Sunday, April 26, 2015

Solo Trippin': An Ozarks Mill Tour

A beautiful day in the Ozark Mountains calls for only one thing: road trip. A lazy Spring day under crystal blue skies is the perfect backdrop for filling the tank, sliding behind the wheel, and driving back in time where waving at each passing car is ritual and cellular reception is non-existent. Ozark County, Missouri, offers all the elements needed to float away from the stresses of the week and remember how it felt to be free.

The Ozark Plateau in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas is rich with the history of pioneers - tough souls who carved out a meager but pleasant existence in the rocky hills and back wood traces somewhere in the middle of the 19th century. Early settlers arrived for the promise of cheap land and little government oversight, and over the years they scraped and cut and built their little corner of paradise on whatever plot of land they called their own. Each hilly tract was, for the owner, a little piece of heaven. To this day, the spirit of these first settlers runs through the veins of those who come to this region, whether by birth or by choice. It is that spirit that can enliven the visitor with a new-found sense of what is important in life. (Here's a hint: it's not your iPhone.)

Several old grist mills still dot the edges of small rivers in this area, hearkening back to a simpler time. Ozark County, Missouri was once home to over 1500 mills lining the edges of these clear waters and bringing commerce to the communities. Today, less than eight remain. In this tour, we'll visit four, but we'll begin with something a little different.

Peel Ferry, Peel, Arkansas (map coordinates 36 29 32 N, 92 47 12 W)

Directions: From Highway 62 between Pyatt and Yellville, Arkansas, turn north on Highway 125. At junction of Highway 14, turn left. After several miles, turn right on Highway 125 and follow to the ferry landing. 

The day's journey began in northwest Arkansas where I drove north on Highway 125 toward the last public ferry in the state of Arkansas. The Peel Ferry carries vehicles across a stretch of Bull Shoals Lake in the northern most part of Marion County. Holding six vehicles, on this sunny Saturday, my car was the only passenger, giving me a chance to visit with the ferry captain and deck hand. Each has worked on the ferry for over a decade.
Arkansas lake ferry boat
The ferry arrives, carrying two cars from the other side.
They were fascinated with my camera at first, and we talked about the advances of technology in the last 20 years, a strange topic perhaps when traversing a small arm of a lake on a ferry, which was installed only when the original highway was submerged by the creation of the lake 60 years before. A bridge would cost too much to build, considering the number of cars that travel that particular road.

The fifteen minute ride across the clear blue water was transcendent. As I stood on the deck, I remembered when I lived in Mountain Home, Arkansas, as a teenager and the hundreds of times I must have ridden the ferries across Lake Norfork. Those ferries, one on Highway 62 and one on Highway 101, were replaced by bridges in the late 1980s. The breeze in my hair this day, the lapping of the water against the barge, the beautiful suspension of boat along the water transported me to a time 30 years prior, when life was simpler and the only stress experienced was whether or not you would miss the next ferry run and be late for your appointment. I could have stayed on that ferry all day.

Dawt Mill, Tecumseh, Missouri (map coordinates 36 36 35 N, 92 16 38 W)

Directions: From the Peel Ferry landing, stay on Highway 125 North for 10 miles. Turn right at Highway 160 East and travel about 37 miles. (On this piece, you will drive through the town of Gainesville, and if you need fuel, this will be a good place to stop because there are few choices where we are going.) Turn left on Highway PP and drive about one mile. Turn left the the sign for Dawt Mill, which is County Road 318.

Nearly 20 years since I last saw it, much has changed in the life of Dawt Mill. Originally built in 1897, after replacing a former mill built in 1866, the location along the banks of the North Fork of the White River was ideal for harnessing the power of water to grind corn into meal. Due to the soil conditions, local farmers had more luck with corn than with wheat, which also explains why cornbread is more of a meal-time staple in these parts than wheat breads.
By 1995, the current owner of the property purchased the old mill and the surrounding land but had no immediate plans to refurbish the site. By 2008, the State of Missouri was preparing to condemn the mill and have it demolished from its perch along the river. The owner made a plan to refurbish the structure, using as much of the original materials as possible and preserve this landmark in some new incarnation of its former self.
The entrance to the restaurant and bar at Dawt Mill.
The entrance to the restaurant and bar at Dawt Mill.
It was reborn as the Grist Mill Restaurant and Gravel Bar. Overlooking the river, the setting could not be more peaceful, enhanced by the fact that my cell phone read those magic words "No Service." The restaurant manager, Dallas, gave me a tour of the old mill and explained the restoration process. He took me to an overlook behind the cash register for a view of the dam across the river, which in its day, funneled the water to the mill race and turbines.

"You see that hole in the dam?" he asked. "It used to be about as big as a fist but the water has worn it to where you could drive a bus through it now." He went on to explain that the owner would fix it immediately, if only the state and federal governments could agree on the method of repair. The two offices have argued the issue since 2008, while the hole expands to the point where the mill cannot be used to grind corn anymore.

"With the hole, we can't get enough constant pressure to run the turbines," Dallas explained. "We could fully operate the mill if we could just fix the hole."

For now, the site stands as a restaurant, serving an American fare menu at a reasonable price and in one of the most peaceful locations in the Ozarks. Also included in this bustling wide-spot in the road are several lodging options, where old homes once part of the old mill community have been transformed to overnight lodging, and proudly highlight two amenities in the brochure as no television and no in-room telephones. A hideaway, indeed. Rounding out the community is a general store, ice cream shop, camping area, canoe rental, and fishing guide service. Everything one would need to escape for a weekend is right here, within walking distance.

Hodgson Mill, Sylamore, Missouri (map coordinates 36 42 35 N, 92 16 1 W)

Directions: From Dawt Mill, return on County Road 318 to Highway PP. Turn left on PP and drive 4 miles. Turn left onto Highway H and drive 6 miles. Turn left onto Highway 181 South. After about 4 miles, the mill will be on the left. 

Hodgson Mill may bear a familiar name, as it is indeed the origination of Hodgson Mill  products seen in grocery stores. While the old mill is now closed and for sale, the manufacturing base for the product line is just down the road. The last time I saw this mill was in the mid-1990s when it was home to a gift shop and a proprietor eager to share its history. While still in good shape today, the building seems to whisper a cry for someone to inhabit it again and share its story. Until then, its bright red facade glows from the skirting of spring green at its feet. A picnic area under the trees across the road gives a quiet spot to admire the view.
Hodgson Mill with its trademark red paint, shines from behind the trees on the banks of Bryant Creek.
Hodgson Mill with its trademark red paint, shines amid the trees on the banks of Bryant Creek.
Zanoni Mill, Zanoni, Missouri (map coordinate 36 41 10 N, 92 19 54 W)

Directions: From Hodgson Mill, continue south on Highway 181 about 5 miles when you will see a sign for Zanoni Mill Road on the right. The mill and house sit back from the highway on the right. Just passed Zanoni Mill Road is a gravel road to the right which leads to the mill.

Zanoni Mill harnesses the waters of Pine Creek in a rare function called an overshot mill wheel. The water is channeled to a mill race that drops water from the top onto the mill wheel, rather than traditional wheels where water flows beneath the wheel. The two-story colonial home constructed next to the old mill is a private residence, whose owners own the mill also. Formerly a bed and breakfast, the business has since closed and the owners have reclaimed the home as their private residence. Be respectful of this if you visit since this mill sits on private property. I viewed it from the road on this trip, but in 1996 I spent a night in the house when it was a bed and breakfast, and enjoyed the quiet surroundings.
This photo is from my stay at the mill 20 years ago.
This photo is from my stay at the mill 20 years ago.
Rockbridge Mill, Rockbridge, Missouri (map coordinates 36 47 22 N, 92 24 34 W)

Directions: From Zanoni Mill, continue south on Highway 181 for 2 miles. Turn right on Highway N and drive almost 10 miles. Turn left on County Road 142, at the sign for Rockbridge. The mill and surrounding buildings are about 1.5 miles down the road.

Rockbridge Mill was built at the edge of the Spring River in 1865, and expanded in 1888. By the early 20th century, a small village of buildings surrounded the mill, including a general store, a bank, and several small homes. By the mid-1950s, the collection of buildings, including the mill, was transformed into a private trout hatchery and fishing resort. On this visit, the current location was active with eager fishermen. A restaurant, fishing guide service, and lodging facility rounds out this tranquil patch of Ozark ground.
The old mill now houses a fine restaurant to feed hungry fishermen.
The old mill now houses a fine restaurant to feed hungry fishermen.
After the visit to Rockbridge, it was time to point the car back home. I made my way to Highway 5 South and decided to go through Mountain Home, Arkansas, my old stomping grounds. Just the drive along that highway brought back so many memories. Each curve in the road seemed to have a story, and by this time of the day, my mind was thoroughly free from thoughts of work.

I opened the sunroof, rolled down the windows, and let the spring breeze carry me home.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Live There

Is your home a reflection of you or a reflection of what you believe you are supposed to be? Do you live in a large house that you secretly despise maintaining? Do you live amid a group of people who shape your behavior rather than living in a manner befitting you? Do you sometimes look at your life and not recognize yourself in it?

Dear Reader, I can tell you that I have answered 'yes' to all of those questions. While not all the points are easily changed, if change is what you indeed wish to make, small steps in a direction toward the real you are possible. I am not sure if it is a mid-life crisis or a mid-life realization that I am in the midst of, but I can tell you that changes have occurred in my thinking, and I like it.

A small example is in the yard around my house. After purchasing this house in 2002, I immediately began building flower beds and shrub beds across the entire property. A mere one-third acre, the lot still offered plenty of places to dig and create numerous planting beds which I quickly filled with my latest haul from the garden center. I exhausted myself on the project to make my yard look like every magazine page I had admired over my adult life.

What those magazines do not explain is what happens after the photographs are taken, when the weeds grow and plants must be pruned. Some of the favorite plants die because the neighbor's cat has other ideas for the look of your yard. The magazines do not explain that no matter how well you prepare the soil or place weed barriers, the proximity of your property to an adjacent cattle pasture will render your war against weeds fruitless. This is before the menagerie of nocturnal creatures dig and steal every bulb you ever planted and the grasshoppers eat the center out of your Pampas grass. The once lovely idea of a yard worthy of magazine photographs soon becomes a chore on par with cleaning that tiny crevice around the kitchen sink -- a necessary evil. 

Only after 12 years of this constant battle in my yard I realized: I don't like working in the yard that much. I just don't, never have. While I enjoy mowing, and I certainly enjoy looking at the flowers and shrubs, the ongoing upkeep -- especially on the scale I had created -- was sucking the life out of me. I began to detest the weekly 'to-do' list which stole more and more of my weekend time. Only last autumn did I have a revelation: take it all out. 

Diamond grass, clematis, and thread-leaf
coreopsis emerging for a second
season. The omnipresent weed-generating
cattle pasture is in the background.
After one long arduous weekend in the yard late last autumn, when I prepared the property for winter, I realized I no longer had to impress the neighbors with gardening skills. Nor did I have to impress my friends or try to hold myself to some standard created in a magazine. I boiled down my thoughts to what I truly wanted, what I truly felt I could handle without being overburdened. I like to mow, and a few containers of flowers on the patio would satiate my wish to see pretty plants. The deconstruction began. 

My yard is much more manageable this season than last, after the winter of removing that which no longer worked for me. Let's face it, it never worked for me. What I realized was that in all my years of building up this yard, in all my work to create what I saw in the photographs, I ignored two basic and insurmountable truths: living near a cow pasture will always mean more weeds since wind and birds will distribute the seeds, and I have a limit to how much yard work I like to do. Boom. When I ignored those truths, unhappiness crept in. 

I now have six containers on my patio, filled with small perennial shrubs and flowers. They are manageable. I can pull weeds in about three minutes, giving me oh-so-much-more time to enjoy them and far-better fits my attention span when it comes to weeding. The areas of former planting beds in the yard are now integrated with the lawn, and easily maintained with mowing duties that take one hour a week. Finally, I matched my desire to work in the yard with the level of required work in the yard, a balance too many years unmatched. 

What have I found in all this? Now that the yard is no longer burdensome, I want to spend more time in it, enjoying it, and tending to it. The light shroud of resentment toward it is gone. My yard is beautiful to me again, even though it has far fewer magazine-styled planting beds. It has finally become the peaceful refuge I looked for all those years when I thought that more plants equated to more happiness.

If you dream of living in a loft in the midst of a vibrant city,
with museums and cafes as close as friends,
then by all means, live there.

If you imagine a large house with lots of bedrooms,
with kids, and block parties, and a welcoming neighborhood,
then by all means live there.

If you dream of a little cottage in a quiet place 
surrounded by nature where thoughts have room to run,
then by all means, live there.
--Rita Herrmann, 2015

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Digital Maturity


The last two weeks, oh, please do not visit yourself on me again. Ever. Well, not the rough parts, really, the good parts can stay. And the laughs can stay. And the moments when I was presented an opportunity for patience and I took that opportunity. Yeah, that one can stay. But the part where all my digital content -- the entire guts of my laptop, including all photos and writings -- were hanging in the balance while the I.T. guy at work looked puzzled? Uh, no. 

That's never a good sign. Never make the I.T. guy look puzzled. Especially at the moment you are simultaneously wondering when you ran the last backup, while that little voice in your head is whispering, "How could you have been so stupid?" (It's the same voice that tells you not to buy a shirt with a big flower on it, but you do it anyway only to regret it, just like the voice told you in the first place.)

After a battery of tests, the hard drive on my laptop was diagnosed as terminal. Kaput. Toast. Done. Over. And worst of all, inaccessible. All its contents? Irretrievable.