[special note: photos by Neal B. Parker. All rights reserved.]
The characters in CONSTANCY’S WALTZ live in a fictional town in the Missouri Ozarks. If you’ve never seen the real Ozarks, Constancy and I think you should plan a visit. Don’t limit yourself to Branson and the other highly advertised tourist places. To truly experience the Ozarks, you’ll need to get away from the bright, artificial lights.
Drive the winding, hilly roads. Try U.S. 63 from Jefferson City south to Hardy, Arkansas. Although it’s a main route, the scenery is spectacular. For a less traveled road, take State Route 19 north from Thayer, near the Arkansas border to St. James. Roll down your windows. Instead of radio or CDs or iPods, listen to the music of song birds and chickens, hounds and cattle. Don’t forget to wave to the cows. Cows love to watch tourists go by.
Take a walk in a quiet Conservation Area (but be sure to use insect repellant. Ozarks and Paradise aren’t synonyms. A session of chigger itch or tick removal is not the best way to remember these beautiful hills and “hollers”).
In winter, when the leaves have blown away, discover the ancient bones of the land. No ticks or chiggers to worry you this time of year!
In all seasons, watch and listen for the life-giving Ozarks water. Springs, streams, rivers, rainwater soaking through the earth to create caves below, dew dripping from a jeweled spider’s web in early morning. It’s everywhere and it’s dazzling.
In summer, smell the all-natural perfume of the field and roadside flowers. You will probably also catch the scent of skunk. That’s all natural, too, but not as pleasant.
Experience Darkness. Explore Missouri’s many caves.
Stop on a country ridge top at night and discover starshine. See the stars the way your pioneer ancestors saw them. If you’ve only seen them weakened and polluted by city lights, you’ll be amazed.
Search out the past. Learn about our history. See the Ozarks with your imagination in gear. Who knows? You might see an elf or other mythical creature that came over with our immigrant ancestors and is still hiding out in our woods. You might even see a hillbilly in his or her natural habitat. 🙂 No telling what wonders are lurking around the next curve. You’ll just have to go and see.