Where choices lead us

August 9, 2010

July 27

I woke up this morning feeling different. Sure, it felt different to be in a comfortable bed in a cool room, but other than shaking off the mental cobwebs in my brain, I’m typically ready to be active. Today my first sensations were stiff legs. Fully obeying the physical law that a object at rest wants to stay at rest, I decided to take a day off from cycling.

Down in the kitchen I checked with Jody, the house manager, about another night‘s stay. At breakfast, I sat down with Monica and Paul, a National Park Service employee who was boarding at the B&B for the season. Monica was disappointed I was not going on. Hesitant to camp in city parks on her own, she had been looking forward to traveling with me a few towns down the road to the next logical stopping point. Paul, on the other hand, had the day off, and offered to show me around the area.

The lazy Current River

Once each of us attended to some morning tasks, Paul took me out to the “Gator,” the owner’s 4-wheel drive ATV, and we rode out of town onto a gravel road running alongside the Current River. The Ozark Riverways area is popular for its float trips, and indeed, we saw canoeists, kayakers and floaters slowly drifting downstream. Being mid-summer, the river was pretty low. In many spots you could walk all the way across the river.

The solar powered drinking fountain for horses

Horse people make good use of the area as well. There are many miles of horse trails in and around the hills, and a large, private horse camp to meet the needs of the equestrians. At a junction in the road we came upon an unusual looking contraption that looked somewhat like the starting gate at a horse racing track. Paul explained that it was a solar powered drinking fountain for the horses. Riders pull into the stall then pull a handle at saddle height. Water is pumped from the nearby river into a basin from which the horses drink. The machine was installed to prevent riders from watering their horses in the stream.

This was my first time ever in an ATV. It was fun being able to pull off on a whim down onto gravel bars by the shore and various other out of the way places.

We did an out-and-back and returned to Eminence for lunch at a local eatery. I began to learn more about Paul’s intentionally diverse life. “I live a simple life,” he stated. Simple in means, yes, but not in experience. He has a bachelor’s degree in International Business, and completed some graduate school studies. But he gave up getting a graduate degree after failing to see the value of reading and writing about work that other people have already written about. Yet he was once the general manager of his father’s multi-company alarm business. He joined the Peace Corps and taught English in Kazakhstan, did community organizing and development work in low-income neighborhoods in Orlando, and journeyed into the mountains of Peru to do construction work as part of a church mission group. Now he’s doing park maintenance work while looking for a new opportunity. He owns little, is highly mobile, and seemed content with his life.

The flour mill at Alley Spring

We hopped in his SUV for a ride back to Jack’s Fork and Alley Spring, the area I decided to pass up yesterday afternoon. Alley Spring is a pristine natural spring with an impressive 81 million gallon per day flow. It was substantial enough for a settler to build a turbine-powered mill next to the spring, which is now preserved as part of the national site.

One hundred years ago, milling was a laborious process, even with mills like this one. It would take days for a farmer’s crop to be progressively refined into finer and finer flour. So people came to the mill with the expectation of staying a few days. They camped out on the nearby grounds, no doubt reconnecting with other farmers they seldom saw. The phrase “milling around” came from this event.

Alley Spring

Alley Spring ejects its water into a large, bluish-colored pond, surrounded by steep limestone walls. You can faintly see the spring water ripple the surface. Because these are national lands, the spring and the stream it empties into are protected. People are prohibited from drinking and wading in it. The absence of human contact shows. The stream water is crystal clear.

By now I had the sense that Paul was the adventuresome type. When we had a choice of taking the main road or another back road/gravel road back to Eminence, I matter-of-factly said he was driving an SUV…and off into the bush we went. A mile or two up the road, Paul made an abrupt left turn into an ill-defined path into the woods. “There’s an old cabin the (B&B) owner and I discovered a while back.” Indeed, emerging out of the trees was a structurally sound building that had hosted a few clandestine parties. The floors and roof were in solid shape though. It remained available for the right person.

We eventually climbed high up from the river bank before Paul made another stop. “Artesian well.” I saw a pipe sticking out of the ground with water overflowing its lip. Paul rummaged around the back of his truck and pulled out a mug. He dipped it into the center of the pipe and handed it to me. Perhaps only once before have I gotten to drink water straight from the earth. The taste wasn’t memorable, but the opportunity was.

Coming down from that well we entered a large meadow. A larger-than-human sized sphere was perched next to a new building. “Earth Ball,” Paul reported. I knew of “earth balls” being used in non-competitive games. Opposing teams of people try to push a huge balls past a target, kind of a reverse tug-of-war. This earth ball was different. You got inside and were pushed down an incline, then up another. Fencing on both sides kept you from drifting astray. A bulldozer was in the middle of the path. “They’re trying to get the grade right,” Paul noted.

We returned to the B&B, talked a little more about working in underserved communities, then spent the rest of the day in different ways. Once again, no owners to be found, just trust in the honesty of guests like me.

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