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BUSEK: Making a childhood dream come true in Arkansas

By JIM BUSEK • Mar 14, 2017 at 10:00 AM

It is hard for me to imagine now, but when I was a kid, my favorite magazine was Field & Stream, the hunting and fishing periodical.

My grandfather had gotten me excited about fishing with annual trips to Ontario, Canada, starting when I was just six years old.

That meant that one week out of the year I was off on some Canadian lake or river.

But the other 51 weeks the best I could do was to wear out each month’s copy of Field & Stream, nearly memorizing some of the articles.

One that stuck with me concerned a particular kind of fishing adventure called a float trip on the Buffalo River in Arkansas. The thought of drifting past the overhanging rock walls, catching smallmouth bass with ease, really captured my imagination.

Fast forward 55 years or so to December, 2013. I am sitting in a chair with a notepad in my lap. I scribble a heading at the top of the first page: “50 Adventures in 50 States.”

Next, I try to remember the names of all 50 states. I come up with 47 or 48 of them before consulting a map.

Then, beside each state name, I try to imagine an “adventure” I could have in that state.

I get ideas for perhaps half the states. The others are a struggle.

But not Arkansas.

I know what I want to do in Arkansas.

I want to float down the Buffalo River on the slow-flowing green water, past the great rock bluffs as I had fantasized more than five decades earlier while staring at the pages of Field & Stream. I am no longer excited about fishing. But floating down a pretty stream still sounds like fun.

Last September I did it.

And it was great.

The Buffalo River is one of the few remaining wild rivers that is not dammed. That means the flow is not controlled. In the rainy season, it overflows its banks. And in the dry season, it meanders quietly through the Ozarks.

September, when I was there, is dry season. Some sections of the big, ancient river had so little water in them that the canoe and rafting outfitters closed down for a time.

But the several miles of river near the crossroads town of St. Joe were still open for business when I stopped by.

And after I completed the paperwork at Buffalo River Outfitters, I was pleased when the only kayak they loaded on the trailer was mine. That meant I was going to have the river of my childhood dreams to myself. Perfect.

It was very much as I had imagined: water so clear you could see every pebble, three or four feet below the surface; great wide sand-and-gravel bars where you could stop to stretch your legs or picnic; handsome rock bluffs literally close enough to touch; no sounds other than those provided by nature; and plenty of water movement so the paddling was easy.

Later, I got a different perspective on the scenic river as I hiked the top of the bluffs, perhaps 400 feet above the green thread winding through the forest below.

In all, the float trip, hiking and Ozark Mountain scenery made for one of my most relaxing adventures yet. Adventure number 46 in Arkansas.

As always, I have made a visual record of the trip on a two-and-a-half minute video (see above).

Who knows, watching it may be your 21st century equivalent of my reading Field & Stream in 1959.


Jim Busek is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. He can be reached via e-mail at jimbusek@ hotmail.com.

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