Heavenly days at Big Cedar

Thursday, April 7, 2005

April 7, 2005

Dear Patty,

As Missouri's attorney general stood at the podium at the Big Cedar Lodge conference center preparing to speak, ignoring the huge moose head over his shoulder became an impossibility.

He stopped speaking, started and stopped again.

"Now I know how Rocky felt," the attorney general said, getting a big laugh.

The attorney general talked about his commitment to the state's open meetings law and about ways the state could increase revenue without raising taxes or cutting benefits to needy people. He's probably going to run for governor in 2008.

Big Cedar Lodge is a vision of heaven -- Teddy Roosevelt's or Jeremiah Johnson's vision -- located just south of Branson, the Midwestern Bible belt's version of Las Vegas. The resort is owned by Bass Pro Shops, a chain of stores hunters and fishermen think of as the next best thing to heaven.

Springs and small waterfalls splash down the lush Ozarks hillside Big Cedar is located on. The lodge has stables, a marina, wilderness hikes, a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts and on and on. A day spa and restaurants help you recover from the outdoor activities.

Big Cedar Lodge seems to have everything but has more of one thing than anything else: Animals that are no longer alive. The furry and feathered products of the taxidermist's art are more populous than people at Big Cedar Lodge.

The handles on the dresser in my room were made from antlers. Stuffed game birds perched in mid-flight on my wall. Various bushy-tailed friends kept them company. It was my own personal menagerie.

The lobby of my lodge was guarded by a bear standing on its hind paws.

You wonder how a 4-year-old would feel about this place. It might be scary. Or it might resemble a zoo, one where the animals move ... very ... slowly.

Getting to sleep was not easy the first night. Glass eyes were watching me. Calling Stephen King.

Maybe it was the memory of being awakened by the shrieking growl of a raccoon many years ago on a beach south of San Francisco. A raccoon sounds a lot scarier than a raccoon really is.

I was at Big Cedar Lodge for a business conference. It's probably best DC stayed home. She is not keen about killing insects. She would have had to stop and feel sorry for every animal she encountered at the lodge. That's a lot of sorries.

I don't hunt, but the way the lodge presents the animals kept it from being offensive to me. They weren't displayed like trophies. At least whoever stuffed these animals and arranged them around the lodge loved their beauty.

The lodge pleased me. Every afternoon someone on the staff brings you gingerbread cookies shaped like cedar trees. The people who work there seem to like being there. The lodge celebrates the natural world, and nothing is wrong with that.

The governor spoke our final day at Big Cedar Lodge. He talked about Medicaid and tort reform and education funding. It's what he didn't say that bothered me.

He didn't say anything about that enormous bison right above his head.

He'd better be looking over his shoulder in '08.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is the managing editor of the Southeast Missouri.

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