Vol. II, No. 2, Fall 1988


OzarksWatch Society

In our last issue, we raised the possibility of establishing an association of readers called "The OzarksWatch Society," and asked for reaction to the idea. You have responded, and your replies have ranged from supportive to enthusiastic. One reader even sent in an unsolicited check to pay for his membership.

The term "OzarksWatch" was coined in 1987 at the outset of this publishing venture to convey a certain approach to the Ozarks region which would be elaborated and exemplified in print. Now, in proposing the word as the name for a new support society, the question of precise meaning is more than rhetorical. What kind of "watch society" will it be?

"Watch" is a more urgent word than "look," "view," or "observe." Words with watch--"watchdog," "watchman," "keep watch," etc.--all mean watch out] In the Ozarks, as in other regional frames of reference, "watch" often implies "watch out for danger to the environment." The term "environmentalism" itself connotes wary watchfulness. Do we propose a watchdog society?

Yes and no--but mostly no. Our watchfulness is more in the humanistic sense: we watch primarily to advance knowledge, illuminate issues and promote understanding. We hope to enhance the power of watching itself, to the end that watchers all see better and sense more intelligently the total regional environment of which we are a part. "The environment" as humans actually experience it is a seamless web of nature and culture, including heritage. Too little is known, and even less is understood, about the Ozarks as a total environment so defined.

But we do need to watch out. Models for exploiting the Ozarks at great environmental cost are well known to most of us--strategies to "save" the region by increasing jobs and profit, as well as others to "save" it by decreasing them. An acquaintance from another rural region, one now much changed by urbanization and development, urged stopping that process in the Ozarks. Wages should be kept low, tourism discouraged, and modernization dampered in every possible way. Otherwise, the scenery might be spoiled and the "natives" might be changed! Such a watch strategy, if it were to be actually implemented, would be exploitative rather than conservative, especially of the region's human resources, an elitist agendum that envisions an Ozarks "kept" for appreciative connoisseurs, a pleasant park peopled with quaint but genial folk who are at once amusing and inexpensive to hire.

Not to be too harsh, though; my friend would be shocked at this disparagement of her well intentioned, and as she would think, noble, recommendation. Her watchfulness was merely ill-informed, romantic, and naive. It was also innocently self-serving (and vastly unpopular with her "natives"). On the other hand, the 1950 proposal to build a hydrogen bomb plant in the Irish Wilderness (WatchNote, Spring, 1988 OzarksWatch) seems equally naive and near-sighted in the other direction.

The sentiment, the anxiety, and the urgency behind such extreme ideas--folk-park or hydrogen bomb works--deserve watchfulness.

Specific plans for an OzarksWatch Society are still being formulated, but the four general objectives set forth in the Summer, 1988 issue still seem appropriate. The Society would:

--Be an advocate for the Ozarks, but without embracing narrow special interest position's.

--Be concerned with a number of issues affecting the region, including quality of life, environment, economy, society, preservation of heritage, and education.

--Explore (and perhaps help influence) Ozarks futures from the context of Ozarks present and past.

--Plan ways of sharing our knowledge, ideas, and information with a broader audience.

Society activities might include study tours, annual conferences, and training workshops for projects such as oral history, historical document collecting, and historic building surveys. On this page is a note from Becky Quinn, Office for Continuing Education, inquires about your interest in a study tour. Prompted by the many responses to the Ozarks Dwelling issue (Summer, 1988) of OzarksWatch, a possible theme for this tour might be "A closer look at old buildings: Understanding and conserving the Ozarks cultural environment."

The OzarksWatch Society is on its way.

Copyright -- OzarksWatch

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