The Last Really Good Shack #39

The Last Really Good Shack by Carol Allen

back in the shack
by John Matthew Waters

you’ll find it in the middle of somewhere
surrounded by a fog in a field of woods
discoverable through a natural maze
filled with a variety of wildflowers

walking through the door you swear
you became someone other than yourself
and the moment you sit and open your mind
the shack is filled with a beautiful light

copyright j matthew waters

A good friend wrote a wonderful poem this week and on reading it, I was instantly carried back to our old home, the last really good shack.

John’s poem beautifully describes the feeling I have for that house and how it changed me in the decade we lived there.

I don’t know if I have told you much about any of that personal stuff. How a city girl fell so head over heels in love with a rocky piece of land on the side of any Ozarks ridge and the worn out old shack that clung to the side of that ridge.

Just as the poem says, it was in the middle of somewhere, but somehow completely separate from the world around it.

There, the world revealed its magic to me and I was an enraptured pupil.

I would walk that steep acreage almost daily, visiting the blackberry brambles, or the wild dog roses, or the frog pond at the top of the ridge nestled in a grove of black ash trees. I found each spot that the wild ferns grew, knowing that if I dug there under that rocky soil, a spring would bubble up to the surface.

I knew where the deer rested with their fawns and where the squirrels hid their harvest of black walnuts. I learned how the sun moved along the eastern ridge during the seasons and, at night, we were mesmerized by the visits of comets and meteorites.

With Bob’s skill, we created a home out of a hovel, adding what everyone who visited will still tell you was the best porch in all of history. My mom called it the healing place. I said it was the navel of the universe where all possible good resided.

It was visited by friends and family, and an occasional angel.

And in those ten years, I learned more about myself than in any other decade. I made choices that have changed me, and changed my path in life. I became more spiritual and open, more aware of my place in the universe.

I became a better wife, daughter and friend.

And all these changes came about from lessons I learned while we lived in the last really good shack.

And I am grateful for each minute I lived there.


A special thank you to John Matthew Waters for his gracious permission to use his wonderful poem, ‘back in the shack’. You can read his poetry on his website and his twitter account @jdubqca.

The Last Really Good Shack – 38

The Last Really Good Shack by Carol Allen

I can’t believe its been a year since I wrote a shack story! But its this time of year that makes me especially nostalgic for that wonderful old house.

By the autumn, at least a couple of cords of firewood would already sit stacked out beside the shed along the top of the drive. If I had been really organized, the wood would have been there all summer, getting good and dry and seasoned, so that it would burn perfectly.

But most years, the woodman was called at the end of August and we stacked it just in time for the first cool night. It was not unusual for us to have a fire in the evening by the middle of September. The weather might be beautifully warm during the day, but as the sunlight began to dwindle into autumn, the nights would get clear and frosty by dawn.

Those first fires were sometimes a little smoky, causing us to open every window in the house and turn on all the ceiling fans to rid the house of that first fire smell. The nice thing about our wonderful woodstove ( that I loved so well after having a wall eyed fit about its placement – see earlier posts about the chimney saga), was that once there was a good fire, the bed of coals could last all day. So the stove stayed a little warm and was usually no problem getting the nightly fire to blaze.

Once we had cold weather move in for good, the stove had its own routine. Each morning, Bob would fill it up with wood, working with the night’s coals and maybe with a little extra kindling, building a steady flame, making the house warm and toasty. He would soon be out the door to work. So as I left, I would add more wood, dampen down the vent and making sure the stove door was closed, good and tight. I, too, would be out the door and off to my job.

Each afternoon, as I drove down our tree covered lane, rounding the last curve, there, perched on the side of the ridge, the shack would come into view. And each afternoon, I would think –‘Well, it didn’t burn down today!”

One thing I loved about heating with wood was the quiet. No furnace fan or blower, just the occasional shifting of logs or the popping of embers. A gentle, living warmth radiating from the corner of the living room, into each room and up the stairs. It was perfect.

Perfect, except for the constant attention it needed, the removal of ash, which caused a trail of fine particles to dust the entire living room. And the occasional popping ember out of the stove onto the carpet and the days when the wind was just right, the smoke refused to go up the chimney and would just much rather stay inside the house. Oh and those bitter, snowy nights when it need to be fed from the stack way on the other side of the shed.

Yes, my glasses aren’t so rosy that I have forgotten all the trouble it took. And now, when the furnace kicks on, loud fan and all, I can remember the wonderful old woodstove in the warm comfort of our lake house.

Until next time – and I won’t go another year – smiles…

*** And I promise to go thru all the photos and start sharing more pictures from the shack years.

Vashtu Homa

The Last Really Good Shack by Carol AllenIn our Ozarks home,
the last really good shack in Benton county,
a woodstove was our only source of heat.
A beautiful hulk of metal
that would keep bright embers alive
thru the cold winter nights.
Its warmth pervaded the old drafty house-
silent and holy as the sacred fire.

Ritual feeding with fragrant split red oak
and removal of spent gray ash-
a daily blessing and curse.
Beginning in the cool evenings of early fall
and extended into warm days of late spring,
morning and night each had its own ceremony.
Formal practice of gifts
given and taken-
kneeling before the fire,
feeding the flame to give it life
and in turn,
we received the same blessing.

** A Hindu fire ritual – Vastu homa- a house-warming; to encourage good Vastu (energy in buildings)

The Last Really Good Shack #37 – Black Walnut Season

The Last Really Good Shack - porch

black walnuts<

The heavy thud of black walnuts falling to the damp ground is a constant for a few weeks in the fall.
I didn’t know anything about this particular variety of tree nut until we moved to northwest Arkansas. Having spent my childhood in pecan country, Texas and south Arkansas, where even the standard walnut seemed a little foreign and exotic- the black walnut was completely new to me.
When I first saw the big green globes hanging in the trees, I actually speculated that they were a variety of bois d’arc or horse apples as we called them when we were kids. Didn’t take long to figure out that they were a nut under all that green hull and that they dye your fingers a dark walnut color pretty quickly when you pick a few up off the ground.

Of all the trees in the Ozarks, black walnut trees are not the most gorgeous tree in the woods. They can be straggly and rangy looking, the last to set leaves in the spring and the first to show yellow and fall in autumn. Their occupation is to create these hard to crack nuts and then rest for the balance of the year.

We had several on our property, and I must say, one of the nicest looking black walnuts was on the northwest side of the shack. It was not crowded by any other trees, far enough away from the huge white oaks in front and just enough room from the tree lined fence on the north part of the dog yard.
Each season, for however long it chose, it was a full and quite nice shade tree, airy and lacey, given dappled light to the yard swing and perennial lily bed. Bob would sit on the step at that end of the porch, while I sat in the swing and listened to him play his guitar, or we would play ball with the dogs in the shade of that walnut tree.

A cottage industry springs up in the fall as the nuts ripen. A local company will buy the nuts from anyone who shows up with a bag or truck load. So many an afternoon along the narrow Ozarks roads, you will see folks with sacks or buckets retrieving the fallen nuts.
In autumn, when the harvest began, a young family would drive slowly up our little lane, the dad driving and the mom and her two youngsters would pick up the fallen walnuts. Tossing them into the trunk or one year in the back of the station wagon, they would pick the road clean. Each year when they came by, they would ask if they could gather the walnuts from our tree. Of course, that was always fine and we welcomed them each season.

I always hoped it would help them – this was a hard way to earn money. When you took the walnuts to sell, they would place them in a spinning hopper to release the nut from the hull. Once that was done, the nuts were weighed and you were paid $11.00 for one hundred pounds! That took a whole lot of nuts in the back of a station wagon to bring home $11.00.

With each gust of wind, I hear the heavy thuds – its black walnut time in the Ozarks.

**** Dear Readers, I know it has been too long between stories of the shack. I am in the process of editing the previous stories and The Last Really Good Shack will soon have its own blog. I hope you will continue to read and enjoy these little snippets of our life in the Ozarks.
Thanks, Kathleen

The Last Really Good Shack #36

The Last Really Good Shack - porch
It has been a while since we talked about the shack. But it’s spring cleaning time around here and it reminded me of the springtimes we enjoyed in our little piece of Ozarks paradise.
I would want to start my spring cleaning in early April but always waited until most of the pollen had let loose from our old white oaks. They were huge and really just about the last to flower, tassel and then pour out all that gritty green goodness that covered every possible inch of everything. My car and Bob’s truck would change colors to this dusty yellow green – thick as West Texas dust. It would make you sneeze just to look at it. And you know, the owners of every car wash for miles would be grinning from ear to ear and taking wheelbarrows full of rolled quarters to the bank every night.
Anyway, after the worst was over, I would scrub every inch of my house, washing walls and scrubbing floors, changing the linens from the warm woolens of the winter to the light cottons of spring. Furniture would be cleaned, rugs taken up and stored and light curtains hung in all the windows. Even the scented candles would be changed from sandalwood to lavender. And after all the inside of the house was fresh and airy, perfumned with the scent of Murphy’s Oil Soap and bleach, we would start working on the outside.
Now as you remember, our front porch was humongous – 10 foot wide and 35 feet long, covered with a tin metal roof and furnished with the rattan furniture given to us by Mom when she moved to the townhouse.
For the first couple of years, the spring cleaning would begin with shucking the slip covers off to wash, scrubbing the furniture and floor with Murphy’s (just love that stuff) washing all the decorative things that were left out to get covered in the oak pollen. And then after washing the railings and front of the house, the windows would be washed. Then the newly laundered slip covers were shimmied back onto the cushions, spring pillows plumped and arranged, newly washed accessories returned to their places, well shaken rugs laid back in their place and we were done!
In the third spring of the porch, a little more elbow grease was called for. We re-stained the floor and the railings and paint the trim. We used a transparent gray stain for the flooring and the bottom rails and stiles. Then the trim and top rails were painted a wonderful shade of burgundy called merlot. These colors just sang against the white siding. And in an area that believed in earth tones only – seriously every house and building was painted in shades of brown and beige – yikes – well, our color choices stood out.
After the porch was done, the rattan furniture was carried out to the side yard, scrubbed with bleach water and painted with a couple of coats of clear satin poly. Then all the other spring cleaning rituals insued with the slip covers etc etc.
And I loved my slipcovers! My mom helped me make them. We picked out gray and white striped pillow ticking and made big huge envelopes to tuck the cushions into. I found colorful flowered pillows to add to the comfort and locally made rag rugs on the floor. Now remember, this was the early 90s, and country was a very ‘in vogue’ look and we DID live in a country house in the country. So no snickers.
It was a comfortable porch, where we would eat as many meals as possible, sit and read or just while away the day. If family was visiting, there were always bubbles to blow, games to play and stories to tell. A magical perch to watch the seasons move across the ridge, be delighted by evenings illuminated by fireflies, and to watch comets in the starry night sky.
I will close for now but will write again soon about the spring visitors we would see each season.
Until then……

Hearts True Home – A Poem for The Last Really Good Shack

The Last Really Good Shack by Carol Allen

Dirty, abandoned and abused
Its structure sound for a century
Its only redemption
On (not love at) first sight
A stony hillside of sunlight
Filled with narcissus and daffodils

Tears, time and sweat
Revealed the sturdy heart
Scrubbed shining and painted
Pure comfort readying
Hospitality fit for the angels
Who would soon fill its rooms

Surrounded by woods and meadows
Seven acres of Ozarks ridge
Blackberried fencelines
Visited by fox and white tailed deer
Trimmed in pink fairie roses
To crown the summer queen

Each peeper filled pond
Chime laden black haw
Secret fern covered spring
Rocky paths lined by red clover
Became daily destinations
Of wonder and solemn beauty

Seasons of sun and moon
Stars, comets and fireflies
Signs and wonders revealed
Violet winter days of deep snow
Green scented spring breezes
Autumns golden splendors

Its old structure still sound
Filled with echoes of love
Magical decade now a decade past
Memory erases the sadness
Leaving only the longing
Of hearts first true home

The Last Really Good Shack - porch

The Last Really Good Shack #33

The Last Really Good Shack by Carol Allen

We had a storm blow through last night. It woke me up about 1:30am with the wind howling, lashing rain and very bright lightning followed by VERY boisterous thunder. Now we needed the rain, so I can’t complain.
But as I lay listening, I was reminded of the storms at the shack.
If you remember, the way the house sat on the side of the ridge, we were below the ridge tops, facing west, with the road basically running north south in front of the house along a narrow hollow. From our porch we looked up across the road to the facing ridge.
We could watch the wind move in the trees across from the house along the top of the ridge, move down through the oaks and hickorys, up our property into our white oaks before we even felt a breeze. It was a mesmerizing sight to watch the trees move. And of course depending on the severity of the storm, the trees would move wildly or more sedately with the wind.
I remember the first time I heard the rain coming up the road from the south. It took me a few seconds to realize what I was hearing – the sound was so different than anything I had experienced before. But I could hear the storm and the rain slowly approaching and getting louder and louder until I watched the raindrops, almost at a walking speed, come up the drive to the porch. It was astonishing!
And the thunder! Now that was something! It would literally roll down the hollow. And not only could you hear the sound rolling, but you could feel the thunder as it rolled past the house. It was wonderful.
Because the porch was so deep and the roofline so low, unless it was just a terrible wind, we could sit comfortably and watch as the storms progressed. Now it was loud because, remember the roof was tin! And even a little rain shower was noisy – but in a good way.
It was always a joy to watch the wind blow across the ridge and hear the rain coming down our little lane. And I can still feel the thunder as it rolls by.

well, until next time……

The Last Really Good Shack – # 32

Fall really was the best time of year when we lived in the shack. The weather was gorgeous, the woods filled with autumn color and many fall festivities to enjoy.
The first festival of the fall season was always the county fair. The fair grounds were in the middle of the county seat, old wooden barns and structures that were used for rodeos and for showing prize animals in the arenas.
But for those few days in September, the fences and barns were given a new coat of whitewash. The grounds would become the midway with all the brightly lit carnival rides and booths. The big show barns were filled with prize vegetables and fruit, beautiful glass jars of preserves and pickles, huge pumpkins and giant ears of corn, flower displays of mixed arrangements and gorgeous roses, primped and shown to perfection.
A barn for textiles and crafts was overflowing with hand pieced quilts, knitting and crochet work as delicate as lace, needlepoint and handwork with the tiniest stitches, it would make your eyes cross to look at them.
Small animals would be shown in the next big white barn. Rabbits of all colors and sizes, long hair and short, huge and pygmy. Then the poultry section with so many different kind of chickens, it would make your head spin. And one of my favorites was the specialty poultry showing tiny quail and golden pheasant and so many other birds I can’t even tell you.
Walking across behind the show ring, you would come to the stalls with the 4H or FFA kids and their livestock. Sheep and goats, pigs and bulls, milk cows and tiny calves – all being washed and combed, curried and trimmed and readied to show off in the big ring. Each of these kids had raised their animal and now would show it with hopes of winning a ribbon and selling it for market. Not to say they weren’t a little sentimental, but these young people were learning to be business people too. The higher the bid for your animal, the more money for college was put into your savings account.
Bob and I would always walk through and admire each of the display, checking to see if we knew the grand prize winners. It was a rural county with a small population, so we were bound to run into many friends. Bob would try to win me a stuffed animal at one of the booths. We would check out all the food vendors – he almost always would choose a sausage and I had to have my annual fair funnel cake. Nothing wrong with hot fried dough and a ton of powdered sugar!
After visiting with friends and walking through the midway rides, we would head back down the holler to our little shack in the Ozark woods filled with the scent of woodsmoke and the sound of owls.
Until next time …..

The Last Really Good Shack -31

I’ve been thinking about the porch alot lately. Probably the time of year – in the late summer and fall, we were on the porch from morning til night. It was where we had coffee in the mornings, entertained ourselves during the day, and ate most of our meals. The porch was comfortable in the best possible way. But that didn’t happen until my mom gave us the old rattan furniture from her den.
Mom downsized and moved to a condo in NW Arkansas about a year after Dad died. It was a spacious 2 bedroom, but had only one living room. So the rattan had to go.
This was a set that my folks had bought at an estate sale in northern New Jersey when they lived there in the late 70’s. Their home was a little – and I mean tiny – bungalow across the road from Lake Mohawk, a community of folks from all over the country that worked in New York City for various companies.
To add to the living space in this tiny charmer, my folks had a large deck and screened porch built on the front and side of the house. As Mom went about looking for ways to furnish the space, this estate sale was just the thing.
She purchased a three cushion sofa, two occasional chairs, a recliner with ottoman, two side tables, glass coffee table with two nesting tables, a floor lamp and two side lamps all for $150.00!
So this was now our porch furniture. It was tucked back under the eaves, safe from any storms. Mom and I made slip covers for all the cushions, using gray and white pillow ticking. I indulged in lots of flowered pillows and cute accessories. We had oil lamps to light and brighten the evenings, knitted throws to keep off the early morning chill, magazines and books piled on the tables to keep us company in the afternoons.
Bob came home with an old wooden kitchen table, the kind with the folded down leaves, like wings. And two old wooden kitchen chairs that had seen better days. They were held together with baling wire and ten penny nails, but the seats were smooth from years of use, so now our al fresco meals had a home.
Many treasures, beautiful pebbles and stones, acorns, wildflowers, bits of glass and marbles made a changing display on the tables. When the kids were visiting, there was plenty of room for coloring books or games. And always – ALWAYS – there were bottles of bubble blowing soap and wands. (I will dig out those old photos of the kids with the bubbles and add them to this post.)
This porch was a source of comfort and peace, entertainment and laughter. Everyone who spent time on this porch remembers the feeling of contentment. It was a singular place.
I think back to that porch often and the hours spent watching the wind in the trees, or the deer walking through the yard, or the daffodils blooming in the sun of late winter.

It was a place of rest and a place of peace. And a place that was my heart.

Until next time…….

The Last Really Good Shack 30

For those who have just recently found this blog – welcome and thanks for dropping by!

To catch anyone up who needs catching up – this is the story of an old house in rural Benton County, Arkansas, that my husband and I lived in for ten years – 1992-2002. The house was built in the 1880s and sat on 7 acres. We paid $35,000 for it. And most people who saw it at the time, thought we had lost our minds!

You can find the previous posts by going to the Home page and the category drop down thingy will be on the right hand side of the blog (over there >>>>) Find the category ‘The Last Really Good Shack’. These are all the posts about the shack, just in case you are interested in our adventures and misadventures.

Now, back to The Last Really Good Shack.

We had built the foundation and deck to the porch when we stopped work for a number of reasons. Money being one, winter another and my dad’s health was the most pressing. He had surgery in Dallas that Thanksgiving holiday. It was during a horrible ice storm and my husband was the only driver my mom and I trusted. So, bless his heart, he drove in just awful conditions back and forth from my brother’s house in Arlington to the hospital in Dallas.
Once Dad was sent home, most of our weekends were spent in Texas with him and Mom. Not much time for working on anything. As his condition worsened, I stayed and Bob went back home to work and take care of the dogs.
This was when the porch was finished.
Bob completed the entire thing by himself, rafters and all. He measured out the header onto the house where the rafters would be placed and then wedged the 2×12 at the proper height with a 2×4 and the ladder, then bolted the board onto the house. He attached all the posts and cross beams on the ends and spaced the rafters, wedged them up on one side and screwed the other end, then the other side the same way. Once he had all the rafters in place, he used galvanized tin roofing (like you see on barns and sheds) to cover the porch. The railings were put in place and (Ta Daaa) we had a huge covered porch. The final dimensions were 36’x9’.
It was just an enormous space looking down the front yard and across the creek bed and to the twin ridge to the west.

I know that he was there by himself and had time to do all this. But I really believe that he thought if he could just get it finished, Dad would be able to come and sit on that porch.

It didn’t happen that way. Daddy died in April.

But the porch became a place of rest and peace and love and joy for my Mom and all my family, for friends and acquaintances. I always said it was the bellybutton of the universe, where all peace was found.

Even now, anyone you talk to about the old Shack, one of the first things out of their mouths is ‘That was a great porch!’ And it was.

Until next time, my friends……