As we drove to The Mountain this morning, I’m pretty sure that neither Deb nor I had a clue what we’d do once we got there. In our experience those can be the best days — no plan and no schedule, staying open to possibilities as they present themselves to us.
We made a last-second decision to pass our usual turn onto the state route and continue east toward a hillside church from which, according to Deb’s cousin, we could catch a vista of The Mountain. We pulled the Jeep into the parking lot and walked out onto the large lawn. The view brought a smile — we’d never seen it from that angle (or from that distance).
A few minutes later a pickup truck pulled out of a business across the road, eased into the church driveway and stopped next to where we were standing.
“Wanna buy it?” the gray-bearded driver said with a friendly grin, gesturing to the property he’d just left. We shared a laugh, made introductions and talked there in the parking lot for a half-hour. His all-white pit bull, Casper, nuzzled us while he spoke enthusiastically about the community and its people. We ended up exchanging phone numbers before getting back into the Jeep and backtracking in the direction of The Mountain..
It was yet another example of why we love the area — not just the genuine hospitality, but the easy grace of neighbors watching out for neighbors.
The summit of The Mountain always seems like a good place to start, even when it ends up being a good place to linger. So we backed the Ranger out of the shed, tossed our gear into the bed and drove up the cut. We walked to the bench we’d placed at the highest point, sat down and enjoyed the quiet.
I looked over my shoulder to the south and saw the grove of old-growth red cedars not far from the summit. Although I wasn’t in the mood for a round of strenuous bushwhacking, a stroll through the cedars wouldn’t tax me. I got up from the bench and, with Deb in tow, headed down the slope.
We wandered among the trees, admiring in particular the oldest and largest. Without realizing how far we’d walked, unexpectedly we emerged from the other side of the grove onto an impressive outcrop of shale. The spot offered a breathtaking view of the valley and neighboring ridges.
The shale fascinated me, especially the way it showed the effects of erosion. Moss and lichen growing on it were technicolor — black, green, white, gold and even pink. And I was surprised to see, for the first time on The Mountain, clumps of eastern prickly pear, the only cactus native to Arkansas.
On our way back to the cabin Deb and I stopped to visit the closest neighbor, at her invitation. We had a good long conversation, taking turns tossing a blue rubber ball for her rambunctious dogs. One of her cats, Jethro — I call him “Bob” on account of his stubby tail — supervised the proceedings.
This was our fifth straight day on The Mountain, and in many ways it was the most rewarding of all. That’s the sort of thing that happens without a script.
I can’t help watching gas prices on the AAA site. In the last two days the national average for a gallon of regular has jumped over 18 cents, from $3.656 to $3.837. Prices will continue to rise, we can be sure of that, and we all know why.
Here in Arkansas we’ve seen 87 octane go from $3.274 to $3.447 since Wednesday, still the lowest in the country. Average prices in Boone and Marion counties are, unfortunately, among the highest in the state — $3.553 and $3.566, respectively. The highest price we saw today was $3.899.
The People’s Republic of California — proverbially, “the man who has no feet” — is at $5.074 for a gallon of regular gas. So there’s that.
Diesel is more expensive, of course, currently $4.259 nationally and rising. It won’t be long before filling Ernie’s tank will cost $500 — and, for reference, if we were to return to Second Chance Ranch we’re about two tanks away.
A thousand bucks. For cryin’ out loud, that’s airfare.
For us it’s an especially shitty time for a price spike. More about that another day.
Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.