The town itself is set to the southwest of a remarkable geologic oddity. The easternmost natural salt flat in all of North America, which is situation in the County of Creek, State of Arkansas.
Nowadays, the flat isn’t much to speak of. About a 1/2 acre of shimmering crystal, still lazily gathering in a stretch of shimmering crystals. Some wickedly deep and salty spring has been gurgling it’s way toward the light of Arkansas for who knows how long. When the scientists came, mostly graduate student’s from Little Rock, they could gather nothing but salt itself, with some other minerals, maybe nickel? True, when they sent their long threads of test and measure down into the earth, scraping away samples, they came away with nothing but salt, the same layer as they could’ve gotten above ground. They drilled with big needles and studied striations and could only estimate that the flats were very, very old. Some number that reached into deep zeroes, millions, billions? Nobody is really sure anymore.
It was those first theses, back in the forties, that got the land surrounding the flat, including all of Saltville itself, turned into a National Monument, to what? Well, no one is sure about that either.
See, salt used to be big business, back before refrigerators, if you know what I mean? Yes, Saltville was – and is – county seat of Creek County, named for the fetid brackish waters of Still Creek, which was the first thing that the settlers saw upon crossing over the eastern knob what we now call Vertigo Point.
Had they turned around and looked behind them when they stood upon the grassy knollish knob they’d have swooned a little at the sight of the flat, which they had passed about a 1/2 mile south of and had not seen laterally.
The slightly elevated position of The Point, which is what teenagers call ol‘ Vertigo, which is what the old people call what is specifically a grassy hill overlooking a slight dip in the land that is iced in sparkling salt, all year round.
The reflection of the sky and a slight vertical jog in the topography make the landscape double up on you. Sort of like getting hit in the temple, your eyes cross a little and you shake your head and then your brain can make sense of the world again.
It a trick of the salt. All those millions of tiny crystals reflecting in all different directions. That’s why people sometimes fall in love here. The salt makes the world look different for a minute, and it’s scary the first time you see it. Like the world is a mirror cleaved in two.
It takes human brains between 5 and 23 seconds to sort out the image created by Vertigo Point. (Insert footnote citing thin-haired and bespectacled graduate neuropsychology student , thesis titled: Optical Illusion and Infatuation, pp. 37 – 42. 1994?)
During the time that stretches between the wobbly dumbfoundedness of first view and some tenuous cognitive grasp of how what you see before you may be possible, people experience an increase in heartrate and a general slacking of the facial muscles, their jaws drop and they look for a moment like a confused child.
It seems that if two people happen to be wired in a way that causes their perception of Vertigo to be somewhat in sync, well: that’s love.
I met my wife at Vertigo Point. We were the two rangers assigned to the monument, which is one of the lesser known wonders of the country in general.
It seems Saltville is not as intriguing as say, the Grand Canyon. This is obvious; It is a matter of scale. The most effective monuments wow people in a uniform way, our salt flat does not. Why, in recent years, I have seen busloads of children stand at Vertigo and, after the most brief observation, simply shrug and ask about lunch, something other to do than look at a bunch of salt.
However, some people are moved, even deeply, by the sight of the flat reflecting the sky. The smoothing of the horizon into seamless. These are the folks who stay.
Usually, they’re half-mad.
Really, who in their right mind would move to a town because of a reflection? They say the image cast onto and off of the flat is never the same twice. Which makes sense, given the variability of the sky.
What does not make sense is how some folks are so quick to make something out of nothing. As if this little town, with it’s little flat of shining salt – as if it holds some mystery.
It is what you make of it, this is what I always say. Always. My wife, hasn’t worked since the Fed cut the funding for one of the positions at the Vertigo monument. Now there is only me. Has been only me for years.
At least five or so?
show details 10:31 PM (13 hours ago)
It is strange how time runs into itself making our lives feel timeless.
My wife says that it is timelessness that she is trying to capture in her art. Things that don’t go away. The first time she said this to me, about three (?) years ago, Bonny had been gone for almost a year and my wife – have I told you her name?
Suzanne walked away from me right after the words left her mouth. Her eyes were spilling over and she looked bitter as hell. Then she turned on her heel and walked back across the yard to her studio, where she had practically lived since the accident.
She leaves the studio now, but rarely enters the house, other the kitchen, the bathroom, the room we share but that is often occupied by only me. I fall asleep, usually too early, and when I wake up she is there – deep in sleep, her face untroubled.
I kiss her forehead goodbye when I leave for the monument and by the time I get home in the evening she is gone – volunteering at the Saltville Senior Rec. Center on Monday and Thursday nights, meetings down in SAD (the Art District) most Tuesdays and some Fridays, in her studio at all other times.
On the weekends, I am sure to be out in the yard, in the garden usually by the time she gets up, and I give her time to silently walk across the yard, pretend not to hear the screech on screen door springs as The Studio opens and then closes just as quickly.
She is quiet as a mouse, my wife. Even at meetings, she hardly says a word. This is what a couple of folks have told me.
“It was a bunny! A bunny!” The woman was slumped over the hood of her car. Her head cradled in her hands, elbows on the hot metal. Her voice was ragged and occasionally she’d howl.
Our daughter’s blood was on her hands and I saw how it was drying so quickly.
It looked like a burn on the back of her hand.
The police came and the stunned scene on West 2nd Street became a blur of sirens, lights, clattering wheels and radio static.
And that’s when it all came apart.
show details 11:48 AM (17 minutes ago)
People have stopped asking if she is okay. Perhaps they finally figured out what a stupid and awful question that was.
Now, when the neighbors walk by or stop and visit with me in the garden, if Suzanne happens to cross the yard or stand in the doorway of The Studio for a moment, not looking at us at all, but at the northwestern eaves of our house, where starlings have nested the past couple of years.
The neighbors always nod to her, the young couple nodding with small rigid smiles and the woman’s hand raised in a shy, half-mast wave. Her husband seems to keep his hands in his pockets an awful lot.
Mrs. Kinesky, from the corner, if she is speaking with me about tomatoes and happens to see Suzanne, nods quiet and quick and with a surprising amount of reverence.
Suzanne doesn’t ever seem to acknowledge the young neighbors, Jennifer and Dylan Stopp, owners of a small herd of Golden Retrievers, who lay – on hot summer days – panting on their small front porch. Beasts. They moved here last year, after Saltville made America’s Best Small Towns. They are from Little Rock and pack their dogs, all of them, into the Explorer most weekends for the three hour drive back “home”. I don’t think they’ll stay.
Some do, some don’t.
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