Unlike yesterday’s post, the title of this post is a literary reference. Those of you who have immersed yourself in Ozark regional literature will, of course, get my reference. For the rest of you, however, here you go:
Half-gods is the title of an unjustly obscure novel by Murray Sheehan, published in 1927 and long-since out of print (even out of copyright). It is a fantasy tale set in the Ozarks of southwestern Missouri (though clearly it is actually set in Fayetteville, Arkansas). In this well-written tale, a centaur is born to a horse on an Ozark hill farm. After some astonishment by the locals, the centaur eventually becomes an accepted part of the community. The centaur begins by speaking ancient Greek but eventually “progresses” to Ozark hill speech, and the story ends with the centaur becoming a good old boy and hanging out with the other loafs in front of the town store.
The theme of the story, I think, is that culture and refinement are wasted on the rural bumpkins of the Ozarks. (Nor is the local university spared; the chancellor there is far more interested in securing donors than in advancing knowledge.) Ozarkers have bristled at this kind of characterization ever since it began. (Another novel, The Woods Colt by Thames Williamson, which is considered the most accurate novel to depict the typical Ozark dialect, is a tale of lust and betrayal and gun play and murder and sloth — and it is what many people thought of when they imagined life in the rural Ozarks. A great hue and cry was raised over this novel when it came out, with locals saying they were being unfairly and inaccurately depicted as a bunch of inbred hillbillies. The book became famous as a result.)
But much of what Sheehan describes in Half-gods is accurate. He has one passage in which he describes the typical decline of a piece of Ozark property, noting the accumulation of trash and other junk in the yard and the rundown condition of the house and out buildings. (This is, no doubt, true for other parts of the country.) Here is a thematic passage:
“He reminds me,” he added finally, tucking the two appendages into the opening of his coat, and loosing his chin gently, “of a bit of our own fertile ground roundabouts here in the Ozarks. It is capable of putting forth the fairest of flowers and fruits and shrubs. And yet, look at what all of the people between here and Roosevelt have made of it . . . including (you must pardon me) your own family. Their front yards are an abomination in the sight of the Lord, hideous, barren, stark, and utterly devoid of all beauty and wonder. Generally they are graced with the wreck of an ancient Ford. When one thinks what they would have been in their original state of nature, sometimes one doubts his fellow-creatures.”
I don’t say all of this as a way to be haughty or judgmental. Rather, I confess to a degree of this guilt myself. When I came upon our shelter during my most recent visit to Roundrock, Sheehan’s words sprang into my mind. Now, aside from interlopers, no one is going to see my contribution to Ozark squalor, but I felt pretty shabby about my unmet responsibilities. Yes, it is easier to walk the woods and look for the pretty things rather than clean up the messes I’ve made.
I untied the last remaining line from the corner of the tarp. My intention was to fold it and stow it somewhere until I could come back and fix the tarp properly, but the thing was still covered with a few hundred pounds of snow, so I did not. (In fairness to myself, I had already thought that I shouldn’t spend any more time in the woods than I had to at this point since the weather was beginning to turn.)
Ozarkers are no different from people everywhere. There are hard-working folk and there are lazy slobs. There are those who are careful with their investments and those who buy lottery tickets. There are people of integrity and there are thieves. There are Democrats and Republicans.
As with most things, it is the most visible that we take as typical. Thus if one sees vivid squalor in one part of the Ozarks, one can imagine this is how all of the Ozarks is. So I need to be more careful about my little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks.
- Cedar waxwings flock to feed on cedar berries and other fruit.
- Groundhogs breed through March.