Missouri – Close to Home, Far from Ordinary

 

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Les Bourgiouis Vineyard and Bistro

When we do our best, and I mean giving it our most heartfelt effort, not expecting it to be easy, or noticed, this is the most effective form of growth I can imagine.

What I’ve been inspired to explore today is how we develop character, what informs our growth, and how we do this intentionally. I found the answers on an unexpected excursion. Don’t bail on me now, you don’t want to miss this one!

Last weekend I had the enormous privilege of visiting “the relatives” in the heart of America. If I had considered the possibility of this experience a few years back I would have deemed it inconceivable, not because it was a risky proposition, but because the possibility did not exist.

I believe it was forces beyond the grave that pulled us together and forged the tender seedling of a new relationship. My Mom, an avid gardener in life, is no longer interested in mere horticulture, she’s cultivating and managing the future of her clan from above.

That’s so my Mom and I’ve come to believe Bev is now assisting.

As if a train conductor, they’ve pulled what they call a rail switch, which put us on a new track, one bound for middle America, where those historic tracks connect, move, and transfer the resources of this great nation from one generation to the next.

When our long lost second cousins slipped unexpectedly into our lives we embraced the opportunity to reconnect, and although delighted, it was rather brave of us to hop on a plane in route to unknown territory, banking on the hospitality of newly established relationships, but having this deep knowing we would be received with generosity and kindness.

I believe it’s transformational to purposely embrace the unknown. Don’t you?

Landing in St. Louis on a rather hot and humid day, Larry and I checked into an adorable boutique hotel, before making our way to the iconic St. Louis Arch. The significance of this monument is that it was designed to pay tribute to the role of St. Louis in the westward expansion of America (not to be confused with the McDonald’s arch and what it did for the hamburgers).

The goal was to create a permanent memorial to the people who made possible the western territorial expansion of the United States. I think it’s appropriate for these native Californians to appreciate the effort it took our ancestors to forge this great nation, exploring, and expanding our knowledge of not only the land, but it’s people.

We ended up on The Hill for dinner, the “Little Italy” of St. Louis, known for it’s authentic Italian dining, and charming neighborhoods. As the evening cooled we lounged on a quaint plaza, enjoying homemade gelato, and a spectacular fountain, as if gazing at the Trevi in Rome (on a much smaller scale mind you).

I was thinking to myself we should all live like this, simple, peaceful, assuaging.

Tomorrow we point our rented jeep towards Jefferson City, capital of Missouri, in search of “the relatives.” Are you hearing the faint sound of banjos in the distance? We’ll just push that thought away.

Sometimes we can’t see the best of ourselves until we find ourselves caught in the lens of someone who loves us, strong demanding love, and as if in the hands of a magician, we are permanently transformed.

This is what I learned from my second cousins in middle America, where the act of love comes in the form of honesty, hard work, devotion, family, integrity, and true grit. As if Louis and Clark I expanded my interior landscape by paddling upstream.

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1 – First I discovered how hard it is to cultivate the land, to nurture the growth of say a fruit tree, and the rush one gets from the experience of harvesting that which you have grown. Yes, the labor was free, the work sweaty, and the cousins made use of our enthusiasm, but what I learned was far more important. You reap that which you sow in life, this can come in the form of produce, but it also shows up in our character, the hard work of cultivating oneself, it doesn’t happen without effort, nurturing, and then the reward of harvesting that which we consider our “fruit” for the benefit of others.

The act of selfless giving is not instinctual to me, but as I pluck the ripened fruit from a weighted branch of the family tree, I’m what you call a late bloomer, ripening in my own time, so don’t throw me no “shade.”

 

2 – Second I learned how difficult it is to tame the wilderness as we explored the acreage in a totally “cool” Polaris Ranger. This was right out of an Indiana Jones movie, we traversed this extraordinary terrain, forging streams, climbing steep embankments, encountering not only wildlife, but enormous spiders, spectacular groves, quaint watering holes, lush crops, and sublime scenery.

What was not known was the work Mike put into our tour beforehand, cutting miles of evil branches that snag and sting, sweeping away the majority of annoying spiders and sticky webs, and mowing the land for a smooth and enjoyable ride. This is what I refer to when I say heartfelt effort, not expecting it to be easy, or noticed, just midwest hospitality and generosity at it’s best. It did not go unnoticed.

I believe we could change the narrative of our lives if we all aspired to make life easier for each other, without calculating the difficulty, or expecting a reward.

3 – Thirdly I learned about bees, yes the ones that will sting if provoked, but make the most gloriously sweet honey imaginable. They’re organization is complex yet simple, they work relentlessly for one purpose, the survival of the colony, because individual bees (workers, drones, and queens) cannot survive without the support of the colony (this is true for humans as well).

Bees are strictly a matriarchal society, the queen bee provides the leadership and the eggs, but more importantly she produces pheromones that serve as a social “glue” unifying and helping to give individual identity to the bee colony. I think this is interesting because our human families are not only unified but often socialized by females, either consciously or unconsciously, and that might be key.  The male drones have one purpose and that is to mate with the queen (I’ll let that stand on it’s own so to speak), and the duties of the female workers change as they matriculate from nursery duties, to pollen collectors. Sound vaguely familiar?

Gail is a bee whisperer, she meticulously cares for at least a dozen colonies, harvesting honey, keeping them fed during the long winters, and rescuing hives in need of a home. This is who she is and the characteristics she invests in the survival of her bees are the very same she invests in her family. In referring to how she spends her precious time she said, “what is more important then spending my time with family and the people I love.” Enough said.

4 – The fourth lesson was one of hospitality, relationship, and hope. And I refer to hope not as an emotion, but as a cognitive behavioral process, one that is rooted in the belief that we are capable of overcoming obstacles, especially if our lives are marked by trustworthy relationships. Rebecca Solnit says, “hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen, and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act.” I love that.

Our final night on the farm was significant because they invited their people to join us, people who define themselves as family, trustworthy relationships that have withstood the test of time, people who give each other an irresistible sense of hope.

It wasn’t just the easy camaraderie they displayed, or the diversity of the generations docked around the kitchen table, but what I found most attractive was the warm of inclusion I felt as a stranger in their midst.

[Can I just add not only were we served a delicious meal, paired with extraordinary wines, and a delectable dessert, but everyone participated, especially the drones.]

5 – Fifth and finally I think it is interesting how little we really know about each other unless we take the time to really see each other in and through the sacred lens of our passions, the things that not only drive us, but define us. We had the enormous privilege of visiting the home of my mother’s first cousin Richard, in this we were able to observe the culmination of his lifelong passion, and that being the collection, restoration, and display of miniature trains. Trains have crisscrossed our landscape for centuries, they are part of our heritage, and I believe they are embedded in our universal conscious, in that we are inordinately delighted by this form of transportation. Seeing the breadth and depth of his passion in minute detail inspired my own in ways I’ve yet to discover. I’m enormously grateful for the small peak inside the workings of this majestic man.

“Mother of the West” This Missouri nickname is a reference to Missouri’s advantageous geographical location and history of westward expansion. Both the Santa Fe and Oregon trails start in Missouri and The Pony Express and the Butterfield Overland Mail Route both originated in Missouri.

“Salus populi suprema lex esto,” is the Missouri state motto, it’s translated as “Let the good of the people be the supreme law.” We also brewed our own beer, sipped wine on the porch by the light of the moon, and engaged in unrushed conversations over steaming cups of coffee, something we often sacrifice in lieu of a more frantic lifestyle. See I believe we epitomized the state motto unawares.

I am the harvest, the witness, and the worker who learned how to show up, risk the unknown, put in the labor, and in doing so relish the sweetness of hope. Even though I am compelled to remove the struggle from the lives of those I love, I’m learning how our challenges not only form us, but drag us right through the valley of fear, and into a space where we are able to discover our best selves.

I’ve seen first hand how hard it is to cultivate the landscape in which we live, it is the same with cultivating the self, it requires extraordinary grit, the kind that forged miles and miles of tracks across America, and in doing so we discovered not only the true spirit of Missouri, but that of Mike and Gail who are, “close to home, and far from ordinary.”

I’m Living in the Gap, drop by anytime, we’ll do something simple, peaceful, assuaging.

Anecdotes:

  • You have to love your country the way you love your friends, the way your spouse loves you, right? The people who love you don’t blow smoke up your backside. They don’t do that. They tell you hard truths. Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Fulfilled life is possible in spite of unfulfilled wishes. Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • “Hey. Please. This is not the Midwest. All right? Michigan is the Midwest, God knows why. This is the Plains: a state of mind, right, some spiritual affliction, like the Blues.” Tracy Letts”

 

17 Comments

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  1. Wow!!
    What a wonderfully written tome that both draws in the spiritual genesis of our reconnection and also captures the zeitgeist of your visit! Ah, but why does it matter? I believe that as you go through life, it is family and friends that really matter. You, Larry and Nancy have become both.
    While we wander through this life, we all toil with the humdrum of a mundane existence. What is it that makes life special, joyous? No one reflects on their life in their old age (not yet) and feels that they should have spent more time in the office. Nope. They look back on those special times when family, friends and the overall experience blend together to make a truly memorable time. This was one of those times.
    Let’s break it down…
    I believe it took courage to plunk down the cash for a plane ticket, fly to St. Louis, eat dinner on the “Hill” (ok, this did not take courage,) and then drive to Les Bourgeois Bistro in the middle of Missouri. Just to meet up with distant relatives near the Ozarks? Did you hear the Banjos?

    What if we didn’t show? What if the food was bad? Or even worse, what if we were boring??? Living on the edge…
    I love your thoughts on you reap what you sow. It brings me joy to eat something I grew, picked, plucked, shot etc., but it brings me more joy to share with people who are truly kind and appreciative.
    The struggles of taming the Missouri wilderness are worth the pleasure of relaxing afterward in a peaceful beautiful evening. Thanks for bringing the perfect weather.
    I was amazed at how easily you and Larry fit in. It was as if you were Midwesterners at heart.
    Thanks for humoring my wine indulgence. I needed a good excuse to open some of those dusty old bottles.
    Glad you appreciate bees. We drones are worth more than a mere mating flight.
    Lastly, the only negative about the last weekend is that it is over, and now I am left a little sad, with an empty spot in my spirit that can only be filled with another 2nd cousin visit.

    PS I won’t “through you any shade.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh the joy it brings me to see Michael’s name appear in the comments. I savor it as much as I do writing the blog. I hope your ears have been burning Gail and Mike, as stories about our Missourian adventure have dominated the conversations for an entire week. Remember when she said… Remember when we… Remember his comment about… Remember how it felt to pet a Clydesdale, pick fruit, four wheels it, lick honey from your fingers, sip extraordinary wine, make our own pizza, brew beer, visit the trains, and that landscape! Let me just say Missouri has much to offer, what a wonderful life you have “literally” carved out for yourselves in this beautiful land, and we miss you!

      Made our return to the Bay Area all the more difficult. I think a new adventure needs to be on the books so we have something to look forward to and anticipate. Maybe a reunion at the lake sometime soon? Winter is fabulous up here. Or travel abroad? Let’s brainstorm soon.

      Give our best to the friends and family who we were privileged to meet and please know we are every so grateful for your generous hospitality.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, well written, and beautiful pictures. I’m glad you really got to connect with your family. I have the benefit of having most of my family within a few kilometers of me. I love that line you used, “Sometimes we can’t see the best of ourselves until we find ourselves caught in the lens of someone who loves us.” It’s so true.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Matthew! I’m so grateful for your kind words and generous response to this post. I have most of my family close at hand like you, but those relatives who live a distance away are certainly worthy of a visit every now, and then. You choose one of my favorite lines in the post to high light, clearly we have similar ways of “viewing” those we love. Hope to see you again at Living in the Gap!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I love those moments in life that carry so many lessons. Most of them are unexpected but they warm your heart nonetheless. It’s a blessing to go out of your comfort zone because you see yourself in such a clearer light.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Sandra – I agree, if we’re brave enough to step out of our usual routines, it all the more important to allow the experience to add clarity to our lives. That’s such an important perspective, thanks for taking the time to read this post, and share your insights. Much appreciated.

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  3. How beautifully you have captured your visit! I do not think wilderness or even nature should be tamed; its beauty to me is in the tangle of it all. As you said, sublime!

    Bees! It is instinctive for me to duck them and shoo them away. Honeybees have been going downhill and I was sad that there were so few of them this year. Our fruit trees were pollinated almost fully by bumblebees.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Jaya, I so enjoyed your response to this piece. The Missouri landscape is extraordinary and I agree my favorite parts lie in the “tangle of it all.” I too am slightly horrified of bees so when Gail asked me to help spin the honey from the combs she gently and slowly shared the story of bees with me. she definitely changed the way I see bees, yet I’m still not a fan of being stung! Hope to see you at Living in the Gap sometime soon.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by Living in the Gap Fluxing Well and sharing your thoughts. It certainly was a out of the ordinary experience which made it all the more meaningful. Embracing the unknown – something I have to keep reminding myself of especially when I’d prefer to hide out behind a computer! Hope to engage with you again in the comments!

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  4. Hi Sunshine! Thank you so much for stopping by Living in the Gap and sharing your thoughts! I’m thrilled that you related to this post and enjoyed traveling to Missouri with us! Life is such a sweet adventure, hope to engage with you in the comments again soon. All my best!

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