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
“Dang, Larry B, you sure you’re writing about these hills? In Arkansas? I thought maybe you were living in some Never Land, way you call this place Paradise.”
The speaker was Jimmy Blue, a tall, lean, old farmer who’s part of the inner circle that pretty much runs this county no matter who gets elected. A good ole boy who wears his bib overalls with pride.
But there we were, sharing a canoe in the middle of that glory of nature humans named the Buffalo National River, and Jimmy Blue didn’t seem proud—or even happy—at all.
We’d started our day trip at sunrise, hoping for the kind of whitewater experience old-timers like Jimmy prefer to have without their wives, but the river was running shallow and slow. I j-stroked us away from a sandy rise in the middle of our course.
“What’s the matter, Jimmy Blue?”
“My farm’s been in the family for almost a hundred years,” Jimmy Blue said angrily. “Sometimes we own it. Sometimes the bank does. Now it’s all over but the shouting—in the bank’s favor. I got more per head for my cattle this year than ever before, and I’m more in debt than ever before too.”
He doubled his paddling speed, as though trying to force his fury out through his arms.
“Feed, electricity, gas…you-name-it and the price is sky high. My backhoe’s been dead since April. My little tractor’s runnin’ on hope. My prostate’s got me up every twenty minutes, and if I had the money for health insurance I’d spend it on a used hay baler instead—”
He broke off. Up ahead the river zigged sharply to the left. “Get ready,” he shouted back to me. “This should be a good one!”
I got ready, keeping myself balanced and low—
But instead of rapids we had a slow fall of rocks, the canoe scraping over the smaller ones and banging those that were larger.
“Jumping Jack Jumping Flash!” hollered Jimmy Blue. “It’s one thing for the things in man’s world to conspire against us, but do those in God’s dominion have to join in!?”
I understood his feelings all too well. The cost of living here in Paradise is among the lowest in the country. When Gwen the Beautiful and I first moved here almost six years ago the local economy was operating at the level the rest of the U.S. was at back in the ’60s.
Our entire ranch cost very little more than the suburban home I grew up in. The mortgage payment from The Bank of Paradise was only a couple of hundred dollars a month more than my parents’ had paid.
The average lunch at a local restaurant was twenty-five percent of what it had been back in L.A.
Construction costs were one-tenth of what they were there.
In fact, the only cost that was the same here as everywhere else was that of a new vehicle. Because their manufacturers are national.
Over the years, though, the situation has changed.
If the local realtor is to be believed, we should now be able to ask three times what we paid for our property if we want to try and sell it.
Construction costs have gone up to the point where if Gwen and I decide to build a new barn I’ll have to set up a monthly payment plan with Brannigan the Contractor.
And more and more local restaurants are vanishing, replaced by big chains with big chain prices.
Jimmy Blue, the canoe, and I bounced and slid down to the lower part of the river. At Jimmy’s signal, we put in at an embankment before the stately mountainside.
Jimmy Blue leapt out of the canoe like a man half his weight. Took two handfuls of rock. Stretched out a long leg.
“C’mon!” he said.
I climbed after him. The mountainside had plenty of hand and footholds but was almost perpendicular. It took more energy than time for us to climb about twenty feet to the top—
And find a forest of old growth that seemed to stretch to the clouds. I looked down at the misty river, then back at the trees.
Saw one…no, two unexpected creatures, slowly moving our way. “Elk,” I whispered.
Jimmy Blue sighed. “Yep. Elk. Sure as we’re standing here.” He broke into a wide smile. “I’ll shoot any man says we ain’t livin’ in Paradise.”