Sunday, November 4, 2012

Weekend in the Wilderness

Serendipity is discussing Moldovan farming with Mark Twain until 2am.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Last weekend, Jon and I decided to head out of town for a fall getaway. It had been weeks since we'd left the greater Memphis area (tragedy of all tragedies!), and we had Jon's birthday on October 24th and our 5th first anniversary on November 3rd to celebrate.

When discussing where to go, we quickly realized that we didn't necessarily want to do anything--we just wanted to relax. We thought about rural Arkansas, but we went there a couple of years ago. Northwest Kentucky was a possibility, but not too serious of one. The Smoky Mountains in eastern Tennessee/western North Carolina were too far away. So, when Jon suggested a lodge in Lesterville, Missouri, I was all ears.

Jon had mentioned Wilderness Lodge when he first heard of it several months ago from one of the farmers in southeast Missouri affected by the 2011 Mississippi River flood. This farmer, who Jon has gotten to know through his work in the Birds Point/New Madrid Floodway, owns it, along with his family, and of course, highly recommended it.

I didn't want to get my hopes too high because by the time the decision was made to check it out, it was already Wednesday and we wanted to leave that Friday. Luckily for us, however, there was a cabin available, so after work on Friday, we hit the road for Lesterville.

Four hours in a car isn't bad, although it isn't exactly fun, either. Nevertheless, our stay started off on a great note as the staff packed up the dinner we had missed earlier in the evening so we could still eat a delicious home-cooked meal of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and salad. We snuggled into bed shortly thereafter without worrying about an alarm clock on the other end.

The next morning we awoke with the sun streaming through our window, along with the promise of breakfast. We bundled up for the walk to the dining lodge--fall had finally decided to show up--and made it just in time for fruit, french toast, and bacon. Despite the chill in the air, we took advantage of the nice weather and took a walk down to the Black River and along one of the hiking trails.

Obviously, this was very taxing, so we decided to head back to our cabin. No TV, no Wifi, and no cell reception resulted in the perfect conditions for catching up on some reading. We sat out on the screened-in deck of our cabin for a bit, until even that was too strenuous, at which point we took a nap. Our jam-packed afternoon alternated between these two activities: reading and dozing. Not too shabby of a Saturday.

When dinnertime rolled around, we headed back to the dining lodge, with a detour at the bar in the adjoining room. The aforementioned owner/farmer is known to tend bar on the weekends, and Jon had hoped to see him and say hi. But, alas, he wasn't there. Fortunately, this did not distract us from beverages and the bar's "stinky cheese night."

After a drink, we wandered next door for another delicious dinner, this time consisting of pork steak, grilled vegetables, and chocolate pie. Oh, and the evening's entertainment of voting in the pumpkin-carving contest on pumpkins created during the afternoon activity.

Just as we were finishing up, an older man with crazy white walked through the dining room with a sense of authority. Jon quickly identified him as the owner. What happened next was a site to behold. When Jon caught his attention, he spun around and gave Jon a great, big bear hug. I liked him instantly.

Lester was indeed on bar duty, although he was just getting into town and starting a bit later than normal. It turns out that he had stayed in Cape Girardeau, where he lived during the week, an extra night for an event at Southeast Missouri State University where he portrayed Mark Twain. It was not difficult to imagine him in this role. Just like the legendary Missouri author, Lester turned out to be quite the storyteller.

Not forgetting the importance of his job, Lester brought us some drinks and launched into the story of how a farmer became owner of Wilderness Lodge. To sum up, his wife is both a) extremely hard-working and b) very persuasive. While Lester was initially resistant to the idea, even he acknowledged the significance of a man named Lester owning a lodge in Lesterville. Talk about fate.

This topic was one of many discussed sitting cozily by the fire until the wee hours of the morning. Jon and Lester talked a lot of shop: floods, levees, and the river. Just as it was clear that each man greatly respected the other (even though Jon blew up the levy that flooded Lester's farm), it was also clear how important the Mississippi River is to Lester. He poetically described it as being part of his soul. Mark Twain, remember?

The conversation took lots of twists and turns, though throughout remained lively (glasses just kept getting refilled). At one point we were discussing politics, whereas a few minutes prior, Lester had been telling us about his Peace Corps service. Later, we were comparing college alma maters. Teaching came up, as did family. And of course, Lester's time in the former Soviet state of Moldova advising farmers. Normally, I would have found a conversation about Moldova interesting in and of itself, but since I had just read an entire chapter on Moldova in the book I had read all afternoon, The Geography of Bliss (spoiler: Moldova is not exactly happy), I recognized this story as the cosmic connection that it was. Maybe I was just really tired.

But it was totally worth the late night for some fascinating company. What a wonderfully unexpected surprise. Our lazy afternoon suddenly seemed like the perfect preparation for staying up until 2am.

Needless to say, we went to bed immediately upon returning to our cabin. We made it back to the dining lodge just in time for breakfast casserole the next morning, and then sadly had to leave our cabin.

All in all, it was a wonderfully relaxing weekend, and one that we would like to repeat. We wholeheartedly recommend Wilderness Lodge to all, but particularly those in Missouri (especially St. Louis since it's only a couple of hours away). Great accomodations, great food, great personality.