Have you ever been out taking pictures someplace that you’ve never been to before, enjoying the beauty of the place simply because it’s a beautiful place . . . and then someone starts giving you a glimpse into the history of the place? It gives a deeper perspective on the way you view the location. No longer is it simply a “random” landscape, or a pretty barn you happen to think looks picturesque . . . it’s a story. Sometimes it’s a happy story, and sometimes, not so much.
Back in August, I was in Arkansas for a Photography Field Day. The Buffalo National River is a beautiful area, and we had plenty of amazing scenes and sights to explore and photograph. (Here’s an album of some of the photos the students and I took while we were there!)
We were wrapping up a full day of shooting, and our sunset location hadn’t quite turned out to be what we had expected. Boxley Baptist Church had great potential, but the sun was setting in a different spot than was ideal, and it just wasn’t a good place for sunset at that time of year.
We took some photos there at the church, but with some golden-hour light still left, we felt that surely we could find something to take pictures of before heading back to our campsite for the night.
And so I got to thinking. While driving around in the area, I had noticed several old barns along the side of the road. Perhaps we could find one bathed in golden light?
But it turned out to be too late for that. We drove up and down Rt. 21 a couple miles, but the mountains on either side was not allowing much directional light to enter the valley.
And then we passed this barn. Yes, it was in the shade, but there was something about the way it was positioned in its surroundings that made me feel like we could still get a good picture of it.
It was a hard location to shoot: there was really only one attractive perspective on the barn, and there were houses and telephone wires to deal with. After taking some photos of just the barn, I suggested that Mr. Jones, the students’ father and our willing director of transportation, walk into the scene to add a unique people-element to the photo.
And suddenly it struck me. Why were all these barns around here abandoned anyways? And what about that dilapidated, multi-story shiplap structure up the road? It was all overgrown with vines and abandoned too. Why?
What Mr. Jones shared next completely changed the way I viewed my surroundings.
The Buffalo National River in Arkansas is the country’s first national river. In March of 1972, when Congress created the first National river, they took control of over 94,000 acres and 135 miles of the Buffalo River.
I’ve listened to first- and secondhand stories of these mountain people: “Memories! Precious indeed are the people and places of our past: feeding the calves in the barn lot, us kids looking for chicken eggs in the hay loft. Or those lazy summer days on the banks of the Buffalo River at the edge of the back pasture. Precious indeed! Grandma died, and when the Federal Government took the farm, Grandpa died on the inside too. Oh, the Buffalo National River is a grand thing. Thousands of tourists bring real money to our beloved river country. But at what cost?”
Bitterness at injustice is a cancer we can’t afford. To harbor bitterness is to “fail of the grace of God” and defiles many (Hebrews 12:15). The people of the Buffalo River Country in North Central Arkansas fought hard to keep their farms, but they lost them anyway. Only God can give us the comfort and grace to forgive those who bring hurt into our lives (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Forgiving isn’t forgetting…it’s partaking of Christ’s suffering. It’s the only way we can become far richer and usable in God’s hands despite the forces of undeserved pain and injustice.
I think of that place much differently now. It’s beautiful, but there’s a twinge of sadness there also. Could there not have been a better way?
We do not know what sad and unexpected things the future holds. What will our response be?
“Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.” -Hebrews 12:14-15.