Rocky, rural and poor, Shannon County, Missouri is rumored to have more copperheads living in it than people. It sits at the northern tip of the Ozarks and was named after George Shannon who was lost for over a month on the Lewis and Clark expedition. It would be easy for a girl from San Francisco to feel similarly lost among caves and creeks, abandoned cars and distant neighbors which include “The Preacher” and a large man named Tiny. To get to the 60 wooded acres that my family owns with four others, you must leave the paved road for gravel and traverse a low-water crossing.
For the uninitiated to Southern Missouri, a low-water crossing means you drive into the creek. For the uninitiated to communal property owning, it involves wielding generator-fueled power tools more than a half hour’s drive from the hospital, learning more than you ever wanted to know about humanure and endless consensus-seeking meetings at which even children present ideas as proposals.
It also means that when the brother of one member dies unexpectedly you call from wherever you are without hesitation because if not you, then who? And on any given summer weekend in mid-Missouri when the temperature reaches 104 and your spouse is out of town, you can load your children in the car and in three hours be walking down the rocky path where dogs race to meet you and your extended family rises up from their camp chairs to welcome you home.
We have marked each of the five years of land-owning with an annual meeting on the gravel bar, followed by gin and tonics and music around the fire until the stars burn bright above us. The children splash in the creek and hunt for crawdads. Most days we live in town, in a house on a paved street. Even there, we carry our Ozark place within us. Home, I have come to believe, is not necessarily the place you are from. It is certainly not the place you expected to be. It is the one you return to again and again.