People here in New England often ask me why anyone would live in Missouri; that always makes me smile. They also ask me where Missouri is as they stare blankly trying to picture the United States map and the location of the (rather large, right in the dead center) state…somewhere…but where? Not that New Englanders aren’t smart enough to actually locate Missouri…it just escapes them due to its total lack of interest. The descriptions of Missouri that I have so far received from people who have never been there are as follows:
Flat, windy, tornado-ridden waste land that is hot and dry. Often mistaken with Kansas as if they are one entity. A place with no trees, water, or hills primarily housing cows and corn fields.
With this hellish vision in mind, can you blame them for blocking it out of their memory of the US map?
Like New England is stereotyped for its winters, Missouri is stereotyped for its nothingness. And like most stereotypes, it is wrong.
I suppose much of what is listed in that rather bleak description of Missouri is factually correct—it is flat, windy, and tornado ridden—but that’s not all. It also embodies the Ozarks which are studded with mountains, rivers, and caves—not at all flat or dry. And some of the things people make sound so awful are my most loved memories.
I grew up on a 24 acre farm in what we like to call the middle of nowhere. Our driveway was a quarter of a mile long and winding from our yellow farmhouse set in the middle of the fields to a gravel road leading to Higginsville and Lexington. Being situated between a gravel road and farm land provided a lot of dust. Dust. Dry feathery dirt. But without dust, there is no sunset, not one to revel in at least. I remember the sunsets in Missouri being nothing but epic. When you combine all that dust with heavy storm clouds, you get the brightest shades of pink and orange and the darkest violets and navies all mingling together with the fleeting sun in one last hurrah each night.
Like the dust, the endless corn fields too held a little bit of magic. The places where the tractor turned while seeding left perfect bare circles in the middle of all that tall corn. I would go out to the fields at night and lay on the dirt in one of those circles gazing up at the night sky so clear and bright you could pick out the star formations. I was lost in an ocean of corn and that little bare circle was my secret castle among the endless rolling Plains.
Next to our house was a field no one farmed that grew tall with prairie grass. I remember lying in that grass, watching it rock like the ocean’s waves all around me. It didn’t feel empty or desolate, just quiet and vast. William Cullen Bryant captures my thoughts in his own writings about the Midwest:
“These are the gardens of the Desert, these
The unshorn fields, boundless and beautiful,
For which the speech of England has no name—
The Prairies. I behold them for the first,
And my heart swells, while the dilated sight
Takes in the encircling vastness. Lo! They stretch
In airy undulations, far away,
As if the Ocean, in his gentlest swell,
Stood still, with all his rounded billows fixed,
And motionless forever. Motionless?—
No—they are all unchanged again. The clouds
Sweep over with their shadows, and, beneath,
The surface rolls and fluctuates to the eye;
Dark hollows seem to glide along and chase
The sunny ridges. Breezes of the South!…”
I keep this poem on the bookshelf in my living room because it calls my heart back home and reminds me of those quiet days when I all I had to do was lay in the grassy field and watch the clouds go by.
All these thoughts about Missouri were stirred up when I saw a picture my mom posted on Facebook of the Katy Trail in Rocheport, Missouri. How many miles have I walked and ridden on this trail! The Katy Trail is a 237 mile railroad track that was covered over with crushed limestone and converted into a walking/biking trail. I had all but forgotten about this trail until I saw my mom’s picture of that familiar tunnel. Now my legs are aching for a long jog down this forgotten path.
Every place has its lure; you just have to go there and find it. Check out the link below for more information on the Katy Trail: