I smile when I consider how some people picture where I live. Backwards, uneducated, poverty-stricken in a land that’s rocky and hardscrabble. Well, the last part is true. The land is tough to work and we seem to grow more rocks than any sort of crop. The rest is best left to fiction. Sure, we have hard times and poor people just like anywhere. But the spirit of perseverance, making do and squeezing out good times from bad runs deep here.
Amid pristine rivers, gin-clear lakes, and hills covered in trees and wildlife, the outdoors plays a dominant role in how we live our lives. In spring, wildflowers bloom everywhere and old farms birth with a new spirit as jonquils mark where homes once stood. Morel mushrooms thrive if you know where to look and the air is sweetened by the songs of mockingbirds, wrens, bluebirds and angry little hummingbirds. Summers are warm and stormy at times, fall brings a pallette of color. Winters can be harsh with ice storms, wind and occasional snow.
Many of our hills are tall, and they seem to offer an embrace to those who hike their trails and stand atop their peaks to gaze over valleys, waterfalls, streams and more hills. At one spot, known as the Grand Canyon of the Ozarks, incredible views of a long, wide valley are punctuated by the towns of Harrison and, beyond that, Branson, Missouri.
Southwest Missouri and Northwest Arkansas both have larger cities with universities, art museums, old town squares and great food. Given half a day, we can float the swift water of a river where elk roam the banks, gaze up at bluffs five hundred feet tall, watch a blue heron on the hunt and maybe spy a doe leading her fawns for a drink, then sit down for a late lunch at a nice restaurant in town.
I smile when I consider how some people see the Ozarks. I smile because I know it’s still the best kept secret in America.