Autumn in Arkansas is a great time to think on the vagaries of both nature and human nature. Go for a drive anywhere in these ancient Ozarks and you will be reminded “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,/Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” So said Hamlet as he explained the ghostly presence of his murdered father. Oh, that Shakespeare, he was a fellow much in touch with the preternatural. He would have felt right at home traveling the Arkansas hills during these days of the dying light.
Sit by a campfire with some old-timers in October as they listen to the lonely baying of their hounds, and you’re bound to hear a scary story or two passed around with the ‘shine. Or go for a long walk in Devil’s Den State Park around sunset, kick at the colorful leaves, and feel the ghosts exhale a whisper from the Devil’s Ice Box. Drive through the Ouachitas on a dark night roiling with clouds, a storm flashing bright and quick as the light bouncing off a disco ball, electricity drawn to the crystals and mineral properties of that strange east-west range. My friend Jane and I were forced to stop in a church drive, hold hands, and sing campfire songs until we were brave enough to continue along the snaking electrical wire that was Highway 7 one wild night. We were not ashamed to be 50 years old and scared out of our wits. It made perfect sense.
I’ve always thought of the Ozarks, vacation land for a child who lived in Louisiana and Mississippi, as one of the haintiest places in the entire universe. All those deep crevices we call caves around here have hidden a multitude of sinners, murderers, ghosts and goblins. It’s a bad idea to wander too far from the trails. There are deep ravines where a person might easily be lost, especially after dark. You might awaken hours, or even days later, with a bellyful of stumpwater and nightmares of ancient beings who find these wild and ragged places perfect for skittering around with snakes and howling in tune with crazed coyotes.
Yesterday I went for my annual autumn drive, getting lost on the back roads up in the hills around Fayetteville. I always start out for White Rock Mountain with it’s fabulous 360 degree view, but for some reason I can’t seem to reach the top. There’s a turn or a curve, something I miss, and I always end up in the Crosses’ Creek churchyard. It’s a shady little cemetery, even on the brightest October day, and I love the chill I feel there. Mostly, I have a good relationship with the dead–but I only stop by during daylight hours. Visitation ends at dusk.
Don’t let this Fall pass without paying homage to your fine sense of the supernatural. Write a letter to Poe, or even Shakespeare. Tell them what scared you most about their stories or plays. Read a frightening piece of work from the huge list of authors, past and/or present, who work hard to scare the wits out of us. After you’ve indulged your inner stalker, sit down and pen a haunted poem or story of your own. Remember, “There’s more in heaven and on earth…” than can be explained by modern logic. I dare you.