10 things ABOUT: Johnny Carrol Sain

Story by Johnny Sain

Photo by Liz Chrisman

Age: 49
Occupation: Managing editor of ABOUT the River Valley and freelance writer, editor, photographer published in various regional and national magazines.
Hometown: I grew up in Atkins, but for most of the last 20 years I resided near Dover. Now I live in Harkey Valley, just south and west of Dardanelle. The River Valley is the only home I’ve ever known.
Family: I’ve been married to Christine for 27 years. Madison and Mackenzie are our adult daughters. My son-in-law Luke Reves is married to Madison, and they’ve given us three grandchildren — Nixie, Lenny, and Luke Henry. Our four-legged family member is Rudy the red dog.

1) What is your favorite book and why?

I can’t choose just one, but for brevity’s sake, I’ll offer only two. First is A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. Leopold was a scientist, and his understanding of nature as a community — one that we humans belong to — is the key to fixing just about everything wrong with the world. Leopold writes with such poetic grace, sincerity, and tenderness that the philosophies encircle your heart with spiritual nurturing while they also infuse your mind with an intellectual enlightening.

Number two is Woe to Live On by Ozark Mountain author Daniel Woodrell. One of my favorite novelists, Woodrell’s stories are robust and fast-paced. This one was so incredible that after reading two pages I decided I wasn’t going to do anything else until I finished the book. And that’s exactly what happened.

Then there’s Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey, Heartsblood by David Petersen, The Others by Paul Shepherd, Monster of God by David Quammen, anything by Jim Harrison or Ray Bradbury or Mary Oliver’s books of poems or… I’ll quit now. But I love to read.

2) Dog or cat? Why?

While I dig cats and their hyper-predatory skills, anti-social aloofness, and mildly sinister vibe, I love dogs. Many of my favorite memories involve the dogs I’ve shared my life with. Rudy’s not our pet. He’s family.

3) What do you think is the most positive aspect of living in the River Valley?

The diversity of land and waters. I live right between the Ozarks and Ouachitas with mountains, bottomlands, creeks, swamps, and the river all just minutes away. It’s an outdoors enthusiast’s paradise.

4) What’s something no one would ever guess about you?

Christine and I eloped after dating for only three weeks. When you know, you know.

5) What is your favorite music genre and artist? Why?

I’m the ultimate eclectic when it comes to music. Classical, classic rock, rap, pop, hair bands, old country, really old country, metal, bluegrass, church hymns, pagan Nordic, Celtic, movie scores — you name it. The only thing that doesn’t get any play is the pop-country stuff.

But my favorite artist is Sturgill Simpson. I feel like Sturgill and I share some cultural heritage, and his songs could be my songs… if I could write songs, which I can’t.

6) What do you nerd out on?

I’m an amateur naturalist and get plumb giddy about encounters with wildflowers, insects, birds, fish, herps, mammals, fungi, trees, and anything else outside. I own several field guides and keying out species is something I often do for fun.

7) If you could change one thing about the River Valley, what would it be?

I’d grab the people — metaphorically speaking — by the collar and say in a confident yet gentle manner that we can be and deserve better. I wish the community understood that. I think our cultural insecurities get in our way.

8) Where is the one location in the River Valley you would tell a first-time visitor that they must go?

I keep my favorite places secret because, frankly, I don’t want to see anyone else at them. That’s partly why they’re my favorite places. But one well-known place is the top of Pilot Rock Mountain. On a clear day, get there about an hour before sunset. Plan your trip to coincide with a full moon and, if you can, stay until dawn.

9) Pizza, tacos, cheeseburger, or fried chicken? Any particular reason why?

I’ve gorged on all and will happily gorge on all again. But I’d give up a lot for one more meal of my Granny’s fried chicken. It starts with a young, free-range rooster from her flock, dispatched and processed by her hands and then transformed by her kitchen magic into the best thing I’ve ever tasted.

10) What is your favorite quote? Could be from an inspirational person, could be an original.

“But I’ll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything.”
~ Alan Watts