Friday, December 3, 2010

Finding Sanctuary in the Woods of Oklahoma

Come away to a secret place and stay for a while.
— Mark 6:31

HOCHATOWN, OKLA. — That quotation from the Gospel of Mark was on a kitschy sign titled "Sanctuary." It was on the end table in the living room of the log cabin where my Beautiful Mystery Companion and I retreated the weekend after Thanksgiving. The sign is hokey though the message certainly isn’t. I discover that, at least, the sign is made out of recycled newsprint that has been pressed into a wood product. I’m always happy to see newspapers recycled into something other than fishwrap. Plus, the sign is made in the USA. I was shocked to not spot the ubiquitous "Made in China" label on the back. Nope, the sticker says the sign was made in Siloam Springs, Arkansas — not that far from where we're staying. Something kitschy made in America; imagine that.

Hochatown skirts the Ouachita National Forest, bordering Beavers Bend State Park in southeastern Oklahoma, a few miles from the Arkansas line and maybe 30 miles north of the Red River. With Broken Bow Lake next door and whitewater streams abounding, it is a popular outdoor recreation spot — especially if you live in East Texas, as my BMC does. In just two hours we can be hiking trails in hilly terrain while watching fly fishermen in hip waders cast their luck into the current. Log cabins for rent are scattered throughout the area. We're holed up in one on this holiday weekend, enjoying a respite from our busy lives, asphalt and work.

As I write this, the only sound besides my finger bouncing off the iPad is the hissing of the gas logs in the fireplace. It got close to freezing last night, so even the birds seem to be sleeping in this morning. But it promises to be a lovely day for hiking, admiring the foliage, which is in its last week or so of showing off, maybe snapping a few photographs.

Both of us crave a few days of solitude at least a few times a year, with no Internet access or newspapers, just narrow hiking trails and God’s beauty to wrap around ourselves for too brief a time. A wraparound porch with ceiling fans and rocking chairs are also appreciated. We walk, read, nap, watch movies at night in the glow of the fireplace, eat simple fare, mainly Thanksgiving leftovers.

I mentioned hiking. Our favorite spot here is the Beaver Lodge Trail because it parallels fast-flowing Beaver Creek, which provides a lovely musical background as the water flows over the rocks. Surprisingly, Oklahoma state parks don’t charge anything for day use, though campers pay a modest fee. Perhaps as a result, the state has a laissez-faire attitude about hiking its trails, which aren’t terribly well-marked. At least the Beaver Lodge Trail isn’t. The brochure warns that it is challenging. It doesn’t mention that it wouldn’t take much of a misstep to tumble a couple hundred feet down a steep, rocky hill with one’s descent only halted by either a tree or a boulder before one ended up in the icy water of Beaver Creek.

That is such a refreshing attitude. I don’t know about you, but that whole nanny state approach gets old sometimes. I tire of being warned of the dangers of, well, just about everything from what we eat to standing on the top rung of a stepladder. Out here in Hochatown, we’re walking on a narrow rocky trail that at several points forces one to concentrate on each step one takes — or face the consequences. That does tend to clear the mind of extraneous thoughts.

The area is aptly named after beavers — the park, creek and trail. We pass several fresh examples of the buck-toothed creatures’ handiwork, hardwood trees five or six inches in diameter felled by persistence. Most places curse beavers for the havoc they wreak. Here, they have been turned into part of the tourist industry, which is what fuels this part of the state, where there is little industry or much else to bring in money.

I kept thinking about the sign in the cabin. Sanctuary: A secret place to stay for a while. We all need that from time to time. For a brief time, we found ours.

Originally published in the Hill Country News, (Cedar Park, Texas) December 2, 2010


  1. The beavers are also fun to watch while kayaking on Broken Bow Lake. On one island, within easy distance of the shore from Carson Creek boat ramp, the beavers have quite the elaborate dam built up.

    Beaver Lodge trail -west side is fun to do at night, but stay on the wide path.