When the Dirt Speaks

Here’s my debut column for The Stone County Leader published this week. They decided to call it The Flatlander:

***

The local real estate agent maneuvered his pickup down and around the winding, increasingly narrowing road with almost no effort at all. Blind curves, perilously low-hanging tree limbs, we descended steadily like an airplane on final approach for almost eight miles. A single deer bounded across Herpel Road, and a couple of little varmints I’d never seen scurried to the safety of the roadside ditch.

“How do you even know where we’re going?” I asked, slipping my seat belt on and as I made dubious eye contact with my wife in the back seat.

“Oh, it’s a ways down here, but it sure is pretty,” he said.

The day began earlier at a lovely little quiet area called Cool Water on the Izard County side of el Rio Blanco. We discovered three available residential lots on a corner we could piece together for a nice tract of land where we could build a main lodge and some guest housing for family and friends. And the price was right.

We walked the grounds for almost 45 minutes as I waited for the dirt to speak. When the right caretaker comes along shopping for land, the dirt will speak. Call out to him, actually. Raised on fertile flatlands of the Mississippi River Delta, I know this. Dirt speaks to the soul. It is the sixth love language – a beautiful gift God shares between two of His favorite creations.

The words never came clear, but I’ve always been in too big a hurry, so I suggested we head back to town and sign a deal at the agent’s office. Dana and I were ready to make Mountain View, and this place called Cool Water, our second home.
But God was still waiting to have His say. We often forget that He works on His time, not ours.

“Now, I’ve got this other place, and it’s way down there and right on the river, and the price is good. I don’t care to take you down there,” the agent said, surprisingly not in a hurry to ink the deal.

“Well, what the heck. I’ll take a look,” I said, fighting off the anxiety to just get on with it.
Forty minutes later that November Sunday afternoon and at the end of the eight-mile meandering road, we turned the corner onto six acres of river frontage at a place with a name as original as finely aged moonshine. We were at Round Bottom Landing, he said.

I opened the truck door, took a few steps outward, and did a slow, 360-degree turn.
My jaw dropped and I couldn’t close my mouth.

This is it. You’re home.

The dirt spoke.

And it was with unmistakable clarity.

“I’ll take it,” I said to no one in particular, and not breaking view from what had just captured my soul.

It was like standing at the bottom of a beautiful bowl, the swift flowing mighty White rolling just below and to the northwest, and spectacular eastern bluffs amazingly highlighted with flecks of red and gold from the soft fall light sourced low in the southern hemisphere. There were four surrounding mountains each with its own distinctive character, all infused with poplar, birch, maple and more, and bursting with brilliant colors.

“What did you say?” the agent asked, confused.

“He said he’d take it.” My wife has been there, done that, before, and she knows when something happens in my heart that’s not about to get undone. She took a deep breath, and laughed at the same time, surely both exasperated and thrilled at the next new and completely unknown adventure ahead.

At that moment, Tranquility Base was born, and a flatlander from cotton country just stared at a landscape so beautiful he couldn’t even dream it. I’m sure it’s not the first time it happened.

Ten months later, here we are. I’m writing and reunited with a college friend, Lori Freeze, at the Stone County Leader. Dana is selling real estate with a local firm and loving it. And we’re both waking up most mornings in this place that with every new sunrise, every new fog formation across the valley and river, and every new sighting of some amazing wildlife, thankful for our new home in Stone County.

I think we’ll sit here a spell.

See you next week in the newspaper.

•••
Steve Watkins is a reporter for the Stone County Leader. He is the author of two books including Pilgrim Strong: Rewriting My Story on the Way of St. James and The King of Highbanks Road: Rediscovering Dad, Rural America, and Learning to Love Home Again.

Giving Tranquility Base Some Breathing Room

 

 

Lot 5 was our original purchase on January 2. The Lot 4 addition doubles the property for our Tranquility Base Writer Retreat Center Development.

Its legal description is Roundbottom Pool Estates, an approximate 50-acre land tract developed in a spectacular river valley near Mountain View, AR in 2007. When a one-hundred-year flood passed through a year later, it derailed plans for everything. Today it is the site for about seven homes, most of them vacation homes for people living full-time elsewhere. It is also the home of our Tranquility Base Writer’s Retreat Center. Outside the trickle of the White River and an occasional eagle, you can hear a pin drop there.

From Mountain View, you travel about five miles southeast and downward following the White River to reach Roundbottom. Not uncommon along the drive are deer, turkey,  and all kinds of wildlife, not to mention the occasional hillbilly. The Herpelites (those hillbillies living along Herpel Road) are the biggest challenge as they fly around blind corners in beat up pickup trucks (think Deliverance) with no regard to possible oncoming traffic. A Herpelite can kill you in a heartbeat. Watch out, and drive defensively for Herpelites.

The conclusion of the five-mile drive down into the valley on our River Valley Road is take-your-breath-away beautiful.

Last Monday, Dana and I spent an hour researching real estate records at the Stone County Courthouse. After some digging, we identified the lot owners immediately west of our 1.2 acre property. The kind clerk gave me directions to the owner’s house and we drove there. The owners kindly invited us in to their amazing mountain cabin overlooking our valley and I asked about his willingness to sell his property adjacent to tranquility base.

“I’d love to sell it,” he said. My heart jumped.

After a couple of days of negotiations, I’m happy to say we’re purchasing another 1.2 acres that will double the size of our sanctuary, providing room for more wildlife habitat, a walking trail and lots of breathing room. It also brings our river frontage to just more than 200 feet.

We’re hopeful that construction will begin on March 1.

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Tranquility Base Writer Retreats (2021 Schedule)

 

Our 2021 curriculum is focused on four primary dates (4 days each) on site at Tranquility Base in Mountain View, AR.  Call us for specific information on a customized 2-day retreat at another location in the US.

Our retreats are private, intimate, and designed to focus on individuals. That’s why we limit each retreat to eight participants. This experience is designed for:

Learning – Relaxing – Cultural Experiences – and Hospitality (we are at your service).

Each four-day retreat focuses on four areas including: Faith & Craft, Content Marketing &  Authentic Brand, The Art & Science of Writing & Publishing, and The Deeper You.

Some of the topics covered in these four sessions include: Finding Your Voice, Don’t Waste Your Wilderness, Habits & Systems, The Valley of the Dry Bones, How to Sell Without Selling, Creating Stakeholders, Embracing Fear, Your Creative Rhythm, Traditional & Indie Author Strategies, and many more.

These are the 2021 learning dates and the cultural opportunities extended with them:

•March 11-14 (highlighting the bi-annual Mountain View Bluegrass Festival)

•April 15-18 (highlighting Mountain View’s famous Arkansas Folk Festival)

•October 21-24 (highlighting Stone County’s Beanfest & Outhouse Races)

•November 11-14 (highlighting Mountain View’s bi-annual Bluegrass Festival)

 

While we’re focused on learning in a rustic lodge setting in the amazing White River Valley, we’ll also work in opportunities for experiences such as:

A tour of the Hemingway-Pfieffer Center and the barn studio where Hemingway wrote A Farewell to Arms; Blanchard Springs Caverns Tours; Shopping in the Town Square; World-Class Trout Fishing; Zip Line Course; Golf; and more.

COST: Each four-day seminar is $500, plus a $100 room and board fee for those who stay on the property. Our accommodations are albergue-style in our loft, a rustic, hostel-like, but cozy setting. Private accommodations are easily arranged. All meals (with the exception of one night out) are covered. We will work with each participant on transportation to our lodge, and to your return destination. Again, we are here to serve you.

This is not one of those experiences where you’ll leave disappointed. You’ll learn. You’ll have fun. Make new friends. See another part of the world. And you will be served. We are laser-focused on hospitality because we love serving people. Tell us you weren’t happy when it comes time to go home, and I’ll refund your money (if you even want to go home).

Spots may be reserved with a $100 non-refundable deposit, balance due sixty days prior to the event. For more information, call 870.926.4055, or write steve@stevewatkins.org

BONUS INFORMATION:  Depending on our completion date, we’ll offer two to three free group getaways during Fall/Winter 2020 to help us practice with our soft opening. This is the perfect opportunity for your small business retreat, leadership conference or other activity that will include up to eight persons. Interested parties for our soft-opening giveaways should write to steve@stevewatkins.org