Thoughts from Rivercliff, Lakeview AR

4 minute read

This was supposed to be the annual fishing trip with Dad. Every year, for the past 20 or so, we’ve taken a trip to Arkansas to trout fish and play golf, often with David McCaskill who was an an old friend of Dad’s and mine. David passed away last year so we made the trip in 2022 with the whole family. This year though, it was going to be just Dad and I again. Unfortunately, he got the flu this week.

So, late in the game with a paid for cabin and no travel insurance, plans changed for the fishing trip. Mara is out of school and the kid had one last day of kindergarten we figured she could miss. So we piled into the truck with a load of stuff and a new three month old puppy for the seven hour plus drive to Lakeview, AR. In the past, we’d stayed at Stetson’s on the White which is a really nice lodge type place with a really nice price tag to go along with it. Last year, we booked a home through VRBO on the river which was really nice and not any less expensive than Stetson’s.

Unfortunately, when I booked the place a month ago for Memorial Day weekend, pickings were pretty thin already. Stetson’s may have had availability but this year, I didn’t want to spend that kind of money. Luckily, I found Rivercliff which is a small outfit with four cabins on the White River east of the state park.

The economy of the White River tourism industry is in many ways a clash of a nostalgic past and a more consumerist future. There are plenty of newer homes listed on VRBO and others with four or more bedrooms, granite countertops, outdoor fireplaces and the works. Of course, it’s nice to stay in these sorts of places. However, they come with $300 a night price tags which for a four night guys fishing trip can add up fast for amenities that might not be fully appreciated.

On the other end of the spectrum are places like Rivercliff. The cabins here were probably built in the last century. They have beds in the living area. They have one small bathroom. They have stoves that may be older than I am. In today’s consumerist economy, they are certainly outdated and have lots of rough edges like the fridge door only opening a third of the way because when they buit the kitchen 40 years ago, fridges were a great deal smaller.

Yet, from the substantial deck, the birdsong is still as vibrant as it is at places twice as expensive. The owner here has gone out of the way to encourage birds, installing several purple martin houses which are filled to be brim along with feeders on every deck. We saw deer out the kitchen window yesterday morning and again just now, drawn in by a salt lick the owner must have placed for just such occastions. The river still flows along just as peacefully as anywhere else.

Yesterday, as I fished by the river, H fished some (until her patience and attention ran out), waded into a 45 degree river up to her chest, watched a baby bird fall out of its nest several days too early for its fledgling flight, construct an elaborate home out of rocks, leaves and sticks for the dandelions she’d picked, held a three pound brown trout I’d managed to catch, watched her dog try to eat that baby bird, and splashed her unwilling mama with that 45 degree water. The day before, we went to Bull Shoals Caverns, a place more reminiscent of my childhood in age and experience, than her’s. We bought cookies from the Bull Shoals First Baptist Bake Sale which had set up in front of Harp’s.

These are things few kids (or adults for that matter) get now, on vacation or otherwise. In a world of digital entertainment, this is all so insufferably slow. An experience of nature, a feeling of community, the slower, more rough but more rewarding types of entertainment. We’ll wonder if the baby bird made it (managed to save it somehow from the puppy but its odds seem slim). H will ask if we’ll have trout for dinner (so far I’ve been reticent to clean fish which is probably another interesting line of thinking to explore related to the American Consumer).

It is slower here, something I increasingly find both difficult to adjust to and despately needing. It is harder and harder to put the phone away or even down momentarily. But this type of vacation, with beautiful outdoors, birdsong and frankly, terrible internet and cell coverage, almost demands it. I’m nostalgic at times like these for the vacations I took as a kid. We didn’t travel often but when we did, it was to places like this, rustic cabins on rivers or lakes or at family reunions where you still mostly cooked your own meals and were entertained as much by contingency as anything else. A random trip to a caverns because there was a 40 year old sign beside of the road. An outdoor life museum because someone left a flyer in the cabin at some point. There were no plans. And from that lack of plans comes memories of cold trips across lakes to fish or telling the game warden that no, in fact my dad and his friend had caught four fish in the lake we weren’t supposed to be fishing in, not one small one.

Today we have to get up and drive the seven hours back to Texas. I’m already missing the river and the birds and the cold mornings. I’m ready to return to something far away from computers. But I’m thankful for the time with my family at a rustic cabin on a river I love and cherish each moment like that I get.