Natural State of mind

Ava Grace and her Daddy after an evening cry

Ava Grace and her Daddy after an evening cry

I’m on the tail end of my annual summer break escape from Texas to Arkansas trip, and it’s been a blast.

I got here late Saturday night and I’ll head home in a few hours. I always enjoy visiting, but it is nice to climb back into your bed for the first time in a week. Hello sheets and pillows, hello comforter (how apt your name is now), hello lumpy mattress – ah, the devil that I know. (if you really don’t care about the details of the rest of my trip… stop reading now)

With Sunday came a rarity for me, church in the morning. Don Chandler continued to prove my theory that all men named Chandler can BRING IT from the pulpit with a great sermon about the wealth we have as believers in Jesus. Chase that with a little Chinatown buffet (just as I remembered) and a trip to the Rave with Truman to see Star Trek.

On Monday it was time to head to Fort Smith to see my niece (pictured above with my brother) and Graham and Leslie (with a side trip to eat my first Feltner’s Whatta-Burger in probably 15 years). Casey was taking care of Ava during the day while Leslie had an in-service (somebody tell her school that it is summer vacation).

I had a great time on the Westside, reminiscing about life on the Creek (Tucker, not Dawson’s) with Graham and Chris, talking blogs with Leslie, hanging out with Casey, and trying to keep Ava from being utterly terrified of me the entire time I was there.

She eventually warmed up and we had a great time. She even fell asleep in my lap while we were reading “Frog And Toad Are Friends.” Here are some pics from that and from my little niece wailing on her first harmonica.

AG and me reading a book I got her for Christmas, one of my favorites as a kid.

AG and me reading a book I got her for Christmas, one of my favorites as a kid.

AG and her bobby (mommy) with her new harmonica. Ava is figuring it out while Leslie will probably have the entire song book memorized soon. Then she can start working on original material, like the "Terrible Twos Blues." Incidentally, my favorite new blues harpist is Lazy Lester (no relation).

AG and her bobby (mommy) with her new harmonica. Ava is figuring it out while Leslie will probably have the entire song book memorized soon. Then she can start working on original material, like the "Terrible Twos Blues." Incidentally, my favorite new blues harpist is Lazy Lester (no relation).

We also got a visit from Fred the Toad each night. Leslie and Casey swear that it’s the same toad that hung around last summer, and both of them are extremely frightened of the beast. With my verbal assistance, Graham manned the telephoto lens to get some facetime with this fearsome creature. For a novice wildlife photographer, he did a good job.

Ah... wild Fort Smith. Fred the Toad is captured in his natural habitat, the back patio, by noted wilderness photojournalist Graham "Gopherkiller" Hale.

Ah... wild Fort Smith. Fred the Toad is captured in his natural habitat, the back patio, by noted wilderness photojournalist Graham "Gopherkiller" Hale.

I got in late Tuesday, but was up Wednesday to take my car to the shop so I could enjoy the pleasures of air conditioning during summer. Then I grabbed my grandmother for lunch at Blackwood’s followed by a whirlwind tour of the Clinton Library (the LBJ in Austin is wayyyyy better).

Wednesday night I worked hard to keep Dad awake so he could actually see all of “Serenity” – the “Firefly” movie. I think he appreciated my efforts, because he told me he wants a copy of it for his own collection.

Yesterday, Mom got me up early so I could go with her to Bee Branch to my Uncle Bill’s cabin(s). Bill is a top-notch photographer and one of the best people you’d ever meet. We sat in the photography cabin (yes… there’s a photography cabin) and talked shop about digital manipulation, panoramas, Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keeffe, and the ease of book publishing in the digital world. Last year, Bill self-published a photo history of Conway. I even got to contribute, writing a short passage on the history of sports in my hometown. Now he’s moving on to the next project, a collection of stories from our family’s top storyteller, my uncle, Joe Ward.

After a fine (but not healthy) lunch of fried chicken livers, tater logs, a fried apple pie and a Mountain Dew, my Uncle John stopped by. John, Joe and Bill are brothers and live along Black Hill Road near Bee Branch. John, also an author and former newspaper editor – who helped get me into the business about 12 years ago, wrote most of the copy for Bill’s book and is editing Joe’s words as well. John offered to drive me out and show me the future Lake Hoosen (which was being created by the oil and gas company which had put some wells on John’s land).

We watched the backhoes and dump trucks digging around the huge hole where the lake would be. John commented that even though he knew what the end result would be, he watched the machines digging and had a hard time understanding exactly how it all would work. I agreed with him, noting that I dismissed any aptitude I might have had for engineering after the struggles of eighth grade algebra class.

Under Construction: Future site of Lake Hoosen, near Bee Branch, Ark.

Under Construction: Future site of Lake Hoosen, near Bee Branch, Ark.

John and I then turned back to the smaller pond adjacent to Lake Hoosen, and he produced a rod and reel and told me to cast in and see if I could snag a fish. Though they hadn’t stocked the small pond, John said that birds had unknowingly taken care of that by transporting crappie and bass eggs on their legs. I had no idea.

Now I can cast a fishing line, but I am in no way, shape or form, a fisherman. In fact, my biggest fear was that a fish would actually bite my line, and I would have to reel him in and touch him and stuff to take him off the hook. I think I could’ve manned up and done it, but I was not looking forward to it. I cast out about six times, got a couple of strikes, but no luck. John graciously attributed the lack of success to “the fish just aren’t hittin’ today” rather than my own lack of skill.

Pond adjacent to future Lake Hoosen. The fish weren't biting that day. It had nothing to do with my (lack of) angling ability. Seriously.

Pond adjacent to future Lake Hoosen. The fish weren't biting that day. It had nothing to do with my (lack of) angling ability. Seriously.

After we got back to Conway, we had a nice dinner of Smitty’s BBQ and then Casey and I went to Little Rock to catch a late showing of the suprisingly poignant “UP” in 3D. It’s the third movie I’ve seen in 3D, and I’d put it up there with “Coraline.” Both were far superior to that awful “Beowulf” from a few years back.

Altogether, it’s been a swell trip. I love Arkansas. And as much as I’m taking to being a Texas resident, I’ll always be an Arkansan (though not a hog fan) first. I want to thank everyone for such a great vacation. Hopefully I’ll be able to come back again soon and see more folks.

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One thought on “Natural State of mind

  1. Leslie says:

    I’m shocked that you didn’t mention Vinko the dancing bear! Great post.

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