Few Americans know much, if anything, about the Ozarks, where Jaya and Joshua resettle in my novel Nearly Canaan.
Here are some driving times to points from Fayetteville, Arkansas, to major cities.
St. Louis: 5 hours, 20 minutes.
Memphis: 4 hours, 39 minutes.
Tulsa: 1 hour, 55 minutes.
Dallas: 5 hours, 13 minutes.
New Orleans: 9 hours, 41 minutes.
Kansas City: 3 hours, 32 minutes.
Nashville: 8 hours, 47 minutes.
Denver: 11 hours, 53 minutes.
Chicago: 9 hours, 52 minutes.
New York: 12 hours, 17 minutes.
Frankly, the Ozarks is more isolated than I’d thought. I’m surprised that its center is almost as far from New Orleans as it is from Chicago or that it’s halfway between St. Louis and Dallas. Looks like a long way to anywhere, actually.
How long does it take you to get to a major destination?
So here we are, spending too much time online digging for the latest in the Covid-19 deluge. I know I’m not alone there. The mere fact that so many sources for updated reports from around the globe are available only a few keystrokes away feeds our obsessive googling and scrolling – for many, a morbid fascination, for sure.
Having pretty much self-quarantined (in part at my wife’s nudging), I’ve been trying to continue generally as much life-as-usual as possible, which you’ve seen reflected in the posts here at the Red Barn. Admittedly, my life since retiring from the newsroom and turning my attention fulltime to a writer’s discipline has meant generally limited face-to-face social interaction anyway, but even I’m getting a bit antsy without my Quaker gatherings or daily swims at the city’s indoor pool or even dashes to the bank or grocery.
Still, I sympathize with those who have never undergone a discipline of doing without – as in fasting, leaving electronics behind for a backpacking or camping expedition, or even enduring an extended power outage. (As for the toilet paper, don’t get me going. That’s truly a First World problem!)
So while I’m treating these restrictions as an opportunity for reflection and renewal, here are ten things to make the best of it. And remember, if you’re sharing this hunkering down with a mate and/or children, try these together.
Starring in the kitchen: Usually we’re too busy running around to actually take the time to cook attentively. You know, maybe from scratch. So reach into the backs of your cupboards and actually use ingredients you put aside for someday. When you don’t have everything a recipe calls for, be inventive. How does homemade bread sound right now? Pancakes? Your own pretzels? (Oops, I’ve got to check on that pork broth simmering on the stove!)
Guilty reading: Got a pile of books or magazines gathering dust? Kick back and open a page. Don’t overlook ebooks, either. They’re easily downloaded … I have a few I’m recommending.
Arts and entertainment: You might be surprised what’s being streamed, not just on Netflix or Amazon Prime. I’ve been watching a different Metropolitan Opera production for free at dawn every morning. (Often while I’ve been doing one of these other activities.)
Deep cleaning and reorganizing: Revisiting old files in my cabinets or on my laptop and purging many of them is feeling so liberating. It’s allowing me to refocus, too. Think about your closets and drawers. Parts of the barn are going to be next, weather permitting.
Seed planting and yard work: Hey, you can’t stay inside all the time! And when you do, you can get some of those seeds started.
In-house exercise: The gym and indoor pool may be closed, but you can still go for walks or clear a space on the rug for yoga or pushups. I had forgotten we have hand weights, which I found while cleaning. Inhale, one, exhale, two …
Games and puzzles: Get out the decks of cards or a board game. How long’s it been? Puzzles can keep you busy, too, solo or with everyone’s help.
Phone calls and emails: Yes, keep in touch. I’m really behind here!
Rest: What’s wrong with napping or staying abed longer? How often do you get a chance to do THAT? A deep, long hot bath is another soothing option.
Prayer, meditation, and reflection: Many churches have mobilized streaming events on this front. Check out their websites.
Here’s hoping you and yours aren’t showing any virus symptoms.
What would you suggest adding? What are you discovering … or rediscovering?
Let me tell you, for most of the American public, wine has really improved in the past fifty years. Most of what was available back then, except for snobs and wealthy insiders, was pretty nasty. Thankfully, that’s changed. Yes, definitely.
As for those snobs? The typical Trader Joe’s makes some good stuff truly affordable, just for starters.
Here are ten we like, with the caveat they can vary widely in quality from label to label and season to season.
And, for the record, we prefer dry rather than sweet.
Cotes du Rhones. Lighter in weight than what I’d normally reach for, but oh my, how gorgeously it goes with everything on the table. If I had to limit it to only one, this is it.
Merlot. OK, I like big, chewy red. Lots of body. Especially for that now-once-a-week red meat. I don’t care how much it’s disparaged by some critics. Bless them, they keep the price down.
Malbec. A South American equivalent.
Cabernet sauvignon. Once known as Bordeaux, it’s far outstripped its French confines. Lighter in weight, it’s a red we think goes with nearly everything. Well, maybe not fish. But definitely cheese and crackers beforehand.
Pinot noir. Another notable red, but definitely tricky in the lower price levels. Never mind what the movie says, either. I mean, sometimes Zinfandel does the job better.
Sauvignon blanc. We had one that was truly, marvelously stony. It’s our ideal, our holy grail, should we ever encounter it again. It was a unique year, as we learned later. And it remains our ideal of a white wine.
Prosecco. Look, we love bubbly. And when a daughter discovered this during a semester in Italy, where it was priced like Coca-Cola here, we were soon hooked. Like cava, it’s champagne by any other name. Try it with pizza, if you must.
Rose’. A summer favorite around here. Don’t snicker. An Austrian bottling knocked our socks off, all eight bottles we were able to clutch up.
Good Italian and Spanish varietals. They come in so many varieties we won’t attempt to name them. I’ve come a long way from my ex-father-in-law’s bubbly Lambrusco, though I still harbor a fondness for it, as do my now wife and elder daughter after encountering it in Bologna, along with authentic prosciutto that melts in the mouth.
I’d add Macedonian, but we’ve been able to score just one bottle in New Hampshire before my wife and daughter debarked for that part of the former Yugoslavia republic. As they discovered there, many folks are making great wine in smaller quantities and keeping it home. Heads up, should you chance across any.
If you notice, there’s no chardonnay on this list. Too much oak, my wife insists, adding if she wanted that, she’d just bite the table.
In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya settle into a place unlike anything they would have imagined. It’s desert, for one thing, where nearly everything has to be irrigated, for another. Quite simply, it’s a lot like Yakima, in the middle of Washington state.
The city’s doubled in population since I lived there, but I’m not surprised. It’s mostly sunny.
Here are ten factoids.
The name applies to the city, the county, the valley, and until recently, the Indians, too.
The valley gets nearly nine inches of rain in a typical year, most of it in the winter. Almost every green thing that sprouts requires irrigation. And if that supply fails, everything goes kaput.
The valley produces more than 75 percent of the hops used in American beer – and a quarter of the hops used worldwide. If you’re a beer lover, be grateful. The locale also raises a lot of barley, up in the Horse Heaven Hills.
The valley has more than 70 wineries. It’s become a great place to grow varietal grapes, many of which are pressed into fermentation elsewhere. On the globe, it lines up quite well with France.
The trolleys have been running for more than a hundred years. Fun trip, by the way, especially the ones that run out through the orchards.
The original site of the city was renamed Union Gap, made famous by the rocker Gary Puckett.
Yakima County leads the nation in apple production, with 55,000 acres of active orchards. It’s the state’s highest valued agricultural product. By the way, they’re no longer mostly Red Delicious.
The average income of an apple picker is $6 a day.
The Native Americans have renamed their tribe and reservation as Yakama. One letter makes a huge difference.
I still miss living there, especially Mount Adams every morning.
In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya leave Prairie Depot and settle into a place unlike anything they would have imagined. It’s not where they promised themselves that they’d relocate, but it would have to do. At least it was hilly and wooded.
Here are a few of the things they discovered.
The Ozark Mountains, also known as the Ozarks Plateau, stretches into five states but is situated mostly in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. It’s the highest land between the Appalachian and Rocky mountains, having some peaks of more than two thousand feet elevation.
Technically, there are two mountain ranges: the Boston Mountains of Arkansas and the St. Francoise Mountains in Missouri, the latter having some of the oldest rocks in the United States.
The majority of the region is forested. Logging is a major industry.
The plateau is laced with underground caverns. Found deep within some of them is the species of Ozark blind cave salamanders, which lives nowhere else in the world.
The shoreline of the Lake of the Ozarks is longer than the coastline of California. The man-made lake covers 61,000 square miles and is a popular vacation site.
The Ozarks has a distinctive culture, architecture, and dialect deriving from its backwoods heritage. Square dances were a popular social activity, as was storytelling.
Historically, the Ozarks were predominantly Baptist or Methodist in faith. Today, the Assemblies of God and Baptist Bible Fellowship International have their world headquarters in the region.
Big-name live musical entertainment has made Branson a major tourist magnet.
Fayetteville, home to the University of Arkansas and with 77,000 population, is the third largest city in the state and is the principal metropolis in the Arkansas part of the Ozarks. It claims to defy many stereotypes about Southerners and could well be the model for Dolomite Center in my novel.
Wal-Mart is headquartered in Bentonville, a short drive from Fayetteville.