An Outdoor View: State of the Heartland

Posted: Friday, November 26, 2010

BONNE TERRE, MISSOURI -- I'm visiting my brother and his wife in this small town 55 miles south of St. Louis. This is my first venture into the "Show-Me" state. To me, it's a whole 'nother world.

Just getting here was fun. I flew into St. Louis on Alaska Airlines and rented a car. There I was, in a car I'd never driven with a GPS I'd never used, pulling onto a 70-mph freeway at rush hour in the dark. The horror! I hope that's the most exciting thing I do while here.

Missouri has an interesting past. There were the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-1812, the most violent in U.S. history. In 1860, the Pony Express started its run to Sacramento, Calif., from St. Joseph, Missouri. Jesse James and his gang pulled off the first train robbery at Gads Hill, Missouri, in 1874, and in St. Joseph, Bob Ford shot and killed Jesse in 1882. In 1945, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died, Vice-President Harry S. Truman of Independence became President.

The state fish is the channel catfish, commonly found in Missouri's lakes and streams. The state aquatic animal is the paddlefish, a primitive fish found in the Osage, Missouri and Mississippi rivers and some of the state's larger lakes. The state bird is the bluebird. The state gamebird is the bobwhite quail. The state animal is the Missouri mule. The state vehicle is the pickup truck.

Deer season is a big deal here. Last year hunters harvested almost 300,000 white-tails. Firearms season opened last weekend. For the first time, deer hunters were allowed to use an atlatl, a prehistoric weapon that predates the bow and arrow. Atlatl hunters throw a spear-like "dart" with the aid of a narrow board. Missouri regulations also allow hunters to use air-powered rifles of .40 caliber or larger.

Another big deal in Missouri is the Asian carp invasion. Brought into the U.S. in the 1970s and stocked in aquaculture ponds and sewage lagoons, they soon spread into Midwest waterways. These pests gained fame when they started jumping from the water into boats and made it into YouTube videos. Biologists fear they may get into the Great Lakes, and are frantically working to find a way to eradicate them. They blame the Asian carp for damaging habitat and reducing the numbers of native fish species.

The roadkill is different here. Instead of snowshoe hares, you see white-tailed deer. They're everywhere. A buck ran across the road not far from the front of my rental car. I drove past several beside the road, dead.

While here, I set off on my own to check off a couple of items on my bucket list: the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. The 622-mile road trip through Illinois, Indiana and Ohio was roughly equivalent to driving from Homer to Fairbanks, but with no mountains to block your view of the scenery. Another difference is that you don't see endless herds of thundering 16-wheelers and the carcasses of deer, skunks, opossums, raccoons, and truck tires on the road to Fairbanks. Also noted: There are enough Christian and Sports radio stations in America's Heartland to satisfy the most zealous devotee.

Next week: Washington state on the fly.

Les Palmer lives in Sterling.

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