Gateway: Living

Missouri isn’t close, but it’s certainly not the moon

Bass fishing at a lake near Columbia, Missouri is one way to enjoy the beautiful scenery there.
Bass fishing at a lake near Columbia, Missouri is one way to enjoy the beautiful scenery there. Courtesy

“Missouri? You’re kidding, right?”

That’s what I said to our son, Zach, when he explained that he’d applied for a job there. He’d begun an intensive search after completing his graduate degree in chemistry, but even with a science background, it was not an easy task. He had to be open to all possibilities. If hired, he’d become an environmental chemist for the U.S. Geological Survey in Columbia, Missouri.

Missouri may as well have been the moon. It was far away, and truly alien to me as a lifelong Northwesterner. Years ago, I had been to the Midwest with Zach for a family reunion in Nebraska. Otherwise, I was clueless.

In March, when Zach got the call that he’d been hired, my husband Ken and I were in shock.

Zach was game. He loaded up his truck with as much as he could fit in — including his black lab mix dog, Ellie — and headed east, a young man seeking his fortune.

We’ve been to Missouri twice since then, and now it doesn’t seem so unfamiliar. In fact, we like it there. The people are friendly and the terrain is beautiful, with rolling green hills, sparkling creeks, and the deep and wide Missouri River coursing through the state.

The town of Columbia is smack in the middle of Missouri, about equidistant between Kansas City and St. Louis. It’s a college town, home to the University of Missouri. On our first visit there back in July, we went downtown for a bite to eat. It was late, but it was balmy and the place was hopping. Young people were lined up to get into a bar where raucous dancing was in progress. The restaurant choices were plentiful: German, Chinese, Mexican, East Indian and more. Trendy coffee shops with Wi-Fi were abundant throughout the downtown core.

The next day, we went to Zach’s workplace and met his bosses and coworkers, all committed scientists from different disciplines, doing research on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems throughout the United States.

We were reassured to see the quality of Zach’s workplace, and are proud of him for the research he’s doing there.

One evening, Zach took us bass fishing at a nearby lake. Flowering lily pads adorned its shoreline. Zach’s canine companion Ellie dashed through the tall grasses then circled back and lapped at the lake water. Zach caught a fish, but Ken didn’t — a rare occurrence!

We explored some of Missouri’s rich history. The capitol building in Jefferson City has busts of famous Missourians, among them Sacajawea, Mark Twain, Emmet Kelly (the famous clown), Scott Joplin, George Washington Carver, Yogi Berra and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

In October we returned to Missouri when the leaves on all of the deciduous trees were aflame. Celebrating Oktoberfest in nearby Hermann, we visited Stone Hill winery, the oldest winery in Missouri, established by German immigrants in 1847. It was a crisp sunny day and there were literally thousands of revelers.

Back in Columbia, we borrowed bikes and rode with Zach along the Missouri River, following the famous Katy Trail that spans the state. On other days we hiked along wooded creeks in both the lowlands and the hills, taking in breathless views.

We helped Zach outfit his little rental house, a sweet Victorian only a few miles from the “The Big Muddy.”

In this day and age, many children move far away for work or education. It’s a big adjustment for all involved, and like others, we are trying to make the best of it. As long as Zach’s in Missouri, we’ll consider it our second home.

Reach columnist Mary Magee at