Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hiking Our Way Through Last Two Days of Winter

PETIT JEAN STATE PARK, ARK. — We spent the final two days of winter tramping the trails of the oldest state park in the Land of Opportunity. The park is about an hour west of Little Rock, near Morrilton. Petit Jean Mountain sneaks up on you, rising out of cropland that still lies fallow, the irrigation rigs standing sentinel under a 180-degree sky. We begin winding our way upward to the top of this modest mountain, elevation 2,441 feet.

The mountain is named, the legend goes, after a young French woman who died following her true love across the ocean disguised as a boy. He had come to explore Arkansas, then part of the Louisiana Purchase, and forbade her to accompany him — so she stowed away on her lover’s ship as a boy, whom the sailors nicknamed Petit Jean or Little John. Not even her boyfriend recognized her, so he was either nearsighted or possessed typical male obtuseness.

When she became ill, her disguise was revealed. Her dying request was to be buried on the mountain overlooking the Arkansas River, which was named in her honor. Hey, it’s a good story.

The Civilian Conservation Corps, part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal program, went to work in the 1930s to build the park’s stone lodge, 20 cabins and two lakes, putting a couple hundred World War I veterans to work for eight years during the Depression right up until Pearl Harbor. The lodge and pavilion are still in use today. The original cabins have been replaced by newer but similar style models, with rock facades and brown wood siding.

We hiked not long after arriving in mid-afternoon to the most spectacular attraction, the 90-foot Cedar Falls, which cascades over a cliff into a pool of water below. You can walk a narrow ledge behind the falls about 15 feet above the pool, but none of us were interested in doing so. The water looked mighty cold if one slipped.

There is just something about hiking, climbing carefully over rocks — walking stick in hand to keep my balance — as I choose my steps cautiously, taking in air scented by trees, smelling the decay of dead leaves, just being outdoors putting one step in front of the other and savoring God’s beauty that recharges my batteries. I can forget about my earthly cares and just concentrate on the hike, the joy of being healthy and able to still exert my body fairly vigorously as I approach the double-nickel in age.

The weather was chamber-of-commerce perfect, pushing 60 degrees with a gentle breeze. Even the 12-year-old tween-ager enjoyed the hike. Her iPod earbuds effectively blocked the sound of nature as she alternated between texting her friends spending their spring breaks at Disney World or Six Flags, and taking photos with the cell phone to show off the “scenery,” as we called the particularly lovely views we encountered. These were promptly dispatched to her friends, who presumably were grateful to be shopping at some big-city mall instead of taking the risk of perspiring.

The temperature dropped quickly as the sun turned pink, then almost purple, and sank between the gap in the valley. We all went inside — my Beautiful Mystery Companion, her daughter and I. I built a fire, my BMC read the paper and dozed. We all fell asleep fairly early, worn out by the five-hour drive from Longview and the hiking.

The next morning, I awoke before anyone and went down to the lodge for coffee and to read in front of the fire. It was still dark, a good time to read and reflect. For the first time in 30 years, I am out of work, which is why you are reading this piece on this site and not in the newspaper or on a newspaper Web site. It is both scary and exhilarating to contemplate what the future holds. Those thoughts occupied my mind as the darkness eventually gave way to first morning light.

Later, Abbie (the 12-year-old) and I watched as turkey buzzards raced each other high across the valley that stretched below us, just 50 feet from the back door of the cabin, on the final day of winter. I’ve never seen buzzards act that way. It was as if they were playing an early morning game of tag. We all hiked a few more trails, then headed home.

Two days later, on the second day of spring, back here in Longview, it snowed for hours, fat wet flakes. Some days it does seem as if the world has been turned upside down, at least for me. But that can be a good thing, I suppose.
Written March 21, 2010


  1. That sounds lovely. I still can't believe it snowed in Longview in the middle of March. Those unpredictable weather patterns sure are something.

  2. For every straight road there is a curve. For every curve there is something to be learned. Our life is full of curves and straight lines. God is our compass and we learn to follow our hearts like a map, which God leads and directs us as the compass. Follow your heart and listen to your soul. Two places you have been as of late. One of calm beauty and the other with odd snow in a place, which is usually absent of the cold stuff. Everything does and will change. Hold on to nothing and you will feel more free. God Bless and be still. You will figure out the next curve or straight route. Gregg

  3. May God bless you on this new journey. I have often wished for a crystal ball so as to see what is in the future, just 5 years or so...but I am always reminded that God's plan for us is ever changing. Take this time to listen, and enjoy life. Let it lead you where it may. MeLinda