Have a blessed day,” Deb said as we walked out to the truck after dinner at Marie’s last night, repeating what our sweet waitress had said to us when we parted company. “I like hearing that.”
We do hear it a lot. This is The Ozarks. It’s the way of things.
This time of year that benediction is accompanied by a heartfelt “Merry Christmas.” Unlike on social media, where’s it often delivered defiantly or as a dare — the seasonal Christian equivalent of “fuck you” — around here believers and non-believers alike actually say it with kindness.
No doubt about it, these people get it. And I mean 365 days a year.
Lately I’ve been sleeping in — that is, I’ve managed to ignore the dogs’ pleadings ’til 7am or 7:30am. Today, however, I was awake before they were, at 4am, maybe in anticipation of the wicked storm front coming in this morning.
My phone said it was 35°F outside. That would change, and soon.
Sitting up in bed, I heard (and felt) a slight vibration coming through the frame of the coach. I suspected it was one or both of the heat pumps, so I tiptoed over to the thermostat (I didn’t want to wake Deb), shut each one off and listened. Sure enough, the shudder was coming from the rear rooftop unit.
I wasn’t going to do anything about it, not then and probably not before we switched over to the furnaces this morning. I turned the heat pumps back on, let ’em run and, eventually, the vibration went away. Ice or debris on the squirrel cage, maybe.
Around 7am I got dressed and took Scout and Dipstick out, then gathered trash and put it at the curb — my regular morning routine. After that I collected and secured our outdoor furniture ahead of the strong winds. I also moved Mercy and Artie from their parking spots in front of the bus to the vacant campsite next door, to the northwest, where they could serve as a windbreak.
That was the theory, anyway. I figured every little bit helps.
By 8:30am we’d settled in. We had no place to be and five days to figure out how we’ll get there.
Deb and I surfed into YouTube at bedtime last night and decided to watch a relatively long (45 minutes) video. The title is what drew our attention — “Rural Arkansas: Odd, Sad Small Towns Far Off The Interstate.”
It had been posted just a week ago by a Texan who travels around and makes observations about what he sees. At least his commentary wasn’t snarky like the last tour-of-Arkansas video we watched.
Right away we recognized that he was passing through the north-central part of the state, not far from where we are. He meandered around the tiny towns of Calico Rock (including the “ghost town” of East Calico), Big Flat and Marshall.
Unfortunately, he’d picked a rainy Sunday for his visit. Businesses were closed, streets were empty and places looked abandoned. Leafless trees and wintry grayness made everything appear gloomy and wretchedly poor.
About a half-hour in, a familiar sight came into view — the Marion County Courthouse. Yes, he’d picked our adopted hometown of Yellville as one of those “odd, sad small towns far off the Interstate.”
He talked about the Turkey Trot, of course, and the Turkey Drop. He drove around the side streets off the square. Pointing out that the median age of males is (allegedly) 29.7, compared to 42.5 for females, with a wink he suggested that Yellville might accurately be called “Cougar Town.”
From what I’ve seen, those numbers are 28.4 and 37.7. I’d say the name still fits.
The video tour ended in nearby Cotter, right across the White River from the place we camped in May of 2021, where he gave due attention to bridges over the White and trout fishing on it.
Again, the weather that day made most of these towns look gritty and grimy, run-down and poverty-stricken. By some statistical measure, the residents are indeed poor. And I think that’s what most folks would take from this video — feeling pity, perhaps, or relief that they’re not in the same boat.
We live here. We had a different reaction.
Yes, these towns are “small.” They’re definitely “far off the Interstate.” In today’s culture, certainly, they’re seen as “odd.”
But are they “sad”?
I guess that depends on what it takes to make you happy.
All of the places featured in this video are country towns within 30 statute miles of The Mountain. Two of them — Marshall and Yellville, combined population 2,500 — are county seats. Not one of these towns relies on a big city for its identity.
There’s work for those willing to do hard work. There’s uncommon community. There’s culture running a whole lot deeper than you’ll find in shiny cities and cookie-cutter suburbs.
That’s not enough to make most people happy. Obviously, we’re not most people.
Just don’t be callin’ our little country town “sad.”
Well, by late this morning it became obvious that the extreme weather was overpowering our plans. First, our heated fresh-water hose froze. (You read that right.) An inch of exposed (and unheated) brass coupling at the hydrant was the culprit.
I thawed it out with Deb’s hair dryer, our campground hosts contributed a length of pipe insulation (which I secured with 550 paracord) and we had water again.
The second threat was in the wet bay — the built-in radiant heater didn’t have a prayer of keeping up with direct wind chill approaching -40°F. We got in the truck and went to Home Depot, where we picked up an incandescent-bulb trouble light to give the heater some help.
It made very little difference — even with the 60W bulb and both vehicles now pulled right up to the bus to break the wind, the temperature in the wet bay wouldn’t rise above 25°F. We called Deb’s cousin to pick his brain for whatever we hadn’t considered. Eventually we decided to look for the smallest space heater we could find locally and give that a try.
I drove down to Walmart, made my way to the fans-and-heaters aisle and found the shelves stripped bare — except for a handful of tiny 350W ceramic heaters. They were the perfect size for our cramped wet bay, and they were cheap, $11 each. I bought two.
A half-hour after Deb and I placed them carefully and shut the bay doors, they’d taken the temp from a dangerously low 19°F into the mid-50s. When it reached 57°F, I went outside and shut off one heater.
Temperature held right where we wanted it — for a while. The wind really started ripping after dark, however, and it quickly got colder in the bay. We went back to two heaters.
With all that said (and done), we’ve shut off water at the hydrant and are running off of Ernie’s 100-gallon fresh-water tank. Tonight we’ll see -6°F and NNW winds of 20mph to 30mph with gusts over 40mph, and sticking with our onboard systems is the right thing to do.
Where will we stand in the morning? Stay tuned.
Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.