Dear Arkansas,

There’s a shift I’m beginning to notice. My intention in making my home on one of your mountains was to fall in love in a new way – to see with new eyes.  You’ve heard me say I can stare at your trees for hours – or the valley below.  I grew up visiting this particular mountain, and this means I took for granted the sights of skinks, katydids, and luna moths – yellow pines, copperheads, and box turtles. I’m not sure it’s possible to see with new eyes in the sense that it’s impossible to pretend I just landed on this planet and am taking in these shapes and colors for the first time.  We are layered in lenses, and I am trying to peel through gypsum horizons as if I will find some truer truth, but really, this does not exist – rather, my best will be finding new curves and angles, perhaps a perspective billowed by crisp, autumn air.  Here is one that came to me today: the burden I’ve carried about you is the narratives etched in recorded history, most of these steeped in ugliness, poverty, ignorance, and of course, hate.  I didn’t realize I’ve been wearing this raggedy quilt, a mantle of shame, qualifiers, and apologies for being from you until I sat still in your woods for six months. I didn’t realize how much this blanket obscures my ability to see other stories, most of which, more nuanced and tangled or uplifting but not newsworthy – even the land. Many of the critters on this mountain are not unique to you, but I am uniquely in love with the 10+ acres on this mountain edge.  What felt like a radical thought entered my mind as I watched one of your walking sticks on the window pane this morning.  These creatures look as if they were created by a student of Japanese aesthetics.  And, I suddenly see origami come to life in a katydid and praying mantis.  The daddy long leg is elegant in their prudent explorations.  The turkey vulture sweeps the sky as a wooden rake shapes the sand of a Zen garden. My heart beats slower as a prairie lizard pauses for warmth.  Is it the lift of the wolf spider’s leg that is slowing my own gait?  A novice forgets to scan the ground with each step, and many days, I feel like a lapsed beginner.  Even through my window, there is such great sweeping and swooping, dipping, rising and falling, tiptoeing, sidestepping and scuttling that I almost laugh out loud now.  Songbirds leave wisps of color on our driveway – burnt orange, indigo night, black-and-white Shibori. How has it taken nearly 45 years to see that I am of a vibrant world full of living, exquisite art?  Art, not like in a gallery or museum – but Art, as a verb, as something that breathes and encounters – Art that which we are invited to be in relation with, Art capable of appealing to our better selves – touching a primal ache.  This isn’t profound, but the feeling is so damn refreshing – to see your aliveness with such surprise, to realize my own view was fogged and smudged for so long because I was too busy feeling ashamed or embarrassed.  Thank you, fiery searcher and sandstone bluffs – thank you, barred owl and mourning cloak – summer tanager, bluebird, and pileated – thank you for teaching me these worn out emotions are not motivators for social justice and human flourishing, for our care of each other.  

Yours,

Joanna

2 thoughts on “Dear Arkansas,

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