Here’s my debut column for The Stone County Leader published this week. They decided to call it The Flatlander:
The local real estate agent maneuvered his pickup down and around the winding, increasingly narrowing road with almost no effort at all. Blind curves, perilously low-hanging tree limbs, we descended steadily like an airplane on final approach for almost eight miles. A single deer bounded across Herpel Road, and a couple of little varmints I’d never seen scurried to the safety of the roadside ditch.
“How do you even know where we’re going?” I asked, slipping my seat belt on and as I made dubious eye contact with my wife in the back seat.
“Oh, it’s a ways down here, but it sure is pretty,” he said.
The day began earlier at a lovely little quiet area called Cool Water on the Izard County side of el Rio Blanco. We discovered three available residential lots on a corner we could piece together for a nice tract of land where we could build a main lodge and some guest housing for family and friends. And the price was right.
We walked the grounds for almost 45 minutes as I waited for the dirt to speak. When the right caretaker comes along shopping for land, the dirt will speak. Call out to him, actually. Raised on fertile flatlands of the Mississippi River Delta, I know this. Dirt speaks to the soul. It is the sixth love language – a beautiful gift God shares between two of His favorite creations.
The words never came clear, but I’ve always been in too big a hurry, so I suggested we head back to town and sign a deal at the agent’s office. Dana and I were ready to make Mountain View, and this place called Cool Water, our second home.
But God was still waiting to have His say. We often forget that He works on His time, not ours.
“Now, I’ve got this other place, and it’s way down there and right on the river, and the price is good. I don’t care to take you down there,” the agent said, surprisingly not in a hurry to ink the deal.
“Well, what the heck. I’ll take a look,” I said, fighting off the anxiety to just get on with it.
Forty minutes later that November Sunday afternoon and at the end of the eight-mile meandering road, we turned the corner onto six acres of river frontage at a place with a name as original as finely aged moonshine. We were at Round Bottom Landing, he said.
I opened the truck door, took a few steps outward, and did a slow, 360-degree turn.
My jaw dropped and I couldn’t close my mouth.
This is it. You’re home.
The dirt spoke.
And it was with unmistakable clarity.
“I’ll take it,” I said to no one in particular, and not breaking view from what had just captured my soul.
It was like standing at the bottom of a beautiful bowl, the swift flowing mighty White rolling just below and to the northwest, and spectacular eastern bluffs amazingly highlighted with flecks of red and gold from the soft fall light sourced low in the southern hemisphere. There were four surrounding mountains each with its own distinctive character, all infused with poplar, birch, maple and more, and bursting with brilliant colors.
“What did you say?” the agent asked, confused.
“He said he’d take it.” My wife has been there, done that, before, and she knows when something happens in my heart that’s not about to get undone. She took a deep breath, and laughed at the same time, surely both exasperated and thrilled at the next new and completely unknown adventure ahead.
At that moment, Tranquility Base was born, and a flatlander from cotton country just stared at a landscape so beautiful he couldn’t even dream it. I’m sure it’s not the first time it happened.
Ten months later, here we are. I’m writing and reunited with a college friend, Lori Freeze, at the Stone County Leader. Dana is selling real estate with a local firm and loving it. And we’re both waking up most mornings in this place that with every new sunrise, every new fog formation across the valley and river, and every new sighting of some amazing wildlife, thankful for our new home in Stone County.
I think we’ll sit here a spell.
See you next week in the newspaper.
Steve Watkins is a reporter for the Stone County Leader. He is the author of two books including Pilgrim Strong: Rewriting My Story on the Way of St. James and The King of Highbanks Road: Rediscovering Dad, Rural America, and Learning to Love Home Again.