Work soon destroyed this old dam where our house once stood, but the site itself remains as a picnic area abover the new lake.
On a lovely day almost forty years ago I drove south from my new home in Winslow, Arkansas, intent on revisiting my childhood past. Though Highway 71 had changed a lot, I had no trouble at all recognizing Old Creek Road. Back in the early days it was rutted and narrow and meandered through the remote hollow where more than a dozen families lived. I turned off with some reluctance. This would be hard, for what I had always known was gone. Deep down in the valley where the sun only shines a few hours a day, I caught first sight of the glistening waters of Lake Shepherd Springs and pulled over. For a moment I couldn’t drive across the neat mound of rock and dirt that held back the lake, but could only sit there and gaze through the glare of my tears at all that remained.
That great gnarly cedar once lived in the back yard of my childhood home. Scattered at its feet masses of jonquils bloomed, their golden heads nodding in a sweet, cool breeze off the water. Beneath the cedar once grew a climbing rose, red as blood when it bloomed. Moving the tiny grave of my baby sister must have killed the thorny bush.
I sighed and nudged the car forward. Shards of brittle sunlight sparkled off the water and brought more tears to my eyes. Gathered in the hollows, the lake covered the fields where my father and grandfather once plowed the rich dark earth to raise beans and okra and tomatoes to feed us.
A rush of water roared over the spillway, tumbling around boulders big as houses. They lay scattered where they had come to rest when dynamite blasts tore great chunks from the mountain and destroyed the path where I once walked hand in hand with my mother on the way to grandmother’s house.
Grandma's house on the mountain above our place. It's now a historical site along the hiking trails at the new lake.
But we left this place long before the dynamite and the moving of my baby sister’s grave. Our course was already set on a different life out in the world, away from the poverty and the simple Ozark cradle that was a peculiar kind of childhood for all of us. My brother, my mother, my father, and I left behind tiny pieces of our hearts and souls, buried with the two little ones who found the going much too tough and gave it up.
I parked and climbed out, strolled gingerly across the hallowed ground, and sat for a time on one of the picnic tables, embraced by what had been my entire world. Turning from the lake, I pictured the log house built by my father, the rock chimney I once believed pierced a hole through the blue of the sky.
A breeze off the water soothed me and set the flowers to dancing again. My mother planted those bulbs deep in this soil nearly sixty years earlier, and everyone knows the power of a mother. They have endured; nothing can destroy them, especially not those whose turn it is to enjoy this place, who come to hunt and camp and fish and chase their children from the thickets where copperhead snakes lie in wait.
While we chose to wander afar, those who remained out here in this wilderness of the Arkansas Ozarks lost their land too. For many of them the loss meant more than being deprived of something they had already left behind. Over the next few months, my goal to interview them would lead me along many roads and byways to a re-connection with my roots.
And thus I began my writing career, urged on by these memories I could no longer deny. One story led to another, taking me on the path that would one day lead to publication. First in newspapers and magazines, then on to novels which I continue to write today. It's been a long enjoyable road, but as I look back it seems only a few weeks or months have passed since I set the first words on paper.
Patience and perseverance are the key to success in this crazy writing life. The first three or four novels continue to languish in storage. A part of my learning process. May yours be as successful and enjoyable as mine has been and still is.