It has been a year the likes of which none of us could have imagined on Jan. 1.
I had a spring without a trip to the Arkansas Derby and a fall without a Battle of the Ravine. The crowd at our house tomorrow will be smaller than usual, but we have plenty for which to give thanks, even during a worldwide pandemic.
I'm thankful to live in this place called Arkansas. I'm thankful to have what I consider the best job in the state, one that allows me to visit with colorful characters, attend festivals, eat in locally owned restaurants and then write about what I've discovered. Here's hoping for a successful vaccine so the events that define our state can resume. And here's to those who work each day to keep their fellow Arkansans healthy and safe. I'm thankful for so much, though much has been lost in 2020.
I'm thankful to live in a place where I can call the Hogs in Fayetteville, watch the thoroughbreds at Hot Springs, go to a winery near Altus, climb Pinnacle Mountain, visit one of the most beautiful state capitols in the country, and fish for smallmouth bass on the Kings River of north Arkansas.
I'm thankful to live in a place where I can combine fried chicken with spaghetti at the Venesian Inn at Tontitown, and drink the mineral water at the Mountain Valley headquarters in downtown Hot Springs. I'm thankful to live in a place where I can read the Civil War markers at DeValls Bluff before having some of the country's best pork barbecue at Craig's, tour the Johnny Cash boyhood home at Dyess, see the English Tudor architecture at Wilson, and spend the night at the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs while thinking about ghosts.
I'm thankful to live in a place where I can see people wearing kilts at the Scottish Festival at Lyon College in Batesville, attend a meeting in the hidden room behind the kitchen at Doe's Eat Place in Little Rock, watch the toad races during Toad Suck Daze in Conway, and have a big breakfast at The Pancake Shop in Hot Springs. I'm thankful to live in a place where I can watch the rice harvest near Weiner on a fall day, go to Garvan Woodland Gardens on Lake Hamilton when the tulips are blooming in the spring, attend the St. Patrick's Day parade in Hot Springs, and have my photo taken while straddling the Arkansas-Texas line at the federal courthouse in downtown Texarkana.
I'm thankful to live in a place where I can attend the Gillett Coon Supper each January and then show up a few weeks later for the annual Slovak Oyster Supper. I'm thankful to live in a place where I can be part of the all-tomato luncheon during the Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival at Warren, get a room at Mather Lodge atop Petit Jean, tour the Lakeport Plantation near Lake Village, eat a slice of melon at the Hope Watermelon Festival, and walk the boardwalk through the swamp between Brinkley and Marvell to see the Louisiana Purchase Monument.
I'm thankful to live in a place where I can cross the U.S. 62 bridge over Norfork Lake on a clear day, go kayaking on the Mulberry River, visit Judge Parker's courtroom at the Fort Smith National Historic Site, and attend the Fourth of July community picnics at Piggott and Corning. I'm thankful to live in a place where I can fish for bream on a south Arkansas oxbow during the day, gig frogs on the same lake at night, and watch the cardboard-boat races at Greers Ferry Lake before heading for dinner at the iconic Red Apple Inn on Eden Isle.
I'm thankful to live in a place where I can take a boat onto Grassy Lake in southwest Arkansas to look for alligators and sit outside at Basin Spring Park in Eureka Springs on a Saturday evening while enjoying live music. I'm thankful to live in a place where I can catch an outdoor concert in the Murphy Arts District at El Dorado, have a catfish dinner at Dondie's on the banks of the White River at Des Arc, and buy a stack of books about Arkansas at the Dickson Street Bookshop in Fayetteville.
I'm thankful to live in a place where I can try to finish a tamale spread at McClard's in Hot Springs, attend the King Biscuit Blues Festival at Helena, eat a turkey leg at the Arkansas State Fair in Little Rock, and sit on the east side of Mount Nebo while watching the sun rise over the Arkansas River Valley.
I'm thankful to live in a place where I can dig for diamonds at the Crater of Diamonds State Park near Murfreesboro, buy strawberry shortcake in the spring at the Bulldog Restaurant in Bald Knob, gather wild blackberries in the summer alongside a country road, and buy peaches that were picked earlier in the day while attending the Johnson County Peach Festival at Clarksville. I'm thankful to live in a place where I can spend a summer Saturday morning at the farmers markets on the squares in Fayetteville and Bentonville as the locals walk their dogs.
I'm thankful that I can take a slow walk through history at Mount Holly Cemetery in Little Rock, visit a sand blow in northeast Arkansas while contemplating the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-12, and get a sunburn while sitting on a White River sandbar. I'm thankful to live in a place where I can attend a Battle of the Ravine football game between Ouachita Baptist University and Henderson State University each November in Arkadelphia, watch the sun rise on a winter morning from a duck blind on the Grand Prairie, and sample dozens of versions of duck gumbo at Stuttgart on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
I'm thankful that this pandemic eventually will end, allowing these opportunities to enjoy Arkansas to resume.
Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.