The locusts descend upon the land.
Not the literal ones, but a kind much worse, in my estimation. The urbanites, long disenchanted with the social upheaval of late, have begun to migrate to the country. My home county, Newton County, Arkansas, is sadly not immune, though we are largely blessed.
Rugged and in the remote mountains of northwest Arkansas, my home county is steeped in both history and poverty. My people scratched out existences in the rocky hill sides as they raised families. I remember my grandmother talking about playing the game ‘jacks’ once and stating that she, as a grown woman, had never actually seen a store-bought jack, as they played with peach pits.
These new comers know nothing of the land, and many care even less about the people. They come down and build their ‘McMansions’ all along every scenic route and over my home country. True, some are good people who will acclimate and become part of the social fabric of my home. It has always been that way, but far too many are odious transplants who denigrate and insult my people. It is this thought that weights heavily on my mind as I drive Hghway 7 on a cool Saturday morning. I wonder to myself, ‘How can one escape this madness?’ as I observe three new buildings on the point of the mountain.
But there are places one can escape, still yet.
I turn the truck down into Limestone Valley, outside of Deer, Arkansas. Limestone is, quite possibly, one of the most pristine, untouched areas in my county. Much of this hinges on the fact that large tracts are still family owned, many of them founding stock of the county itself. I drive down to Essex Cemetery, and get out, going to clean the headstone of my third great grandfather, Jiles Middleton, when the realization washes over me.
Slow and gentle, on the feeling comes. I turn slowly, taking in the beautiful pioneer cemetery and the surrounding hills. Nestled here in the heart of the valley is a beautiful resting place, locally owned and well kept. I turn and admire the beautiful bluff visible from the entrance gate, and I recall my great grandmother talking about her grandfather and stories she would relate from her childhood. Though she was born in my hometown, Vendor, her father and grandfather would relate stories to them. They told her that on a clear day, the Log Hall Church bell was audible on peaceful Sundays there. Whilst Log Hall is a goodly distance away, I do believe this!
There was an old tale about a buzzard that haunted the Limestone valley and that had a bell around its neck. The story was that at some time some brave farmer caught it and put it on there. That story I cannot verify, but I have heard it! I chalk that up to local legend, but you never know!
The only noises there that Saturday morning were the soft sighing of the trees and the calls of the birds in the nearby tree line. The same things my ancestors heard there a hundred years ago.
Here was peace. Here was serenity. Here was an escape from the hustle and bustle and the locusts.
Here was home.
I walk the rows of stones and do some cleaning, admiring the beautiful handiwork on the carved marble and granite. So much love and labor went into the memorials for the souls who rest here. Their life’s work done, they rest underneath the stones that their families and neighbors scraped up and found a way to pay for, though they had next to nothing themselves. They refused to let their ancestors be forgotten. We should learn a lesson from that. As I walk the rows of weathered stones I read of the lifetimes spent there, in the beautiful Limestone Valley. Tragedies, successes, love, death, war and peace – all are represented here. Children who never had a chance to grow, and the extreme elderly lie here. These are my people. I stand a moment and enjoy the beautiful peace that surrounds me. This country is untouched, nearly the same as it was when my ancestors came here and decided to raise their children. A wild, untouched wilderness, beautiful in the extreme, and well cared for by the owners. Essex Cemetery is a special place to me.
As I drove home (after a visit with the landowners themselves) I passed by the ‘mansions on the hill’ and cast them a disparaging glance. These people come out and sit and sip coffee as they look over the Big Creek Valley. They know nothing of my people, and only come to enjoy the natural beauty left (that they don’t bulldoze whilst building a huge cookie-cut home on a mountain top).
Newton County is beautiful, and the valley they gaze upon, to them, is nothing more than small farms and tree lined mountains and ridges. They know nothing of the blood, sweat, and tears that have been shed here. My people came here and carved a living out of this wilderness. They lived and died here. They suffered in peace and more so in war. They fought, died and forged a bond here. This land is not just ‘dirt’ but the inheritance of our folk. I could show these people countless spots where family feuds were fought, where marriages took place, where revivals were held, where people found liquor or religion. These people – most of whom seem to hail from up North – care not for my people’s history, sadly. They have always looked down on the ‘backwards’ Arkansas Ozarker. But we persevere and survive. We thrive without their approval, nor do we crave it. We are our own people. This is our home. The Big Creek Valley is sacred ground to me and mine, as we have been here well over a century now. Places like Limestone are something we need. In this fast paced, high tech world, we have become separated from our roots. We no longer seek solace in peace and quiet. We all need this. Sadly, too many of our places of solitude have been bought up and ‘improved’ by the locusts. They seek the same, but they don’t understand how to be stewards of the land. They tear down the natural beauty they purport to love and denigrate the local culture and people. Again, this is not a sweeping indictment, as some are good, but too many are not. I also blame the people who sell off their family lands to these locusts for profit.
Limestone has survived war, drought and pestilence, and to this day continues to be one of the most beautiful spots in our home county.
I pray my children’s children will find it the same.
On a cool summer morning in the Limestone valley, I gaze at the bluff across from Jiles’s headstone, and wonder how many times he himself did the same.
The world has no right to our home.
Preserve our heritage, our people, and our land. Teach your children the same.