"Arkansaw? I never knew anyone who went to Arkansaw!", was the most common response I got when I decided to visit my sister and family over the Christmas break. Equipped with a AAA travel book that included 30 pages of information on ALL cities and towns of any point of interest in this tiny state, right in the heart of America, I was quite excited about visiting the state of the Clintons, the only reference to Arkansas before my sister moved there.
While I did not bump into the Clintons as we did not go anywhere near Little Rock, we did get to explore parts of the Ozarks and Oachita "mountains". The state is called the "Natural State" as there is really nothing there but rocks and hills and some vegetation.
For a small state, it has many neighbors and we were able to cover 8 states and their capitals for the academic benefit of my 3rd grader. We flew into Tulsa, Oklahoma and were surprised to find a huge Indian population there that included Indian grocery stores and a decent Hindu temple (where we conducted ceremonies for my one year old nephew).
Parts of Arkansas and Oklahoma make up tracts of the Trail of Tears. Compulsory evictions of Native Americans in the mid 1800s from the East to the region West of the Mississippi led to mass migration of native people thrown out by a bunch of land grabbing whites- of course, the white ensured that it was all legal and "documented" as sales or as fair winnings. Otherwise, there would still be a border dispute like we have in so many parts of the world that were ex colonies of white colonists. We passed by Cherokee nation on our drive to Tulsa, Oklahoma, the land of the natives.
The freeways were "free" of traffic and I promised my 13 year old that I will send him to his aunt's house to learn driving! There was a laid back attitude in the air and for us super-charged (euphemism for super stressed) Californians, it was bizzare not to speed with no one around. American cars outnumbered their Japanese counterpart in these parts. There were mechanic sheds in the countryside that actually advertised that they repaired American and FOREIGN made cars! That sounded so much like a hoarding in some remote township in India!
People were content and not crazy about making MORE money. I met an artist who made stuff out of crystals (spatik) that are easily mined in the southwestern region of Arkansas. We even visited an open pit diamond mine- the only one of its kind in the world where you can get knee deep into fine clay with bits of gravel that just might turn up an odd diamond here and there- and take it home with you. I got a fine piece of Barite with a few chunks of crystal and 2 beautiful pieces of Jasper. If you enjoy getting slushy in fine clay and do not mind the occasional slide and fall into a quagmire, this is a must-see.
My sister who has taken up quilting since moving there, introduced me to the world of quilting. I spent many hours chopping up good material into small squares and rectangles and triangles. She sewed on her machine. Yet another American industry introduction.
Northern Arkansas has a network of underground caverns and aquifers that take you to an entirely different world, paataal. The cenotes of the Yucatan are very similar to these underground lakes. The artistry of nature that takes million years to grow a few feet of stalactites and stalagmites makes you feel so irrelevant on this planet. Of course, human mining of onyx from these mountains has destroyed many delicate formations and aquifers.
The spas in Hot Springs, relics from the past- closely related to the hot spring experiences of European spa traditions was a relaxing experience in a tub of hot mineral water. Thank you sis, for a warm treat.
Apart from Walmart, the largest employer in the area, there are not too many big businesses to keep everyone happily employed. However, there are crystal mines and whetstone mines that keep Arkansas economy honed.
Churches outnumbered residences, I think! I realized that I had officially entered a southern state, Virginia not withstanding. Small villages with less than 1000 people were the norm. The rural back roads hid many a junk pile in the thickets. Many a shack looked like their simple counterparts in India, but they all had a car parked in front!
For a big city girl, the rural experience was wonderful and relaxing. Of course spending time with my sister and her family could use a blog all of its own. But for public consumption, the city mouse visiting her country sister was an enlightening experience.
- » Published on January 06, 2009
- » Type: Opinion
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