“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
I’m breathless with awe at the springtime beauty of the Missouri Ozarks as I drive along the winding country roads. Every time, the visual feast startles me, shakes the foundation of my life, digs deep. I am rooted.
I glimpse golden fields against the fresh green of the rolling hills, the flash of sunlight hitting the pond, and brown or black cows meander, stopping for a bite of the spring bounty or a sip of water. I wonder if we should envy their simple lives with nothing to do but “drink the wild air” and commune with each other, with nature.
I drive over a rippling river that is fed by a crystal cold spring. Below, a child searches for skipping rocks, flat and smooth enough to make all the way across the river. A box turtle, just up from its hibernation hole and covered in mud, approaches the road, and a fox nurses her newborn cubs in their den.
100-year-old Evergreens line the road, but in the woods, a man hunts for morel mushrooms. Look under the Ash trees. Starting at the riverbed, he climbs a hill that is covered with Oak, Walnut, and Elm trees, old and young, just budding. He steps over fallen limbs, slides on moss-covered rocks, passes between Tarzan-vines, and pushes through thickets. Sticker bushes grab his clothes and skin, leaving scratches, and a brief shock of fear slams into him as a black snake slithers by; however, as he spies the spongy brown top of the morel, he forgets every pain and knows only the joy of the present moment.
A farmer steers his John Deer tractor through the open gate. Every evening, he fishes for perch and catfish with huge nightcrawlers he digs out of the ground. In a hidden corner of the red barn that is filled with bales of alfalfa hay, a cat delivers her kittens safe from the barking dogs.
Behind a farmhouse, a woman hangs clothes on the line to dry while she plants the garden. The freshly tilled dirt tamed by a hoe, shovel, and strong will. Two rows of new potatoes, corn, and onions. A row of carrots, radishes, kohlrabi, peas, lettuce, and spinach. She wipes the sweat from her brow, leaving steaks of dirt. Any morning now, the asparagus will be up. She can already taste it. Children run, coatless and barefoot, on the freshly mown green grass. One climbs the fence to chase wild turkeys and tumbles over the dogs lapping at his feet. Another picks young “helicopters” off of the Maple tree and throws them in the air. The woman hollers at the teens jumping on the trampoline: Gather the eggs. Pick up the yard.
On the side of the road, an armadillo lies on its back, feet in the air, playing dead next to some roadkill. All along the road, huge buzzards peck at squirrels, opossum, an occasional deer as hawks, eagles, and owls soar over the hills and around the church steeples.
A splash of color catches my eye. The purples, reds, and yellows of the wildflowers and the pink of the redbuds as well as white of the cherry blossoms bring promise of happiness.
I drive to the top of a steep hill where I can see for miles. Hills and forests meet white-silver clouds, the blue of the sky so clear that tears run down my cheeks, unbidden. Here in the Missouri Ozarks, earth touches heaven and is reborn.
The earth sings, Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! And as I drive, I find that I am weeping with perpetual astonishment at this thing called life.