Since just after I was born, maybe a year or so, I have spent every formative moment of my life living east of the Mississippi River. I grew up east of the river, went to college east of the river, fell in love east of the river, got married east of the river, fathered children east of the river, built a home east of the river. Fitting then, that as I set out for my longest journey west of the river, that I should start essentially where I began — at my parents home in the town where I grew up. I haven’t lived at home for 30 odd years or so, but every doorknob, floor creak and cabinet latch remains utterly familiar. I can navigate the house and grounds in the dark, as if the house somehow imprinted itself into my eyes all those years ago. I’m glad I started out from the big house on the hill.
Out of the driveway, my first few hours was also a drive I could probably made with my eyes closed, or at least half closed. Countless pre-dawn trips up HWY 412 to the duck lease make the road a talisman for me. It wass the beginning of something i loved and tried to be good at, the beginning of a exciting time away from things which we couldn’t really control. And it will be so for me today.
Across the last wrinkles of the New Madrid fault, the landscape finally gives way — after towns called Alamo and Bells, Friendship and Fowlkes, Tigrett and Dyersburg — to the alluvial plain of the Obion and the Mississippi. Atop the last fold jammed skyward, I suspect, when the New Madrid ripped a hole on the northwest Tennessee border called Reelfoot lake that was big enough to make the Old Man River himself flow backwards to fill it, I get the first of many vistas to the west, the uninterrupted horizon re-ordered lower and broader. It seems as if there is no end to how far you can go. Fresh on the other side, Missouri begins rolling and rising to the Ozarks and I am again in the wooded hills of the familiar.
I think I read somewhere that north west Arkansas and southern Missouri are hotbeds for retirees, and I can see the allure. It is really beautiful country. The terrain is varied and lush. The rivers are fast and attractive and plentiful. The depth of the pasture land seems a pretty good indicator that there is an aquifer underground here.
That supposition is supported at Roaring River State Park. Here, said aquifer decided it was time for a little fresh air and jammed its way through the granite via Roaring River Spring where it dumps 20 million gallons of fresh, cold water on the ground every day. A businessman from St. Louis bought 2,400 acres on the courthouse steps in 1928 and turned around a few days later and gave the whole thing to the state of Missouri for a park. The state knew a good thing when it got handed it and built a very well executed trout hatchery tight where the water comes out of the ground, supplying plentiful (and huge) trout throughout the river. They release fish every day, I think. It was my plan to catch one of the submarine-sized trout you can stand on the bank and watch patrolling around. I didn’t. But I did have a massively relaxing few hours trying. Watching the wizened old verterans turn and slide up to my fly pattern, bumping it with their nose before slipping back into their comfortable spot to wait for the real thing. The park is very popular and unless you can get in your zen on a small stretch of water and ignore all the commotion, I wouldn’t recommend it. But I have a camping spot next to the river — which is indeed roaring — and the spaces all around me are empty. So there is that.
I have a long way to go to the edge, but today I made a start. I’m heading west. Across the great grassland prairies, through the Rockies and San Juans, across the Mojave, and through the Sierra foothills to the coast. There is nothing like getting started. Soon I will strike the western edge at Montana de Oro and from thence north all the way to the Straits of Juan de Fula. None of it even sounds familiar to my ears. It sounds like the edge.