Here: Buffalo National River, Arkansas

There’s magic in letting the familiar awe you.

Hikers line up on a bluff overlooking the Buffalo National River in the Arkansas Ozarks. SHELBY MOOTY

Hikers line up on a bluff overlooking the Buffalo National River in the Arkansas Ozarks. SHELBY MOOTY

BY CAROLINE BAUMAN | THE NEW TERRITORY ISSUE 01

I used to think that relationships were built upon words. And I still believe that’s true for many. But words are few on car rides with my father, as we wind along wooded Arkansas highways.

On bright summer Saturdays, we wake up early to pack up the fishing poles and hiking rods into my dad’s silver Jeep. Our hometown of Fayetteville, with its mingled hills and oak-lined streets, shrinks into the rearview. We escape east on Highway 412 toward the Buffalo River, America’s first national river since 1972 and my favorite place in the world since 2000.   

We pass by sleepy, small towns made up of gas stations and bait shops. Before long, there’s nothing for miles but green hills dotted with cows and lakes. Our ears pop as the elevation changes, and as we descend into the valley, the Ozark Mountains roll into our view. They bring with them this sense of smallness. Even as a 22-year-old who has always worshiped words, I could never figure out how to describe the valleys and bluffs carved out by the river. Nothing I could say could fill the untouched space.  And yet, I have spent so much of my life trying.


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