Life in The Ozarks

Wages are low, roads are sometimes hazardous, and land use issues can be complicated, but for the most part life in The Ozarks is healthy and amiable.

| November/December 1974

  • 030 life in the ozarks - cover
    In The Ozarks, a comfortable shack in the valley is as good as a mansion on a hill. 

  • 030 life in the ozarks - cover

How high is up? At our house, "up" is two crooked miles by road or one-half mile as the crow flies ... if a crow could fly straight up our mountain. I don't think the wind currents would let him.

The road to our place follows ridges and shelving benches along the only possible route it could go. Therefore we have just one road in and out (unless we walk, and walking is hard on shoes and old clothes).

If two drivers meet on the mountain, the one going up has the right of way. The fellow coming down finds an unoccupied space, pulls over and stops. "Unoccupied" means the rocks are small enough to straddle and the trees wide enough apart to miss. In several spots, one bank of the road towers above the auto and on the other drops away to nothing for several feet. Sometimes cars and trucks meet in the most unhandy places and get their noses bumped.

The Ozarks leave the most learned men shamefaced because they can't decide where our mountains begin and end. Some of the poor fellows even call these highlands a plateau—which might be truer than one would think from observation. "Our mountains ain't so high, but our valleys shore are deep," goes an old Ozark saying. It does fit. The region couldn't brag of peaks—or even hills—if the creeks and rivers didn't cut with a vengeance for several hundred feet through the silky dirt and soft rocks.

Our valley is bowl-shaped, with a flat bottom and a creek running through. Mountains surround us, just high enough to shut out the rest of the world. Almost all our property is valley land and comparatively flat, with one generous edge turned up and attached to the Ozark National Forest. The other side ends up in the river. (Well, the maps call it a river and in winter and spring it's just that, but in summer and fall until the autumn rains start, it's a creek. In the dry season, crossing the stream is simply a matter of putting your feet on the right stones. If you step on a slippery rock and aren't fast enough on your legs to keep your balance, your backside gets wet along with your dignity. When the rains come, you gotta have a boat.)

We live 18 miles from any town, 60 miles from a city with an assortment of doctors, 15 miles from a store or gasoline station (one and the same) and 13 miles from the closest paved road. Those last 13 miles are over the roughest, rockiest, dirtiest, narrowest car track in the state of Arkansas. And brother, that's saying a lot, because Arkansas is not well known for good secondary routes. It's five miles to the nearest neighbor, who also has the nearest telephone.

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