I find myself sitting on the bank of a lake, not far from where I grew up. Being in an extremely rural and poor area of Arkansas, we hang on to things quite a bit longer than most, both literally and figuratively.
In the 1960s, there was a thriving vacation destination in my home county, known as the ‘Wildlife Club.’ My great aunt, as well as many other locals, worked at this (what I would consider) forerunner of the Buffalo National Riveresque tourist attraction. People came here to fish the man-made lakes, hunt hogs (imported from elsewhere to tend to the guests), and just relax in the pristine Ozarks atmosphere. They even built a landing strip for those ‘high rollers’ who would fly their personal planes in to get some relaxation and rest here in the hills. The lakes were a huge draw, and were prominently featured on the advertisements and post cards from the ‘Club.’
It’s on the bank of the larger lake (Hurricane Lake) that I find myself this particular evening. In partial search of solitude and partial search of a snapping turtle that has been decimating the fish population as of late, I find myself on the opposite side of the lake from our campsite. It is here that I find myself enjoying the crisp Ozark evening and thinking back. It is an interesting thing, seeing as some of my family land still adjoins what once was the Club, and is still in family hands. The strange thought of locals coexisting with a commercial adventure akin to the Club seems almost foreign to us today.
This sends me off on several tangents as I admire the beautiful scenery.
Much has changed here in the woods since the 1960s, of which I am both grateful and regretful of.
The land is now privately owned, after the collapse of the Club (due largely to the executives scamming and stealing of funds, the local legends say), and has went to an old and dear family friend. He has fixed up and made a beautiful camping spot out of the lake. My family and I often go there and enjoy the solitude and visiting with folks from around home. We build fires and tell stories of the old days and take in the beautiful, pristine atmosphere that we all grew up in; that clear, pure, and unblemished Ozarks that too many Yankees think they can move down and ‘improve’ by destroying it for those who rightfully own this hallowed ground. But I digress.
The thing that strikes me most, as I sit here amongst the tall grown grass on the edge of the lake, is the absolute changing effect of time, on all it touches. And, of course, it touches all.
As I sit there pondering on the might and shining star of the Club, I think of its downfall and eventual demise, leading to it being reclaimed by those who rightfully own it.
Time is the most powerful force, save death, possibly, that we encounter in our day to day lives; we are all affected by it, and can do nothing to save, nor restrain it. We can only endure it.
As I sit there, waiting for my increasingly unlikely shot at my reptilian nemesis, I feel the wind pour over me.
Out of the hollers and over the long defunct lead mines it comes. Past trees older than my great-grandparents and over the rough Ozarks dirt that was worked by those who now lie beneath it. The constant, near ever present and unchanging wind strikes us all, surely as time.
That’s when it hits me that the wind and time are close kin.
Both are things we can try our best to fight, with limited success. A man can build a structure against the wind, true, but it will never prevail without a lifetime of work, and that battle time will eventually win.
The opening pillars to the Club are evidence to this. They once stood tall and proud, but now are slowly falling to ruin. With no help to their upkeep, nature has begun to take them down, and will ultimately succeed.
As the wind sweeps past me I sit there, looking over the disturbed surface of the lake that countless folks enjoyed with their families. I look over my right shoulder to the land that my family cut hay and sweated and toiled on. The duality is a strange thing. But both eventually succumbed to time, and the wind.
I think of the very rifle I hold in my hands, a 1930s model pump .22 that was once likely some young man’s pride and joy, and likely lasted him a lifetime of service. Though the finish is now a rough patina, it is still a tack driver and a testament to quality in manufacturing. It, like its probable owner, has succumbed to time and the wind.
I think of those who have long gone on before my own existence, those I knew and those I didn’t, and the stories and memories passed down to me. The wind took them as surely as it will one day take me.
Not that I write this to be sorrowful nor downcast. I write this merely as a point to reflect upon. Our time here is limited. The wind is coming for us all, surely as it came for our ancestors.
However, they also enjoyed the wind. It provided a brief respite in times of turmoil; a moment of cool whilst plowing on a hot day; a welcome gust on a day filled with fraught. The wind, like time, is a thing to be revered, as well as respected. Perhaps the same wind that provided their relief, however momentary, is the same one that washes over us in our days of despair and doubt.
Perhaps it is the same one that washed over this lone country boy on the bank of Hurricane Lake on November 7, 2020.
Though I missed my shot at the turtle, I would trade that shot a thousand times for the memories and thoughts I had that day on the bank of that lake.
Norman Maclean was haunted by waters. Perhaps I am haunted by wind.