OPINION | REX NELSON: Thankful for Arkansas

We've largely been able to put the pandemic behind us, and for that I'm thankful. I'm also thankful the political season is over. Too many of our campaigns in Arkansas were dark ones that sought to divide rather than unite us as a people. We can hope for better in the years ahead and pray for a time when Arkansas candidates talk about Arkansas issues rather than the nationalized hot-button silliness we were forced to endure this year.

Thanksgiving remains my favorite holiday. Those who know me know I like to eat, watch football games and exchange stories with friends and family members. And that's what Thanksgiving is all about at our house.

I remain thankful to live in this place called Arkansas. I have the best job in the state, one that allows me the opportunity to visit with colorful characters, attend festivals, eat in locally owned restaurants and then write about what I've discovered along the highways and county roads. I'm thankful for good health, an understanding wife, and bosses who let me continue the Arkansas road trips.

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 to live in a place where 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 on a summer afternoon. I'm thankful I can spend a late spring Saturday morning at the farmers markets on the squares in Fayetteville and Bentonville as the locals walk their dogs.

I'm thankful to live in a place where I can dig for diamonds at 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 take a boat onto Grassy Lake in southwest Arkansas to look for alligators or sit outside at Basin Spring Park in Eureka Springs on a Saturday evening while enjoying live music. I'm thankful I can catch an outdoor concert at the Murphy Arts District in 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 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 Fort Smith National Historic Site, and attend a Fourth of July community picnic at Piggott or Corning. I'm thankful I can fish for bream on a south Arkansas oxbow during the day and gig frogs on the same lake at night.

I'm thankful to live in a place where I can watch cardboard-boat races at Greers Ferry Lake before heading for dinner at the iconic Red Apple Inn on Eden Isle or at Janssen's Lakefront Restaurant, another Arkansas classic. I'm thankful I can attend the Gillett Coon Supper in 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 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 downtown Hot Springs. I'm thankful I can watch the rice harvest near Weiner in the fall and go to Garvan Woodland Gardens on Lake Hamilton when the tulips are blooming in the spring.

I'm thankful to live in a place where I can 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 I can combine fried chicken with spaghetti at the Venesian Inn in Tontitown, and drink the mineral water at the Mountain Valley headquarters in Hot Springs.

I'm thankful to live in a place where I can read the Civil War markers at DeValls Bluff before having a barbecue sandwich at Craig's. I'm thankful I can tour the Johnny Cash boyhood home at Dyess, see the English Tudor architecture at Wilson, spend the night at the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, call the Hogs in Fayetteville, watch the thoroughbreds at Hot Springs, go to a winery near Altus, climb Pinnacle Mountain, and fish for smallmouth bass on the Caddo River.

I'm thankful for Arkansas and her people.

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.