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.

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 #35

The Last Really Good Shack - porch

In the previous post, Mom and I had wallpapered the dining room and I described the paint color for the trim as a dark black green. Well, I loved the color – not in your face green, but a good solid dark dark green.
And since Mom and I were in the updating mood, it only made sense to paint the kitchen cabinets.
Now our cabinets were a mismatched mish mash of beautiful oak cabinets of different styles and sizes. We had been the grateful recipients of discarded cabinets from a remodeling job in Texas done by my uncle and Bob had driven down to Dallas to pick them up. We had worked out the arrangement and were happy with the outcome.
But they needed to have a unifying look and what better way than paint!
Mom and I called my brother for advice since he had been a remodeling contractor for several years. He proceded to explain that we would need to sand all the finish off until we were down to the wood, then we would need to fill all the holes, sand again and then paint at least three coats for the paint to look good.
We then ignored all his wonderful advice!
After removing the cabinet doors, we did take the old hardware off and filled holes with wood filler. And we did sand each door – kind of. It became really boring after doing several doors. So the first ones were done really well and then it tapered off as we decided -‘oh, this is good enough’! We at least took the shiny top layer off. And after cleaning all the cabinet boxes, we were ready to paint.
I began by painting the boxes and that was the easiest part of the job. By the time I had one coat around the room, it was dry enough to paint the second coat. Then the third coat and it looked wonderful!
Mom, on the other hand, began painting the doors. It seemed as if they were multiplying – a never ending line of doors to be painted. And then there was the problem of where to lean them when done – cabinet doors began to spread across the house. Mom and I painted all day – got up and painted all the next day – got up and decided whatever wasn’t perfect – was just fine!
The cabinets were hung with their new hardware – all matching – and looked – PERFECT!
The color unified the kitchen and even though there were three different styles, the cabinets came together into a warm, beautiful space. It was one of my favorite spots – sitting at the little kitchen table, on a stool built by my grandfather – and looking up the ridge to the horizon far above the house. This was the window where our local deer would sometimes spy on us.
I am grateful to have this special memory of working with my mom. She lives with us now and wishes she could do all those fun projects. But she still supervises any painting I do!
Well – until next time…..

The Last Really Good Shack #34

The Last Really Good Shack by Carol Allen

My mom and I were never afraid to tackle any kind of project. We would strip paint, (using that horrible stripper that would take the meat off your bones and most of the paint you were trying to get off of what ever object you were working on) sand and re-paint or stain anything we felt like needed a little sprucing up. We did chairs, tables, book shelves and old china cabinets. If we found an old wooden piece of furniture, we would go at it without a thought.
Bob could find things along the road – cast offs, drop offs or just junk – bring them home and Mom and I would start a new project. Anything looks better with a new coat of paint!
My family also has a long history with wallpaper. Now I realize that some may scoff at the idea of wallpaper, but I personally have loved it all my life. I can still remember my Mamaw re-papering her Waco, Texas dining room with the wildest bird print – that may have been the start of my love affair! We also have a saying in my family that if you can do a wall paper project with your spouse and remain married, it is a true test of the marriages longevity.
So as with all things ‘shack’, there were many projects calling out for my mom and me. We decided to wallpaper the dining room.
Now if you recall, the dining room was the first room we entered upon discovering the shack. The door faced the south and fell in when touched. It was there Bob fell in love at first sight. It was a small room, the door opened to your left and against that left wall were the hall tree with an old foxed mirror from Bob’s familys home in North Carolina and a small pine china cabinet Bob and I found at a flea market in Springdale AR. To your right was the table -a large harvest table we found in Neosha, MO with lots of mismatched chairs. Windows at a little higher than chair rail height were along the south and western wall. Bob had cut a pass thru into the kitchen next to the kitchen doorway where you would take a step up from the dining room level.
The walls were not square or plumb and the ceiling had a strange slope to it, but not consistant across the small room. A perfect candicate for wallpaper!
Mom and I scoured the wallpaper books filled with wonderful samples of exotic papers. Any color of the rainbow- stripes and patterns, birds and animals, foiled and flocked! After much consideration, we found an open vining pattern with a white background, vines of deep green punctuated by the occasional pear, plum or peach. Just fresh and charming for a little country dining room. I then choose a deep green almost black paint for the wood trim around the windows and doors.
Mom stayed in the guest room the night before our project began. And after sending Bob off that morning, we got underway. We believe in lots of wallpaper paste, so we mixed a bucket full, figured our starting point and where our pattern match would fall and made our first cut. Now Mom and I are not that precise, but she is really good with the razor and straight edge. It just became more and more apparent that straight would not be a big consideration with this project. Each piece was a different length and the pattern match was becoming more and more a guessing game. We did take down several pieces and started over a couple of times. And there was plenty of wallpaper paste on the paper, walls, on our clothes and in our hair!
But by the end of the day, the paper was up – and stayed up! The only place the pattern was mismatched was in the western corner where the window frame camouflaged the mistake. A great success in our book!
And this little dining room saw many happy meals with friends and family. Laughter and love also papered these walls each time we sat together at the table.
Until next time….

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 Wood Man

He was skittish
as a feral cat.
A business card cut
from a cereal box, his number in pencil.
After leaving a message
that the woodpile was diminished,
I would return home
to find our shed filled
with the most beautiful wood.
Red oak and hickory
scenting the air with an earthy aroma
exquisitely cut and perfectly stacked
4 by 4 by 8
cord wood of the highest caliber.
A strange winter relationship
our paths only crossing three or four times each year.
We began leaving small gifts of cookies
and heavy work gloves
until he would deliver and stack
when I was at home,
leaving with a quick thank you
and down cast eyes.
On the next delivery, a short conversation.
Slowly, a glimpse of a life offered,
veteran of an old unkind war,
living off of the woodlots,
grown children in Texas,
and women that would stay for a while.
He brought us the most beautiful firewood
every year
until he didn’t.
We have no way of knowing
the path he took.
We have chosen to think he is living
with his family down south
but our memories will always remain
of the quiet wood man
and the most beautiful firewood
ever stacked.

…….We all have them – those odd relationships with the mail person or delivery guy or the lady behind the counter. This is one of those relationships. We somehow found Jim selling firewood our first winter in the Arkansas Ozarks. And it was seriously the most beautifully cut and stacked wood you have ever seen. His skill was amazing. For the first few trips he made to our house, he would come while we were at work, I would leave payment in an envelope for him, and we would have firewood that evening when we got home. Slowly, it developed into a friendly relationship and he would deliver when we were at home. He brought us this wonderful wood for the several years we were in the rent house and then for a number of years when we moved to the shack. Then, one fall, nothing. the phone number was no longer in service and no one had seen any sign of him. Now, this is the Ozarks, so any number of scenarios could have played out – drugs, prison, even death. And we will never know for sure. But this is our story and we are sticking to it. Jim reconciled with his daughter and is living with his family somewhere in Texas. And on the first cold night of the year,  I can still conjure up the scent of the freshly cut hickory and red oak and picture that quiet wood man.

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 …..