Growing up on a cattle farm in southeast Missouri, I didn’t have to worry about driving anywhere when I got the notion to explore nature. All I had to do was walk out my front door.
And when I moved to the outskirts of Springfield in 2011, going for a walk by a creek was still just as simple as stepping outside.
But that all changed when I moved to Joplin in December and signed an apartment lease. So, I’m in the beginning stages of learning what the area offers for outdoor enthusiasts.
A few of my colleagues had some great recommendations, and the area I heard about the most was Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center. So, on an unseasonably warm day in mid-January, I made the short drive, parked at the nature center and started my hike down the trail.
I was enjoying the warm sun and cool breeze, but when I reached Shoal Creek, I was mesmerized by turquoise water that seemed to be highlighted by the orange-red soil it flowed past.
As I continued down the trail, a man stopped me and said I should keep an eye out for bald eagles, adding he had been seeing them frequently.
When I reached a bridge that crosses the creek, I sat down on a bench about midway through and watched the water rush over the boulders.
And just when I started to think the view couldn’t be more breathtaking, I hiked to the top of a hillside above the creek.
From there, the creek’s blue-green color stood out even more. I could have stayed there for hours.
I continued to follow the trail and walked under Interstate 44, which was a little eerie, and eventually looped back to my car.
My next destination: Grand Falls.
I took several pictures of the falls, then sat by the water for a bit. Something caught my eye as it swam swiftly past me. To my surprise, I realized it was a small river otter. I tried to take a quick photo, but the otter disappeared before I could get my camera focused.
Then, just as quickly as it vanished, the otter reappeared again with plants and sticks in its mouth. As many times as I have been fishing on rivers, that was the first time I had seen an otter in the wild.
About a dozen people stopped by the falls to take advantage of the weather that day.
A young boy was fishing off the bank as his grandfather stood close by. It took me back to the all the times my dad and I went fishing at the ponds on our farm and made me long for home.
But instead of staying sad, I smiled as I began to think about how the outdoors strengthened my relationship with my dad as we spent countless fishing trips together. He was also with me when I killed my first deer — an eight-point buck — this past deer season.
A passion for nature has also served as a common interest for me and one of my brothers. Alan and I used to go raccoon hunting at night, and I’ll never forget a time we stood in the middle of a snow-covered field. The moon was shining so bright that it reflected off the snow, and we could see our surroundings, even without flashlights.
When I got back to my apartment that evening, I shared the pictures with my parents. And when I learned that I’ll get to write for the Globe’s monthly outdoor page, Alan was one of the first people I wanted to tell.
So, although my dad and brother are on the other side of the state, being outdoors in Southwest Missouri is keeping me connected to home. I’m excited to see what else the area has to offer.
Katie Lamb is a reporter for The Joplin Globe. Email her at email@example.com.