We decided to go to Arkansas this year for vacation and give the kids and I a chance to meet my husbands extended family. It is a 12 hour drive from our house to my Father in laws house. We do not have a DVD player in the van, or even a CD player for that matter. We were dependent upon the radio and ourselves for entertainment. With a cooler full of water and drinks, a bag of snack items and a full tank of gas, off we went. The kids were fantastic travelers. Did I also mention we had no air conditioning? The kids were amazing travelers.
We arrived late that night and got everyone settled into their sleeping locations after hugs, more hugs a snack and a size check: "Oh my goodness, I think you have grown a foot since we saw you at Christmas!" That took much longer than it sounds because every one of the kids had something very important they were saving to tell their grandparents as soon as they saw them. My in laws were bombarded with "Oh yeah I was going to tell you.." several times X 5 children.
We enjoyed daily fishing in the pond out back. They threw every fish they caught back into the pond. The point of fishing is not to actually get the fish, but to spend the time between catches talking smack and telling the person beside them what they need to be doing to be a successful fisherman.
It will take years for the kids to realize that even though it involved a pole and some worms, the real magic was hearing their grandfather exclaim those words of encouragement and extreme pride as they reeled in his biggest catfish that he had been feeding all year for them to catch.
I have never visited Arkansas. I have driven through it to get to a destination beyond it, but never really stopped to enjoy its beauty. Arkansas is a hidden gem of green godliness. As a native Oregonian from the Blue Mountains, I felt a rush of "home" hit me every time we drove on a winding country road. I remembered why I love the mountains, streams, rivers and dirt roads. I remembered that I loved that feeling of being very small compared to the terrain.
The people that I met are molded by the land they live in. I left Arkansas with a new definition for hillbilly that is much more respectable and endearing than I came with. Everyone that we visited had a pond complete with catfish and bullfrogs. There were deer feeders, bird feeders and squirrel feeders in every yard. The connection to nature and all of her creatures is abundant. The feeders are a way of giving back for what is being borrowed in the way of roads and a place to put a house and a yard. This was natures land first and the people of Arkansas haven't forgotten that.
Life is a little slower there than in Indiana. My husband and I teased that it has to be slower because most of the roads have 20mph curves. Slow does not mean lazy. I don't think I met anyone that didn't have a project of some sort going on. They are builders and craftsmen, musicians and creators. I lost count of how many small businesses were sitting in the front yards of home grown food and hand crafted items for sale.
We didn't buy a lot of things in Arkansas to bring home as souveniers. We were thankful that our air conditioner was fixed and made the ride home much more comfortable. The real treasure came in the form of memories, pictures and ideas. We put 1860 miles on our van trying to see as much as possible and barely touched all there is to see and do there. We came home with phone numbers and email addresses and hope that we can go back again next year.