What do you know about the Ozarks?

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.

It’s hillier and more forested than I had expected.

Here are a few of the things they discovered.

~*~

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. The majority of the region is forested. Logging is a major industry.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. The Ozarks has a distinctive culture, architecture, and dialect deriving from its backwoods heritage. Square dances were a popular social activity, as was storytelling.
  7. 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.
  8. Big-name live musical entertainment has made Branson a major tourist magnet.
  9. 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.
  10. Wal-Mart is headquartered in Bentonville, a short drive from Fayetteville.

~*~

What can you add to the list?

 

 

My national parks bucket list

When I lived in Yakima, Washington – like Joshua and Jaya in my new novel, Nearly Canaan – Mount Rainier was practically in our backyard, metaphorically, at least, and I got to explore it repeatedly, in all seasons. In addition, I camped in the Olympics and North Cascades national parks and visited Crater Lake in Oregon. I had already camped as a kid in the Great Smokies and at Mammoth Cave and have since probed the Everglades. I can attest that Acadia and the Cape Cod parks in Provincetown are prime New England. And Cuyahoga in Ohio was just to the west of a town where I lived and worked for four years after leaving the Pacific Northwest. Gateway Arch in St. Louis is another? Gee, this list of parks I’ve visited keeps growing.

Still, there’s a lot of stunning choices in the system I have yet to explore.

How many items are required for a bucket list, anyway? Ten or 20? Well, this is in my Tendrils category, so that settles it. These are all United States parks, by the way – an international list will have to wait.

Here goes.

  1. Grand Canyon, Arizona.
  2. Yes, in Montana.
  3. Yellowstone in its corner of Wyoming, Montana, and Utah.
  4. Grand Teton, Wyoming.
  5. Zion in Utah.
  6. With seven of the ten biggest parks, I’ll lump them all together in what could become yet another Bucket List. I’d definitely want to get to the Last Frontier by ferry from Seattle. Am I too old for a sleeping bag on the deck?
  7. Hawai’i Volcanos.
  8. Mesa Verde in Colorado. The Anasazi cliff dwellings, especially.
  9. Kings Canyon. Sequoia, Redwood, and Joshua Tree, all in California. I’d love to spend more time in the sequoia groves than I did passing through back in ’79.
  10. Calsbad Caverns, New Mexico.

~*~

What’s on yours?

What would you eat in Kittery Foreside?

The square where it’s happenin’.

Kittery, Maine, is a few miles downstream from where I live. It’s also across the Piscataqua River from Portsmouth, which is loaded with eateries – maybe as many per capita as Manhattan.

For much of its existence, Kittery has been pretty blue-collar. It’s home to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard – the U.S. Navy’s oldest continuously operating yard – and now tasked with the upkeep of nuclear submarines. It’s also home to a lot of lobstermen.

When I first came to New Hampshire, the Kittery Grange Hall was the scene of a monthly contradance – both the grange and the event now ancient history.

Oh, yes, and its strip of discount outlet stores along U.S. 1 is a major tourist attraction. Seriously. As is the adjacent sprawling Kittery Trading Post.

But with Portsmouth booming and the cost of its retail space skyrocketing, Kittery has been undergoing a transformation. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Wallingford Square, which used to be a gritty cluster of bars around one of the shipyard’s two gates. Today it’s been rechristened Kittery Foreside and is the center of some enterprising fine dining and food sellers.

Here’s what you’ll find.

The keystone restaurant.
  1. Anneke Jans. Upscale trendy dining with a devoted following. It’s the culinary anchor.
  2. Rudders Public House. Specialty: Kittery Fried Chicken.
  3. Lil’ s Café. Crulers, anyone?
  4. AJ Wood Grill Pizza. Get the picture?
  5. Anju Noodle Bar. For that Asian touch.
  6. Wallingford Dram. Artisan cocktails in “that walk-in closet, timeless gem of a bar,” as one critic describes it.
  7. The Black Perch. Duck-gravy laden pontine.
  8. Festina Lente. Rustic Italian.
  9. Authentic India. As it says.
  10. Tributary Brewing Company.

~*~

Nearby is the Beach Pea bakery, the best baguettes around, and Loco Coco’s Tacos, with its wonderful fine Mexican cuisine.

Naval shipyard viewed from the square.

 

What’s happened to Portsmouth?

The Port City is hemmed in by water on three sides, and it’s running out of room to grow.

While the waterfront and beaches are part of the city’s tourism and residential appeal, the demand on downtown real estate has been going up steeply. Literally.

Not all that long ago, Portsmouth was a sleepy little New Hampshire city with a hippie edge and a lot of historic Colonial houses. Unfortunately, the city fathers had jumped on the urban renewal boom in the early ’60s, nearly demolishing one old neighborhood that was instead miraculously transformed into the Strawbery Banke living history museum. Visit it, if you can.

The side opposite the downtown wasn’t so lucky. Much of it, an Italian neighborhood of large Victorian houses with impressive interiors, was razed to make room for a small mall that never took off. It instead became a forbidding asphalt graveyard for private parking surrounding some kind of small bunker.

At least that vacuous mistake and eyesore is finally gone.

I’m not so sure about the replacement, though.

In what seems like one fell swoop, a monolithic set of five-story buildings has popped up to form a forbidding wall along the north side of the downtown.

It’s all new.
But does it leave you with any invitation to walk along this?

It has none of the variety and charm of Congress and State streets that run parallel to it just a few blocks away. It’s largely not pedestrian friendly, preferring instead to maximize every square inch of rentable space, and despite its visual unity has a cookie-cutter quality that bears no kinship to the rest of the district other than brick. Where are the quirky touches that abound so close at hand in the earlier eras?

There is one exception.

This break in the wall has some of the pedestrian welcome you might feel in the North End of Boston. The slight bend in the street and awnings help.

Downtown Dover, ten miles to the north, is undergoing growth of its own and seems to be avoiding this kind of monolithic development, even while going to five stories. Whether we can avoid something similar on the riverfront project on the other side of the Cocheco is another question.

In both cities, these are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for defining the larger community. What does this say about Portsmouth?