Echoes of Carpathia in the Ozark Mountains

Commentator Andrei Codrescu vacations in the Ozarks. It reminds him of his homeland: the Carpathian mountains of Translyvania. He enjoys himself so much he hardly knows how to express it.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Where do you go to get away from the heat? The beach? The mountains? Commentator Andrei Codrescu escapes to the Ozarks.

ANDREI CODRESCU:

The bluebird of happiness just flew by. It's small, electric blue, and it lives in the Ozark Mountains. Until it flew by, the only blue bird I've known is a blue jay, who is a big bird with a crest, who shrieks like a pterodactyl. In the Ozarks, the air is cool and mild in the evening and in the morning, and the life in the woods all around is sparse compared to my furiously fertile Louisiana habitat. In fact, it's right down quiet here at night, with only the rarest moan or trill piercing the woods. In Louisiana, they plug the trees in at night, and the birds stay up like drunks on their first visit to Bourbon Street. In the morning you can actually see new creatures stumbling out of nests and burrows, chimneys and branches. And all the plants you left standing overnight grew five inches before dawn.

So much life has its pleasures, but the solitude of the mountains suits my mountain boy childhood. I grew up listening for the rare animal and bird sound in the rustling leaves of a dark wood hidden in a valley in the Carpathians. The birds were on a schedule as rigorous as the little spring a few feet from the house that gurgled at regular intervals, bubbling over a rock it had polished to perfection like an ancient timepiece.

The Ozark Mountains of Arkansas by the Buffalo River remind me of the Carpathians in other ways, too. The folk are friendly and inquisitive but independent. They have a music on the square evening in Yellville, Arkansas, and the whole town turned up with rocking chairs to listen to the country singer wail about sorrows so familiar they made me feel almost human.

It was Saturday, and the teen-agers were hanging out around the parking lot smoking and looking so much like teen-agers on a Saturday night looking for something to do. I felt the sweet nostalgia of youth pierce me like a hickory-carved arrow. It was also Father's Day, and both my sons were with me and my two grandsons. The Buffalo River was slow and warm and rocky, and the current thrilled and spun everybody like a big uncle come down from hidden caves to share his immemorial art. It was the perfectest time ever. My spawn around me, the mountains full of caves and springs and mysteries.

We went to the Blanchard Caves, a wet masterpiece of underground beauty, where the earth below creates extravagantly out of limestone and water a world so alive with fanciful wet beauty it gives you faith in the workings of the whole universe--beauty above, beauty below, children and birds all around. Once in a while I'm the luckiest son-of-a-gun in the whole Southeastern US. Don't envy me, though. It's not easy for me to admit it or to feel it. I have to squeeze it from the depths of my damaged human psyche like spring water through a rock.

NORRIS: Andrei Codrescu lives and teaches at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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