It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve done it. The first weekend at the lake is always breathtaking.
There is the refreshing escape from the city, driving along two-lane roads past trees and farmland as the sun sits low on the horizon late Friday evening.
There is the first view of the lake, the first sniff of the musty old cabin or condo when you open the front door, and the first beer you taste after you’ve brought in the bags and groceries.
You wake up the next morning and realize you only need a T-shirt, a bathing suit, and flip-flops. Then you go down to the boat and make it into the water while it is still, before everyone else gets there.
And you float and drink and eat and swim. The day goes by slowly, but still too fast, and you make your way back to the dock only when the sun starts to disappear behind the hills.
You grill some hamburgers and hot dogs over charcoal, and they taste better than anything you have had in a long time.
You’re back on the lake the next day, but it isn’t the same, because you know you have to return to the real world in a few hours. It doesn’t really hit you while you are pouring the ice out of the coolers and loading the car. It hits you when you are driving away from the lake, back on that beautiful stretch of two-lane road, far enough from the city to appreciate where you are, but close enough to know you can’t turn around.
The Ozark plateau used to offer such respite. Hills of forest giving way to dairies and the smell of cows, fencerows covered in honeysuckle and blackberries, scissor-tailed flycatchers scissoring by.
The Observer was enjoying an anonymous country road in Benton County, its clay and gravel curve giving way to a low-water bridge over which water was rushing. It was bucolic — until we closed in on what was once the sleepy burg of Centerton. Now, over what was once pasture and farm, are housetops, identical, as far as the eye can see. Hundreds and hundreds of brand new houses, two-story, siding, all alike, in neighborhoods and on streets that sounded a false note up in those hills — like “El Contento” and “Cabernet Drive,” the latter somewhat ironic in a dry county that limits the amount of wine once can have in his possession to a gallon.
The roads are still two-lane, but the scenery is definitely six-lane.
The Observer couldn’t quite identify the recorded music that was playing inside Trinity Episcopal Cathedral as mourners waited for Bill Shelton’s memorial service to begin, but we could tell it was something pretty lively. The priest later explained that it was Louis Prima, and that Shelton himself had requested it. The Observer recalled then that Shelton had been a big Louis Prima fan, which seemed inconsistent with his reserved persona. But then, the longtime Arkansas Gazette city editor was not always as he appeared to be. Which is true of just about everybody, come to think of it. Perhaps Louis Prima had a quiet side.
Somebody was having one of those “Be Fit or Else” rallies down at the River Market and large numbers of participants were streaming by under The Observer’s window, some in blue T-shirts, some in red, all of the shirts bearing slogans like “Wellness Works.” Many of the group carried signs that said “It’s Hip to be Fit.” Some brought their water bottles along — no dehydration for them.
The Observer’s eye was caught by one particular fitness buff. She had the T-shirt, she had the sign, and she also had a cigarette that she puffed on contentedly as she made her way to the Market. Like Frank Sinatra, this lady did it her way.