As my time in Conway, Arkansas is coming to an end, I’d like to reflect on my experience here. It’s been eventful, to say the least. Although the state seems to have it out for me, I love Arkansas like hillbillies love moonshine. (Incidentally, I was very disappointed to encounter neither hillbillies nor moonshine, although I did see a few confederate flags.)
Here’s a recap of the highs & lows.
Got sun poisoning, which is where your arms break out in little hives every time they see the sun. Like vampire sparkles but much less glamorous. I have decided not to subject you to a picture of this. You’re welcome.
Got Lyme disease & had to spend $66 on antibiotics that made me so nauseous I started to worry I might be pregnant. (I wasn’t.)
Toured Hendrix College, a private liberal arts college in Conway with a beautiful campus.
Discovered the greatest town names ever. Pickles Gap, Toad Suck, Weiner, Bald Knob, Cooter, Goobertown, Hog Wallow, and my personal favorite, Blue Ball, AR. (If you think I’m making any of these up, just Google them.)
Went dumpster diving for cardboard.
Was accosted by southern hospitality. For a Northerner, experiencing southern hospitality for the first time is like getting caught in a rainstorm without your umbrella. At first you panic, looking around for shelter. But as the rain soaks in you realize that it’s 93 degrees out and it actually feels kind of good. I’m from Chicago. Catcalls and road rage I know what to do with. But neighbors who routinely come over with apricot pastries, grilled salmon, lemon cake, bottles of wine or a smoked turkey? Who bring over LoneyPlanet guidebooks and then voluntarily help shovel mulch into your garden? Who are these people?
Was narrowly missed by an EF4 tornado that flattened nearby towns.
Obtained the worst sunburn in history while wearing a sports bra. Let the sexy tan lines ensue.
Learned all about organic gardening. Gardens require approximately 15 tons of mulch. They eat manure, rotten food, something called vermiculite, and urine. Then they grow vegetables and we eat those. Vegetables are basically recycled garden poop.
Got called ma’am. UGH. Perhaps the constant stuffing of my face with aforementioned goodies has left me unable to button my skinny jeans, but do I really look matronly enough to be a MA’AM?? I know you Southerners use it as a term of respect but to those of us who didn’t grow up with it, you may as well be shouting “nice crows feet, you old bag” in our face. I’ll just chalk that one up to cultural differences and let it slide.
Attended the Toad Suck Daze festival. How can you not have a great time at an event that has alligator, fire dancers, fried twinkies, Sawyer Brown and MC Hammer?
Ate Gator-on-a-Stick. In all honesty, I was a little underwhelmed. If there was meat anywhere in the fried breading, it was pretty indistinguishable. Grease-on-a-Stick would have been a more accurate description. The entertainment did not disappoint though, and the people-watching was top-notch.
Kayaked through Tupelo trees. Arkansas is full of amazing spots to hike, climb, kayak, trail ride or bike. The endless hills rolling across the state are coated with oak, hawthorn, hickory, cherry, maple & pine trees. My favorites, though, were the Tupelo trees. Their genus name, Nyssa, refers to a Greek water nymph. Characterized by thick roots and a wide base that narrows into the trunk, they create almost mystical green tunnels for creeks and rivers to wind through.
Ate WAY TOO MUCH. Just what any girl needs before spending a month in Greece is to spend a month in the land of southern cooking. There’s more than just fried okra and grits, though. I never would have thought that Arkansas would be where I had (and enjoyed!) my first lentil burger. Unfortunately for future bikini-wearing Mandie, I’ve also enjoyed blackberry milkshakes, sweet corn, smoked ribs, sweet tea, pistachio gelato, and of course, fried chicken. Excuse me while I go run 5 miles.
I’ll miss you, Arkansas, but it’s onward to Dublin!