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What Have We Done?

By Timber Joseph Jones

Nothing that I have is my own. It is all for the next generation. In my shop hangs an axe that will one day go to the man my daughter marries. Another axe will go to my nephew. I look forward to handing them over at the right time. In my pocket is my beloved Barlow knife that belongs to my wife and in an old wooden box that belonged to my father is my first pocket knife that belongs to my daughter. Likewise, all of my stories, tall tales and memories will one day be told by those that love me and know how important that is to me.  I hope something else that stays in my family is my love of the Ozarks. I have come to have a deep kinship with the seasons of these ancient hills. 

On a recent drive through Arkansas, I was looking out through the valleys and admiring them in the low light of the evening. Oftentimes I point out to my family an especially wonderful hillside, tree or most commonly, the sunset. But something is happening to these hills that is beginning to bother me. It is becoming increasingly difficult to look out to the valleys without seeing a cell phone tower. The views are now obscured by these towers. Do I mean that you can’t see the hills through the steel structure? No. But a view is not just visual, it is a feeling. How many times have you taken a photograph and when showing someone found yourself saying, “This doesn’t do it justice”. One of the reasons for that is because of how it felt to be there as you took it all in. Sadly, my daughter will grow up in a God-created Ozarks dotted with man-made obstructions. They keep going up at an alarming rate and have become the steeples of modern life.

If you have ever driven east on Route 76 from Forsythe, you have been blessed with the historical beauty that is the truss bridges over the lake. The same is true if you’ve driven the back roads to Rome. If you travel this way often, then you also know that the trusses are being removed and being replaced by unimaginative concrete slabs. Just before entering Springfield on the James River is another one of these beautiful bridges and, dare I say that bridge is what makes the scene unique. I greatly appreciate what folks like John Morris are doing in the town of Ozark by moving and preserving the truss bridge.  These historic truss bridges have graced many postcards of the Ozarks and they, like so many other parts of our history, need to be protected.

But these types of things are happening all over the country. Major anchor stores that were once icons of American retail are beginning to disappear. Montgomery Ward, Toys R Us, Sears and some grocery stores are closing. In every instance the reason is competition with online shopping. Going to the store, interacting with folks, and using cash is somehow going by the wayside. Is this what we truly want or are we so excited about new fascinating technologies that we are failing to see what is happening before our very eyes? 

I am not opposed to progress. Preservation is not the enemy of progress. It is simply being a good steward of what brought us to where we are today. It is the elimination of our history that I take issue with.  There is a quote that I have written on the outside of my shop that I found at the homestead area of Silver Dollar City. It reads, “Behold the work of the old. Let your heritage not be lost. But bequeath it as a memory, treasure and blessing. Gather the lost and the hidden and preserve it for thy children.” I have made this a proverb of my life. Instill in your children the importance of tradition. Help them understand what family land means and keep it within the family for all generations to come. 

Let’s be better stewards of the Ozarks and its rich history both cultural and natural before a day comes when we lift up our heads, look around and say to ourselves, “What have we done?”