THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.
In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.
Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.
by Larry Brody
The extremes of human thought and behavior have always fascinated me. On the one hand we have Mozart and Johnny Cash. On the other, Blackbeard the Pirate and Billy the Kid.
The way we can dream the loftiest dreams yet go out and kick butt is something I’ve always wanted to get a handle on, and last week as I sat in the Paradise town square it all came closer to home.
Gwen the Beautiful was getting her hair done, and I had nothing to do but wait. I picked myself a bench outside the courthouse and sat down with some Old-Timers.
In a larger town these retired gents would be mall-walkers. Here there’s nothing much to do after a life of back-breakingly hard work but set a spell.
Unlike their sons, the current generation of Good Old Boys, who tend to grow up big and beefy and love to talk about hunting, these Old-Timers are lean and wiry and have reached the point where they can philosophize about life.
As they talked, the phrase “a walk in the woods” came up often. It seemed as though everyone here had someone they wanted to take for a foresty stroll.
One Old-Timer was looking forward to walking with his son-in-law, who’s not treating his daughter with the respect she deserves. Another hoped to amble with a noisy neighbor whose drunken shouting wakes him up every night. Another couldn’t wait to get out there with a neighbor who’s owed him money for forty years.
Every time someone spoke up about their situation the others joined in a chorus of, “Yeah…we’re with you if you need us.” And the more they talked the more dire a walk in the woods sounded. Like these Old-Timers were planning a certain deed most foul right there in the square.
Were they really discussing the ultimate revenge with me on my bench not three feet away?
It’s not as though these were the local black sheep. They’re respected former business leaders and farmers. So I sat and I listened and finally I got it.
What they were talking about was the traditional method men have used to deal with other men since we lived in tribes. Direct, one-on-one justice. A man with a problem dealing with that problem by taking another man aside and, one way or another, thrashing it out.
There are nuances. Degrees.
A walk in the woods is a private meeting between parties who’ve got a beef. It occurs in the woods because that’s what insures the privacy. Those involved talk over the situation. Or punch and rassle and kick and roll. Or—at least once upon a time—take out their weapons as a last resort.
One Old-Timer put it to me this way. “Folks around here don’t hold with courts or mediations. Those involve outsiders, and we’re pretty much ‘keep it close and personal’ kind of people. If I say ‘I think it’s time we had a walk in the woods,’ whoever I’m saying it to knows the jig’s up and he’s got to change his attitude. Most of the time that’s enough, and we don’t really have to take the walk at all.”
Another Old-Timer nodded. “Must be somebody you’d like to have a thing or two out with,” he said to me.
I thought it over. “Well, there’s this Old Boy who just bought the place down the mountain from me. I heard he’s thinking about sub-dividing, and that could change the whole way of life on our road…”
The Old-Timers may not have known who I was talking about, but they understood what sub-dividing could mean only too well. The first one leaned in close and said, “Just tell him that if you see any surveyors putting up those orange flags you and he are going to have to take a walk in the woods. He’ll understand that you’re upset. Probably he’ll change his mind.”
“And if he doesn’t?”
A third Old-Timer looked at me grimly. “Tell me and I’ll walk with him for you.”
“I’ll go too,” another said. And, to me: “Some folks think change is good, but around here we’ve never seen a one that didn’t make things worse than before. Got to put this kind of talk to a quick end.”
A quick end? I wondered. With talk? Fists?
Unless I got out there, how could I know?
The old-timers were watching me closely. I shook my head at the mystery of it all.
As a man, they sat back and sighed.
Relieved? Or disappointed?
I’m still not sure I want to know.
And that may be the real power at work whenever one good old boy turns to another and says, with total sincerity, “You and me better take a little walk in the woods…”
The mystery of how it’s meant to end.