Eyes Among the Trees

The best time to go for a drive in the country in Missouri is late Sunday afternoon, and yesterday I spent several hours wandering around Highway 94. This road is a mix of old and new, and very unique — from the open bar that attracts bikers in Defiance, to the old clapboard housing in so many of the towns.

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Highway 94 is narrow and curvy and hilly and if you want to see the scenery, you have to go slow. However, if you want a fun kick ass ride, try going over the speed limit — I can guarantee you’ll go airborne.

Unfortunately, this happened with a biker as I discovered when I rounded a corner to a scene of police cars and a large motorcycle smashed into the hill along the side of the road.

You pay for your thrills.

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The scenery was incredible, small towns and rolling green hills, thick inpenetrable forests, with here and there pretty churches dotting the hillsides, each with their associated old time cemetary.

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I spent way too long on the highway, and by the time I got to my Katy Trail destination of this weekend, it was heading towards late, late afternoon/early evening. Again, the only people on the trail are bike riders, and I had much of the trail to myself. Well, except for the wildlife, and there were birds. And birds.

The special treat yesterday was a golden eagle that took off not ten feet in front of me. Too quick for a picture, unfortunately. It was joined by blue birds and red-winged blackbirds and cardinals and meadowlarks and mockingbirds — my own personal chorus and feathered escorts. We birds, we flock together.

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Not sure if I can do justice to the moment: late Sunday afternoon light, warm humid air, walking along a country trail with trees on one side, fields of grape and corn on the other, and bird song filling the air. Two rare red squirrels are chasing each other among the trees, and the only human sounds are my own footsteps crunching the limestone gravel on the path. It would on occasion echo against the limestone cliffs, creating an earie double sound, which was a bit unnerving. Here’s me always looking behind for the other walker.

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I started my walk in Augusta, a beautiful small town in the middle of Missouri’s thriving wine valley. But all the towns I talk about are beautiful, aren’t they? Want me to vary this a bit, find a real pit and describe it? I’ll try this next weekend.

Anyway, I bet there’s not a one of you that knew that Missouri had vineyards — we assume these are only in California or New York or perhaps in the Northwest. Ha! Little do you know.

Augusta’s also famous for its old board buildings, including a bed & breakfast that caught my fancy near Katy Trail (a lot of quaint bed & breakfasts in this town), as well as other less well kept, but far more interesting buildings.

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I don’t about anyone else, but I love old buildings, especially ones that are falling apart. There’s so much history in them — you can imagine the town when it was a railroad that went through it and not a hip trail, bringing in all the tourist bucks. Before so many of these towns lost over 10% or more of the population, in a mass exodus of youth to the city and other states.

Did I mention there’s a popular beer garden in town?

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I wasn’t too long on the trail before I noticed that the limestone cliff on the one side had fallen back from the trail, but the trees along it were so overgrown with vines that they formed a hidden overgrown glade that was impossible to get to. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before, mysterious and a little surreal. Real Alice in Wonderland stuff.

I am aware that there is no real inimical life in Missouri, but the presence of that hidden world just on the other side of the bushes and vines and trees was — intimidating. I could hear sounds, and see movement out of the corner of my eye, and it felt as if I was being watched by a thousand eyes. I probably was: birds and insects and squirrels and the like. Still, I had a good work out walking crisply back to the car as the sun started to drop into mid-evening light.

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If there’s ever a place to inspire a story, that place is the one. In fact, I find stories wherever I go. No wonder Mark Twain loved Missouri.

I tried to take a photograph of the hidden glades, but did poorly. You’ll just have to take my word about them, and I’ll try again later.

On the way back, I stopped at the Busch Wildlife preserve — this place of larger ponds with water lillies and bull frogs and geese, fish, and insects. Lots of insects. However, to control the insect population, the rangers posted several bat boxes about in the forest and greens.

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I watched as the evening mist rolled in off the water, and the geese finished their evening feed, taking off across the lake.

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I feel like a tour guide sometimes, talking about this road and that park and this scenic view, but there’s much that happens on these late Sunday afternoon drives, when I roll the windows down and turn on the music and drive the winding roads, thoughts only half on the beauty. It’s times such as these, away from computer and phone and other people, that you just flow along — no cares, no worries, no thoughts about yesterday or tomorrow.

You’re completely in the moment.

Each time I experience this living within the moment, I think what a wonderful, magnificent place Missouri is, and I ask myself how could I ever leave this state? The green and the gold and the water and the birds and the life and all which I’ve come to love.

But then, I’ve said this same thing to myself about every place I’ve lived for the last 30 years. I guess for people like me, home exists in a moment rather than in a place.

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Katy Trail 2: Biker Salute

Yesterday afternoon I walked my next section of the Katy Trail, starting at Matson. The day was warm, somewhat humid but manageable with clouds threatening at times to rain.

The drive out was not uneventful. I’m beginning to think that all drivers have so many close calls they must experience in their life, and since I started driving much later, I’m getting them all now. Either that or I like to drive too fast.

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Anyway, I was driving along I64 heading to Highway 94 following a pickup truck hauling some kind of trailer full of stuff when all of a sudden the top of the trailer blew off and it started losing its load on the road in front of me. There was what looked like large sheets of masonite, big tree branches, aluminum siding and all sorts of not car friendly objects. Luckily I was far enough back from the trailer not to get hit directly by the stuff, but I was close enough to watch the masonite hit the road and break apart into big pieces.

“Sh…”, and swerving around the bigger pieces, trying not to run into the semi on the left of me as he was doing some serving on his own and for a minute there was a group of us doing this oddly beautiful dance around the debris and each other but, luckily, no one stomped on their partner “..it!”

The semi, dragging pieces of masonite in its wheels signaled to the truck that it lost its load and just as I was moving up to let him know that he needed to pull over, I saw his emergency lights go on and he started to slow down, move over to the shoulder.

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Not long after, when I pulled over on 94 I went about ten miles before I calmed down enough to realize I had turned the wrong direction.

What a drive 94 is south of I64, with rolling hills and sharpish curves, but the road’s in excellent shape. The perfect road for Golden Girl, but I was going quite slowly because the surroundings were that beautiful. It seemed like every corner had a brown state park sign announcing this wildlife refuge and that park. I kept having to pull over to let other cars pass me as I slowly drove along enjoying the scenery.

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The trailhead I picked today started just inland from the Missouri river, winding its way through wine country, past farms and meadow and dense forest. I expected the walk to be pretty, but I didn’t expect it to be breathtaking. I was the only walker because the Katy Trail is more popular with bikers further away from the cities. You can go farther on a bike, but you can’t really appreciate the nuances of the trail except on foot.

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The Katy Trail in this location was bordered by limestone cliffs surrounded by dense vegetation. The plants were so close and thick, the depths were dark as night and you couldn’t see through them. Once when I moved close to a large bush to try to peer into the growth, the bush shook with the movement of something in it, most likely scared by my closeness. There really is little harmful life in Missouri, other than the bugs, but it’s unnerving to have this large bush shake violently when you approach it and you can’t see what causes it.

Bwock bwock bwock. Yeah, Burningbird the chicken bird.

Birdlife. You wouldn’t believe the number of birds flying in and around the plants. And insects of all kinds including beautiful butterflies. The trees overlapped the trail in some parts, and I was reminded of the problems with ticks this state has. But if we deny ourselves the pleasure of life by constantly worrying about what bad thing is going to fall out of the sky and land on us, then we’re missing the point, aren’t we?

One old farm had converted one building into a trailside store for hikers and bikers. It also had a large caged in area with geese and chickens and roosters, one of which decided to do a little crowing practice in the late afternoon light. I enjoy listening to roosters, but the owner was a bit miffed because I could hear him calling out to it, by name, telling him to be quiet, he’s loud enough to wake the dead. “Emmet, shut up, Emmet!” “Emmet, shut up you crazy bird!”

The place was a marvel of cats running about — big cats — and funky buildings and one silo that was covered in vines. The perfect touch was the Coke machine. A vignette of Americana, and not a bad one at that.

I walked until I reached the Missouri River and explored the shores, watching a couple of artists painting the view and the ubiquitous fishermen along the shoreline. Aside from the roads and the factories, the river is very much as it was from the past.

When I crossed the road to reach the river, a small car was coming along and I stepped to the shoulder, but the driver took the corner short, not seeing me, and brushed past me a foot or two away. Enough to be breezy. I didn’t jump or yell, just kind of looked at the car as it disappeared in the distance.

Ever have one of those days that you feel like fate has painted a big red bullseye on you? Funny thing is, it’s just this kind of day that you remember later, when you’re feeling philosophical about life — stands out in our minds, except as time goes on, the distance between me and the car will get shorter until someday I’ll be laying on my deathbed, talking to some disinterested young person about the car that ran over my toes.

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Altogether my hike was about five miles, a good distance. The ride home was the best because of the late afternoon green-gold-purple-orange-pink-red color the last light gets here in Missouri. The roads were empty so I let Golden Girl have the ride she wanted, except when I went through Defiance and slowed down because the small town was full of Harley’s and other motorcycles — several hundred, with drivers surrounding this small bar with live music blasting out, hoisting beers in salute at the cars driving past.

What a good idea. I turned to the Rock n’ Roll classic hit station and cranked the sound, rolling the windows full down letting the wind whip my hair about, and bringing in the sweet smell of the Missouri green. I waved back at the bikers, as I put the pedal to the metal and headed home.

There were a thousand things I could have done today

There were a thousand things I could have done today,
but all I did was sit at my window and watch
the storms move past.

Instead of doing my laundry
I watched the wind rip the blossoms
from the tree across the road
forcing it into full green.

Instead of cleaning house or reading a book
I stood out on the deck to better see,
forgetting to close the door behind me,
getting everything very wet.

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If I closed the window and turned my back
I could have finished my taxes, or written about war and injustice
but all I did was look at the sky
and listen to the thunder.

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