When I was about 9 years old, our family’s best friends moved to Arkansas. It was hard. We were close and I didn’t have many other friends. We made trips to see them several times over the next few years, and this was essentially our family vacation. Just to visit for a week and stay with our friends. It was all we could afford really.
To me, Arkansas was a deep, dark, mysterious place. Endless forests, swamps, rivers, venomous snakes, and the kids there casually called me ‘yankee’. I had zero understanding of what that meant at the time, and was thoroughly confused. Was I supposed to be insulted? I didn’t know! That aside, the people were friendly enough there.
We spent all of our time riding motorcycles, 3 wheelers, fishing, hunting, and shooting guns. I guess it was a kind of heaven for a country kid.
One of the highlights for me was a stay at ‘the cabin’. That’s what we called it. It was a friend of the friends place, out on the Saline river. It was always an adventure even getting there. You had to ‘winch in’. The road was dirt and ran through the swamps along the river. You had to have a 4WD and a winch and you would get stuck multiple times on the way. You would see multiple snakes as well, and often we would stop and take target practice on them. Copperheads, Cottonmouths, Rattlers. Going in at night added some creepiness to the adventure.
Being a kid and having no sense of distance, it just felt like it was FAR out in the woods and I always had an element of nervousness that should I become lost out there… well, that would be the end of me. There were numerous trails that branched out from the cabin, and we would walk around or ride motorcycles. We were told, if you get lost…. it’s 50 miles to the nearest road. That never left my mind.
I now know it’s maybe half a mile to the road in any direction. LOL. They just didn’t want us to get lost.
My dad and I would stay at the cabin with our friends and hunt deer. The mosquitoes were as big as fireflies, it was dark as a cave at night, and weird sounds would come out of the woods after dark. It was certainly an adventure for a young boy. I caught a huge Northern Pike on the river right behind the cabin and they cleaned it and we ate it for dinner. Usually someone would kill a deer, and I would watch fascinated as they’d hang it from the tree beside the cabin and gut it.
We did this regularly for a few years, until ultimately the friends had a falling out with the cabin owner, and we stopped going. The trips to Arkansas became less frequent as well as we got older and eventually we just kind of outgrew it I guess. Life is funny that way. Our friends were far away, and we saw them less and less. Yet our friendship endured, as friendships like that often do. There was never any question that should I darken the doorstep of central Arkansas, I would be welcomed, hugged, fussed over and given a place to stay. I made it a point to stop by there a couple of times over the last twenty years, and see our friends.
And then 10 or 15 years ago, I started thinking about ‘the cabin’. I wanted to see it again. I NEEDED to see it again. Was it really that far in the wilderness? A magical place where childhood spun adventures into memories and thoughts of ‘the good old days’ lived.
I started reaching out to our friends in Arkansas. I asked about the cabin. Some of them thought it was gone, burned down, others said it may still be there. This just added to the mystery. The owner had died, and ownership had passed on to someone my friends didn’t know. But their cousin still owned another cabin nearby in the woods.
I made a trip to Arkansas with my dad about 5 years ago and attempted to see it. Our friend took us down to the river where the road thru the woods started, but there was a gate, and about 100 yards of mud and swamp that there was no way our car would go thru. We could have walked I suppose, but we didn’t have permission to be back there, and people can be funny about trespassing on their deer hunting camps. I left disappointed but vowed to return.
And then another opportunity arose.
My wife and daughter were leaving town for a week and I had nothing better to do, so I figured it was time to try again.
I contacted my friends, and they reached out to their cousin who now owned the property next to the old cabin. She managed to get me permission and arranged for us to get a key to the gate.
The day arrived and my friend hauled us out there, with a 4 wheeler and ‘side by side’ in tow. We planned to leave the truck wherever it became necessary and then ride those in. We arrived at the gate, and went thru. Another 100 yards and we came to a second gate… and it was locked. And no key. And it was about 105 degrees with the heat index.
I didn’t drive all the way here to be defeated, so we made the decision to walk.
I wasn’t sure how far it was but I was able to use google maps and could see it was about a mile to the river. We got busy walking and tried to ignore the heat. It was interesting walking and even though it had been 40 years since I’d been here, it still looked familiar to me. I walked along with a silly grin, sweating and looking out for snakes. Locusts sang loudly in the heat, and the occasional mosquito harassed us.
A grunting sound came out of the woods and some faint squealing… Deliverance? Nah. Wild hogs. Arkansas Razorbacks to be precise. If they were close I’d be a little more worried as they are dangerous in groups and aggressive, but we could tell they were a ways off, likely across the river.
Finally the river came into view. It was beautiful. Clear water & a gravel bottom made it possible to see into the holes and valleys of the river bottom and I could see fish, and a large turtle swimming under the water.
Sunlight shimmered and danced on the surface and a gentle sigh sang in the trees, while the tips of their branches stirred the water. Lovely.
We made a right turn and started walking towards the cabin. About a 1/4 mile in we came to a clearing with a cabin standing in it. This was the cousins cabin. They were redoing the flooring and had almost everything in the cabin sitting outside. I vaguely remembered this place but had never stayed here or spent any time here so I was anxious to go on. I got back on the road and started hiking. The road got muddier and had some big holes and puddles in it, but it seems they had improved the road a lot since the old days of needing a winch to get in. I could see light coming thru the trees ahead and I knew I was close, as the old cabin sat in a clearing in the woods, allowing plenty of grass and sunshine.
I picked up my pace and the trees opened up, and there it was. Sitting in the clearing just as it had since I was a boy. It looked exactly as I remembered. The clearing was overgrown and it was clear nobody had been out here in awhile, or mowed. The trails and roads we used to follow were completely overgrown. I walked around, taking it all in, snapping pictures, and letting the memories replay and flow in my mind. It was beautiful.
I smiled to myself in the heat, sweating in the sun, absently swatting gnats and mosquitoes away. Mission accomplished.
I felt a real sense of satisfaction in making it back out here, of reliving some moments from my childhood, but there was no magic, no wormhole, no time machine.
Only the glistening shine of happy memories, dulled by distance but polished by time.
I thanked the good lord for giving me the opportunity to get back out here, took one last look and started the long walk back to forever.
“Arkansas are your rivers still flowing
Is your cotton growing white as snow
Do the young men still piddle with the thought of growing rich
And slowly turn the old folks sittin’ whittling on a stick