My wife and I met when she was living with her daughter, Abby, in Treasure Island, Florida. Because of my “adventures, ” as Carol called them, my travels in both my childhood and adult life, she nicknamed me Rover. During our courtship, I wrote her stories called Rover’s Adventures with Treasure, each appropriately subtitled. I lived an hour away from her at the time in Clearwater. After a year, we were married and lived in Treasure Island in her townhouse on Capri Boulevard. It was spacious and only a block away from one of the man-made inlets of Treasure Island.
During the move, on the trip when I brought my clothes, Carol said, “I don’t know where you will put your clothes. My closet is full.”
“Do you use your balcony much?” I replied.
“No, it’s either too hot or it’s raining or it’s too cold, ” she said.
“Good, we’ll take in your balcony, and I’ll build a closet on one end.”
And we did just that. I drafted some architectural drawings; we bought framing materials, windows, insulation, siding, and what we needed to finish the inside. When it was completed, I had a little office where I worked from home and a closet spacious enough for my clothes. The windows provided wonderful light across the wood floor into the bedroom and the pièce de résistance: outside the windows, beautiful flowerboxes with cosmos, petunias, coreopsis, and moss grass.
This is where the doves come in. A neighbor reported to the Homeowners Association that we were taking in the balcony and had put up flower boxes that might fall on people as they walk by. I knew the way the flowerboxes were anchored to the house that this could never happen. Evidently a few other residents did not agree, however, and launched a campaign. Our flower boxes occupied the entirety of a Homeowners Association meeting and part of a second one. During the second meeting, our choice of a front door lock set also was discussed. We had installed Baldwin entry door hardware with beautiful latticed trim, very appropriate for the seaside location of the townhomes. According to the Homeowners Association, this made our front door clash with the tarnished and salt-pitted front door hardware on the other units.
Eventually we received a formal order to take down the flowerboxes and replace the new front door hardware. Unfortunately for the anti-flowerbox committee, by that time a pair of mourning doves had taken up residence in one of the flowerboxes, and their nest contained two little eggs. I explained this to the president of the HOA and asked if we could wait until the baby doves hatched and flew away.
“How long will that take?” she snapped.
“I don’t really know. My experience with mourning dove nests in my flowerboxes is limited.”
“And suppose in the meantime a box falls and injures someone. The HOA can’t assume responsibility. I’m afraid you will need to take down the boxes immediately, doves or no doves.”
“That is not going to happen.” All the expletives in my head vied with each other to get past the censor in my mouth.
And it didn’t happen. The HOA threatened to come and physically remove the flowerboxes full of flowers, a dove’s nest, and two eggs, until I suggested that the photos I took would be a nice addition to a story in the Saint Petersburg Times about the eviction of a pair of pregnant mourning doves over a petty grievance. Included in the article would be photocopies of the structural drawings showing how the flower boxes were attached. I already knew an editor and a writer at the Saint Petersburg Times from a story on my dog the paper ran a few years back. The HOA backed down.
Once the doves hatched and were safely away, we took down the flowerboxes, but we kept our door hardware. In fact, we discovered after we moved that the HOA had adopted our hardware for the entire complex.
Yes, we moved. We remodeled the entire townhouse and sold it for a nice profit to a sweet lady who had just moved here from Italy.
By the time we were ready to move from Treasure Island, we had two cats that Abby had acquired from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: an orange tabby named Pumpkin and a gray tabby we called Rascal. Abby would be in middle school soon and then high school. And Carol’s other daughter, Allison, had graduated high school and was attending the University of Texas before Carol and I met. There would come a time, we thought, when we would need more room for when Allison visited or possibly lived with us when she graduated college. So we bought a big house on a street called Wild Oaks Way.
Ours was the signature house of the development; in the front yard was the only wild oak in the complex, a four-hundred-year-old oak with a trunk six feet in diameter and a canopy at least forty feet across. I loved thinking that years ago, when the tree was only one hundred, an early explorer or Timucua Indian had stopped to rest under our tree from his journey to or from somewhere long since gone.
A short time after we moved in, a neighbor told us that before the development was begun, the limbs of the oak in our front yard were immense, sprawling arms that nearly touched the ground and extended over the lot in circles as wide as the canopy. The lower limbs were cut to allow building. We bordered it with hawthorn and grew azaleas under its shade. Our oak graced the photographs of Abby with boyfriends and her fellow cheerleaders. It featured prominently in family portraits during the holidays. The ancient oak lent its dappled sunlight to reflect like a mirror ball across Abby’s prom gown. Before the profusion of spring azaleas, graduation day had come and soon after Abby was on her own.
We lived there for eight years. Ours was the third house the developers built. We had no idea when we moved in how the houses ultimately would be separated on their individual lots. But once the subdivision was complete, the houses were only ten feet apart, as close as the building codes would allow. Both daughters were now married, and the house was too big for only Carol and me.
It was time to move.
The Cypress Trees
Groves of cypress trees beckoned us to Land O’Lakes, Florida, a small country town north of our previous home. Cypress trees formed thick forests across the open pastures that went on for miles, dotted here and there by cow ponds. They rose up beyond the formality of fencing that surrounds horse ranches, and like giant horseless hooves, the cypress seemed to march to the road’s edge to stand in the long stretches of water that served as retention reservoirs. They were, we learned, the oldest trees in the world, symbolizing birth, death, and rebirth.
Knowing we would soon retire and perhaps move from Florida, we rented an apartment that looked out over one of these pastures with their venerable guardians. We found a semblance of peace there. Some mornings horses came to graze. Other days we could sit on the porch and watch the patient meandering of the cows and the cowbirds, a silent and visual mantra that was calming beyond words.
We were content, but it was not deep enough into the world we wanted for retirement. The street lamps would strip darkness from the night and bore their way through the closed window blinds. We awakened often to the whine of cars and motorcycles out on Highway 54 and the frequent kazooing of sirens as they hurried to nearby hospitals.
After two years, we knew what we were looking for was elsewhere.
Eighteen months into our stay in Land O’Lakes, I began searching the Internet for places outside Florida that would hopefully be our home into our retirement. I remembered leaving Columbus, Ohio, at nineteen and traveling through the Ozark Mountains. I was captivated then by their rolling swells of trees and ragged rocky cliffs. I passed through the Ozarks several times on my many cross-country trips from California to Ohio and back.
I was searching in Northwest Arkansas when I came across a mountain view with trees that filled my computer monitor from horizon to horizon. Almost invisible in that ocean of green was a small, shallow crescent nestled in the trees. It was a town of two thousand people called Eureka Springs. Some kind of emotional gravity drew me to this little town, lying like a bow of sunlight in the trees. Something that whispered, this is what you asked for.
I switched to a street view of the town and went down Main Street from Route 62. I turned up Spring Street where the triangular brick Flatiron Building divided Spring from Main. It was a town of two blocks, no traffic lights, and one stop sign. The streets were active with small shops, restaurants, and several small parks. I was entranced.
Excited, I printed several screenshots and went into the living room to show Carol. She, too, knew it was what we wanted at first glance. We contacted a realtor and began looking at houses. We made plans to travel to Eureka Springs. What we finally found was on an island in the mountains on Table Rock Lake.
We’ve been here for over a year now. Our house is surrounded by five acres at the top of a hill overlooking the lake and mountains beyond, seemingly without end. To the north toward the nearest big city of Rogers across a single lane wooden suspension bridge is the town of Beaver, population 100. East of Route 23 are the rocky cliffs jutting out with some of the oldest limestone in the world. To the west is Spider Creek branching from under the one lane bridge at Elk Ranch.
The road into Eureka is transformed by the changing seasons (something we sorely missed in Florida). In the spring and summer, the ditches and fields are covered in Thistle, Asters, Black-eyed Susan, Honeysuckle, and Queen Anne’s Lace. In the winter the cliffs ooze water, which freezes into icefalls.
Eureka Springs is an eclectic town that celebrates diversity in the broadest sense possible. The town sponsors festivals to welcome spring and autumn. Eureka Springs holds annual events for motorcycle and automobile enthusiasts. And we were surprised to find a local theater, an underground blues club, and the presence of several fine restaurants, like Le Stick Nouveau under the New Orleans Hotel.
One night shortly after we had moved to Arkansas, we were driving home from Le Stick after an evening of dining and music by a local musician. I was enjoying how the cool spring night had settled in, with the full moon and stars as the only light. The car radio was playing a song selection that continued the mellow sounds we had enjoyed during dinner. The dash lights were soft. Even our car’s headlights seemed to gently unwind Route 23 ahead of us: the moon reflecting off Spider Creek, the occasional small bright eyes of some woodland animal waiting to cross the road, and the white glow of the wild aster petals along the shoulder. No hurried pace of traffic, no streetlights swallowing the night sky. It seemed so perfect.
I remarked to Carol, as I do often, “I love our drive home.”
“I know you do, honey.” She smiled. “Me, too.”
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True to his vision, each poem is planted deep in the Ozarks. But it’s clear from the first “We Blossom the World” that this poet’s word choices paint “The wetness of dew settling on beat-up barns, ” and allows witness to “The back forty sinkhole where I drop all my sins against you” (5-7).
—Darrelyn Saloom, author