Yellowhammer on the Brain

woods hippie, 1971

Less than a year after resigning from Wharton County Junior College

Behold the historical record! Oh, the things that were so easy then, though you wouldn’t know it from that picture. It’s a scanned image of an old beat-up photo taken in Houston in late ’71. My father probably held the camera, which must have taken some fortitude on his part, something I haven’t recognized until this moment. Good on him, then.

The image goes with the relevant voodoo republishing of the post below, first uploaded in 2007 to my previous blog. I’ve written several versions of it since, and some of you may recognize the theme. Obviously the Arkansas adventure is on my mind, but the testimony coming up is perfect for the present moment here in Taos. Maybe wherever you are, too. Enjoy.

* * *

Yellowhammer Soul

It was early November, 1971 in the Arkansas Ozarks. I was twenty-six and all alone on 170 acres of trees, rocks, fields, and streams on the side of a mountain surrounded by even more forest, cliffs, and hills that seemed to stagger on forever. Nixon was president, the war was raging, and I wasn’t going back to anything.

I’d never had an autumn quite like that. Living in the middle of the woods can give it to you, though: cold, damp, pungent, brilliant sun and icy frost, the smell of rotting leaves and ripe persimmons. I was most recently from Texas, where it didn’t do that, but the colors of the changing leaves, the smells, and even being so goddamned cold resonated mysteriously with early memories of other latitudes and continents, other lifetimes long gone by. I had real survival problems, however, no time for musing.

That region of the Ozarks was once much more populated. You could wander through the woods and sometimes find an old stone chimney and nothing more, just an unmortared flagstone chimney (or part of one) rising from the leaves among the dogwoods. My 8 x 16 foot shack was hard up against one of these, such that the large half-chimney and fireplace itself constituted the entire north wall, albeit with serious gaps on either side. There were other holes as well. My efforts at construction had been sporadic, and the seasons had overtaken me. Given the ventilation, I’d never felt anything warm from the fire. But a cold front was coming, and I decided to patch the openings any way I could.

With the last of my cash, I bought big rolls of plastic on a run to Fayetteville, then came home and stapled like a madman. I hand-sawed salvaged slabside lumber to fit between the chimney and the vertical posts at both north corners. I pounded rocks into the remaining gaps and covered all the seams with clay. When I was done with that, I gathered firewood.

That night it was thirty-three degrees with a howling wind, and the rain came down like Niagara Falls. Amazingly, my primitive carpentry had done the job: for the first time ever, I could feel real warmth from the old stone fireplace. After a meal of pancakes and apples, I sat with a kerosene lamp at my little fireside desk—a piece of scrap plywood the size of a cafeteria tray nailed to the “wall” at one end and held up by two pieces of 2 x 4 at the other—and it was like the entire universe was in my lap. The rain was crashing down on the bare tin roof in the pitch black wildness, there was no one around for miles, but I was warm and dry and—suddenly I realized—lacked for absolutely nothing.

A holy night, muchachos, and the battery’s still charged.

John Hamilton Farr lives in Taos, New Mexico, U.S.A. with his classical pianist wife. “Possibly the only place I can get away with this,” he says. As New York Times best-selling author James C. Moore (Bush’s Brain) put it in a review of John’s first book, Buffalo Lights is the work of a man attuned to the world who sees it differently than you and I and writes about it with a language and a vision of life that is impossible to ignore.” John is the author of BUFFALO LIGHTS, TAOS SOUL, ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE, and THE HELEN CHRONICLES. He has been publishing online since 1996 (Zoo Zone, Farr Site, MacFaust, GRACK!, FarrFeed) and blogs regularly here at JHFARR.COM. See also → John’s Twitter profile, Amazon Author Page, video channel at YouTube, and website photos at SmugMug. To email John, please see CONTACT INFO on About page.  

  • Madison May 7, 2014, 6:40 AM

    Loved this post.

    • JHF May 7, 2014, 8:47 PM

      There were five of us. That’s all. We had 170 acres @ $50/acre, at least three streams with waterfalls, a few miles north (?) of the White River, maybe near Patrick? Not sure of the geography after all this time. I’ve written lots about this before, just not all in one place. Maybe I’ll post another story. Ohhh yes, I have one. 🙂

      • Madison May 7, 2014, 9:00 PM

        We’re not far from there on 160 acres building our homestead. Working on fences right now for the horses and I write during breathers between projects, lol. Beautiful country out here for sure.

        Yes, I’ll watch for your next post 🙂

        • JHF May 7, 2014, 11:21 PM

          Looks like that’s not going to work just now. But maybe soon!

  • Rita May 7, 2014, 11:41 AM

    Me, too. I wrote a really long response last night, but bad internet lost it.

    • JHF May 7, 2014, 8:48 PM

      It wasn’t the site, was it? I try to keep this thing in tip-top shape. Maybe you should try again.

  • Duncan May 7, 2014, 1:03 PM

    Oh wow!
    A world lost forever, never to be understood or even sought after by today’s techno generation.
    Do they even know, or care about the magical sound of the falling rain.
    How I miss it all …..

    • JHF May 7, 2014, 8:52 PM

      In many ways that one year in the Ozarks was the best time of my life. I was so healthy. Ate rice & apples & whatever was handy. Wild persimmons, anything. No sugar or white bread. When I went to the dentist later (first time in over a year), he couldn’t believe how clean my teeth were.

      Direct experience of Nature’s truth. What a gift.

  • Tim May 8, 2014, 9:33 AM

    Have you ever read “One Man’s Wilderness” by Sam Keith (from the journals of Richard Proenneke)? Fascinating story about a man building his own cabin in the Alaskan wilderness. There’s film footage floating around, too. I saw a special somewhere (probably PBS), which is how I first found out about his story.

    • JHF May 9, 2014, 8:05 AM

      Noted, will investigate! Thanks. 🙂

{ 10 comments… add one }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Subscribe to THIS WEBSITE

Enter email address to receive new post notices. Super-easy on and off, manage by yourself.

Find anything at JHFARR.COM

Browse Archives

Browse Categories

Translate This Page