I’m in the Ozark Mountains in northern Arkansas. It’s hot (90’s), calm, friendly and utterly peaceful. I am staying at the Ozark Country Inn in Mountain View, AR, touted as the Folk Music Capitol of the World. Everyone in this town plays an instrument and they gather in the town square in the warm evenings and blend together into groups to entertain themselves and others. No need for TV here, it’s all about music. They raise their children on this wholesome diet of bluegrass and folk music and if they seem a bit simple it is only because they prefer to uphold their heritage. The town is tiny, with maybe 3000 residents, everyone knows everybody’s business, and their eyes twinkle when they say, “that can be good and bad.” I have only met generous, kind, good-hearted people here, and I’m continuing my streak of great luck to my utter delight.
Debbie and Leonard welcomed me into their B&B with warmth, helpfulness, and a charming dog named Destiny. I feel like family and am being waited on and served bread pudding in the evening and complete southern breakfasts every morning. I can’t say enough great things about their hospitality, only to say that I extended my stay a day to relax here a little longer.
The first night I attended an indoor concert by the Cobb Brothers right next door to where I am staying. This is a prime example of a family raised on music. They are only 14, 15, and 17 years old and wow, they can play guitar, upright bass, fiddle, and mandolin like nobody’s business, and you can tell they like each other too. I will admit that I don’t normally listen to bluegrass music, but while I am here, I am jumping into the way of the natives and loving it. As I type I am even hearing the words in my head in a southern accent!
After the concert I walked to the town square where all the music happens under the stars, for free by the way. Four groups were playing and I moseyed from one to the other enjoying the family atmosphere. Oh I can mention here that this is a dry county, lots of churches and the attitudes are wholesome. The music does not produce wildness or drunkenness but fun and light-heartedness. I stopped at my favorite group and sat for awhile, and low-and-behold there was dancing! A guy in a black cowboy hat was twirling, and 2-stepping, ladies around the small gathering and I was soon to become one of the ladies as you can imagine. It was a blast. I visited with my cowboy for a bit, he seemed to know everyone in town and I learned a lot in a short while about the town and him. James drives a motorcycle and he must have seen my eyes light up because he offered me a ride back to my inn, only a couple blocks away. Now being the conscientious mother that I am, I inquired about helmets and found out they are not the law here. CRAZINESS! But James defended the law, saying there are more motorcycle deaths with helmets than without. I was skeptical, still am, but in the name of adventure and risk, for that is partly what this trip is about, I agreed to the ride. To give him his due, he offered me a helmet, and here’s where I say to my daughters… “Do as I say, NOT as I do!!” I declined the helmet. When in Rome…
It was so amazing. I can really see why people ride and put aside the statistical data and risk life and limb. I put my arms out wide and felt like I was flying. I saw fireflies, the warm air was pungent and I laughed out-loud! I gave James my business card and he said he would take me riding the next day if I wanted.
Day 2 found me, after eating a walloping breakfast of eggs, bacon, french toast, potatoes, biscuits, gravy and fruit, off to see the highlights. I went to a cute general store that normally has live music, but it’s Tuesday after Memorial Day and I think they’re all tired out and napping.
Next up was the Ozark Folk Center. I was not expecting much, but was blown away by this park dedicated to preserving the music, crafts and culture of the Ozarks. It was a living history museum of sorts. You walk around in and out of buildings set up as a town, and the docents are making their wares and talking to any that are interested about how things were done in the 1800’s. I had the place to myself almost, as this really is out in the middle of no where. It took forever to drive to Mountain View on windy, twisty roads.
The first person I met at the center was a gentleman carving a Native American face into piece of bark. We chatted, I snapped his photo and admired his artistry. He stopped me a bit later as I was walking by and said “I have been married 42 years and you’re a very beautiful woman. Just wanted you to know that.” How darling is that? To hear a simple, without-ulterior-motive, declaration of admiration was touching. I cherish it.
But the folk center is a twinkling gem of a place for history and craft buffs like me. It was like a shot of adrenaline to see artists creating. There was folk music players, copper working, broom makers, gun, and black, smiths, herb gardens, an old school house, wood carvers, basket and wool weavers, wood turning, glass bead making, pottery, printing, and a darling mule called Whiskey that I spoiled and fed alfalfa pellets. I was there for over three hours and would have stayed longer but that I had to get to the Blanchard Springs Caverns before they closed.
The caverns were absolutely stunning! STUNNING!!! I am continually flabbergasted at what my country has to offer in never-ending surprises. I have been up mountains, down canyons and now inside a cavern.
The interior was fitted out for tourists in the early 70’s with paved walkways and special lighting designed by some man who designs lighting for operas. I wish I could give you the scope of the place, it was really huge inside, with such an Indiana Jones Temple of Doom feel, but my photos don’t do it justice. I really get giddy in these places, people look at me sideways because I am filled with wonder, ask a lot of enthusiastic questions and make a fool of myself with the camera. But I don’t care! My sense of childlike wonder is authentic and completely pure.
After emerging from the cavern I got a text from James (calling me “beautiful”) asking if I want to go for a ride. I take a deep breath and say YES!! I almost don’t want to admit to this part. The rigid, obey-the-rules part of me fights to conquer the free-spirit, risk taker. The risk-taker won this time. James picked me up at the B&B, and I had Debbie at the inn at my beck and call for rescue, and off I went.
As I said before, James seems to know the whole town and gives a cool little wave to every passing vehicle. A few blocks away another biker pulls alongside us, a friend of James, and they talk loudly while we drive slowly through town. Steve is invited along on our adventure. He looks like Uncle Fester and only needs a light bulb between his teeth to complete the image! We drive up into the hills, seeing gorgeous views, me snapping photos and yelling in James’ ear periodically reminding him that I don’t want to die, so be careful.
I am living such a dream. How it is that I keep receiving such glorious experiences is beyond me. I am touched by people in all manners of life. I am not a snob I am very happy to report. I do not treat others with disdain if they have differing educational or cultural standards, or cleanliness standards or whatever. I really am accepting and I like that. James and Steve tell me I need to stay longer, or come back, and I assure them that as much as I love it here, I could never live this remotely. It’s not for me, but I do admire the people that live quiet lives of inspiration in their own worlds.
After about a 2 hour ride around the countryside we are back in town. James sees a SUV pulled over in a parking lot and says “I think they might need help,” and promptly goes to their aid. They had just hit a deer up the road and the front end of the car is bashed in. James twiddles with the frame and adjusts a few things and sends them on their way. Such generosity to strangers is natural and immediate with him. He doesn’t think twice about going out of his way. The world is full of richness found inside people’s souls. I am having it ooze out all over mine and I am content and oh so grateful.