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OPINION | MIKE MASTERSON: A tree in time

by Mike Masterson | May 23, 2021 at 1:46 a.m.

Kenneth Hubbard Jr., O.D., a widely respected optometrist with Harrison's Heartland Eye Clinic, flicked off the overhead lights and flashed another at close range into my eyes. He was searching for possible tell-tale damage caused by diabetes.

But that didn't capture my attention nearly as much as the harrowing story he began to tell. Kenneth was 12 when he'd come oh so close to likely meeting his maker far too soon while standing atop a slope that dropped off a cliff about 200 feet above the Buffalo River.

He'd gone to the 200-acre family farm that day and decided to explore a bit alone as he had done many times before while his father took care of farm business.

He said he'd come to the top of a slope leading perhaps 15 feet downhill and tried leaning over to try to glimpse the river meandering directly below. He was doing what most adventuresome and curious boys would do with time to kill in such a pristine area.

Suddenly, his feet slipped on matted pine needles and gravity dictated there was one way to go, downward, and most likely over the cliff onto whatever waited beneath.

Terrified, he'd slid several feet before noticing a single small cedar tree with a trunk about three inches wide growing along the slope. In scooting past, Ken reached out and wrapped his right hand tightly around the trunk. Thankfully, he could hold on, and that was enough to brake his slide. Grasping tightly, he managed to pull himself closer to the tree, then slowly began crawling his way back to the top while trying to avoid slipping again on the needles. He had been only a matter of feet away from what could well have been a fatal drop.

He told me he reflects on those seconds and the events that unfolded as they did as a definite divine intervention in his young life.

"There really wasn't time to stop and think about what to do. It all happened so fast," he said. "I just saw that single little tree close by me and did what anyone would do. I grabbed for it and hung on."

Yet it can't be denied there were many unrealistic "perhapses" associated with his experience.

For instance, perhaps it was a mere coincidence the tree happened to be growing precisely where the young man began to slide. Perhaps it was coincidence this single tree could even grow on the slope.

Perhaps he was just fortunate the tree was on his right rather than left side when he is right-handed, which enabled him to grasp and hold on.

Perhaps it was good fortune that he was able to successfully climb back to the top without again slipping on the accumulated pine needles.

Some undoubtedly would make such arguments. Yet for me and the good doctor, the experience amounted to a GodNod that saved him from an almost certain fatal fall off the cliff.

Today, Dr. Hubbard sees and helps many patients, including me.

And that could well have been part of a longer-term plan for Kenneth Hubbard's life, a life that could easily have ended much too soon without ever having had the chance to help anyone.

Walkers find love

Two Black friends who decided in January to walk across the country from Pensacola, Fla., to Vancouver, Wash., chose to direct their route through Harrison because of its undeserved reputation as a racist community.

They decided to experience the truth for themselves rather than relying on secondhand reports and rumors from extremist sources. And each agreed they encountered a community nothing like what's been depicted on social media.

The men did discover residents who greeted them with kindness and acceptance. "We get here and there's nothing but love," Duke White told the Harrison Daily Times.

White and walking partner British Malone said they prayed before beginning their trek, which has been slowed by occasional bad weather and painful blisters on White's feet.

Both agreed they've met with more love than hate thus far, and specifically mentioned Harrison. They'd seen the social media video last summer by a California videographer using a handful of Walmart patrons to portray Harrison as "the most racist town in America." They'd even been warned to avoid the town.

But, White said, "As soon as we crossed the [city limits] line, citizens came out and started showing love and talking about peace."

He said one can learn a lot about a community when people are willing to defend and fight for peace.

White faulted the media for much of the turmoil and hate roiling the nation today, saying it has a responsibility to show the balanced truth. "The media loves the extremes and ignores the balance," he said.

He said his experience has shown that when people on the extremes actually talk, they invariably find common ground.

White and Malone verified what I've been writing about my hometown for years despite sustained media efforts to paint the community in a negative light. Harrison today consists largely of values-based people who readily welcome others.


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

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