In the morning you can actually see new creatures stumbling out of nests and burrows, chimneys and branches, and all the plants you left standing overnight grew five inches before dawn. So much life has its pleasures, but the solitude of the mountains suits my mountain-boy childhood. I grew up listening for the rare animal and bird sound in the rustling leaves of a dark wood hidden in a valley in the Carpathians. The birds were on a schedule as rigorous as the little nearby spring that gurgled at regular intervals, bubbling over a rock it had polished to perfection like an ancient timepiece. The Ozark mountains of Arkansas by the Buffalo River remind me of the Carpathians in other ways, too: The folk are friendly and inquisitive but independent. They had a "music on the square" evening in Yellville, Ark., and the whole town turned up with rocking chairs to listen to the country singer wail about sorrows so familiar they made me feel almost human. It was Saturday, and the teenagers were hanging out around the parking lot smoking and looking so much like teenagers on a Saturday night looking for something to do, I felt the sweet nostalgia of youth pierce me like a hickory-carved arrow.
It was also Father's Day and both my sons were with me and my two grandsons. The Buffalo River was slow and warm and rocky and the current thrilled and spun everybody like a big uncle come down from hidden caves to share his immemorial art. It was the perfectest time ever, my spawn around me, summer solstice in the Ozarks, the mountains full of caves and springs and mysteries. We went to the Blanchard Caves, a wet masterpiece of underground beauty where the earth below creates extravagantly out of limestone and water, a world so alive with fanciful wet beauty it gives you faith in the workings of the whole universe, beauty above, beauty below, children and birds all around. Once in a while, I'm the luckiest son of a gun in the whole Eastern U.S. Don't envy me, though, it's not easy for me admit it or to feel it. I have to squeeze it from the depths of my damaged human psyche like spring water through a rock.