Can’t Get There From Here: Eastern Arkansas

We had intended to come back the way we went — Knoxville Nashville St. Louis Columbia. But instead, we detoured four hours south to West Plains Missouri where Ann’s family lives for a brief visit over lunch, and then home by way of a route plotted at the last minute.

Our proximate destination was Jackson, Tennessee but as the saying goes, you can’t get there from here. Southern Missouri is rolling hills of former Prairie; northern Arkansas holds low mountains, if not the Ozarks proper, and was generally not prosperous and more like the western extension of the Appalachians in the worst sense of that term. Immediately upon reaching the foot of the mountains, we were for 200 miles traveling in the floodplain of the Mississippi River.

I had no idea how much of eastern Arkansas and western Tennessee is planted in cotton, soybeans, and what look like rice. I tried to imagine what the groundwater situation there must be like, with the twin perils of the groundwater pumped to excess to flood the fields, while at the same time returning from the surface to the water table with millions of gallons of herbicide. Cotton is notorious for the large quantities of poisons it takes to successfully raise a crop. We must’ve seen 1000 compressed cotton bales that were 8 x 8 x 16 waiting for trucks to pick them up to take them to market.

Along the way, we passed a sign to Reelfoot Lake. I knew there were something of significance about that landmark, and had to look it up after we got home. The lake, and the town Hayti that we drove through are associated with the historical earthquake of 1811 resulting in massive movement in what is called the Madrid seismic zone. It was the largest quake ever recorded in North America, and rang church bells as far away as Richmond Virginia.

Of course I had to explore all of this in Google Earth after we got home. In that general area, I stumbled upon a shallow lake that I thought it first might be real foot, but instead it is  a swampy shallow body called Big Lake. I have no idea at all what these odd shapes are towards the north end of the lake, and after doing a half-hour research, I’m still no closer to an answer. Anyone?

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. After looking at the area I would say they are just clearings that the management of the Big Lake Wildlife Refuge have cut in the trees. It says that they plant 150 acres of farmland to supplement the food supply of the wildlife. Wanna bet what you are seeing is the croplands just randomly carved out of the forest. If you look really closely you can see a system of roads tieing them all together.