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Rollin' stones

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The Observer spent a good part of last week working on a story that took us out into nature, which we generally hate. Too many ticks, chiggers, snakes, no-see-ums and poison ivy out there, my friend. We'll stick to the paved roads, thanks.

Going to see a gent up near Red Star, for example, a solid 50 twisty miles from the nearest tow truck or taxi cab, Yours Truly and Mr. Photographer went down the hairiest fire trail we've attempted in a wheeled vehicle since we hit the offroad vehicle park up near Hot Springs for a story some years back. Instead of riding in a lifted Land Rover this time, however, The Observer was white-knuckling it in Spouse's Honda CRV — an SUV, but just barely — glad even at that we didn't take Mr. P's little Ford Fiesta, recently back from sabbaticals at the Grease Rag Spa for an oil leak and a busted transmission. The intrepid ramblers would have surely had to abandon that little Ford at some point in last week's off-roading, high-centered, buried to the hubs in damp clay or just plain ol' conked out and pushed off the road, a coop for owls and doves for the rest of time, covered over with vines, left to return to the earth. We barely made it through as is, with all-wheel drive and a good eight inches more ground clearance.

Up and down and through we went, over rocks and roots and mud, past wildflowers, trees and turtles, doe deer and low-water crossings, out to where the cell service gets spotty and the street signs stop and all the power lines come to an end. The end of the world, right here in Arkansas. There are people at the end of the world, if you can imagine it, happy people, even without all the gadgets and geegaws and coolerators that seem to rule these modern lives of ours and keep us couchbound all summer. Spouse's little Honda, Black Phillip, has seen it all in the past two weeks in our treks out to the mountainous boonies of North Arkansas. At one point in the deep woods, rattling over what appeared to be the partially buried backbone of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, the car sounded an ominous "Ping-Ting!" that signifies some metallic thing has fell off and skittered away into the underbrush. We never saw it if it did. A mechanic's lost class ring, perhaps. We hope so, anyway.

There's hearty souls out there in the backwaters and great beyond of north Arkansas, my friend. People living in places where you could do anything you wanted short of getting a no-whip mocha from Starbucks if the mood struck you, the immensity and remoteness of that wild country powerful nerve wracking to city fellers like The Observer and Mr. P, who cracked nervous jokes about "Deliverance" as we rattled over hill and dale in the leopard-spotted shade of the fathoms-deep woods. If the terrifying inbreds who — SPOILER ALERT! — killed Hopper and Fonda at the end of "Easy Rider" are out there, however, we didn't see them. To a person, everybody we met was helpful and kind, generous, passionate about their lives, itching for conversation. We don't know if that's because they just grow 'em polite in the mountains, or because not many folks get out their way. Probably a little of both. It's almost enough to make us change our mind about nature. Maybe if we weren't so afraid of picking ticks and having to find somebody to suck the poison from a copperhead bite out of our ankle, we might have to get out there and ramble more often. Probably not, but it's a thought.

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