Buffalo Flow: In honor of our National Parks

The Buffalo River at Woolum

It was a weekend for travel, but the forecast, seemingly everywhere, said rain. So we went west to Arkansas, which promised clear skies. Instead we woke Saturday morning to a drizzle, that swung to full rain and then back.

We’d had a few things in mind, hiking among them, but the steady rain and the forgotten rain jackets in the closet at home said not this time. So we opted for scenic driving, campsite reconnaissance, and overlooking instead.

We wound our way from Little Rock, through the Ozark Mountains, to the western end of the Buffalo National River. As yet unvisited National Park Service properties are especially on my radar this year, thanks to the centennial. We spent the day winding back and forth across the river as it gained volume heading down stream. We drove down to most every boat put in, and put our feet in instead. We smiled at each other and said we would come back.

Many long distance hiking and kayaking opportunities here, which we both love. Every put in/campsite a lovely gravel shoal opposite a beautiful bluff. The water was silty with recent rains. We’d scouted every campground along the way. Most are little clearings with tables and fire rings scattered about. More of a picnic environment than my idea of camping. Finally, near dusk we came to Woolum. A broad grassy flood plain, a bend in the river, a bank of trees.

We pitched our tent on the grass, and followed sandy tire tracks down to the waters edge, scattering river rocks as we went. We settled in, as the light broke through the day long cloud cover far behind us, casting an orange glow on the rock bluff across from us. To our left, where the river bent, we spied a buck feeding among the scrubby trees on the opposite shore.

I pulled out my kindle and began reading aloud. He interrupted me to point out the wildlife around us. An otter swimming down the bank near us, moving out into the river as he passed us by. A large bird perched in the barren crown of a tree, high up on the cliff face, an indeterminate silhouette in the dark. Another large bird gliding overhead, feathers making gentle noise in the quite dark.

We had gathered wood, but never built a fire. There were no insects or cold to demand it, and too much else to be seen and heard.

In the morning I went down to the river, still in shadow. I sat and watch tiny minnows along the edge viciously eating small insects from the surface. After a moment I realized the insects were falling from the air, little motes of tiny mayflies were undulating up and down over the water. I watched as individuals would tire and gradually drift lower, eventually succumbing to the water and the hungry fish. I watched until they were nearly all gone. The fish, no longer hungry had moved away. When he joined me at the river, he saw what I had missed in my small fascinations. Another deer, staring at us from across the river. The sky was clear and pale blue above. The sun continued to rise, and it was time to go.

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