The Day My Daddy Cried

The Day My Daddy Cried
October 25th, 1948
Well, I’m really upset, so just listen up, and I’ll tell you why. About this time last year, I was standing out in my front yard, when I heard our neighbor across the road, Mr. Lonnie Henley, just a-hollering, “Richard, head off that old sow of mine! She’s done busted out of her pen again!”
I looked down toward the El Dorado highway, and that old sow was cuttin’ a shuck heading my way.
“Yeaaaah! Souie! Get!” I yelled.
Well, that hog did a u-turn, and headed straight up the highway, and then I heard, “Hoonk! Hoooonk” A big tank truck was heading for me and that stupid pig. I jumped out of the way, but that pig went straight to hog heaven. Mr. Lonnie came up and pulled the pig off to the side of the road, and my daddy, who had heard all the yelling and honking, walked up, and then Mr. Lonnie said, “Well, Jack, I’m gonna cut off the hind quarters for hams, but that’s all I can use. If you want any of what’s left, help yourself.”
Daddy nodded, “Richard, go get a hatchet, butcher knife, and one of your momma’s big dish pans.” Naw, ‘round our house nothing goes to waste, so I hurried home and in a few minutes I was there with all the stuff we needed, and as Mr. Lonnie loaded up the hind quarters and Daddy and I filled our dishpan with what was left, Mr. Lonnie said to Daddy, “Jack, that old sow done had a littler of six, and they ain’t big ‘nough to fend for themselves. I’d give you a couple if you’d like to raise ‘em.”
Well, I was all for it, but Daddy shook his head. “Richard, your Momma and I would be taking care of those piglets, after you got tired of ‘em.”
“No sir, I promise, cross my heart and hope to die, if I don’t take care of the little pigs.”
Finally, after three more “No s”, I dropped down to one pig, and when Daddy hesitated, I offered to wash the car. “Yes.” And off we went to Mr. Lonnie’s busted down hog pen.
Heck, which pig to pick was hard, but finally I pointed to one with three white feet.
I’ll admit it. I did exactly what Daddy said I was going to do, and after about two weeks I got tired of fooling with the little pig. Daddy took it out to the barn and put it in the stall with our two mules. I kinda figured he was hoping one of our mules would step on Mr. Pig. Yeah, that’s what I named him.
Okay, the mules didn’t step on Mr. Pig, in fact, after a few weeks, they really took to him, and he would trot around the farm with the mules like he was one of ‘em.
As soon as Mr. Pig got a little bigger, it would stand by the barn gate to wait for Daddy to come in from work, and I kinda wondered why, and then one afternoon I watched as Daddy took out a carrot and gave it to Mr. Pig. Well, as the weeks past, Daddy and Mr. Pig went everywhere together.
Well, it was a late October day when I heard something that really upset me. I’d finished my paper route, and as I started to walk into the kitchen, Momma said, “Jack, there’s a strong cold front blowing in tomorrow, and temperature is going to drop down below freezing—hog killing weather.”
“What?” Heck, we’ve raised hogs most years, but this year we didn’t raise any….but…no, no.
“Momma, what are you talkin’ ‘bout?” I had this really bad feeling, and Daddy said, “Richard, that’s just what folks say after a cold snap.”
Naw, I didn’t believe him, but Daddy was working graveyards, and since he had worked all night, he headed for the bedroom.
I was up the next morning at five, a north wind was whistling, and the danged paper route was worse than horrible. I finished about 6, ate breakfast, and headed for the chicken yard to feed the chickens. That’s when I started getting really upset. Mr. Tommy Benton and Daddy were there, and they’d built a fire under a black wash pot, and Mr. Benton had a .22 rifle. Then it hit me. They’re getting ready to butcher a hog—Mr. Pig. Yeah, I went into a panic, ran around to the back of the barn, and let Mr. Pig out.
“Get, souie! Get!” Mr. Pig trotted off toward the swamp, and I ran back around to where Daddy and Mr. Benton were standing. About that time Daddy walked over to the barn to get Mr. Pig, but no Mr. Pig. Then Daddy kinda nodded and looked at me. Yeah, he’d it figured out.
“Richard, go finish feeding the chickens.”
In a couple of minutes, I was throwing chops to about thirty old hens and one mean rooster, and that’s when I heard Daddy banging on the feed bucket. I stopped breathing for about a minute, and then there was this awful sound of a rifle. I headed for the feed lot, and then, as I rounded the corner, our mules started going crazy. Yeah, Mr. Pig had been shot and Mr. Benton was already cutting ‘em up. Course, I squalled out and ran up to Daddy and yelled, “Why did you kill Mr. Pig? He was part of our family!”
Daddy didn’t say anything, but he took me by the arm, and we walked around behind the barn.
“Son, I hated to butcher that pig as much as you do, but we live on a farm, and we just can’t have pet animals. That pig will help us get through the winter by providing meat. I know you’re upset and I am to…”
Then as my Daddy turned around, I could see tears just dripping down his face. He took a deep breath, looked down at me, and said, “Richard, you’re old enough to understand how things are on a farm, so let’s go back around to the feedlot, and help Tommy dress and put up that hog.”
Well, yeah, it was hard to do, but after a while I got over being upset, and I helped scald the pig in that pot of boiling water to remove the hair, and the later I helped Daddy carry the hind quarters to the smokehouse where we hung them up to smoke. We didn’t get finished till late in the day, and I was resting up in my room when I heard Momma, “Richard, Jack…come to the table; supper’s ready.”
Wow, I was so hungry and whatever Momma was cooking smelled so good, I could hardly wait. I walked in the kitchen, and Daddy gave me a little shoulder hug and said, “Richard, you were a lot of help today.”
I made a small smile and we sat down as Momma walked over from the stove with a big platter, and when I took a good look at it, I just sank down in my chair—pork chops.


Money Isn’t Everything

Money Isn’t Everything

Tell me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the overriding goal of a society to steadily improve the quality of life of its people? Of course, everyone would agree with that statement, but the how-to’s are the sticky question, and there are as many answers to that question as they are countries in the world. Yes, and each county’s leadership would tell you their methods of achieving an enhanced quality of life, is the way to go.
I’m a red, white, and blue American entrepreneur, a free market proponent, and a small business owner. I’m convinced the opportunities to make a profit here in the good old USA is the key to our great standard of living and a super quality of life. However, the American dream to have a high standard of living and to make a lot of money in order to achieve our dream must have its limits. In other words, we can’t possibly be allowed to do virtually anything to make a dollar. A whole host of things do not only have a negative effect on our quality of life, but many times have a debilitating effect on the individual. The list is as long as your arm; drugs, prostitution, etc. you could add hundreds of items, but the gray areas are the ones I want to address. It’s basically the trade for short-term profit, to the long-term detriment of a quality life. Let’s look at some examples. First in Arkansas: By allowing the factory hog farm to ultimately pollute the National Buffalo River, the politicians and other short-sighted individuals are willing to let the need to make a profit take president over protecting the river. (News Flash! New Permit Denied! Evidently, protecting the River took precedent over making money.) Now, let’s look at a bigger picture: Coal mining and coal fired plants; that combination is one of the major contributors to climate change. Of course climate change is real, and saying it’s not happening is right up there with the Flat Earth Society, and what is even worst, the climate change deniers are doing it to make a profit. They know better! They are willing to trade our grandchildren’s and great grandchildren’s future for coal mining profits. The horrors of climate change during the next 20 to 30 years will be catastrophic, and anyone who supports coal-fired electrical generating plants, is committing a crime against humanity. Yes, you heard me. What our grandchildren and great grandchildren will have to put up with is criminal. However, in order to continue to destroy the environment it becomes cliché to deny climate change, where they can continue to create a horrible world for our grandchildren’s children..
I grew up in and around Norphlet, a small town in South Arkansas, which is almost in the middle of the South Arkansas oilfields, and the last time I checked there was a pumping oil well right in the middle of town. I guess being associated with the oilfields and working in a refinery during my college summers had a big influence on my ultimate choice of professions, and today I’m still working as an oil and gas exploration geologist looking for new oil and gas fields.
However, things have changed since I was a young boy roaming the woods and fishing in the creeks of South Arkansas. As soon as I was old enough to hunt in the woods and swim in the creeks, I was faced with an environmental nightmare. In the 1940s and 50s many parts of South Arkansas producing oil wells dumped the salt water that was produced with the oil into the nearest creek. Because many of these older wells were producing several 100 barrels of salt water a day along with the oil, a tremendous amount of salt water was being dumped into the streams of South Arkansas. Of course, growing up where this was an accepted practice, to a young boy, it was just considered part of the way things were. The creeks that received the salt water became lifeless without any living thing in them, and when the spring rains came and the creeks overflowed their banks, the land, sometimes as much as 50 yards on either side of the creek, became as lifeless as the creek, and in the summer as the sun dried up the water a thin layer of salt covered this lifeless part of the creeks drainage.
Let’s fast-forward to 2017. Today the creeks are full of life, the salt flats are gone, Mother Nature has restored the vegetation, and the saltwater that once made them lifeless is pumped back deep in the subsurface. Well, sure it costs a little more to dispose of the saltwater in this manner, but today, the idea that you would dump saltwater into the nearest creek is unthinkable, and that is the way it should be. There are practices in industry that are detrimental to the environment and to the health of our citizens. It’s trite to say, we should steadily seek to reduce the hazards to our health and to the environment in our society, just as the dumping of salt water into the creeks in South Arkansas. As a country we should steadily move forward with improving our environment, which automatically increases our quality of life, and as our industry prospers and profits soar, the society as a whole should tighten the restrictions against polluting our environment instead of loosening them.
In fact that is exactly what has happened over the past 50 + years. We have cleaner air to breathe, better quality water, and our land use has steadily improved, and in making the USA the economic powerhouse of the world, we have succeeded in not only raising our standard of living through economic progress, but we have created a cleaner, healthier country, which is the envy of the world.
Of all the things in this country that should be bipartisan, our quality of life should always be something Republicans and Democrats alike can embrace. That has been the case during the administration of presidents from Ronald Regan forward. However, the present administration is trying to undo the progress made by Ronald Regan, the Bushes, Clinton, and Obama. Yes, a great deal of the environmental progress to give us a higher standard of living happened under a Republican administration.
Today, unemployment is at a record low and corporate profits are soaring. If anything, we should be strengthen our environmental standards to continue the improvement of our quality of life, but we’re not. This administration is systematically stripping the EPA of critical regulations, cutting its budget, and by allowing the goal to make money take precedent over environmentally policies, it is steadly reducing our quality of life.

Yes, I’m a Southern Boy!

Yes, I’m a Southern Boy!
Well, I’m a southerner born and raised in the south, and I wouldn’t live anywhere else. Now let me tell you why: Naturally, living with other southerners is on top of my list, and it’s easy to see why being surrounded by other like-kind folks is so positive. It’s because, within every southerner, there is a streak of open hospitality that is just a natural part of our being. I know saying ‘southern hospitality’ is trite, but it’s true, and there are thousands of examples to prove my point. A wave from a pickup truck driver on a back road to a young girl holding a door open for an elderly man, exemplifies the best part of a southerner’s character. Yes, it’s really who we are, and it’s a big piece of why living in the south is so pleasant, and of course, the best looking women in the country live in the south. Now, I know that going to rub a few transplanted Yankees the wrong way, but let’s just be honest: Name a New England State that can match Arkansas, Mississippi, or Texas in the number of Miss Americas’. Well, not only are Southern gals gorgeous, but by living in the South their conversations can vary from former country girls talking about struggling to get by when they were young, to dining out in New York City. I went to several Christmas parties, and one of the best was sitting around a table for five with four neat southern women. The conversations ranged from tequila stories to working on a Bradley County tomato farm, and it was a delightful evening.
Yes, I know just being from the south can throw a predisposition from a snooty New York waiter, if you’re in dining at a Le Restaurant, but I smile when I think about ordering escargots, and I know while I can dine with the best of them in New York City, they would be lost in what to order from the menu at the Superior Grill in Shreveport. Bill Clinton had to overcome that during his first term in office, and yes, that attitude does gives us southerners something of a chip on our shoulders.
We southerner aren’t perfect, but I’d rather live with our shortcomings in a trade for just living with other southerners. I know we pay The University football coach several times of what we pay the University President, but University Presidents are a dime a dozen, and a football coach who can win six or more SEC games is probably worth several million more than the President. At least that what we’re saying when the morons in Northwest Arkansas negotiate football coach contracts, and when southerners vote for Trump it’s because we don’t mind the lying or voting against our economic interest, it’s southerners are telling New York, California, and the rest the World to “Go to hell,” and that, whether you are a Southern Democrat or a Republican, rings a deep-seated bell in every southerner, whose grandmother or great grandmother raised you with a southern chip on your shoulder.
I think southerners live a more varied and fuller life because we live in the south. Just to give you an example, we had some New York friends over for dinner one night and the conversation turned to guns, and he asked, “Do you have any guns?” To ask an Arkansawyer if he or she owns guns is like asking a fish if it swims. Of course, I said “Yes” He asked, “Really, how many?” And then before I could answer, he said, “Did you just buy your gun” I answered, “No, my dad bought me my first gun, a Mossberg .20 gauge when I was 8, and later a Sweet .16, and of course I have a couple of twenty-twos,”…Well, I stopped before I got to the pistols because he was looking at me like you might react to someone in an Arab headdress carrying a violin case getting on an airplane. Yes, living in the semi-rural south—And every town under 50,000 is semi-rural—opens up an opportunity to drive 30 minute to a river or lake to fish, and most southerner can walk to a wooded area to hunt. It’s a southern bonus we take for granted, and southern forests are the greatest expanse of trees in the country. Wow, our trees sure add to our quality of life.
Now let’s talk about the weather, and yes the south is sometimes so hot and humid that you think you’re living in a sauna, but the good Lord gave us the ability to sweat, and I’d rather sweat a bucket full than freeze my ass off in North Dakota, or this year anywhere north of Fayetteville. Yes, we do have a little rough weather occasionally, but I’ll take an occasional tornado over earthquakes and wildfires. Heck, I like to be surprised by the weather, and southern weather keeps you from being bored. My best thoughts around southern weather revolve around a beautiful, southern spring after a cold winter where the temperature dipped down below 30 for a few nights.
Yep, living in the South is just about as good as it gets, and I not leaving anytime soon.

Congressman Bruce Westerman, Mr. Back to the 60s

Congressman Bruce Westerman, Mr. Back-to-the-Sixties
Let me cut straight to the chase; Congressman Westerman is part of the gang that’s trying to take us Back-to-the-60s—environmentally. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that he has introduced a forestry bill that is a thinly-veiled Christmas present to logging companies. He is marching in lock step with the current administration to reverse the environments progress made by former Republican and Democratic Presidents. That’s right, and the facts are clear: The previous four presidents, two Republicans and two Democratic ones all worked with congress to improve the quality of our environment, but the current President is focused on reversing the progress made by the these Presidents, and Congressman Westerman is right in step with the Back-to-the-Sixties administration in undoing past environmental progress..
Let’s take a quick look back to see how far we’ve come in improving our environment. In the early sixties New York City was experiencing air quality almost as bad as some of our third world mega-cities are today. Our rivers were terribly polluted, and then the unthinkable happened. In 1969 a river caught on fire! The Cuyahoga River near Cleveland was so polluted that it caught on fire. It was an exclamation point that our environment was in horrible shape and desperately needed help. From that time forward the current presidents, both Democratic and Republican, worked with congress to improve our environment, and the resulting Clean Water Act is a direct result of bi-partisanship. The result was a steady improvement in air and water quality and our national parks were expanded. These measure achieved broad support from the presidents of that era as well as congress, and the move toward a better quality environment was broadly supported by the public.
However, the current administration is working to undo many of the environmental regulations enacted under administrations of both parties. It is an unprecedented attempt to remove as many of the enacted rules, laws, and presidential designations as possible.
I will try to list just a few of the “Back to the Sixties” movement Congressman Westerman is part of. Basically, their bottom line goal is to deregulate as much of industry safeguards as possible in order to make as much money as possible with no regard to the consequences. *(1) They are trying are trying to kill the Clean Power Plan to allow more coal burning. (2) They are withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement. (3) They are removing the environmental rules around coal power. (4) They are weakening fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks. (5) They are opening up new public lands to oil and gas drilling and coal mining. (6) They are scaling back federal support for wind and solar power. (7) They are dramatically limiting the EPA’s ability to regulate in the future. (8) They are making the Supreme Court more hostile to environmental regulations. (9) They are reversing the White House’s climate guidance to federal agencies. (10 They are packing the executive branch with industry-friendly appointments. (11)They are cutting funding to the EPA. *From various Internet sources.
Can you believe with 98% of the scientists in the world stating that climate change is a serious problem and a grave threat to future generation, and with 210 countries signing on to the Paris Climate Agreement, the United States is backing out? There is no question about it. The current administration is determined to ignore future generations, and subject them to an environment that in many areas of our planet will be uninhabitable in less than twenty years.

Overall, the EPA is being systematically stripped of its existing rules, the national parks are being opened to logging and mineral development, and our air and water is steadily becoming more polluted. The Arctic National Wildlife has been opened to oil and gas development, and our national parks and monuments are being reduced by presidential action, which will open more public lands to coal mining and oil and gas drilling; all for the almighty dollar. Congressman Westerman is part of this disgraceful attempt to slash our environmental rules and rape public land.
Congressman Bruce Westerman is trying to hide behind his Forestry Degree, the recent wildfires out west, which were worse this year because of the effects of climate change, and the guise of being environmental to sponsor a bill that will open the doors to more logging, gut the environment safeguards, and loosen public input into the timber harvesting in our national parks. His proposed Resilient Federal Forest Act of 2017 is a sham. It’s a horrible bill! It’s a blatant attempt to give timber harvesting a blank check! It’s an attempt to muffle descent and to make it more expensive and harder for the public to have input. It’s a cold hearted timber grab as the expense of the public. It is a pro-logging bill to benefit a few fat cat logging companies, and it does so at the expense of our public land. Under Westerman’s bill permits up to 10,000 acres are not subject to public input. That’s a block of a national park forest of over 15 square miles, and under certain conditions could be expanded to 30,000 acres. This bill is a thinly vailed attempt to make our National Forests timber farms.
Congressman Westerman, is a congressman from The Natural State, and he should be ashamed to hold his head up when he comes home. But why should we be surprised? After all the folks Congressman Westerman is associated with are planning to open up the national forests to coal mining and oil and gas well drilling. Of course, that’s just the opening shot. They are opening up oil and gas well drilling along the offshore east coast, and they are committed to reducing the size of national monuments and national parks. They are allowing the coal fired power plants to continue to spew particulates into the air such a mercury and they are making the USA the only country of 210 in the world to not join in to stopping global warming. It is shocking to see the wildfires in California knowing that climate change has caused what has always been a fire prone dry and windy season to be ratcheted up into a full disaster, while Congressman Westerman goes along with the administration trying to deny climate change, California goes up in flames.
“Congressman Westerman, if you believe the Resilient Federal Forest Act of 2017 is a good bill, come down to El Dorado and defend it in a Town Hall Meeting.”

Christmas Memories

Christmas Memories
Okay, I’m going to confess: I can’t ever get enough of the Holidays. Bring on the turkey, dressing, and family, and then stand by for Christmas Carols. Of course, things do get hectic, and I know the postal delivery people dread the catalogs that flood the mail. Yes, we do get overrun with our to-do list, which can be longer than your arm, but I think the bustling is worth it. For me it’s because the holidays are a time to let your hair down, re-connect, and get retuned spiritually.
I mentally have a category for Thanksgiving, and for me, it’s a time that family, food, and our blessings are emphasized. Of course, our Thanksgiving table always has exactly the same things, and if Vertis didn’t make the Green-Jell-O-Pear Salad or her special dressing, there would be a family crisis.
But Christmas is different and there’s something about that special holiday that makes me reflect back on past Christmases. Of course, as most of us know, all Christmases aren’t created equal. Some Christmases of 50 years ago are as vivid as if they were current, and some of our last few Christmases are so vague, they could have happened decades ago. Many of my earlier Christmases were spent on a small farm about a mile south of Norphlet, nestled in oaks, on the edge of Flat Creek Swamp. We moved there when I was seven, and I immediately became a boy-of-the-woods, creek, and swamp. During the 7 years we lived on the farm, I hunted and fished almost daily. Our family, while not at the poverty level, depended upon the fish, squirrel, rabbit, and other game I brought in. During that time I was the Norphlet Paperboy, and I had a trap-line down in Flat Creek Swamp.
Most of the Christmases when I lived on the farm were pretty simple, with a shirt or jacket as the big gift and a stocking with candy, apple, and orange. However, the Christmas when I was 12 stands out. That Christmas morning I walked down the hall from my room expecting to find the usual, but instead there, with a red ribbon around it with my name on it, was a Browning Sweet 16 Shotgun. The idea that my family would spend over a $100 on my Christmas present to get me something so special overwhelmed me. I still have what is now a well-used shotgun.
However, I remember another Christmas that stands out not because of the gifts, family, or church, but because of the absence of all of them. Vertis and I had only been out of college for about three years, and I was working for Exxon as a geologist on the King Ranch in Kingsville, Texas when Doug Garrett, the District Geologist, called me into his office. “Richard, on your job application you checked the box “Interested in overseas assignments”. Well, I vaguely remembered that, but then he said, “Esso Libya needs several wellsite geologists in Benghazi, Libya. Are you interested?” I knew enough geography to know Libya was in North Africa, so I was shaking my head as he finished, “Think about it for a few days. You don’t have to give me an answer right now.” I nodded and started for the door when Doug said, “And they will double your salary.”
Well, because of a huge college debt that was dragging us down, that December we found ourselves in Benghazi where I working as a well-site geologist for Esso Libya. On the 15th of December, I was 150 miles deep in the Sahara Desert on a drilling rig in charge evaluating the oil well Esso Libya was drilling. My two weeks in the desert would be up on the 21st, and yes, you bet, I was counting the days, so when the small plane landed on the rig’s gravel runway the morning of the 21st, I couldn’t wait to get back to Benghazi and be with Vertis for the week I was scheduled to be in town. Vertis met the plane, we hopped in our little Fiat 500, which was just about the size of the Smart Cars that are on the market today, and we started our week of Christmas in Benghazi.
I remember Vertis saying, “Richard, I have a couple of surprises to show you. Drive downtown.”
Benghazi’s population was around 60,000, but it seemed a much smaller town because so many of the residents lived out on the edge of town. They had moved in from the small outlying villages over the past 10 years to look for work. In the center of town there was a traffic circle and in the middle of the circle there was a big evergreen tree, and when I rounded the corner I saw what Vertis was talking about; the tree was covered with Christmas lights. Of course, that’s what I thought all the colored lights were, but Vertis corrected me. “Richard, December twenty-fourth is Libyan Independence Day. That’s why the tree is decorated.”
“Well, we can pretend their Christmas lights,” I remarked, as I circled the tree and headed for our house on the edge of town.
When I opened the front door and walked in the living room, I spotted the other surprise. Our living room had a big, brick fireplace and someone before us, who rented the house, had painted it dark green. Yes, it did look hideous. However, during the two weeks I was in the desert, Vertis had hand-chipped every speck of green paint off the fireplace. It looked great!
Later in the week, Vertis brought up Christmas, and Christmas plans. Vertis said to me, “Richard, Norma, the District Geologist’s wife, told me yesterday, we didn’t get invited to any of the ex-pats Christmas parties because we were new and people didn’t know us. She said next year would be different.” So, it’s going to be just the two of us here at Christmas.”
The next day was Christmas Eve, and that night I managed to scrounge up enough firewood for a fire in the fireplace, and we took our shortwave radio into the living room, sat down on a couple of pillows in front of the fireplace, and tuned in the BBC. As a static-filled Silent Night played on the radio, we opened our presents to each other. I had purchased a bangle bracelet for Vertis during one of my times back in town, and Vertis had bought me a new billfold.
Even when we were in college and later living in Texas, we had always made it home for Christmas to be with family, friends, and to be in our home church. This was the first Christmas for both of us to be without anyone, and not even have a Christmas card or a telephone call. We realized at that moment how much of Christmas is about friends, family, and church. I put my arm around Vertis, and as we listened to the last strains of Silent Night on the BBC, tears ran down our cheeks.

Give Arkansas a Christmas Present

Give Arkansas a Christmas Present
Well, since its Christmas, the peak of the gift giving season, I’m sure gifts are on your mind. Of course, you’re wondering if you have forgotten anyone. Yes, and not only that but you want to be sure you have given the perfect gift to everyone on your list, so think about who and what as you read this column, and consider, have you given your old home state, Arkansas, a gift? A gift that the state really needs and wants.
I think most of us have an altruistic spirit within us, which of course means we have a desire to do something that benefits others and not only ourselves, but the problem is that the opportunities are either too difficult, or they just aren’t available. What if, by joining with others across the state you could make a truly meaningful contribution to our state, and give a Christmas gift that is really needed and wanted.
Let’s look into a relative simply way to achieve that. First an example: A couple of decades or so ago the Mayor and City Council of Chicago made a commitment to plant 1,000,000 trees within the city limits of their town. Of course, the reason was to achieve a combination of natural beauty vs a blank parking lots or sidewalks or Inter-state right of ways, and as a bonus the trees would counter the cities air pollution and reduce utility bills in the city.
I had an opportunity to visit Chicago before the program started, and since then I have been back several times. However, on a recent visit I took a close look at downtown Chicago, and when I compared it to the before the pre-tree planting plan, it was a real visual eye-opener. The trees planted in the first years of the program were large enough to visually change a blank city-scape into an impressive, urban leafy canopy. Yes, they had met the challenge of 1,000,000 trees, actually several years ago, and now they are “Give us a call, and we’ll come plant a tree in your front yard—for free.” Yes, the 1,000,000 tree planting program was so successful that the City officials were bombarded with requests for trees.
I guess, if this had happened in the Natural State, say in Little Rock, we might not be s shocked, but in concrete-city Chicago? No way, but wow, what a great example for The Natural State. Yes, we have cities big and small that are planting a few trees, but we’re just scratching the surface here in Arkansas.
However, it’s not like we not doing any planting, it’s just that we can do more, and we have some help on the way. The Walton Family Foundation is providing a grant that will allow 2000 trees of 50 species to be planted in Bella Vista, Bentonville, Centerton, Gravette, Pea Ridge, and Siloam Springs. The Foundation has a wonderful history of providing grant money to plant trees, and thousands if trees have been planted because of their generosity.
Well, do we need more urban or yard trees in our state? Of course we do! Take one look at our entryway streets in every city in the state, and if you can keep from throwing up, plant a tree or a hundred trees.
Sure we can do better, and since most of us live in or close to a forest, where there are millions of surplus trees right there for the picking, finding a tree to plant is easy. After I saw the City of Dallas had planted cypress trees in landscaping the area around the new downtown arts district, I walked about two hundred yards to a small lake behind my house, dug up 8 small cypress Trees and replanted them in downtown El Dorado. Yep, every one of them lived and are doing fine. (Actually, when I saw the cypress trees being planted in Dallas I was surprised, but after I planted them in downtown El Dorado, and they thrived, I realize cypress trees make good urban landscaping trees, and they don’t need to be in the edge of a lake to grow.)
Here in the Natural State we take our trees for granted, and ignore the tremendous benefits available, if we will just plant a tree. An infra-red aerial survey over almost any town in the country has a urban hot spot of increased heat that emits from the mostly bare city centers. Studies have shown as much as a 25% decrease in utility bills can occurs when an urban canopy of leafy trees shelters the sidewalks and streets, and there is a bonus in tree planting that is not only in the ambiance, but in the actual drawing in of customers to shopping areas. Our downtowns are the original shopping areas in the almost every city in the state, and a tree lined landscaped shopping center or street draws in the shoppers according to a Government survey.
Yes, that’s the Christmas present I would like to see us give our state, and it’s a one that we can easily afford and do, and, if a number of individuals around the state join in, the numbers will mount up and the program will be hugely successful. What if everyone in Arkansas committed to plant one tree a year? Or maybe what if only a third of us committed to plant one tree a year?
That would be over 1,000,000 new trees in our state each year, and be a giant step in becoming The Natural State. This Christmas give the Natural State a gift, and what could be a better gift than to plant a living tree? So make that commitment.
Well, our El Dorado Mason Family has committed to plant 20 trees. Do I have any other commitment? If your city or you as an individual will commit to plant trees this year let me know. Email me your number of tree planting commitments, and I’ll post the total numbers in future columns. Give Arkansan a gift this year. Plant a tree!

It’s the Stuff, Stupid!

It’s “The Stuff,” Stupid!

Well, this is going to sound like the simplest solution to putting some life in a dead downtown that you have ever heard: Add stuff. I know that begs the question, of course. What kind of stuff? And the answer is….almost any kind of stuff!
Before we get into the details of why stuff matters, let’s look at the towns without stuff and see if we can get a glimpse of why a dead-as-a-sack-of-hammers downtown is as blank as a sheet of paper. But, why is it blank? Yes, you might say the former downtown businesses closed because no one came downtown to shop and you’d be right, but why did shoppers abandon that downtown? I think the absence of stuff had a lot to do with it. In order to understand the concept of stuff, I’m going to use an example a very successful restaurant—The Superior Grill in Shreveport. It’s packed every night, and yes they do serve good food, but the Superior is much more than a good place to eat. Going to the Superior is having the Superior experience complete with all the trimmings, and the trimmings are the “stuff” that makes the restaurant click. Colored lights are strung from the ceiling, almost every inch of wall space is covered with everything from bullfight posters to mounted steer heads, plus adding to the stuff, there’s TVs on every wall and the music is blaring. This restaurant is the poster child for “more stuff”. Yes, I know they serve great margaritas and their open grill turns out super fajitas, but would the restaurant still knock ‘um dead without the stuff? Maybe, but can you imagine stripping the restaurant to the walls? Of course not, because who in their right mind would tinker with a cash machine like that?
Okay, now let’s see if the “stuff” concept will transfer to a dead downtown and breathe life into it. There are plenty of dead downtowns to use as examples and they all have one thing in common. Almost without exception the store fronts, parking lots, and sidewalks are bare. There are no trees, green boulevards, or any other items to clutter the area. It’s not that the residents wanted a bare downtown; it was a matter of priorities. Trees, planters, kiosks and any other “fluff” items, as these things were called were given such a low priority that by the time the town’s limited resources were allocated, the monies were depleted. Yes, the industrial parks and job creation was considered primary beneficiaries, but if you want to know how that worked out, check the multi-millions spent on deserted industrial parks. Obviously, there has to be a better way for our towns and cities to spend their money.
First, let’s look at the easy items that will improve a downtown, and believe it or not it’s the visual items that are the most important. A government survey of several strip centers proved this point. They compared strip centers that were essentially blank to those that were landscaped with plants around the stores and trees in their parking lot. The compared centers carried similar merchandise. They found that the landscaped strip centers did almost 25% more business than the blank shopping centers. Customers actually thought the stores with the landscaped parking lot had better quality goods and they were willing to pay more for them. Even though, that wasn’t the case. The two strip centers had stores with almost identical merchandise. Well, landscaping is sure stuff; so I guess you might say stuff sells.
I guess you might say stuff sells because of our inquisitive human nature. Let me give you two examples: First Jasper, Arkansas. Well, tiny Jasper is not big enough to have much, but it’s right in the middle of scenic Arkansas, and very close to our elk herd. So why not put a 9 foot statue of an elk right downtown? Yep, they did and a picture of that elk was splashed across paper after paper. Just think of the folks who will go out of their way to visit Jasper—and see the elk. Of course, it takes visitors to give a downtown life, and Jasper has taken a step forward in attracting them. Example number two: El Dorado…yes, we have great buildings and a wonderful courthouse, but what are the most photographed items in El Dorado and maybe in the state? Yes, it’s two pieces of stuff, which are the two red, Old English Phone Booths. They are the real thing straight from London, and when they were installed they were actual phone booths. However, cell phones put them out of business, so the two phone booths have been resurrected as the Downtown Book Exchanges. They are back in business and are as photographed as ever.
If we look a little deeper into the stuff concept, we’ll see we are really picky when it comes to adding stuff to a downtown. The country of Switzerland is almost a Disney theme park when it comes to adding stuff, and naturally with a drop dead backdrop of the Alps, tourism is the number one business in the country. However, most visitors don’t climb the Alps; they end up walking around in the hundreds of small towns filled with stuff. The Swiss have developed a knack for just the right stuff, and what do they focus on? Well, in their natural setting around the mountains, the theme in most villages has to do with nature. Hanging baskets from streetlight poles, window boxes with flowers, and on and on with everything natural and historic as they can make it. If you removed the stuff from the Swiss villages, they might look a lot like some of our downtowns, and they would probably have about as many visitors as we do.
Now, let’s hone in on Arkansas and focus on stuff that would enhance not only the looks of most towns, but would draw visitors, and maybe give some of our visitors a reason to move to one of our towns that are losing population. First let’s look at the big minuses that detract from our Natural State theme, and blank parking lots are the biggest eyesore in most towns. Of course, in automobile American almost every town of any size has parking lots, but they don’t have to be blank eyesores. If we check out how almost every progressive city handles bare parking lots, the first thing you will find is they have a greenscape ordinance, which very simply means parking lots must have at least 25% greenspace. If a city builds on the greenscape ordinance basis, it will promote sidewalk planters, window boxes, and street trees. Yes, it’s just more stuff, but it all adds up.
Of course, I could go on and on about stuff, but I think you get the point. Stuff draws people, and people restore life to a dead downtown.