When most people think of their favorite place, they think of a tropical paradise with glittering, clear, green seas, and golden sand beaches dotted with seashells. They think of snow covered ski slopes, or bright, shiny, tall buildings on the horizon. But I am a little different. I think of the amazing forests of the State of Arkansas. It is one of the most varied habitats in the world; no two sparkling river valleys or tall green hilltops are alike. Sometimes one place varies so much in itself that you never tire of the scenery, because it changes so much. For example, when canoeing down the world-famous White River, you can go from a quick, rapid, narrow stretch with skyscraping cliffs on both sides, to a quiet, peaceful flatland river, with ancient willows and cypress on both sides (in some cases, actually in the river.) In the southern part of the state, a man can walk along the Saline River, which is a huge swamp system full of every kind of animal you can think of, (and some you can’t), and by taking a sharp turn south come to the vast stretches of pine forest, which has been planted in place of the ancient oak forests that the famous explorer Hernando De Soto conquered and died in. After walking through a few acres, the man would come to a clear-cut, and on the other side there would be a creek bottom in which the few remaining oaks thrived. Here, he would see the quick, agile deer slipping through the brush, or a gray squirrel scolding a swamp rabbit which had come too close to the tree. At the famous trout fishing mecca that is the White River, I can observe the mink playing tag in the tree roots, or a cranky old heron swoop down to grab up a small fish. The Cache River, though, holds a place close to, if not in, my heart. It is one of the last and largest unmolested tracts of land left in the United States. One reason it is so unique, is simply because it is so natural. A few highways run through, mostly un-traveled, and even when it is traveled it is mostly by duck hunters. It is the only habitat available for an elusive creature which was thought to have gone extinct in the late 1940’s, and has recently been rediscovered here in the Cache, and only here. This is because it hasn’t been destroyed by human hands like most other natural places left in the nation. I have been in this area on numerous occasions, and once, I saw this creature. It is the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. To me, it is a symbol of the wild, natural life which we humans have destroyed in the name of what we call “civilization”. I am a lover of swamp lands, and this is the best one yet. Light filters through the grasping fingers of the cypress and tupelo, and critters and birds scurry and sing. It is where the catfish dance in the moonlight, flinging themselves through the air. It is a land where in the winter the river breaks its banks, the very air freezes in your lungs, and the wood duck and mallard catapult through the brakes in the trees and light quietly on the waters surface. And of course I have to mention the world of Boggy Creek. There is a legend which has surrounded the swamp and the town near it, Fouke, since the nineteen-forties and fifties. That legend is, of course, the legend of the Boggy Creek Monster. It is the one of the only known sitings of a Sasquatch, or Bigfoot, in this part of the country. The fact that something still lives that humans just can’t destroy is somehow comforting to my mind. Oh, the very thought of the natural world of Arkansas’ forests causes my heart to leap up in my throat, and brings happy tears to my eyes. As soon as I laid my eyes on the trees, I knew I could quite happily live in a small cabin along the river with my wife, whoever she shall be. Yes, I dream of something indescribable, and that in itself means more to me than any golden beach or lust filled city, and it will always remain so. The sight of a slow river winding through the forest or a swift creek blasting down a valley in a mountain makes me higher than any drug could. And that, as it was for the speaker in “The Road Less Traveled By”, has made all the difference.
The Woods: My Favorite Place
April 15, 2008