One Woman’s Journey Through Oz

2002 - 5 - Caney Mountain Herb walk - vistasby Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz

I am not an Ozarker by birth.  I was actually born in  the West, grew up in the Deep South, and spent 10 years or so roving about the Rocky Mountains of Western Montana and other points beyond.  I love them all.  But when the day came that I first laid my eyes upon the rocky and rolling hills and hollers of the Ozarks, something deep in my bones told me I was home.

It wasn’t until I had lived in the Ozarks for about a year that I began to understand my unusually strong affinity for a place I knew nothing about. Slowly, little bits and pieces of my family’s history began to trickle in from both sides.  First from members of my mother’s family who told me that my maternal Great Grandmother, a slight but intimidating woman we called ‘Mamaw’ was part Cherokee.  Then later, I was told by my aunties that my great, great grandfather had been a full-blood Cherokee.

We don’t know if this information is 100% true, but if he was Cherokee, then he surely would have walked the Trail of Tears, which cut right across these Ozark hills into the New Territory of Oklahoma 175 years ago.

In addition to this interesting connection to the Ozark, I later found out that my paternal grandfather – who was born in the hills of Kentucky to Scottish immigrants – lived in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, in the early 1900’s.  While we don’t know exactly what he was doing there, there is a good chance that he was involved in the mining of lead ore in the area.

At that time, Poplar Bluff was the bustling Gateway to the riches of the Ozarks plateau.  By 1910, my Grandpa and much of his immediate family moved south to Arkansas where he eventually met and married my Grandmother.  And like so many others during the Great Depression, they set out for the promised land of California where they settled down and made their family – and where, eventually, I was born.

The lives of my ancestors seem to have crossed paths in an odd cultural paradox 2014 5-10 Hebron to Twin Bridges Float (12) Hebron Bridge and Springof migration and relocation. Their lives, like those of most people during that era, would have been spent close to the land upon which they lived. I have come to believe that my own bones must contain a genetic memory of their footprints through the Ozarks which is why my love for it ran inexplicably deep.

So it was that long before I was made aware of my familial links to the Ozarks, a mysterious force drew me here and made me stay despite my natural tendency to wander. Even when I was able to wriggle free from its oddly compelling embrace, I always found myself making my way back to the Ozarks as if possessed by the land itself.  In essence, I made the return trek to a collective point in the history of my ancestors; a fitting tribute to their memories and to the legacy of historic migration.

I would like to say that Dean and I chose to live in the Ozarks for this reason, but our move here 22 years ago also involved a bit of serendipity. We literally threw a dart at a map and landed in the Ozarks of northern Arkansas.

We had some idea of where we were going to when we loaded up the 1976 Plymouth with all our possessions and our two dogs and drove non-stop all the way to these hills from Western Montana on that fall day back in 1992.  Dean had taken the night shift at the wheel while I slept.  Early the next morning, just as the sun was coming up over the Boston Mountains in northern Arkansas, he woke me with a gentle nudge.  With a smile in his voice he said, “Look!”

As my eyes adjusted to the light, I looked upon a foggy expanse of mountainous hills stained with the hues of fall leaves touched with the golden light of dawn as far as the eye could see.  It was absolutely breathtaking.

1993-4 - Gafield, AR - The chicks move into the coop.Possessed by a mission to plant ourselves on a homestead and grow our own food, we bought a trailer and 20 acres that very afternoon. Making it in our new home was a hard row to hoe. We learned a lot and made many mistakes.  And while I was compelled by the place we found ourselves, I hadn’t yet fallen in love with it.

Then one day as I wandered in the woods behind our home, the indecipherable music of the Ozarks finally found its way into my ear and would not be silenced. I was compelled to find its hidden niches, study its deep history and embrace the intangible entity that held me so. At that moment I began to search for the source of the mysterious pulse of this land and to etch its unique rhythm upon my heart.

I often refer to the Ozarks as Oz, for have often felt like the fictional Dorothy, wandering through a magical land looking for home. And after many years of wandering this fantastic landscape – listening, watching, and learning – my love for the Ozarks finally outgrew my ability to contain it and I began to transcribe 2008 May (19)it’s siren song into a book I called, A Journey of Seasons.

What I found on my journey through the seasons in Oz was the realization that anyone can become an Ozarker if they simply allow themselves to find the joy in its paradoxes and peace in its incredible beauty. Ultimately, this requires an open mind, a heart for originality and a desire to leave certain things just the way they are.

I hope you find something magical to ponder on this cold winter’s day – wherever you may be.  And that your journeys always lead you home.

© 2014 Jill Henderson  Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.


AJOS-214x32813A Journey of Seasons

Filled to the brim with colorful stories, wild walks, botanical musings, and a just a pinch of “hillbilly” humor A personal and inspiring tale of homesteading in the Ozark backwoods by noted author, naturalist and plant organic gardener, Jill Henderson.

Available in the Show Me Oz Bookstore
Look inside!


Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore.  Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.


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2 responses to “One Woman’s Journey Through Oz

  1. I understand the feelings you describe so well…Jung called it The Collective Unconscious, Jon calls it Prior Knowledge, and scientists today are calling it genetic programming. Either way, we remember our forebears memories…..I have found this to be especially true when I am walking in their footsteps in a geographic area we have both shared.
    Listen, you will hear them……open your mind and you will feel them.
    I think that is exactly what you are doing, and it is what I do, too…..

    • Thank you, Di. I’ve not heard all those terms before, but I do most definitely hear and feel them – and all those who came before. It’s like a faded negative. You get faint glimpses from time to time, but the sense that you are not alone is strong.

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