Stalking Vol 2: The Bridge of Reason
"What's the last thing left in this world that touches your heart?"
"That's where you convalesce. What about Otis?" she said, referring to a dog she had used
for a lesson about social conformation.
It took me a moment to tie my love of dogs to a job I had worked in a culture more similar
to mine. "Arkansas?" I said, perplexed.
"Recount that job for me."
In October of 1981, we were on a story involving the mid-American Bible Belt. One of o ur
stops was fifty miles from Little Rock, where shacks built from crates and aluminum sheeting
spotted the countryside. The roads were narrow and bumpy from lack of maintenance, and
domestic and wildlife carcasses. Otherwise, there was a spectacular beaut y as the leaves of
autumn turned the forests to fiery hues; the air seemed to have a sweet flavor.
Our destination was a parish where the Baptist minister was known as a gifted speaker, and
purportedly a prime example of how religion ruled the back-country. O ur quest was to document
whatever we found in this regard: we expected a high degree of incongruity between the theory
of brotherhood and social equality, as represented by the lifestyles of the idealists who existed on
the funds of the practitioners. And we did.
The church was nestled within a forest off the main road. Evidently, this modern structure of
wood and glass, large enough for a small city to take pride in, was a central point of reference—
the poor man's Vatican situated in the middle of its most needy followers.
As impressive as its elegant exterior was to the eye, the inside was pristine. Deep pile, blue
carpeting ran throughout and between highly polished pews, surrounded by three balconies. The
podium was professionally lit, innocuously wired for sound, and positioned higher than
necessary for the congregation to see the preacher from any seat. His elevated status reflected his
relationship to God, as it is in most places of worship.
At the rectory, we asked where we might find the preacher.
"Home. You cain't miss it," one of his minions said.
Another one thought to describe its location to us…
At our first stop for additional directions, we heard, "Yu'all, go anudder bit ta-thu birch,
thane turn that-a-way at the sign. Up yonder you'll see it."
Prior to our second stop for directions, we learned that internationally recognized aids to
travelers did not carry the same meaning in the Arkansas out-back that they did when I had
passed my driver's test in Toronto. Stop signs, for example, were regarded as targets, whereas
Yield signs were overt challenges, and possibly a rite of passage into manhood—or the great
beyond. No signage at some crossroads remained a perilous mystery.
After our third stop for directions, our British producer, Neville, cracked the cultural code
that had taken us on an otherwise beautiful drive in the countryside. ‘That-a-way’ was the
direction one nods their head, and not necessarily the direction in which one points—the hand is
often used to scratch a body part at the conclusion of a sentence. ‘Up yonder’ is color
commentary that bore no direct relationship to inclines or distance, other than to imply ‘not
‘Anudder bit’ turned out to be roughly a half mile.
The birch tree was an unmarked historical reference point, certainly KKK related. As it was
one tree among many birches, it also rendered the phrase, "You cain't miss it," as portentous an
utterance in the southern USA as it is everywhere else in the known universe—in time, it would