I was so blessed to have a chance to say goodbye for now to a dear friend who's moving, and to check in on her to see for myself that she came through brain surgery remarkably well. (Yes, brain surgery. How terrifying.) But on top of that blessing, I have a whole new appreciation for Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, only my Oz looked a bit more like Ohio and my tornado was a freak storm called life. After a whirlwind trip with my oldest, which included stops in St. Louis to drop off and pick up my youngest two, I find myself with a even more enamored with my beloved Missouri Ozarks. Here are the top five things I missed while I was gone.
- Hills: Maybe it's a misnomer to call them the Ozark Mountains, technically they fall just short of a a true mountain range, but the cragged hills of home are breathtakingly beautiful. Every time I look across them, my heart soars. As my Blazer gobbled up mile after mile of flat terrain, Dylan and I both missed our winding Ozark roads more and more. Something in my just feels off when I'm not surrounded by these hills.
- Trees: I take for granted the symphony of trees we have in the Ozarks. Right now, they're in an explosion of color as the flowering trees triumphantly announce the arrival of spring. There is nothing quite as peaceful as the cool woods on a hot summer day. I remember an aunt from Iowa came to visit when I was 15. She couldn't get over all of the trees. I thought it was so odd at the time. It was only after I saw more of our country when I realized we really do have more than our fair share of foliage in this part of the country. I can't imagine not having big ol' gnarly trees all around me. They add so much life to a place.
- Streams: I gotta be honest, I debated putting sweet tea on my list. It's really hard to find good sweet tea once you head north. But I ultimately had to go with the streams. I live in a land crisscrossed by meandering streams. This time of year, the streams and rivers spill over their banks in a happy gurgle that promises new life. True, my farm is also surrounded by low-lying bridges and it's entirely possible that most of the roads in or out could be underwater after a good thunder-bumper, but it's a small price to pay considering the countless hours of entertainment creek walks provide for my boys.
- Animals: It might seem obvious to others, but it really occurred to me on this trip that I live at the edge of cattle country. We have a good mix of beef cattle, dairy operations, homesteaders with their hodgepodge of animals, horse ranches... while many of our surrounding states are crop country. At one point in Indiana, Dylan commented "Oh yay, another corn field. I was getting bored with that last corn field." I realized how spoiled we are to get to watch baby cows play in the fields each spring. To look out over our hills and know they'll be dotted with horses or cows.
- Chatty people: I try really hard to be friendly to the people I encounter on any given day. When I order fast food, I smile, say hi, and ask the cashier how his or her day is going. That got a lot of odd looks and even some irritated sighs the further north I headed. I'm sure the people in the towns I passed through are delightful, but they aren't very chatty. I knew we were home when I asked a cashier how her day was and by the time my purchases were rung up, I'd advised her (at her request) on Mother's day gifts and puppy breeds. We also like to wave a lot down here. It's the only place in the country I've been where people wave as they pass each other on the road. If you don't at least get a friendly nod, you wonder what was wrong. And I'm not just talking about waving at the people you know - I mean you wave at everyone. It's just how things are done.
While we were on our trip, someone jokingly referred to Missouri as "Misery." I've heard the joke before - as a teenager, I probably made it because I was so eager for adventure. But I've come to realize over the years that I was blessed to have roots in such a wildly, ruggedly beautiful place. These hills really are my home and I'm so very thankful for them.