Why the Ozarks?

When I first tell someone that I grew up in Pennsylvania, but now call the Ozarks my home the next question that person always asks is why I moved to the Ozarks.

I first fell in love with the Ozarks when I came through the area back in 1979. I immediately felt a longing to get off the bus and stop and stay. Perhaps I should have, but it wasn’t yet time. However, the small houses and rustic gardens that I passed never did leave my mind. I vowed to myself that I would someday return.

Return, I did, in 1984 when I started buying land through a contract for deed. Later I found out that buying land on contract for deed is probably the most expensive way to buy land, but I didn’t care. I had my piece of Missouri.

Sadly, I no longer own that piece of property, and I have come and gone from the Ozarks many times over the years, but I always keep coming back.

The People

So, what is it that keeps me coming back? First, I like the fact that where I live at least, my neighbors don’t try to make my business their business. They keep to themselves, and I keep to my own, unless, of course, disaster strikes.

People here in the Ozarks will rally around someone who they feel is truly in need. Many years ago, my house burned down, and I didn’t have insurance. Rather than people balking at my not having insurance, they helped me out with a place to stay, clothes, household items, and household money that I needed to get back on my feet. When my car broke down and I couldn’t afford to get it fixed, friends from church paid for the repairs. When we lost our car to the bank, our pastor gave us a used car. The act is reciprocal. When the same happened to others, I do the same for them.

There’s a freedom here in the rural Ozarks that isn’t found in other parts of the country as well. We don’t have an HOA telling us that we can’t grow chickens or have livestock because we’re “not zoned for that”. Of course, it can also mean that we might have a car or two on the back forty or a nonfunctioning washing machine in the front yard, but that’s changing. There’s almost always someone around who wants to help you get rid of that piece of metal that you have no more use for. (Translated, they will take it and sell it for scrap.)

The Land

 Many people complain about the rocky land. I like our karst topography. The Ozarks is built on a subterranean system of limestone caverns, that creates mysterious-looking formations like caves, surface sinkholes, and rocky, overhanging cliffs caused by the interaction of the water from its rivers with the limestone bedrock. I also enjoy the clear spring fed rivers that are kept stocked by the conservation department with all kinds of fish. A trip by canoe or kayak down one of the Ozarks’ many rivers is a sightseeing adventure that displays all these features and more.

The Plants and Animals

I love the biodiversity of the flora and fauna.

As we wrote in the upcoming book that Kerry Kelley and I will be publishing soon called Gourmet Weeds, “The Ozarks are home to an amazing assortment of plant and animal life. Imagine hardwood forests, pine groves, cedar glades, Prairie remnants, river bottoms and bald knobs, all spread out in our roughly 47,000 square miles (about half the area of Arizona)

The stony hills and hollers make it an ideal area for finding many forageable foods because the variety of plant species have not been depleted by excessive cultivation. The wild and beautiful Ozarks are essentially not suitable for growing most commercial crops, although in generations past, many local families grew sizable acres of corn and cotton for themselves and as a source of income.”

Prickly pear cacti and paw paws grow near one another in white oak forests. Many plants (and some animals) are only found in the Ozarks. Plants that prefer more northern climates are found near caves. Desert species grow on the dry rocky glades. In the spring, the Ozarks explode with springtime blooms like bloodroot, trout lily, jack in the pulpit, and violets that live a short life before the onset of warm weather and tree leaf growth. In the summer, roadsides burst with echinacea, butterfly weed, wild carrot, and daisy-like Jerusalem artichokes and many other wildflowers.”

The diverse plant populations support various types of animals. In my yard every day, I am entertained by a family of squirrels and one year a family of gray foxes. (I used an electric fence to keep them from eating my chicken.) At night raccoons and opossums travel though my yard. White-tailed deer often nibble on my garden greens, but those greens often still make it to my freezer. Wild turkey thrives here. Wiped out and made extinct in the Ozarks before 1900, Elk was reintroduced and are now managed, as they bounced back so strongly their numbers became encumbering. The Hellbender is making a comeback in the Ozarks as well.

Once near extinction, bald eagles often nest here near where I live. I have seen many of these eagles on many of my trips to down at different times of the year or during trips down certain Ozark riverways.

Raccoons, white-footed mouse, opossums, otter, mink, eastern chipmunk, beaver, short-tailed shrew, quail and numerous other species of birds, insects, and animals call the Ozarks home.

What I especially like about the Ozarks is how every day can be different, and I’m not just talking about the weather. On the surface it seems like nothing ever changes, but that is deceptive. Every day there is something new to see and something new to do if you know what there is to see and do. It’s a place where imaginations are allowed to grow and flourish.

Why the Ozarks? I guess I have to say that it’s the place where I can enjoy being me.

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