On a drive, a chance encounter left a lasting impression

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The breathtaking view on a drive through the Buffalo region.

While driving through Arkansas’ picturesque Buffalo River valley, I spotted an elderly man sitting on the porch of an old-fashioned house perched on a hill.

In the split second I saw him, he caught my attention. I wondered about his story as he looked out from the peaceful porch, across the road, and over the shadow-shaded hills that have helped make the Buffalo River a destination.

I was so struck over what his story might be — if nothing more than simply how he came to live in this place of beauty that draws people from everywhere — that I turned around.

I drove back by; still he sat, assuredly silent. I wanted to speak with him, but didn’t know what excuse I could give. It seemed a bit odd to pull up at his house, park my car and saunter up to the porch without anything other than “You look interesting.”

So instead, I looked across the road at a statuesque old barn, likely here for many years before the Buffalo’s beauty was as well-known. I thought I could ask to take a photograph of it, and that might lead to a conversation.

So I pulled up, walked to the porch and asked to take the picture.

Clad in a blue button-down shirt and glasses, he was leaning back in an old wooden rocking chair. A walker folded near him, he was armed with not one — but two — flyswatters as he watched the world pass in front of his eyes.

I gave my request and he said, sure, I could take photos. So I did, and I asked if the barn had been there for many years. He said yes. I asked if he also was from the area; he immediately specified that locally, there are “here’s and come-here’s” and he falls in the latter category, although he has lived much of his advanced age in this very spot.

Our conversation didn’t reveal anything earth-shattering. I heard a few details of his life; that he spends much time on the porch, watching the seasons change and the flow of traffic that has become much more frequent than when he moved there in the first place. He spoke of his support as an “anti-dammer,” back when the Buffalo was threatened years ago, and his support of establishing a park. We talked a bit about farming and flowers and of the good hiking opportunities nearby.

I soon said goodbye and navigated onward around the hills and hollows and sun-dappled fields. But for a few minutes, lives intersected that likely will never meet again.

I asked him he might allow me to write about his life, but he preferred I not. So instead, I have hopefully shared enough for a taste of a meaningful moment, but not so much as to give him away.

And regardless of “who” he is, he reminds me, once again, that we all have a story to tell. And we should be grateful for the ones we’re privileged to come in contact with, even for a moment.

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