Friday, April 24, 2015

Razorback Heights

Arkansas is a study in contrasts. Its thickly wooded rolling hills in the north combined with the flowing rice fields and duck blinds in the south make a stark contrast in both physicality and lifestyles.

Northern Arkansas is covered with dense ground foliage and large trees. The ground rises and falls like an annoyed sea that is being driven by a stiff breeze. The blacktopped roads bending to meet the contours of its rolling backdrop. Whitetail deer are in abundance as are the predatory birds circling overhead looking for its next meal.

Small village like towns dot the horizon. Its inhabitants are close knit and keep visitors at bay. Their Main streets are littered with boarded up windows. Its store owners having thrown in the towel in defeat. It's a place where pickup trucks and camouflage are the norm. Handguns and firearms are like a religion.  Southern Baptist churches are where they find their Gods on Sunday mornings.

Mobile homes are the constant choice of dwelling. Usually nestled up against sprawling mansion like homes. Poverty is everywhere. EBT a more common form of payment than cash or credit cards.

Fiercely independent and prideful of both their heritage and the University of Arkansas Football team the people of the north live simple and unencumbered lives. Libertarian cities like New York and LA are viewed with both a loathing and a plague like disdain.

Whiskey and beer are for men and wine is for pussies. The word Democrat is viewed as not only a filthy word, but a compromised mental state.

They are not progressive. Color and sexual orientation are not abstract ideas, but a blight on the human condition.

Like the southern part of the state low end and dead end jobs are the norm rather than the exception. Hillbilly heroin and pot the 2 leading choices of pharmacological pursuits. One of those places where the 21st century passed by and kept right on moving. So stuck they are in the mire of low paying jobs and vacant aspirations that the very idea of moving upwards and onward is so far removed from possibility as to not even to be considered in the first place.

When you think of rednecks and hillbillies think Arkansas. And because it's the home to Walmart you can find one virtually every mile.

It's depressing and gut wrenching.

The one high spot is the Mexican food. Northern Arkansas is home to some of the best south of the border food I have ever had the pleasure of eating. Almost every town has at least one. And all of them are family owned and operated. The chips and salsa are home made. The menus, although typical are filled with mouth watering portions portions. Each platter made on the spot and never pre-cooked or pre-packaged.

Little Rock is considered a liberal stronghold. Even though it's not. Crime, drugs and gangs is what both the north and the south think of when Little Rock is mentioned.

But Little Rock is a large little town. In Arkansas all roads lead to Little Rock. And although its plagued by the same issues other cities face, it's no different than a thousand other cities all across this land.

Ironically the Clinton library looks a lot like a mobile home. Set back off the highway, it sets up on what appears to be stilts. And although you can see it from the road only small and inconsequential signs point the way.

Southern Arkansas however, is wildly different than its neighbors to the north.

South of Little Rock is the home of the world's largest supply of rice and duck hunting. Outside of Stuttgart you will find large road side billboards proclaiming its dominance in both rice production and duck population.

And I must say they are not telling a lie. All over the southern part of the state vast oceans of rice rise up. Its stagnant water, giving both a home and a birthplace to the large mosquito population in the world. During the summer months you can't drive without your windshield getting pummeled by these blood sucking creatures. So bad are the mosquitoes at night that if you're running low on windshield cleaner you're going to have severe visibility issues.

It's also the home of some of the largest bird population. They sit up high and soar overhead feeding on insects and small rodents.

Large mounds of earthen dams are created to hold the water. The fields of rice go for miles. And in the winter months those same rice fields are drained and used as duck blinds.

Down south the towns are more vibrant the unemployment rate falling off sharply due to the large rice producing factories. Housing is more expensive and where in the north vast numbers of trailer parks and dilapidated mobile homes are common. The south has large sprawling horse ranches.

The one thing both have in common are the long stretches of  highway. Giving me the quiet solitude I desire. My podcast and music pouring from the speakers giving my mind time to just wander or shut down. I do love that about Arkansas.

The endless miles falling away from my tires. The next horizon coming up quick. Feeding my need to see the other side. This is when I am most at home. And while I have a destination I am heading to it still gives me that endless fascination of where the road may take me. Happy in the knowledge there are miles to go. Roads I've never seen and horizons I still chase. 

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