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Arkansas is an unusual piece of land full of a diverse group of folks. Geologically the state is bisected by an invisible division called the fall line. From around Memphis to Texarkana the state is split; the rocks northwest of this line are millions of years older than the rocks southeast of it.

Northwest of the fall line, the hills of the Ouachita and Ozark mountain ranges are very poor farmland. That's what our early European settlers found out the hard way. After the virgin timber was cut, the settlers tried cotton and other crops until it was obvious there weren't going to be any cotton plantations north of the fall line. That left about half of the state with early farmers struggling to make a living. That was cut in half again because the sandy loam of the Gulf Coastal Plain in the central and southwest part of the state would grow trees, but anything else was an uphill battle.

Cut the state in half one more time and you have the Mississippi Delta--geologically known as the Mississippi Embayment--a huge down-warp, which is a drainage ditch called the Mississippi River. After the Ice Age glaciers moved south, gouging up huge amounts of Midwest topsoil, a 20- to 40-mile wide Mississippi River dumped billions of tons of topsoil from Missouri to Louisiana, then filled a sizable part of the Gulf of Mexico. Presto: the Delta, some of the best farmland in the world.

Our forefathers understood, and that precipitated the great clear-cutting of the massive virgin forest and draining of the primeval swamp, which gave our state millions of acres of fertile land. Untold millions of acres of wetland wildlife habitat were destroyed, along with driving numerous species to extinction.

What makes our state even more remarkable is because we the people are just about as different as the state is geologically. That is because, according to University of Arkansas anthropology professor Justin Nolan, who has studied the migration patterns of settlers into the state, north and south Arkansas was populated by peoples from different sections of the country.

Broadly speaking, north Arkansas received most of its early settlers from north of Virginia via the hills of Tennessee and Kentucky, while south Arkansas received the bulk of its early settlers from south of Virginia via Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. My mother's family had its Georgia land taken by carpetbaggers, moved to Alabama, and later to Rose Bud, and finally to south Arkansas.

Professor Nolan points out that even centuries after the first waves of settlers, north and south Arkansas vocabularies still contain distinctly different words, and residents' use of folk medicines derived from the land and basic customs are dissimilar. For example: The word "tump" is common to many south Arkansas citizens, but virtually unknown in other parts of the state.

That gives us a broad overview of a geologically complicated state full of radically different people, and you are about to say: So what? This is so what: While our state is geologically scrambled and its people are certainly diverse, we all have certain goals in life that are similar. For me, to live a full life I want to take advantage of interactions with as many Arkansas people as I can, and while I'm at it, nose around in as much of this remarkable, scenic state as possible for a very selfish reason: Interaction with various professionals, working men and women, those who are gender challenged, and racially different groups of people enriches my life.

We should enjoy the diversity available to challenge our minds by being with politically opposed, racially mixed, or gender different people.

In the past, through our travels and business opportunities, we became good friends with a number of couples from the northeast, mainly New York City. As we got to know them better, I was struck by several things. First, food items: As we talked about some of our favorite foods while dining with them, it was obvious that while we knew and enjoyed all of the foods the New Yorkers did, their diet never included a whole host of foods we enjoy;

and when we talked about our son's wedding I was asked by one of the New Yorkers, "How many people did you have at the wedding?" I answered, "I guess it was about 500."

The New Yorker was shocked. "How do you know so many people?"

"Well, it's not that unusual to have a church full for a wedding." I replied.

We have an easy opportunity to get out of our ruts and nose around in the Delta or the Ouachitas, or go fishing on Champanolle Creek, or explore a cave in the Ozarks, or take in a concert in Little Rock, or eat hot tamales in the Delta. All of those destinations are an easy drive, and while you're crossing our wonderful state, make it a point to search out those little restaurant gems that will break your routine and add to your enjoyment

We have such a wide range of political animals here that I couldn't possibly name them all, but try interacting with some political opposites. And remember, our wonderful constitution has withstood a civil war and countless other challenges. So branch out, and while you're at it, take a Libertarian to lunch.

Email Richard Mason at

Editorial on 03/31/2019

Print Headline: Taking advantage of our surroundings


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