The winding S of red tail lights cuts a line through the Ozark Mountain Range. The mountains rise like giant ink blots against a navy blue sky dotted by only the brightest stars. Even those are dimmed, road weary from light-years of travel, I think. Matt once told me that it’s the light pollution that all but obscures the Milky Way, at least here in America. Our grandfathers saw the sky naked, he says, glory un-shrouded by the lack of street lights and skylines. The stars were waypoints back then.
The elevations of the ink blots are pocked with brighter, man-made stars. Red and yellow, they blink from the tops of cellular towers and broadcast antennas. This valley has been radio-waved for decades now, and the sounds of Rock-And-Roll settle in its basin where the ink blots spill their contents into a thin stream.
The Mulberry River.
At night, while we travel up the highway, coyotes visit the banks of the stream and drink deep. If the moon were full, the river would drip iridescent from their jowls as if illuminated by a great black light. They haunch on the other side of the brush waiting for prey. In the morning the buzzards will circle like smoke over the remains and the truckers will imagine the ghosts that haunt the valley. A young deer, a lost hiker, maybe both.
Most of us travel this stretch toward Fayetteville, Springfield, or Kansas City. There, we’ll find our families, taverns, and places of worship. But for now we travel in a more pristine place, a range that hides its small communities. On the down side of these slopes lies Mountainburg, or Chester, or West Fork. Good people have settled in these hills and put down deep roots. They’ve made babies, started churches, worked honest jobs. This morning they attended Sunday services. The town drunk was baptized and the smell of whiskey was buried once for all in the baptismal pool. Bun-haired women shouted for joy and their long skits swished the dust back and forth across old planks as they swayed their hallelujahs. They’re always looking for a reason to holler to Jesus and if we stopped and rolled our windows down, we’d maybe hear it echo in the valley. Even at this late hour.
Welcome to the Ozarks. It’s good America.