In a conversation last week with a co-worker, I asked how far away from the office she lived. The question was one of those you ask when an outbreak of winter weather has caused a thick layer of frozen precipitation to build up on all possible roads home.

She said she lived not far from town and only a short distance off the main highway. I said that was good, but my journey home would be somewhat different.

“I live way out and that’s just how it is,” I said.

“I like having neighbors,” she said. “It makes me feel safer.”

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

“I can understand that,” I said. “But most of my neighbors have four legs. And some of them howl at night.”

I’ve always been drawn to the outdoors. Even when I was young and living in suburbia, I enjoyed being on a mountain more than in a high-rise and at a lake more than at a friend’s pool.

There was never a time when I wouldn’t have chosen hiking on a trail over walking in a mall. My preference has always been to be closer to a flowing stream than a jam-packed freeway and I’ve always liked large trees more than large SUVs.

And I’ve always thought that breathing clean air beats choking down particulates from factory smoke and car exhaust.

My wife is on a similar wavelength, preferring a rural environment to an urban setting. So it’s not surprising we live 10 miles from the nearest place to buy milk.

Don’t get me wrong – we don’t live in the middle of the Serengeti Plain or the Amazon jungle. From our property at night, we can actually see one of those pole-mounted security lights some people pay a monthly charge for. And during the day, if the leaves are down, an outbuilding or two are visible way off in the distance.

But you don’t “drop in” at our house. It’s definitely more of a place that you predetermine going to.

That’s the way we like it.

Wherever I have lived, I have always enjoyed doing some studying of the local area’s history and the background of people who have lived there through the years. While looking into southern Missouri’s past several months ago, I stumbled across an article posted online at the Springfield-Greene County Library web site that mentioned a word local folks used long ago when referring to the rugged Ozark hill country in which they lived. They called it the “jillikins,” a title I was for whatever reason fascinated with and in turn latched firmly onto.

The article is called “Bowin’ an’ Spikin’ in th’ Jillikins” and was written in 1991 by one Dr. James E. Price, a prominent collector and user of antique woodworking tools. It was apparently first published in The Gristmill, a quarterly publication of the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association. You can find it at http://thelibrary.springfield.missouri.org/lochist/periodicals/ozarkswatch/ow50319.htm. It has some great illustrations and plenty of insight into the history of the Ozarks and several aspects of life here in the 1800s.

I’ll bet it was great back when the jillikins were REALLY the jillikins.

Fishin’, huntin’, trappin’, farmin’and loggin’. Horses, buggies, pot-bellied stoves and even bigger spaces than there are now. I like to imagine being there. I like to envision the simplicity.

I’m sure every moment wasn’t like lying in a bed of rose petals and I suppose the going had to be pretty tough at times. But still, I’d trade fossil fuel, Hollywood and the Internet for wooden wheels, homemade jerky and hats with big brims any time.

In a heartbeat.

I much prefer being out where our dogs are so unaccustomed to vehicular traffic that they bark every time a car goes by on the dirt road that’s 150 yards from the house.

I like the view of God’s heavens on a clear night, unaffected by light from artificial sources, like all-night retail giants’ parking lots.

Furry neighbors, trees, grass and dirt – that’s what I’m talking about.

On one recent evening, my wife and I were outside and she asked, “what’s that noise?”

“That’s a truck up on the highway,” I said.

“Oh that’s right – I keep forgetting it’s there,” she said.

Works for me.

Doug Davison is a writer, copy editor and advertising representative for the Houston Herald. E-mail: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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