I am finally moving into territory that is truly unfamiliar. I have spent no time in the Ozarks or Appalachia. Unfortunately my knowledge of them is pretty much limited to watching “Winter’s Bone”. (Please feel free to offer book suggestions set in the region.) What always bothered me about stories I hear from the Ozarks is the unusual dependence on squirrel for meat. I imagined the scrawny rodents flitting through my yard at home. By the time it was shot, I couldn’t imagine any meat being left. Forget Africa. These people must be starving! It makes perfect sense now that I am here because the squirrels here are HUGE! I am talking the Costco variety, extra large and a lot of them. As I ran through the forest this morning, I was frightened several times by the sound of a large, wild beast moving through the underbrush making an immense racket only to find that it was a damn squirrel. Let me just say, I don’t see them making the endangered species list any time soon unless they start dying of diabetes.
I also did not know what to expect from Hot Springs. As a national park right downtown, it has a very urban feel to it. The architecture ranges from turn of the century to downright modern and lacks cohesion. The trails are beautifully maintained and perfect for running but at no point was I out of earshot or sight of humanity. It seems more like a large urban green space rather than a national park. It grated against my perception of what a national park should be, preserved, remote and having a unique quality. Why had this become a national park? Perhaps a late choice to preserve it before civilization intruded on it any further?
In fact I was wrong. This little park was set aside in the 1830s and received official park status in the 1920s. Its distinctive waters were considered to have healing properties for many years. I have no doubt that a bath in 1890 before germ theory and proper hygiene probably did “cure” a few things. Doctors began to prescribe a regimen of baths for people to treat an assortment of ales. The hot springs were considered not just a natural phenomena but also a national health facility. The government stepped in to make sure that access to the healing powers of the spa were available to all, even those that could not pay.
Not surprisingly, with the advent of modern medicine the baths went into some decline. They are now opened under the auspices of luxury and nostalgia. I hate to get political but it’s hard not to miss the history lesson. At one point, this place was vital to the health of the nation and EVERYONE was to have access to it. It is remarkable that nearly two centuries ago they were able to recognize the importance of healthcare for all no matter how questionable the methods may have been. Now much fighting and money is spent arguing who should have access to care and how much care they should get. Maybe medicine isn’t making so much progress after all. My conclusion is that the health of the nation truly is and should be a national treasure. Long live the Hot Springs!