The Observer goes to Sherwood Forest

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In an effort to jumpstart our lagging holiday spirit, The Observer decided to take in an area tradition. Last year, our first in the Natural State, we missed the fanciful display in Sherwood Forest. To compensate, we decided that this year we’d do it right, up close and personal. We took a friend and our bikes.

It wasn’t quite what we’d expected. Even though The Observer knew it was a driving tour, we didn’t anticipate crawling bumper-to-bumper traffic, spilling onto either side of a paved jogging path. In our imagination, we owned the forest. We careened through a glittering tree tunnel, shouting our breathless regard to the Merry Men, and only very occasionally veering aside to let a solitary car pass.

We had to make the best of things. We walked our bikes and, every few dozen feet, tossed them aside to dash through a field of tiny angels or trip over near-invisible suspension wires, leaving larger-than-life elves and beanstalks wavering our wake.

Upon successful completion (marked by Shiva-Santa, a towering, leering apparition that waves phallus-shaped limbs), it was nearly 9 p.m. — time for lights-out. Not wanting to get caught in the dark with Shiva-Santa and the Merry Men, we circled back and started pedaling. We didn’t make it far before realizing that the blathering law enforcement officer was indeed blathering at us. You can’t go that way, he shouted. So which way should we go? we shouted. The only way is the highway, he shouted. We can’t bike the highway. We have no lights and bad tubes, we shouted. Off our bikes and walking again, this time towards the cop, to negotiate our passage. How did we even get in? he thundered. We shrugged. No one had tried to stop us. He absolutely cannot let us go back through the display. What if a car hit us at 0.25 miles an hour? What if we go on the highway and a car hits us at 55 miles an hour, we countered.

That’s when he turned his back. Friend and Observer beamed at each other, mounted our bikes and tore through Sherwood Forest, thieves-out-of-Nottingham style. The cars were gone, the lights twinkled and blurred, and we flew down the hill. It was exactly how we had imagined it.

SAM_0053The Observer lives here.

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It’s been one of those besotted weeks, when nothing feels like it will ever be OK again. Actually, it’s been one of besotted years. Thank Julius it’s almost over. The Observer needed some perspective so, it being an unseasonably warm day — one of those brief respites before winter truly settles — we set off to take in the River Market district.

First we hit up a few galleries at the Arkansas Studies Institute. When we first came to the Fortress of Employment, we wiled away many a lunch hour there. But in recent months, we’ve let life get in the way of art — even though, not so long ago, we sort of thought life was art. Or maybe, art was life — some conflux of the two. Right now ASI is hosting a fabulous exhibit of student work. The colors, compositions, marks and textures, worked their magic. We’ve always sought solace in art — when we’re overwhelmed, bored, broke (lots of the best museums are free). Doesn’t take long, a mere half hour or so, ’til a Zen-like emptiness washes over us.

Next we meandered through the River Market, thrilled to discover that at Sweet Soul, it was $1 pie day. Among the heartier autumn offerings, they had lemon icebox. Lemon icebox — even the name is poetic. And the pie itself is so pale and pretty, so Southern and summery, topped with two smart rosettes of whipped cream. Our grandmother used to make it. Our mother adores it. Guess the Sweet Soul ladies figured this was the last time they could get away with it for a good five months. We’ll take it!

So we did, down to the river. We sat on the highest grassy point, letting the breeze whip our scarf, watching the water ripple in the wake of a speed boat, parting the reflection of the purple-slate clouds. The clouds were parting too, revealing a clean pastel sky. To our left, a little boy was trying to roll a barrel up a grassy hill. He pushed with both hands, made a bit of progress, and then dropped his arms, turned and ran, squealing gleefully as the barrel chased him down the hill. To our right, we saw a parking attendant in his purple polyester uniform, wandering Riverfront Park. He must also be on a late lunch. Below us, the rocks had sprouted fiery orange vines. Above us, a curious blue-jeaned couple was climbing the stairs to Junction Bridge. We watched them for a long while, as they rounded corners and shadowed beams, dipping in and out of our view.

They were the only people on the bridge, and they were having an excellent time. We couldn’t figure out if they were lovebirds or father and daughter. She was tiny, much shorter than he, and she kept flinging long dark hair. They chased each other. He snatched her up and swung her in a wide circle. She did a cartwheel, her body a quick, unexpected, upside-down X.

The pie was rich and creamy. We did our best, but we couldn’t put it all away. So The Observer got up and floated back to the Fortress of Employment. Those clouds that lifted, they weren’t all literal. We remembered our grandmother again, her flippantly delivered counsel when we were frustrated by some childish task. “This too shall pass,” she’d said.

The Observer lives here.