On the fourth of July, I’ll be an official one-year resident of Stone County, Arkansas. I love it here, and honestly never imagined I’d love it so much.
But I will tell you, there is always a fight when you live in Round Bottom Valley.
As the knowledgeable and always helpful Melissa Swafford from North Arkansas Farm Supply put it so well to me just today, “Something’s always fighting something.”
Bluffs. A pristine river. Amazing wildlife. Inspiring sunrises. Breathtaking sunsets A sky so big and blue it is oftentimes more than the eye can see. God must surely live in a cabin just this side of the ridge down where the river bends.
Oh, but these precious things come at a price.
My first lesson came last year just as we were getting started with our building project. I’d always wanted to try my hand at raising bees and the property seemed especially well suited to it, so I bought three hives and placed them on the lower level near the river. I’m not sure why that seemed like a good place, but it did.
Back home in Jonesboro early one Sunday morning, a local friend sent a message that the river was on the rise, set to crest at around 19 feet. A newbie at all this, I had no idea what that meant, but knew immediately the bees might be in peril. I called my contractor and asked his opinion. He volunteered to check the bees. I got in the truck and cruised at 90 miles per hour making, well, a bee line for the valley. Good hearted man that he is, the contractor made an attempt to move the bees up the hill with an old dolly that had a flat tire. The second hive spilled over when it hit a hole in the ground.
Quick sidebar here: Bees become very unhappy when their hive is turned over.
Lesson number one. That river moves, and it moves fast, and you’d better respect it.
The silt-like dirt in Round Bottom Valley is beautiful and it grows just about everything well. My first-year garden was doing well until that one April morning when all the beautiful pepper plant leaves got burned. The construction workers called it freezing fog. Not frost, not ice. Freezing fog. The valley literally creates its own weather microclimates and you just never know.
This year’s garden is three times the size of last year and foolishly got planted beginning March 8. I know better, but the weather was so beautiful it just felt like seeds needed to go in the ground. Today, it’s a beautiful garden producing vegetables by the washtub full, but it wasn’t easy. We’ve fought two killer frosts, two windstorms, crows, ground hogs, rabbits, squirrels (who love strawberries, by the way) and something called a Colorado potato beetle. How did they get here all the way from Colorado?
I’m a landscaper and I enjoy creating things, so I envisioned a nice little orchard with fruits and nuts that would give us all kinds of jellies, jams and pies. I studied up on pollination practices for pecan trees and fruit trees and everything was looking great. Until it wasn’t. One day all the apple and pear tree leaves became spotty and sick-looking. It’s a fungus they call cedar rust. This called for my 575th trip to the local farmer’s coop to purchase a copper sulfate chemical that helps, but is not a cure-all. There is something about cedar trees that doesn’t jibe with fruit trees.
A week ago while trimming around trees and poles I stepped into a hole and nearly broke a leg. There must be at least 12 different animals in that habitat who dig holes daily.
A day or two after that there was a snake in the basement. This after finding a mouse in my barbecue grill.
After more landscaping with some trees that would eventually bring us color, a local herd of Texas longhorns got loose on the property breaking two of my redbuds and knocking one October Glory maple off at the ground. They didn’t eat anything. Just broke them off. I guess it’s hard getting around on a six-acre plot without tearing something up when you have those big horns and all.
How many armadillos can there be in the world? You get rid of one. Two come back. Those things are prolific. More hole diggers.
In February the biggest snow I’ve seen, followed immediately by the coldest temperatures in 40 years swirled, howling into my beloved valley. We couldn’t get out for days, but at least the power stayed on.
Not so fortunate with last week’s windstorm which swept through on a Friday night knocking out power for the next 48 hours. Two and a half freezers had to be emptied, though I refused to give up hope on my beloved strawberry freezer jam. You’ll pry it from my cold, red hands … well, you know …
Gotta run now. There’s a puddle by a faucet near the garden that shouldn’t be there. How does that even happen?
Anyone know a good plumber?
See you in next week’s newspaper.
(Steve Watkins is a reporter/columnist for the Stone County Leader. Write him at email@example.com)