So I talked to Cuz — that is, my cousin who shares in the Arkansas Travels I wrote about a few weeks ago — and he told me that I had his permission to reveal his name to the Faithful Readership. And so, his name is Marcus Hosford. He lives in Little Rock, and he’s my cousin who wants to see all of Arkansas as much as I do.
A couple of years ago, right around this time of year (it was in late May), we trekked to Hot Springs to do some things on the Arkansas Bucket List. On the agenda was breakfast at The Pancake Shop (Phenomenal breakfast. Pancakes the size of Australia. Coffee in an old school low, round cup that fits in a saucer. Go there.) and then a hike on the Sunset Trail.
The Sunset Trail crosses three mountains in Hot Springs National Park. You start on West Mountain on the trail that bears that name, go over that mountain and onto Sugarloaf Mountain, cross Sugarloaf Mountain onto Forsythe Mountain, and come off Forsythe Mountain right on Arkansas Highway 7 across the road from Mickey’s BBQ. To finish out, hike along the highway to the Gulpha Gorge Campground, at the foot of Hot Springs Mountain. It’s about 10 miles altogether, and it’s a gorgeous hike in the spring.
I’d like to share with you a reflection I wrote after that hike because I was thinking about it the other day. It was something I wrote to all my friends and shared on social media. It mentions Jim Patterson, God rest his deep soul, who used to write a column in this paper that I used to read many moons ago. I think he’d appreciate its words.
In addition to working for this paper, he was also my friend. So Jim, today’s column is for you, bud.
Here is what I wrote:
Last Saturday I hiked 10 miles through the Ouachita Mountains. During the last stretch of the hike, as evening drew on and I was walking on the forest path along the mountainside, I had me a good think.
“We take so very much for granted,” I thought. There I was, able bodied and with the time and resources to hike through the mountains in springtime when Mother Earth dons her green gown and nature is reborn in all its color and splendor. There I was with the butterflies and the toads and the frogs and the deer and the turkeys and the wildflowers and the bright sun on the full trees. It was all so marvelous.
I wondered how many people (for there are such people) could pass through all of this and not even notice.
I thought of my friend Jim Patterson, recently departed, and of the final writing he published when he revealed that he was stricken with terminal cancer. “I will not go quietly into the night,” he wrote, “but this is the thing that is probably going to kill me.”
It must have taken such incredible strength to say those words to himself, much less anyone else. I can’t even imagine.
He wrote about returning to his hometown in South Arkansas and walking the fields of his childhood for the last time.
And he wrote about how grateful he was for his life, for his unlikely time on this planet.
It struck me that in the grand scheme of things, any of us being here is quite unlikely. Don’t think of the dead. Think of all the people who have never been here at all. All of the human couplings that never took place, the children never conceived, the lives never lived. Think of the multitudes of multitudes of multitudes of people who will never be born. And neither will their children, or their children, or their children’s children’s children.
You could have very easily been one. So could I.
And yet there I was, walking through the mountains in springtime on a bright, hot day beneath the forest canopy and the blue sky.
I was grateful.
As I walked, I reflected that I’m glad I know all of you. How unlikely a thing is it, I wonder, that any of us should have met any of the people we have and known them? To have the chance to know and love someone in whatever shape that love may take, with each opportunity being singularly unique?
It’s so unlikely and wonderful and so, so, so fleeting. We pass this way but once, and many never even get that chance.
Be kind to one another. You won’t always succeed, but do your dead level best.
Caleb Baumgardner is a local attorney. He can be reached at [email protected]