Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
Over the weekend, The Observer got up to the lake — Lake Hamilton, specifically — to a friend's condo. It's just one of the perks of being The Observer's pal: having your new convertible car, gourmet food, cutting edge electronic gizmo or waterfront vacation home evaluated by us, free of charge. As a professional Observer, we feel honor-bound to give back to the community from time to time. No thanks are necessary, citizen.
Being on a large body of water is always a humbling experience for us. The Observer's parents owned a lake cabin when we were but a wee lad, though theirs was on brackish and lily pad-beset Lake Conway. Lake Conway was aces when it came to fishing for perch, bass and bream. Water-skiing and swimming? Not unless you've had a recent tetanus shot. No, Hamilton — clear, wide, cold and deep and ringed with distant mountains — is much better in that regard.
On Saturday morning, before everyone else was up, The Observer rose in the dark and walked down to the lake. Hamilton allows owners to build homes pushed right to the edge of the water, and the condo where we stayed seemed to pitch out over the drink. Before 6 a.m., the longest day of the year coming on strong and already getting muggy, we stood on a dock and looked out over the lake. The water never really stills itself there, the wind coming off the hills making it roll and heave almost contentedly. At one point, a few geese skimmed over the channel, honking back and forth to one another. As we watched, the light discovered the far shore, hazy with distance. Barefoot, alive, and in wonder, The Observer stood. We listened to the stillness of the world, and felt very small.
Being on Lake Hamilton, with its big ol' houses perched on fingers of land, always makes us think of “The Great Gatsby.” What F. Scott Fitzgerald calls the great, wet barnyard of Long Island Sound plays an important role in that book. We tend to think it symbolizes time, which divides all men and women from who they used to be and what they left behind. That's as good an explanation as any, we suppose — not to mention a pretty good theory on why people buy lake houses in the first place. Human beings, for whatever reason, enjoy being subtly reminded of the ticking clock that underpins all our lives.
In the book, Jay Gatsby is in the habit of standing on the roof of his vulgar mansion at night, staring out at the green light far across the water that marks the end of the dock owned by Daisy Buchanan — the love who threw him over in favor of uptight, racist, philandering Trustfundifarian Tom Buchanan. The first time we see Gatsby in the book, he's silhouetted against the velvet dusk, reaching out for the light as if to pull it to him, along with his past.
We've all been there, pal. Well, some of us have.
By the way: Did you know that Hot Springs is mentioned in “The Great Gatsby”? Seriously. No fooling. We're not going to tell you where, though. You'll have to read the book to find out.
Father's Day passed without incident for The Observer, a father himself. Our Pa passed into that Good Night some years back, which makes Father's Day something of a bittersweet occasion for us every year. If your father is still with you, do us a favor and give him a call ASAP. God knows that we would be on the phone with our Dad right now if we could.
For the first time in memory, Junior was apart from us on Father's Day this year, having gone to visit his maternal grandparents in South Arkansas for a week. Coupled with thoughts of our Dad, that laid us low on Sunday. We spent most of the day moping around the house in our staying-in clothes, periodically catching ourselves wondering why Junior was being so quiet. Then we'd remember that he wasn't there.
Around 6 p.m., the phone rang. When we picked up, there was a second's pause, and then Junior said: “Hi, Dad! Happy Father's Day!” The clouds parted. The sun came in, and all was right with the world …