Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Mena AR’

The pavement ends. Potholes and asphalt yield to stony dirt, intersected by little gullies dug by rain on its way to the river. You’ve not merely crossed from Oklahoma to Arkansas, from Road to Trail. You have entered another place and time, where cell phones receive no signal and the internet and social media do not intrude.

Peace settles over you as the dust settles to the roadbed. Stop a moment and gaze at the bucolic scene, a scattering of houses among fields of hay and cattle. And forests. On your left Walker Mountain slopes up into the trees. On every quarter section sits a house with a front porch. Porch swings and rocking chairs invite you to visit. Gaze across the valley and the Black Fork River to the mountain brooding beyond. An occasional gash of gray from a rock slide interrupts the medley of greens and browns of the forest. Long ago people abandoned the mountain to wild things and memories. Not so much as a radio tower tarnishes the wilderness.

Once this valley buzzed with activity. Cotton was King. Black Fork, valley and mountain, boasted of stores and schools, homesteads and share croppers. Then came the Boll Weevil. Only sketchy tales linger of the many who left to seek fortunes elsewhere. The remains of their homes, reduced to debris, mingle with arrowheads cast aside by earlier denizens of the valley.

A small clapboard building perches on the bank of the road in front of an abandoned stone house. The old post office was small enough to move up and down the valley as the duty of postmaster shifted from neighbor to neighbor. Black Fork once had its own Zip Code, but the post office closed some forty years ago. Today, a rural carrier brings mail from Mena, on the other side of the mountain, over in Polk County.

One day when I visited my mother, the mail lady drove into the yard with a package too large for the box. No yellow slip of paper giving notice of something on a shelf miles away. When Mom asked about her recent trip, the carrier grabbed her photos and joined us in the kitchen. So, the neighbors’ mail would be a few minutes late today.

Two church buildings remain in the valley. Friendship Baptist Church still holds services for a handful, but most folks go to their chosen denominations in nearby towns. A few miles east, Piney Church once competed for the souls of the valley and doubled as a one room schoolhouse, but the building is now a social hall for a dwindling number of quilters. On the front porch is a pile of firewood for the pot-bellied stove. The door is unlocked. No one minds if you visit. The building is wired for electricity but has no running water. Out front is an old well and an outhouse in the back. A large quilt frame takes up much of the room. Look closely at the stitching – all hand crafted.

On the walls a few black and white group photographs attest that this was once a school. An eighth grade education was required for teachers. The scholars who remain in the valley are now grandparents. Their descendents are bussed to Acorn, a good 45 minutes away. Many children in the valley are home schooled.

Black Fork is 45 minutes from everywhere. Haw Creek, over in Oklahoma, has a thriving church and a mom-and-pop gas station which periodically goes out of business. Better gas up before you venture here. However, should your truck or farm equipment need repairs, Black Fork Garage is the one thriving business in the valley.

Most small communities lose population as the young people move elsewhere for jobs and the old move to cemeteries, but Black Fork is different. Retired people are moving into the valley and building homes and some of the young choose to stay. They have to commute to jobs or dabble in small local endeavors. Why do they live here? Because life is good.

This is no utopia. Lives have been lost in flash floods. Logging and farming can be hazardous, and Black Fork is not immune to illegal drugs and crime. By nature or nurture, some people have light fingers, so if something comes up missing, you can bet the owner has an idea who took it. If the suspect is innocent by reason of being in jail, well, it must have been his brother.

One hot August, some convicts escaped from a prison over in Oklahoma and one found his way to Black Fork. He hid in the woods and raided vacant kitchens for sustenance. Having lost his shoes, he stole a pair, but they were too big and left him with blisters. Because he was afraid of bears, he slept in trees, unaware that bears can climb. When the authorities caught up with him, dirty, scratched, plagued with ticks and chiggers, he was happy to go home to his cell.

People in Black Fork make do or do without. Or mobilize the community. Emergency vehicles take 45 minutes to get here, or if a train is parked at the crossing in Page, twice as long. So the citizens organized a Volunteer Fire Department, raising funds through bake sales and raffles, government grants and support from nearby VFDs. Everyone pitched in to build a firehouse and garner necessary equipment. Volunteers went to training and several became first responders.

Last winter, an ice storm downed power lines. Members of the VFD checked on the elderly and disabled, ensuring their safety and providing them with food, water, and firewood if needed. Roads had to be cleared before electricity could be restored. The fire department cut their way through over twenty miles of fallen trees. Service was restored in half the time it would have taken the utility company alone.

Looking out for one another is a way of life. After a flood damaged many vehicles, Black Fork Garage made repairs, charging customers for parts only, not for labor. “We didn’t do anymore than anyone else would have done in our shoes. The best pay is the love and appreciation we get from our neighbors, and the satisfaction of being the Lord’s hand extended to others.”

Visiting Black Fork is like returning to a forgotten way of life. Not a perfect life, but one we rediscover when we slow down. The visitor can set aside worries for a time and hold responsibilities at arm’s length. I always leave with regret and look forward to coming back.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: