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
My latest Outdoor Lifestyles of the Not So Rich or Famous activity ended today with resounding results.
As in Bam! crashing to the ground.
I haven’t had such a great time in years.
My summer project has been the clearing of all the saplings between the Original Settlers’ Cabins and the Ridge of Caves on the backside of our mountain.
It began with me showing Chet the Unhandyman exactly what I wanted cleared. It continued with me showing him how to clear it. And it ended with me finishing the clearing with a combination of machete, clippers, weed whacker and some weed killer guaranteed to take out wild blackberry bushes and poison oak. Topped off with the building of a tree house down near the seasonal stream we call Cloud Creek.
What a rush!
In the three years Gwen the Beautiful and I have lived here I’d come down to this area more times than I could count, and I’d always been disappointed. Not just because the cabins turned out to be of recent instead of historic origin, but because no matter how hard I tried I just didn’t feel very much while walking around here. This part of the forest was like all the rest. Green, thick, and beautiful during the summer. Dark, spare, and skeletal during the colder months.
I wanted this place, with its rocky “stairs” and lizard, bat, and snake coddling caves to be…well, “special.” To make sense as a destination for a morning’s hike. I wanted it to be a locale where I—and anyone else willing to slip and slide down the mountain and huff and puff back up—could feel like I was communing with something important, even sacred. I wanted it to be worth all the effort it took just to come and go.
Before I started, there didn’t seem to be much point to my hacking. But as I—and Chet too—sliced and diced, things literally took shape. I felt like a sculptor chiseling away at a chunk of marble and revealing the essence within. As we cut the trees and dragged them away magical glades revealed themselves. As we pulled out the tangles of vines—living barbed wire!—rocky grottos lay themselves open for us to enter.
The rocks are what make everything so spectacular to me. Flat, moss-covered slabs angling up the mountain like the stairway of a forest god. Huge, rounded boulders eroded into carved pumpkins with cedars growing out of their goblin heads. Deep shelves layered over each other like ancient bookcases…except that their contents are alive.
This part of the forest has become what I’d hoped it would be. Special.
I didn’t create any of these formations, but when I walk amid them, I feel that I’m somehow moving inside myself. The ridge and the land below it are like a part of me because they reflect my compulsive meddling with nature. That they can be appreciated by human beings is a direct result of the weeks I spent exhausting myself in the heat and humidity that are the Ozarks at this time of year.
Yesterday I carried three metal benches down and positioned them where they had to be. One on the trail, below our youngest daughter’s “Here There Be Dragons” sign. One on the stone stairs, in a bower I slashed amid some dogwoods. One atop the Ridge of Caves, looking down at the cabins and the wildflowers blooming between them.
And today was the Grand Finale, the tree house on a big, bent old oak just a few feet from the creek. Three wooden rungs, some nails, an old wood palette I always knew I’d use for something and there it was. I climbed up and sat amid the leaves, grateful for all this fun. Then I tried to swing back over to the rungs I’d just nailed. And couldn’t quite make it. One of our dogs, Decker the Giant-Hearted, trotted down, saw me. Laughed.
“Jump!” his bark said.
So I did. Hit the ground hard but stayed on my feet, like a gymnast after a vault.
I’ll tramp through my handiwork again whenever I can. After all, I’ve marked my turf. If ever there was proof that men are like dogs, this is it. Except that dogs are smarter. How much different is all my work from Decker just lifting his leg?