There was a time when I pronounced the state of Missouri as “Misery”. I lived in the state for 4 years total. The first three were very good years – my final three years of undergraduate studies at College of the Ozarks. I built upon that season of personal growth to go overseas and expand my horizons further, and upon coming back from the Peace Corps, I returned to live in the same area for another year and it was the worse year of my life. Amid intense reverse culture shock, I went through a failed romance and lousy jobs. So Missouri was by no means a new frontier for me, nudging me to come explore like the other states on my journey. I could have just as easily passed it by, but interesting enough, I found fascinating places to visit – not by reason of geography, but by way of different people in vastly different contexts I had cause to visit.
First off, an Asheville friend, Liat, was living in an agricultural commune called Sandhill Farm. It is near Rutledge, MO close to where I crossed into the state from Iowa. This intentional community was started in the 1970’s. While I’m not super close to Liat, she’s one of the most cheery and platonically affectionate people I know, so it was good to see her and exchange a nice long hug. It was also great to see how the small group of people do community working the gardens and orchards and producing sorghum and collectively sharing their income and resources. I was fascinated to see that nearby there were Mennonite farms, and how they are similar in their agricultural and consumer ethics, but how they are vastly different for religious convictions. I’m interested in exploring ways I might be involved in forms of intentional communities or co-housing in Asheville, and while I wouldn’t go to the extreme of Sandhill Farm, I admire those who go that route and enjoyed seeing a bit of their example.
From those remote farming communities, I continued South to the pleasant suburbs of Columbia, MO where my brother Sam lives with his wife and 3 kids. I didn’t plan my road trip around visiting family, but since they were close to my route, I definitely wanted to stop for a visit. We enjoyed a great dinner Sammy cooked on the grill, and I played the “Gimme 5” card game with the kids (it was actually a gift I had made for them over 15 years ago and had forgotten about). In the morning, I joined them for a little homeschool stroll around Pinnacles Park. It was great to get a break from the “lonesome” road and have some family interaction in a real house. El Guapo similarly enjoyed being in a house with his dog cousin Quincy to play with. It was a brief visit, but I’ll see them all again in a few months when we all get together in Kansas for Thanksgiving.
Then, as if to complete a triad of life experiences in Missouri – I followed up the farm commune and the suburban family with a stop in St. Louis to visit my college friend Steven who is an attorney working in downtown among the tall buildings. He took a break from work so we could catch up over lunch, which was a nice last minute bonus to my trip. Before heading out of the city, El Guapo and I walked over to near the famous Gateway Arch. It represents the gateway to western expansion, but we looked through it toward the East, the direction of home. Crossing the Mississippi River felt like milestone and made me feel that much closer to home. I had a few small stops in mind as I continued East, but overall my pace and my curiosity felt like they were going downhill – picking up speed and carrying me home. I’m glad I passed through Missouri and got samples of vastly different lifestyles – all admirable, and they were all unique from the lives I lived within its borders years before.