The Observer has engaged in some egregiously bad science lately, from atop a skirtless kayak skimming the surface of the Great Backwash of Carpenter Dam, the twin sister of Lake Catherine sprung fully formed from the thigh of Arkansas Power & Light: Lake Hamilton. That is to say, we've scoured the perimeter of the alternately soupy and craggy shore in an act of pure confirmation bias, favorably noting evidence to support an assumption we've harbored for years: that the construction of recreational homes has veered sharply away from its mission statement, eschewing the very naturalistic assets for which homeowners staked out lakeside territory in the first place shade, tranquility, privacy.
The New Guard bursts forth in the only way it knows how, clearing the blackgum and shortleaf pine and laying down windowless red-brick behemoths over the exposed clay loam, only to discover that the scene, bereft of foliage, looks rather naked, at which point younger replacements are brought in to shade a patio, meticulously mulched to accelerate their resemblance to their uprooted predecessors. (We can't help but wonder if, in what is a symbol of either poetic injustice or cyclical beauty, the twiggy upstarts are protected at their bases by remnants of that same old growth, hauled off, ground into chips, dyed red or brown and bagged and shelved for purchase at the Lowe's off of Hot Springs' Central Avenue.) A freewheeling lime green jet ski peels by the "slow down" warning buoy bobbing up and down at the entrance to the cove, leaving it looking for all the world like the pedestrian at the street corner whose suit has just been splashed with mud; jaw dropped, red-faced, seething, gesturing wildly at the "No Wake" warning across its chest. Beams of high wattage outdoor lighting make the moonlight look downright dumpy by comparison. Hammocks are anchored to poles erected on concrete pads until the new trees are strong enough to hold them up.
And, interspersed between McMansions, the Old Guard peers hesitantly out from behind the treeline like cartoon eyes in the dark. A-frames from the 1970s tread lightly, prudently, clinging to the hillside, extending an ugly, unpainted toe toward the foot of the spongy water in the form of an aging dock. Cinder block and wooden houses occupy a scant quarter of the property on which they lie, and landscaping means bagging up leaves once a year or so. Past-their-prime canoes and wooden paddles hide under rudimentary carports. Fishing implements are hung from nails on the undersides of dock covers, battered by the elements.
Sure, the gathering of this sensory data admits an inherently biased hypotheses, and probably a self-righteous air of stodgy fist-shaking at The Sheer Audacity of These Johnny-Come-Latelys, not to mention the hypocrisy of critiquing a Manifest Destiny sense of privilege from a place of only-slightly-less-privilege, but given the choice between a johnboat patched up with gobfuls of J-B Weld and the gleaming green jet ski, give us the johnboat.
On another note: The Dixie Chicks played a two hour show at Verizon Arena on Friday night before an admiring crowd that had longed to see the Chicks even now, years after they made their last recording. It was a wonderful night — though the black-and-white pop art and Rohrschach blots threatened to send some of us into grand mal seizures — and especially when all 9,000 in attendance lustily sang "Goodbye Earl" with the Chicks. "Earl had to die, goodbye Earrrrrrl!" The thing about "Goodbye Earl," in which an abusive husband gets his just desserts, is its cathartic effect for women, who know restraining orders are no protection. Take that, you bastard! Those black-eyed peas, they tasted all right to me, Earrrrrl! Maybe none of us would actually kill the asshole, but we can sing about it, can't we?
On Sunday morning, we read a story in the newspaper about a judge who asked a teenage rape victim why she couldn't have just kept her knees together. And we pictured all the women in the courtroom, singing: Ain't it dark wrapped up in that tarp, juuuudge?