Suzanne Rayfield Chilton
Dear Ozarks, land of oldest hills.
Raindrops scoured deep valleys. Cold springs formed rivers. Root, hoof, paw and foot pressed
rich bottomland. Nourished, we thrived.
Ancient people stalked your mastodons. Clovis points, serrated knifes, and limestone-tempered
pottery evidenced eons of abundance. Willowleaf chert arrowhead gave way to shiny metal shell
casing, woodland trench lodge to brick and mortar.
We trapped and traded, then tamed and trampled. Yet, you remain, treasured, coins dedicated to
your care. You mold us, lift our spirits, then reclaim your pristine beauty when we fail to "leave no
by Suzanne Rayfield Chilton, member of first-families who settled Shannon, Carter, and Reynolds
Counties from 1818.
Radine Trees Nehring
It's been seventeen years since my last written letter to you, but I think you know as
well as I that we are not out of touch. We continue to exchange our unwritten messages.
You also know better than I how much of what we see externally in this dear part of
the United States has changed over those seventeen years, how much building, moving,
shaking; even how much tragedy has swept your surface. You also know that--where it
really counts, far beneath your surface or mine--nothing much has changed.
I said it like this in my last letter, back in 1995, (DEAR EARTH: A Love Letter
From Spring Hollow," from Brett Books, Inc., in New York): "Humans can plow, plant,
or poison (your) land. It can be drilled, dug, or dynamited, but it will still exist in some
form after we leave it, even if it's a barren waste that gives no credit to our passing
I wrote this long before the recent floods; long before I walked through the remnants
of Joplin or saw the leavings of a multitude of other Ozarks storms.
The surface can be scarred by what we call natural forces or by what mankind calls
progress, but we cannot scar the life deep beneath your skin.
I am assured that the internal will not change as long as the earth exists. How do I
know this? Today, right this minute, I can stand barefoot on your land and feel that truth.
I can plant my feet on Ozarks soil (or rocks, as is more often the case), and feel the magic
beneath me seeping up to bring peace, and a strengthening alliance with your nature. I
can listen to wind in the forest, to your springs and waterfalls, and find the same magic.
Others may not believe in this magic, but I have experienced it throughout all the years
we have been companions, and no longer doubt its reality.
How about you? Are you diminished when I draw on your strength? Are you
diminished by tragedy on your surface? I think not. You have never felt it necessary to
skimp on what you give. And, my friend, you are so much bigger than one human named
Radine, or than one hundred thousand humans, many times over.
Very best regards, and my thanks,
Radine Trees Nehring, 2011 Inductee: Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame
I'm a newcomer to the Missouri Ozarks after decades working as an international teacher
abroad. I looked around a lot in my journeys for a town to call home, a place to stay put,
grow roots. I'm trying hard to like you as my new hometown, Springfield.
But lately I'm not convinced that the Ozark beauty is enough to counter the angst I feel
when witnessing the callousness of your people and politics in Springfield, Missouri.
Could it be that you've never quite gotten over old discord and indecision of the Civil
War, vacillating about which side to support with thrown-away young lives? In the past
150 years you still can't decide who to back?
I've found that here in the Ozarks, people are anything except nurturing or supportive of
others from "over there", wherever there happens to be.
It wasn't such a shock, then, when the MSU band was invited to play at a celebration for
the renovated downtown square. They chose to play the song Dixie, written by whites to
put forced words of praise for masters and the system into the mouths of slaves.
And yet, unconsciously, the band played mere steps from a plaque dedicated to three
untried men, lynched in that very same spot from hastily constructed gallows, as people
promenaded and purchased postcards to commemorate the occasion. It wasn't so long
ago, Springfield (1906).
And now, with the recent passing of an E-Verify ordinance, Springfield exhibits the same
callousness and distain for gainfully employed "foreigners" in our midst. No matter how
you want to frame it in the press, you know that this law is merely a guise for profiling
hard-working people who don't look like, well…you.
So you make a plan: You'll spot those Mexicans, find them shopping late at night in
Wal-Mart and in the kitchens of each Taco Shop. You'll spy out those businesses that've
dared to give them employment, fine them heavily. You just know "those people" are
taking jobs away from strong LOCAL folks.
See, this attitude seems surreal to me—why would any town deny people the right to
work and live and love one another in our neighborhoods?
And to add insult to injury, Springfield, our daughter (and her family) who served abroad
for the U.S. Air Force for years, will soon be looking for a forever hometown back in the
U.S.—one with schools they can be proud of and nurturing neighborhoods where they
can raise their children well.
Of course, it's a wish of ours that our family could all be together. But sadly for all of us,
we cannot recommend this town. Not yet, anyhow.
I wish you well, Springfield. I hope you'll open your minds and hearts and love one
another. And soon.
Sincerely hopeful in the Missouri Ozarks,
You would call me your stepdaughter. You have not forgotten I've
lived with you for just three decades, and that I came to you as a Yankee
with no twang in my talk. But even if I'm only a stepdaughter, I still
claim you as my own. While tourists passing through reduce you to a
stereotype, wearing overalls and a rope belt, I see your other grander
self, both its cruelty and its majesty at work.
You make me pay for my devotion. Nothing cooks my brain faster
than your withering heat. It scorches corn stalks and shrinks hay to
string. It dries grass to twigs. It draws sweaty circles under my arms as
I hurry inside, towards a fan. Just when I've discovered another seed
tick, scratched a chigger and squeezed a blackberry sticker from my
hand, you release me from your fiery grip. The respite is exquisite.
Your sky turns to sapphire. The air, once a limp, gray haze, clears
and crisps. Trees that nearly fainted in your heat sing a song of colors.
Your forest canon builds into rich browns of pin oaks and yellow
hickory. Contrapuntal melodies meander through your understory of
sumac's red and sassafras orange, backlit like cathedral glass.
I know your winter. November drapes you in a gauzy curtain, but I
am not fooled. At your whim, you'll summon temperatures that freeze
and burst water pipes, ice that bends and splinters tree or winds that
hurl sleet like javelins at our homes. Prudently, I caulk the cracks, count
firewood by rows, lock my windows and turn my back to your biting
winds. But just when winter's terrors seem unending, you move them
on. The respite is exquisite.
I wouldn't miss the redbud or wild plum along the creek beds.
Dogwood powders your hills with white. Calves on wobbly legs
shadow their mothers in the fields. Your green ripens to emerald,
and honeysuckle's tawny scent lingers by the road. You send us rain.
Some falls softly like an invitation to the dance. Others pound tender
seedlings and flood river bottoms. You have no respect for good
Then to my dismay, you heat back up. You wither and parch and
boil and bake. Once again, your heat swelters and clings to me like a
sweaty lover on my skin. I sigh, both repelled and seduced by it.
I used to fear for your existence, as opportunists cleared your forests
and cut into your hills, hoping to make a buck. But you are larger than
their hammers and saws. Eons ago, you were uplifted, worn down,
eroded and still you are here.
Once, I left you for the lure of skyscrapers. But their concrete
sameness could not compete with your hills. Your prodigal
stepdaughter returned, needing the search, dread, anticipation,
experience, challenge, and the relief of your glorious mutations, here on
the Ozark Plateau.
Although I've never resided in you, I feel as though you are my home away from
home. Your rolling hills call me back as surely as a wooing lover. When I enter from any
direction, you reveal memories long forgotten.
At Roaring River State Park, you cradled my parents on their honeymoon in 1937.
When I had a family we brought our own children to drink in the peace you provide at
On a rainy afternoon I now bring my grandchildren to your Bull Shoals Lake. I
photograph them as they chase one another through the raindrops under huge oak trees.
We stop to admire an interesting tree with gnarled roots at the water's edge. I tell the
children, "When I was your age, I visited this place before the dam formed this lake."
When I was a child, our Camp Fire group enjoyed your primitive camp near
Purdy, Missouri where you provided snakes, so we could catch them in jars. You let us
enjoy lazy afternoons at the swimming pool and aromatic bonfires at night. You lured
us back every summer with small caves to explore, beautiful sunsets, and memories to
cherish for a lifetime.
Now as a family, we pass through your borders at least once each summer. We
cast off the cares of 20th century living, to enter a time long ago in the magic of your
Silver Dollar City. That unique place where we enjoy dinners served in tin pie plates. A
place where miniature trains make regular runs through the woods, often interrupted with
a staged hold-up from bald knobbers.
You provide smithy's to make objects forged in hot coals, then hammered on
anvils like our children's great-grandfathers did. Woodcarvers and potters instruct and
entertain us with their skill, while we munch on freshly made funnel cakes and salt-water
taffy. We sit in the shade to listen to fiddlers play fine mountain music. On the move
again, we watch a mule jump over a high bar with ease. Later, we make a stop at the old-
fashioned ice cream parlor for a final treat.
We file into a pew to catch one last vista of your rolling hills from the large
church window. Reluctantly, we head home loaded with our purchases of lye soap, wheat
weaving, and wooden whistles, with a resolve to return when we hear your quiet whisper
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Janet Smith Post
Janet Smith Post
Lonesome's pulling on my heart, so I'm headed down Highway 65, south, to your
rolling Ozark hills, where an ancient, retreating sea left a swollen plate of limestone
bedrock with its thin, rocky soil, where wandering Appalachian cousins stopped the
wheels on their wagons, unpacked their dreams and called it home.
I'm missing your woods, thick with pine, oak, black gum, and hickory—slopes so
heavy with spring berries that white-blossomed hillsides are called blackberry winter. I
miss tasting the ripe "t'maters," big as saucers, black walnut pie, and strawberries, red
as persimmons kissed by fall—where lunch is called dinner, and dinner is called supper.
I'm thinking of your sweet streams—so clear—rocks shine on the bottom like
cobblestone streets, your gray-boarded water mills that once ground sorghum on its
way to molasses and corn en route to Johnny cake. I miss floating in a johnboat down
your endless rivers, dropping my line, pulling out the finest trout or bass, and eating fish
fresh from the bone of heaven.
I feel the meeting of past and present, bittersweet: remnants of log cabins,
leftovers of split rail fences, and rust of a moonshine still, juxtaposed with Silver Dollar
City and Starbucks Coffee. Lovely, mammoth caves, once free to adventurous boys, are
now guarded by admission prices. "Friady holes," once urgent in a tornado, filled with
tongue grass and maybe a buckeye or cricket for good luck. Old tombstones carry
names that now echo my own.
I might even miss the "chiggers," getting a whole passel of bites—some in really
bad places—the old, forgotten back roads, where bib-overalled***, chewing-tobacco-
men were once great spitters and grew an impressive crop of hair from their nose and
ears. I miss seeing the head of a water moccasin empty a swimming hole, as fast as
pouring water through a toe sack.
I yearn for the sound of your music, where folks play notes written only in their
blood, where the banjo starts, and the fiddle player hears what the banjo's saying, and
the dulcimer joins the magic. Where songs wail up from hope or grief, or both.
Mostly, I miss the folks who have a heart as big as Sunday dinner, good folks who
call, "You all come back now! We'll treat you in so many ways, you can't help but like
some of 'em!"
Janet Smith Post
I discovered your rugged beauty a decade ago, and your hold on me is still
strong. I wanted to escape the city life and return to a life I knew growing
up, but that life is gone forever in the place I came from. I came here and
felt as if I had returned home again; to the home I knew as a child, where I
could run free through fields of flowers untouched by earth-moving equipment
and chemicals. A home where neighbors wave at you as you drive by and check
on you frequently if they know you are home alone.
I love you for your uniqueness. Your rivers, your caves, your four perfect
seasons. I love how east meets west and I can see animals and birds from
both regions. I love the crispness in the air and the colors of fall, I love
the starkness of the trees and the fluffiness of snow in winter, I love the
flowers and blossoms of spring and the promise of life renewed, and I love
the hot, sweaty, iced-tea days of summer.
But, dear Ozarks, I have one small complaint. COULD YOU PLEASE DO
SOMETHING ABOUT THE TICKS?!