My husband Joe and I decided to make an unplanned trip to our cabin here in Arkansas last Wednesday. We are eight miles from Strong, Arkansas, if that means anything to anyone. Our small cabin is very close to the Walton Deer Camp, of which Joe has been a member all his life. We both felt we needed a change of scene after the holidays and all the hullabaloo that goes along with them, which is wonderful but tiring. So we packed enough for four days and headed out, leaving our home in Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans. I drove here, as Joe is facing cataract surgery on both eyes when we get back home. I enjoyed the drive. It was a bright sunny day in the 60s, perfect weather for traveling. Our cats were fairly good in the truck. They are pretty much "free range" cats and never see the inside of a carrier unless we take them to the vet. They usually sit on the console and go to sleep. Lucy, a calico from our daughter's backyard, is usually quiet and asleep almost immediately. General, the gray 13-year-old from our backyard always fusses and whines for the first few miles then falls asleep.
When we arrive at the camp, I help unload the car. Every time we come to the camp, I tell myself and everyone else that I'm going to do nothing but read and take naps. Once I'm here, however, the trails in the woods call to me and I cannot resist. After unloading, I take my camera and a thermos which contains my third and last allotted cup of coffee for the day and head for the creek. The creek runs parallel with and behind our cabin and the big camp. I remember times when Joe's dad and his best friend would fish with cane poles with shiners as bait and catch 25 or 30 beautiful 3- or 4-pound bass, fishing in the water running over a log or across a rock. I have caught stringers full of bream in the spring myself. Those days are long gone. The beavers have ruined the fishing forever. They have built intricate and destructive dams all up and down the creek to the point where the water no longer flows freely. When I walked down the other day, I stubbornly took a rod with me, although Joe told me the fish are long gone. I had not a single bite. But I did enjoy the walk down as there are always pretty things in the woods in the winter: seed pods, wild holly bushes, and though the beauty is stark and different than in the spring and summer and even fall, the trees offer a beauty of their own in winter. The sky that day was a high sky, blue bird sky. I piddled around taking pictures for a few minutes and realized that the arthritis in my ankles no longer hurt and that I was no longer worrying about whatever it was I was worrying about. I had actually forgotten what it was and didn't want to remember. Nature does that, occupies our senses and gives them no time to be elsewhere.
It's about a quarter mile from the creek to the camp. As I started walking back, it was a natural thing to think about things spiritual. I wondered in that moment if Spirit was aware of me, of what I was doing. I remembered a song from the Methodist church I attended as a child that went something like, "His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me." Well, according to that, Spirit was aware of my actions, my thoughts, etc. My take on the thing is that we must first be aware of the divine in order for that watching presence to matter. I was aware of the idea of being watched, protected, acknowledged that day. I later learned that a man who is also a member of the deer camp and a long-time friend of Joe's had taken a walk in the woods earlier that day. He saw a large couch that he thought was brought in by recent flooding. As he walked toward it, the couch moved. He said it was the largest black bear he had ever seen and he very slowly backed away as it began eating something growing along the trail they were on. I was very grateful for the watching presence after I heard that and convinced that perhaps it kept the bears out of my path.
By the time I got back to the camp, the sun was setting. It was beginning to get cold and I was glad to get to the cabin and a cup of hot chocolate. It was so encouraging to realize that I felt good for the first time in several days. No assorted aches and pains in the legs and feet, no stopped up nose, and best of all, no sadness. Although I truly love the holidays, the emotions surrounding them, the memories they bring up, sometimes make me sad. The walk to the creek has erased all that. So much better than a happy pill, as I've come to think of antidepressants, which so many of my friends take. We all have something that heals us; for me, it's the outdoors.
Fishing on the Burnt Creek Bridge
The wild holly bushes are one of the only colorful things in the woods at this point. We decided to do some fishing from the bridge as we left the boat at home this trip. I don't like to pull it when I drive. There are six or seven wild holly bushes along the edge of the creek. Their berries are still intact, probably because the deer have trouble eating them so close to the water. We set up chairs on opposite sides of the bridge and Joe rigs our rods to fish for crappie on the bottom of the deep water. I love to fish more than anything, but after an hour of patiently bobbing the jig at the bottom of my line up and down, having three bites and not catching a thing, I'm ready to leave. The temperature was dropping and it was cold. In the hour we fished, four cars passed on the bridge. Everyone waves in Arkansas, whether they know you or not, which I think is refreshing. One man stopped and asked us if we'd seen any ducks. He had a gun on the seat of his truck and I suppose he was duck hunting, but what a strange way to go about it. Earlier in the day, we saw six or eight boats at the launch and several men standing around talking as well as a gorgeous black lab. I don't know if they had gotten their limit of five or if they didn't see anything and decided to leave. After the man asked us that question, we both realized that we hadn't seen the wood ducks and mallards in the small ponds around the creek that we used to see in years past on any of our trips in 2013. We have no idea what's happened to them and told him as much.
End of the Day
After we leave the bridge, we take a long ride in the reserve, looking for deer, coyotes, any animal of any kind, even bears. When we finally get back to the camp, it is dark and cold and Joe heats the homemade soup he has made during the day. It is my mom's recipe and very simple but very good and makes me feel pampered and like a child again as I eat it with crackers and iced tea.
Midget's Homemade Soup
3- to 4-pound chuck roast
1 large can tomato juice
2 cans Veg-All...
1 medium-sized onion, chopped
Three or four medium potatoes, cubed
Salt and pepper to taste
Trim roast and cut into bite-sized pieces
Cover with water, cook until tender (add additional water if necessary).
Add remaining ingredients including salt and pepper (add additional water if necessary to cover).
Cook on medium heat for one hour or until all the vegetables are tender.
At this point, I seem to have healed most of my ailments, mental and physical with fresh air and soup, much preferable to Prozac.
Yesterday we decided to sit in one of Joe's stands and watch for deer. At almost 68 years old, getting myself up the ladder and into the stand was a feat I was proud of. We sat about 20 minutes, then I turned and on the limb of a pine tree not 6 feet from me was a gorgeous red-tailed hawk. I slowly reached for my camera and removed the lens cover. Of course, with its keen eyesight, the hawk immediately saw the movement and flew. I was able to catch a photo of it as it reached a pine across the trail from our stand, but it was not close enough to capture the beauty of its colors.
After the hawk left us excited and ready to see more, it was almost 45 minutes until we did. All at once, Joe said, "Look at that." I immediately looked all the way down the trail we were sitting in a stand beside. "No, look straight down," he said. There directly below us stood a beautiful little doe, standing quietly in the middle of the trail. As I picked up my camera, she saw me, made eye contact, and I knew she would be gone. I got a photo of her running away. The protective coloring nature has given deer is amazing to me. It is difficult to even see her in the photo. And the color of her coat will change when spring comes, to blend with her new surroundings.
End of the Trip
After sitting in the stand yesterday, we drove around the reserve for a while, saw two fat and sassy turkey gobblers crossing the road, then came back to the camp and ate chili Joe made during the day. Joe remarked that his head cold had gone away. I realized that I actually had no aches and pains at all any longer. We watched our beloved Saints win over the Eagles and went to bed happy and pain free. Nature has truly done its thing and we both feel better than we have in a long while. It has been a quiet trip, with a few folks stopping by to say hi, but mostly just the two of us and the cats. Today has been a day to stay inside. It rained most of the morning, then the wind began to blow really hard and now the temperature is dropping rapidly. It is supposed to get down to 16 tonight. We are all packed except for the few things we'll need in the morning and hope to be away from here by 8:00. I know that when I get home, I'll be glad to be there, to have more space again, a king-sized bed again, a fireplace, etc. But for right now, I don't want to leave this place that has such healing powers. It has lifted my spirits, soothed my aching body and nourished my soul one more time and right at this moment, I want to stay here forever and listen to the wind howling outside and feel the cabin grow cooler and cooler as the temperature drops.