Today is my last full day in Arkansas, and I have to admit, it’s grown on me. Truth be told, I spent the first week of my visit here with the blog title in mind of “Arkansas: What am I Doing Here, and How Can I Get Out”. But I’m not kidding, it has grown on me. All it took was a change in the weather.
My daughter and I came to Arkansas for the first two weeks of August. Anyone who knows anything about this part of the country knows this is absolutely the worst time to visit. Everyone told me before I came, and I knew they were right. I didn’t have much of a choice. This fit with my crazy work schedule, and it coincided with a special birthday.
This is my Gayla. Sometimes I call her my mom, sometimes my mother-in-law, my dear friend, the woman who taught me how to love cooking, stay strong, and laugh through everything. Everyone needs a Gayla. She’s technically my first husband’s mom. He and I were married for only a couple of years, more than 20 years ago. But Gayla and I never divorced each other. Her birthday is August 15, so it was an ideal time to be in Arkansas with her. She and my former father-in-law moved to back to their home state a few years ago, after living in California for more than 40 years.
And that’s how we ended up in Arkansas in August. We must really love that woman.
During the first week of our visit, I thought I was going to die. I almost welcomed it. To plagiarize myself from a text I sent a friend: It’s like living your everyday life in a sauna set on high steam. Imagine opening the car door and your sunglasses fog up. The atmosphere sticks to your skin. The thick, hot air suffocates you with every labored breath. The humidity wraps itself around your body like an alien monster from a horror movie, covering every inch of your being with viscous, sticky, smothering, stale heat. And nightfall offers no relief. It’s just as hot and humid, only you can’t see your oppressor.
But you can still hear it.
Arkansas in the Ozarks seems to never be silent. There is a constant cacophony of wildlife chirping and croaking warnings of its existence. All.The.Time. At home in California, I adore my Chanel No. 5. In Arkansas, my signature scent is Off Deep Woods with Deet. The blood-thirsty insects are nearly as bad as the gelatinous air. And then there are other things, things I had only heard about, like armadillos. For many years, I thought armadillos were mythical – like a jackalope. They’re real, and I’ve seen several here. Apparently, they carry and spread leprosy. I am not surprised.
Despite the weather – or more accurately, because of the weather – there is some striking scenery. Arkansas is plush and green, with more trees in one place than I’ve ever seen. Most of these pictures were taken around the Calico Rock area, so named because of the unique color patterns in the rocks there. It is difficult to take the time to set up the beautiful pictures you’d want. Every second out of the car is a battle with the environment.
One day in particular, my daughter and I drove across the state on a mission for my mother. (Not Gayla, but my real mom – who gave birth to me and raised me and my siblings.) She is also originally from Arkansas, so I trekked out on a four-hour drive to her hometown of Paris.
Like many of the towns here, it’s a charming little place that has a friendly feel to it. We didn’t explore it much because on that day the heat index was 115 and humidity was about 97 percent. My 99-year-old grandmother still owns a large plot of farmland there, where they grow soybeans. She now lives in New Mexico, and I can’t say that I blame her.
Yesterday, we had a bit of a miracle. The weather changed. After about 10 days of the hot and humid weather (and of the locals telling us “you should have been here last week, when it was really bad), there was a shift. It’s far less humid – about 70 percent – and only about 90 degrees. It’s a massive relief. I can enjoy the scenery a little, even from outside the air conditioned car.
While I tend to love most of the places I visit, the fact of the matter is – I’m not tough enough for Arkansas. It’s beautiful, but I’m afraid it would kill this California girl.
Now, somebody please get me to the beach!