Ozark 4th of July

We’ve been on an incredible road trip seeing old friends to celebrate Independence Day where possible. Canada has brought us cool air and mucho sun so everyone feels high on nature and summer.

We’re working our way two hundred miles south, stopping every hour or so to visit or find a healthy snack. No schedule only to get down to the Jacks Fork River before dark.

We left a sweet little Airbnb room in St. Louis where Karen fixed us cereal, toast and coffee then let us enjoy her garden out back with many native plants, creating beds with sitting spots.

Before leaving the city we had a green smoothie with Mirna, Cathy’s friend from Bosnia. The Balkans are slowly being rebuilt. Sarajevo looks really beautiful, Mirna said as she began showing us slides from her Facebook page. But when I go, I am mainly visiting old friends and family and don’t have time to be a tourist. Dozens of photographs showed her with smiling people visiting ancient or modern sights along the Dalmation coast. All she showed us reminded me of the Ozarks and its hilly wild beauty. Except no ocean. Someday we hope to follow her advice.

Courthouse in Salem, MO all decked out for the Independence Day Parade, 2014

Next, we zoom to I-70 to meet Cordell and Audrey who know the Ozarks from the old days. Cordell greeted us at the door wearing a coat that looked vaguely familiar. He asked if I recognized it. Bingo! Flash of recognition. I had left it at the O’Fallon Senior Center when I performed there last spring as Stub, the old tie hacker.

Cordell knew Stub long ago, and told us a new story about the ornery backwoodsman. Stub was most known for his fishing camp on the Gasconade River near Jerome. He rented boats and sold liquor there, Cordell said. Stub left under mysterious circumstances. No one really knows why. His wife died. Thats just part of the mystery around his years in the Ozarks. We talked about Stub and Newburg which was a thriving town when Cordell was a boy and his father was an engineer on the Frisco diesel engines. Newburg’s struggling now. Hardly any businesses left, but the historic old Houston House Hotel is still in use as a community center and gathering place.

We continued to talk about health and Cordell’s 50th high school reunion 10 years ago for which Audrey made a calendar that had old photographs and all Newburg’s class of 54s birthdays. It was a real effort and though shes been asked, she says Cant do it again.

As they were getting ready to head to their sons place, we drove south to the little town of Nona on the Missouri River where our friends Gloria and Michael live. Michael hauled a truckload of art out West and Gloria had been enjoying a few days of uninterrupted creativity in their handbuilt house overlooking the Missouri River bottoms. We sat in the shade, talked about music and local artists and loved some organic sweet cherries, cheese and crackers w/ just brewed mint/red zinger tea. Time to leave but no Cathy and Gloria, knitters both, had to talk yarn shops and projects for just a bit.

Cruising south toward St Clair, we stopped for gas at a station populated mainly by teenagers out in their semi-fast sort-of-beat-up low-rider old cars trying to be cool while drinking Red Bull. Luckily they had plenty of free ice to keep our cooler of zucchini fresh. A slice of America, still raw, fresh, questioning and looking for work.

Dairy Isle in Steelville - GREAT burgers and cones!

When we reached Steelville near the Meramec River, more kids were hanging out around town, many at our friends Merrill and Davids historic ice cream and burger joint, the Dairy Isle which they recently bought. Theyve done little to change the drive-in other than fresh paint, cleaning, some good local art and a pared down, higher quality menu. After we ordered, David chased flies with a swatter while Alex asked questions about old friends from this Crawford County-seat and Cathy chatted with Merrill who took a short break from kitchen duty. We have a particular affection for this eatery because it was once operated by a Crawford County family whose name in French means horseshit according to a visitor from Lyon, France, who toured the Ozarks with us a few years ago. Now the drive-in seems so tidy that even the most fastidious gourmet would find something to satisfy their palate.

Taking small highways further south, we had to stop in Salem, the Dent County Seat for a big 4th of July parade featuring dozens of riders on horses leaving green grassy, steaming piles for two-leggers to avoid. We saw one couple old friends from the Audubon society, who are still involved in keeping local volunteer projects healthy despite open heart surgery and the usual difficulties we have known so well of finding a few good volunteers in rural towns to keep good works moving on down the road. We watched local candidates and businesses on vehicles of all kinds throw handfuls of candy to the kids many downright chubby. Lets hope some of those candies were made with at least a little kale.

Continuing south, we took the twistiest highway in Missouri, #19, which goes through the Rhineland to the old growth pines and ended for us this evening into a huge orange sunset. We arrive relaxed at our little cabin in the woods. We feel blessed to have seen a few friends, many fireworks at farms in the last light of Independence Day and a fawn who jumped out of the way just in time.

Its a shame to have burnt 10 gallons or so of petroleum, to have spent most of the day sitting in a steel box, but maybe our consciousness has been raised by this journey. Maybe chaos theory is right. We will all know in the sweet by-and-by.

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