This past week was spent visiting small towns in the county, meeting people and reporting the topics discussed at council and board meetings. It's nowhere near "politics as usual" in these communities surrounded by miles of cattle ranches and hay fields. It's about people with strong ties to home and each other in ways seldom seen these days. It's about life based on real, tangible values, ideals and mores that leave no one standing outside the reach of home.
This swing symbolizes yet another milestone of rebuilding a town mostly destroyed by a tornado several years ago; a tornado so severe that it laid flat everything in its path. The old school that was is now a beautiful, rambling campus of buildings and football, baseball and soccer fields. Somehow, the modernity of the new school only emphasizes the sense of small town community and a simple way of life. Though colleges tend to be a micro community within itself, this small town celebrates and applauds the successes of growth along with it, making the college as much a part of the town as everyone else. No one is left out. This swing and small play gym mark the beginning of a park snuggled in with humble, single family homes, giving the neighborhood kids a safe place to be instead of in the streets.
The two lane highway that runs through the center of town eventually meets up with other two lane highways, each intersection marking the way to get to other small towns. The countryside comes within inches of the solid line painted on the road. There are no shoulders, no room for driver error, yet they are the best maintained roads you will find. The road lines are always fresh, never faded, the weeds are bushhogged and the trees trimmed of loose branches. Between the network of paved, two lane highways are miles of gravel roads, painstakingly scraped and planed after every rain storm.
Soon, you'll come to another small town, this one with around 350 residents and no businesses to speak of, yet there is a town hall, a waste water system, a fire department and a police force of two part time officers. The tickets given to drivers speeding through the center of town results in enough revenue to keep its small infrastructure in place for the benefit of its residents. The town's mayor is a humble, quiet man with a sense of fairness and wisdom that would be the envy of any large city judge, if only those large city judges would take notice.
Mile after mile on these two lane highways is the beauty and wholeness of nature itself. As far as the eye can see is the size of graze for a herd of cattle with calves romping and cows grazing. A little further on is as large of a field dotted with hundreds of round bales of hay drying in the sun, waiting to be lifted onto flatbed trucks and hauled to huge storage sheds to be stored for the winter. Half mile driveways lead to the ranch homes and barns, with meticulously mowed lawns and tended gardens. Sometimes, what was a driveway becomes a dirt road that cuts between the home and barns to give access to more farms and ranches beyond. A glance toward the left or right while passing through a wooded area is often met by the return glance of ever watchful deer, herds of which sometimes join the cattle to graze in the open.
The C130s from Little Rock Air Force Base fly overhead several times a day, yet the loud roar of the engines doesn't detract from the serenity; instead they become part of it. The planes' competition are hawks, eagles and chicken hawks gliding on stilled, outstretched wings, and V's of geese passing through on their migration routes. It's not unusual to have to stare several seconds to decide if what is flying is a bird or a dragon fly or a monstrous, four inch horse fly.
Life is big here in Arkansas, and in ways that are far larger than life in any large city could ever be. Life surrounds you and makes you a part of it, makes you one with it. You are alive.