Saturday, July 07, 2007

Buffalo River

We had a good time in spite of being rained on repeatedly. A very enriching experience for all. The boys helped their parents attempt to strike tents in a downpour, then they all ate damp sandwiches in the car as their father struggled to build a campfire while their control freak mother barely contained her advice. We parents learned that we should have checked the camping equipment ourselves before leaving home instead of taking the word of the teenagers that they'd put it all back. The old tent, the one we bring just because it seem irreverent to leave it at home, the one with the door that no longer zips and the torn mosquito netting, arrived with half its stakes missing. The dome tent, the one we bought last year, arrived without its poles. Fortunately we'd purchased a new one so the boys slept in that one. We took the old one and spent both nights curled up in the very center as the seams along the outside edges weren't waterproof. And yet, we had a great time anyway.

There are degrees of beauty to the Ozarks. The landscape round Table Rock Lake is wadded and rumpled, like the blanket you kick off your feet at night and shove to the foot of the bed--valleys, hollows, rounded peaks. But fifty miles south of us, in Northwest Arkansas, the Ozarks change. They look more like mountains--dramatic valleys, bluffs, clear running rivers, creeks and streams--huge national parks. They are the Ozarks as I know them best and this is what I wanted the boys to see.

Between rains, we took the boys on a three mile hike--one of those trails marked out by the forest service. We'd studied a map, picked a trail that led to a water fall and a couple of caves. It sounded like it was just about right for our group.

My husband and I stopped at a small general store to be sure we were headed the right direction. Inside we were greeted by the owner, a chubby barefooted little woman in a pink dress and an orange striped tom cat. The store had everything: dry goods, hygiene products, ice, snack food, canoes to rent, raw honey, touristy t-shirts, used paperbacks and free coffee.

"The trail is an easy one," she said with a crooked toothed grin. The only hard part is very last of the climb just before you get to the cave." So we struck out with a backpack full of water bottles, a first aid kit, three flashlights and some chewing gum.

If I ever meet that woman again, I'm going kick her in the shins and run away without telling her why.

The first half mile was easy--smooth and landscaped, almost wheel chair ready. Then when it was too late to give up, it turned up hill--then into climbing over tree roots and scaling rocks. And just when we thought it couldn't get harder, we came to the first cave. A pool of water filled it, running out from beneath steep rocky six foot ledge with another level and a hole at the top that led to the rest of the trail. Then the trail got really tough.

We finally arrived at the top, where the waterfall and the biggest cave were reported to be. It was all worth it, I told my husband. Yes, he agreed. A memory worth keeping. The boys ran ahead, scrambling down a slope to look while I stood at the top, red faced and panting.

The voice of my youngest floated back to me. "THAT'S A WATERFALL?"

"It looks like someone left the water hose on," announced my twelve year old.

The fifteen year old just shook his head and gave me a thumbs down.

It seemed the water fall still hadn't recovered from last year's drought. Still, it was water falling and, damn it, there was still one big cave to go. And it too was supposed to have a waterfall--inside, at the back, at the end of a tunnel.

The final cave did not disappoint, though I confess I sat in the mouth while Gary and the boys crawled through the tunnel at the back to see the famed anteroom. I am slightly claustrophobic and can't even stick my head under the bed without my heart pounding with panic, so I told my husband if it was something incredible, to come back and get me. Otherwise I would wait.

When they returned thirty minutes later, everyone was soaking and muddy and beaming. They all loved caving, they told me. And the waterfall was great. But their favorite part was when their dad turned off the flashlights and let them experience total darkness. But my husband assured me that the 100 feet of tunnel, especially the part where they all had to crawl on their stomachs, was going to be too much for me.

We arrived back at camp in the rain and we all got dressed and went swimming anyway. Then we cooked hamburgers on the grill and puttered around camp until bedtime. (Note to self: next year remember Frisbees and whatever book we're reading).

I edited twenty pages sitting in the car with the laptop while sipping coffee and watching the sunrise. Lack of Internet can be a good thing.

We arrived back at home today and were greeted by a grateful, chatty seventeen year old. It seems his buddy never showed up so he spent forty-eight hours totally alone. He missed us.

Sometimes, between the rain and the melodrama that makes up my life, for just a few minutes, life is good.

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