambles by at which time the lady of the house figures they’ve outlived their usefulness and decides to reintroduce the area to lawn.
Border stakes driven down into the whitish clay-like sub-soil by sledge hammer 15 years ago, are reluctantly displaced but with patience, determination and not without a little frustration, the clay loosens its grip enough they are leveraged out, the borders removed and the raised beds shoveled, spaded and raked. Finally, the most exhausting project of all, leveling out the broken up mounds of soil. That part of the project was done by attaching a chain to the end of a heavy board and metal detachable ramp, using it as a harrow and myself as a draft animal to pull the thing across the loosened soil. (The large spreading lawn, left to a professional landscaper with a professional cutting machine is not a part of my assigned duty.)
Ask me a few years ago where Ozark was located on the map and a blank stare and stutter might have testified to my ignorance. Using Mountainburg as a frame of reference, “over east of the White Rock wilderness area” might I have answered. Wasn’t ‘till the little town on the river was featured on an A&E, (Arts and Entertainment Channel) segment several years ago in the televised documentary series ‘City Confidential’ did it really arouse my curiosity.
First time I visited was four years back, when my musical cohorts, Mr. Bill Rogers and native son, Dr. James Robertson began doing our Friday morning program over at the 1-40 and Pig Trail Travel Center. That thread eventually led to a permanent connection with the area as reviewed in a recent article here in ‘View From The Bottom Rung’ entitled the “Cute Couple.” (Unbeknownst to me on my arrival, Amor (cupid) the mischievous god of love was vacationing nearby and came out for breakfast and bluegrass each Friday morning)
The town of Ozark is located “just down the road a piece” from where I spent the first 19 years of my life. It really didn’t register much on my youthful consciousness because from the beginning my fortunes tilted westward rather than eastward. Never made it east of Mulberry and the office of Dr. Odell Kirksey our family physician, had never given Ozark much thought, imagining it a mountain hamlet rather than a river town. It “registers” now.
The location seemed at odds with the lifelong concept of northwest Arkansas topography imprinted upon my consciousness from growing up in the relatively mountainous areas of Crawford and the adjoining counties of Sebastian and Washington.
In all my years never had I witnessed river commerce, never seen tugs shuttling barges up or down stream and though cognizant of the industry, the extent and the volume of it had not been imagined. It still fascinates.
The city is a commercial bottleneck (narrow passage) where not only is the river vital to inland industry, a busy railway runs along side it while a short distance to the north, running east and west is busy 1-40, carrying a continues stream of goods and produce reaching coast to coast. Combine the three industrial routes and the volume of it is unsearchable.
Meanwhile, the fat-burning heat of summer is still months away, and while we await the coming and going of jonquils, the colorful parade of Iris, zennia’s, Lux, Giant African Marigolds, Cone Flowers, a mixture of various flowering shrubs and the labor entailed in managing it all, we attempt to stay tuned in and toned up by doing various exercise, especially adhering to a walking regimen which according to my cardiologist over at the Heart Center in Fort Smith, the more we walks the longer we can expect to live. If in fact that is true, and one has no reason to doubt, guys of my age bracket have special incentive for walking. An excellent place to do that is Aux Arc Park alongside Lake Ozark down by the lock and dam. It’s something I do when opportunity provides and not only for the exercise, the rivers scenic appeal and nature’s wildlife display makes it an interesting place to hang out.
Aux Arc Park is located on Arkansas 309, just off Arkansas 23, south, after crossing the river bridge at Ozark. It sits on the shores of Lake Ozark down by the lock and damn, a favorite place for RV camping during the hot months of summer. The lake stretches 36 miles upstream, the park, perhaps a mile and a half end to end.
Heritage and history: Aux Arc, is a name that originated with French explorers when they mapped the territory. The term means “The Big Bend” describing the afore mentioned bend of the Arkansas River. Over time the name was simplified to Ozark, from which the lake and nearby Town take their names.”
In winter months as now, the RV park is virtually deserted; a die hard camper or two, an occasional fisherman passing through to the boat launch, otherwise the place given over to the area’s flora and fauna; a clan of red squirrel play amongst an extended grove of pine, song birds, the cawing of scavenging crows flitting through an ample stand of trees, geese coming up from the water to forage, and more recently a volt of vultures at the uppermost end gathering of the early morning, loitering amongst empty camp sites, others perched above on low hanging branches, while still others quarrel among them selves down on the lakes edge.
Overall the area is home to a large community of black vulture’s that roost in tree top’s around the dam site at night, and of the morning wait patiently for atmospheric up-drafts to lift them heaven-ward where in large circling ‘committee’s they leverage thermal currents to rise ever higher until reaching satisfactory altitude and then disperse into solitary hunts.
The place is home to various waterfowl, both regional and migratory: Different species of cranes, ducks, geese, and at the moment a pod of migrating Pelican feed in the waters below the dam.
Stroll the campgrounds now and you may see a permanent resident of the camping area, a gent I shall call ‘Dr. “K”. (Actually, the gender remains uncertain) Be he goose (female) or gander (male) the fowl fellow, lame of wing has been a resident of the park since summer last foraging scrapes of food amongst the campers. It’s a mystery how he survives local varmints from the nearby brush yet he endures through winter, sustained by daily handouts from his name sake Dr. K, a retired physician who strolls the area daily and keeps him/it fed.
Today, as I sign off on this piece of writ, it is Friday, Feb. 10, 73 degrees and sunshine, forecast for tomorrow, 80 percent. Every time I step outside the front door here at Alma I’m greeted by another clump of yellow buttercups; can springtime be far behind?
Need to sweat out the toxins and burn off the fat. Only way I’ve found to “turn this truck around.”