Arkansas features all sorts of cool mountains-the Ozarks Mountains, rolling green erosion mountain wonders with a "hand me my dulcimer and let's sing 'greensleeves' folkways tradition, and the Ouachita Mountains, intricate small "fold" mountains through which roads meander among gorgeous little resort towns as if the world itself was an ornate wooded lane.
I come from none of those places. I cannot tell you about native mountain-top experiences, as I am a tourist of sorts whenever it comes to mountains. But river bottoms? That I can tell you. I can tell you about river bottoms.
River "bottoms", of course, are those bits of wetlands around the rivers, essentially the part of the river where the river isn't, a changing, wild, wooded place. "My" part of Arkansas, south Arkansas, is a land of deep forest, rolling hills and endless river bottoms. It's not quite wet enough to be swamp land, in the way parts of Louisiana, Georgia, Florida and Mississippi tend to be. But it's not exactly domesticated countryside, either. Sometimes when one is in some natural places, generations of human habitation render them manicured, "captured", somehow, permanent garden spots. The river bottoms are nothing like that. They are wild places, where anything can happen, anything can be found.
All rivers in my part of the world are tributaries of tributaries of rivers which ultimately feed into the Mississippi River, all doomed to ride to the underworld, which is located either in Hades or in New Orleans, depending upon with whom one is defining one's terms. The river mid-way between Gurdon and Camden, my twin Arkansas "home towns", is called the Little Missouri River. It's a good-ish size small river, and it is lined with good old fashioned deep woods river bottoms.
When the Spanish came to Arkansas, hundreds of years ago, they brought horses. The local native Americans, the Caddo and Quapaw, lacked beasts of burden. For some reason I don't understand, some of those Spanish horses escaped into the wild. For generations to come, the river bottoms of the Little Missouri River were populated to descendants of these escapee Spanish horse. These horses roamed, wild, free, unfettered, amid the bottoms, rarely seen, even more rarely captured, and entirely independent. Similarly, hogs escaped into the woods to become that fiercest of all local animals, the wild boar. A rough rule of thumb when I spent a summer working at an industrial park in the bottom land was that when wild boars were in the area, then one climbed a tree or otherwise vacated the ground. Wild boars were reputed to have a temper that was positively human, and anyone who knows humans know that their tempers are excessive indeed. People would set corn on a rope within a fenced enclosure, hoping to lure a boar in and have bacon for years. They say wild boar meet is tasty but very tough. Of course, deer and squirrel are everywhere in the bottoms, and huge gar termed "alligator" gar roam the waters, like giant prehistoric pikes.
I heard that two pet squirrel monkeys escaped in the bottom land, and for nearly a decade thereafter prompted reports of a Bigfoot-like monster similar to the legendary bottomland primate, the Fouke Monster. The Fouke Monster was so famous that they made a movie about him, the hilarious mockumentary film "The Legend of Boggy Creek". The "Legend of Boggy Creek" was made on a budget of roughly 12 cents, yet it was a top independent grosser in its year, played almost entirely in tiny small town theaters in the south. It anticipated movies like "This is Spinal Tap" and "Waiting for Guffman" by years,
by pretending it was a documentary but actually being droll guerrilla theater. The scene when the Fouke Monster surprises the man in the outhouse alone is priceless.
When the squirrel monkeys began to be cited in the woods, the word "got out" that a Fouke Monster type being roamed the Little Missouri River bottoms. It was not until years later, when a squirrel hunter mistaked a squirrel monkey for a squirrel, that it was firmly established which was the true rumour about the "monster".
I believe that the inner life is like those river bottoms.
Marshes and fens unseen by anyone lurk in those woods.
Wild horses roam, and squirrel monkeys caper, entirely out of place and yet at home. I hear they are even restoring the alligators to the Little Missouri River habitat, after orderly thinking once nearly eradicated them. Wild boars roam and hunt within the bottoms, sporting with abandon, but dangerous in a tusky way. The river changes channel, and new mud is dredged up, to be grown over by pine and holly and fern. Sometimes one finds things inside one never dreamed existed.
All one can do, really, is drive the paved roads which wind on hills through those woods, and hope nothing inside causes something untoward to happen.