A goodbye to Callie…

We lost our girl, Callie, this weekend.  After having several bouts with severe arthritis in her back legs, on Saturday her hind quarters became paralyzed.  So, after 13 delightful years with our best friend, Mick and I said goodbye to her.

As far as dogs go, Callie had quite an interesting life.  She came from a litter of 13, and was born in an old VW bus in a campground in Skagway, Alaska.  Her mother’s owner, Abby, was working in town for the summer and living in the bus, and her dog, Two Socks, had gotten pregnant.  I’m sure Abby was shocked to realize she would have to find homes for 13 puppies, but she carefully chose the homes, and we were one of the lucky recipients. 

Abby and all of us would have birthday parties for Callie and her siblings each summer, usually at the beach at Long Bay, with plenty of space to run around.  Beers for us, and hot dogs and meatloaf birthday cake for Callie, Jasmine, Blue Bear, Lucius, Hoss, Worm, et al.  Then we would take a group picture to commemorate the day.

When we moved to Haines, Alaska, we bought a house with large cathedral windows in the front overlooking the river and ocean inlet.  One of the first things we did was build a window seat there, and that became Callie’s domain.  People stopping by often commented that she must be the luckiest dog in the world with that view.  She kept an eye out for bears, emitting a low growl when she saw one.  She somehow knew not to bark and bring attention to herself, but still wanted to give us a warning.  Strangely enough, the only wild animal that actually scared her were the turkeys here in Missouri.  They always sent her running for cover!

Callie and I in the Redwoods

She was Mick’s constant companion when he was home from his job on the ferry, and especially after he retired.  They were inseparable.  Mick was very active at the community radio station when we lived in Haines, and Callie would lie on the floor of the on-air room while Mick did shows.  You could always recognize Mick’s truck before you saw him because Callie would be across his chest, hanging out the window with one paw slung casually over the rear-view mirror. 

When we left Alaska, we had our car packed with very little room to spare.  Callie was wedged in between coolers and boxes, but she took it all in stride, excitedly sniffing out the corners of a new motel room when we stopped for the night.  She saw a lot of the country – Seattle, the Oregon Coast, the California redwoods, even the Grand Canyon.  She was a hit there, posing for pictures with the other tourists.  After being on the road for a month and a half, the car had become home to her. Even after we got settled in Missouri, she would often want to get in the back seat of the Jeep for a nap.

On the road again: Callie on our journey from Alaska to Missouri

I have heard people say over the years that getting attached to your pet is just a heartbreak waiting to happen.  Losing Callie will be a heart ache for quite some time, but we don’t mind.  The companionship and love she gave us for all those years is worth it.


A little history about Hermann…

Family grave marker - St Martin's cemetary 1849

This coming Saturday, August 26th, marks the 175th anniversary of Hermann’s founding.  A group of German immigrants who had initially settled in Philadelphia after leaving their homeland felt that staying in the east would compromise their German culture and heritage.  So, in 1836 the German Settlement Society of Philadelphia purchased 11,000 acres here along the Missouri River bluffs to build a little Germany of their very own.  Historians believe the group chose this location because it reminded them of the Rhine Valley.  Some of my own Fehlings’ ancestors showed up not long after, as evidenced by a few weathered tombstones.

            Keep in mind that there wasn’t much in this part of the world at that time.  The Louisiana Purchase had just occurred in 1803, which included Missouri.  This was wild country, and, although today the setting is beautiful with its perch overlooking the river and its hilly streets, 175 years ago it would have been treacherous and rocky land – not the most ideal spot to build a town.  But they left what had to have been relatively better conditions in Philadelphia, and made a life here, growing grapes on the hillsides, making wine to sell, and expanding their farming endeavors into the rich river bottom land.  Undoubtedly, life was challenging.

But, apparently, very few abandoned the dream and returned to Pennsylvania or Germany.  Generation after generation made this area of Missouri home.  I’m proof of that.  I can’t help but be impressed by their toughness and determination.  Is that where I got the moxie to leave everything and everyone I had known and move to Alaska when I was only twenty-two?  If I owe that inner strength to my ancestors, then I am forever grateful.  It is the characteristic I like most about myself, as I know it will always get me through whatever I face.

German School House

As the community celebrates its 175thanniversary this weekend, I can only imagine how proud those first Hermann settlers would be of their town today!  It is still German in so many ways.  Many of the early buildings have been carefully preserved.  The German School House, built in 1871, recently underwent a major renovation through local donations and fundraising events. 

Wineries are thriving, and German-style wines and beers are produced right here and distributed throughout the country.  The German language continues to be taught in the schools as well as German heritage and history courses.  Those early founders can rest easy – their legacy is lived out every day here in Hermann.

If you are visiting Hermann this weekend (August 26-27) there is a full schedule of activities celebrating the town’s 175th anniversary.  Go to www.visithermann.com for more details or click here to view the list of events.  If you think some of your ancestors may have settled in this area, you can do research at the Gasconade County Historical Society and Archives Building located at the corner of 4th and Schiller, right across the street from the Grapevine Guest Suite.

Hermannhof Winery

Scenes from a morning walk…

I’ve become a morning person.  I never used to be one.   My mom joked that it was a good thing I was in the afternoon kindergarten class, or she would have never gotten me there at all.  As each year goes by, I seem to enjoy the early mornings more and more.  My mind feels refreshed, and I feel I can get a jumpstart on my day.   Also, my husband, Mick, often has trouble sleeping at night, and usually sleeps in, giving me several hours with the house all to myself.

Since becoming a full-time grad student, I probably put in as many hours of work as when I was actually gainfully employed, but it makes for a much more flexible schedule.  One of the great benefits is having the time for a morning walk.

One of my favorite walks is down a narrow gravel road to a small Protestant church, the Bethany United Church of Christ.  In this rural countryside, you get the sense that many scenes have not changed through the years – this is one of those.  You meander down the road with a hay field on one side and woods on the other, and then you see a church steeple poking out through the trees.  A huge oak towers near the church – you can imagine its gnarled limbs providing shade for several generations of parishioners.  Cows graze in the fields beyond.  If you can overlook the electric lines to the church and the sound of drivers in the distance on their way to work, you will think you have walked back to another time.

The Bethany Church holds an ice cream social the middle of August each year – in fact, we were there just last Friday evening for it and spent time catching up with our neighbors, Bernadine and Larry.  There is a lot of “social” in this picnic.  It draws quite a crowd – the ice cream is good, but I think the homeyness of the setting and the opportunity to just sit and have an old-fashion visit is what brings folks back every year.

To find the Bethany UCC from Hermann, take Hwy 100 east for 7 miles.  Turn right on Z and drive about 1-1/2 miles.  You’ll see the sign for the church turn-off on the left

Take the road less traveled…

After more than four weeks of suffocating heat here in Missouri, we’ve had a break, and we are experiencing perfect summer days that normally you only dream of during August.  Gone is that combination of hot oven air with sauna-like humidity.  The temperature drops to the 60s at night, and we can sleep with the windows open again.  We find ourselves with the blanket pulled up to our chins in the morning – what relief! 

Everyone is trying to be outside as often as possible to enjoy this reprieve.  Whether it’s having dinner on the front porch or just taking a drive, it feels great to escape the air-conditioned confines of our homes and offices and breathe some fresh air. My husband, Mick and I, along with Callie, recently took advantage of a lazy day, packed a lunch, and drove across the Missouri River to explore some of our favorite spots.

So often when visitors to Hermann call to book a weekend at our guest house they will ask, “Other than going to the wineries, what is there to do around Hermann?”  It’s surprising to me that people need to have prescribed ‘things to do’ when they reach their destination.  If you go to St. Louis, you go to the Gateway Arch; if you go to Chicago, you have to go up in the Sears Tower; when in Hermann, you must taste wines.  Is that what separates the traveler from the tourist?  The traveler sees what he sees.  The tourist sees what he has come to see. ~ G.K Chesterton.

Don’t get me wrong – the Hermann wineries are great, and should not be missed.  But why not take a little time, wander around, and see what you will see?  The area around Hermann is perfect for exploring the road less taken. 

If you drive north across the Missouri River bridge, you will come to the intersection of Route 19 and Route 94 (this being the scenic Lewis and Clark Trail).  Turn right onto 94, and after a few miles you’ll see Tower Road on your left.  This gravel road crosses the Katy Trail biking route, and then it takes you right into the Daniel Boone Conservation Area.  This is really an undiscovered place, and yet it’s just a few miles from Hermann.  You’ll find picnic areas, hiking trails, fishing ponds, even horse paths.  What you won’t find are many people – in fact, on the recent day that Mick and I picnicked there, we didn’t come across one other person, and the area comprises over 3500 acres. It also has camping facilities for those looking for an alternative to the city park.

If you continue on Route 94, and go a couple more miles past Tower Road, you’ll come to Massas Creek Road on the left.  This is a favorite drive for Mick because it reminds him of some of the back roads he often drove around our home in Alaska.  A perfect day for my husband is loading Callie in the pickup and driving down gravel roads as slow as he can.  For him, the joy is in the journey.  Massas Creek Road is idea for this sort of day.  Keep in mind that this is a rugged road.  It is best suited for dry weather, as during rainy springs the creek overflows, often changing course, and can wash the road out in different places.  You don’t want to take your prized sports car on this one.

Me in Massas Creek (circa 1970)

What I like about Massas Creek is that it makes you feel time has stood still.  You do come across some houses from time to time (the Massas Creek Animal Shelter is along the way), but for the most part you can’t tell which century you’re in.  My parents lived not far from Massas Creek when my brother was growing up, so the area holds fond memories for our family.  When my brother came back to Hermann, he and his wife built a home just up the hill from the creek.

Massas Creek today

If you drive the whole length of Massas Creek, you’ll come out in the small town of Jonesburg.  You’ll find a restaurant there that serves (so I’ve been told) the best fried chicken livers around.  So, the next time you visit a new place, take some time to not only see what you’ve come to see, but also what you didn’t plan to see.

Monet had the right idea…

Earlier this week, one of my old high school friends, Anne, and I took a day for ourselves and drove in to St. Louis to see a presentation at the Missouri Botanical Garden about the garden’s collection of water lilies.  The program was a collaboration between the botanical garden and the St. Louis Art Museum which will be featuring an exhibit in the fall of Monet’s huge water lily panels. Water Lilies by Claude Monet, 1915

Monet prolifically painted what was around him in nature, but in my opinion, he seemed rather fixated on the water lilies in his pond.  I read that he did around 250 paintings of this plant.  Granted, water lilies do make for a pretty scene, but wouldn’t it become a boring subject after a while?  I tried to push that notion out of my mind – after all, I don’t have to understand how Monet thought in order to enjoy his paintings.  I tend to spend a lot of time trying to figure out why people do what they do.  Well, anyway, Anne and I had a great day – a perfect outing to satisfy a couple of small-town girls’ craving for some culture.

Anne was the perfect companion for this trip.  She and I were art students together at one time – we studied under the guidance of Linda Heck, long-time art teacher at Hermann High School.  I think we both took every art class that Mrs. Heck offered, and she did a great job of tapping into everyone’s creative interests – finding mediums and projects that would appeal to us.  She got us outside as often as she could, to paint or draw, stressing the “plein air” style, meaning “in the open air”.  Mrs. Heck has since retired, but continues to be busy with her own art, and it appears that the countryside around Hermann is still her favorite subject matter.

When I moved back here to Hermann, one of my concerns was what I would be missing out on – I had lived here before, I’ve seen all there is to see around here.  Wouldn’t I be missing out on other places, other scenery, other experiences if I decided to come home again?  

Monet seemed quite content with what was right outside his door – in fact he saw it, literally, in new light every day.  It never seemed to bore him. He was continually excited about what his own garden offered, and obviously he felt no need to look elsewhere for inspiration:  “Suddenly I had the revelation of how magical my pond is. I took up my palette. Since that time I have scarcely had any other model.” Claude Monet.

Coming home again to Hermann has made me appreciate the special beauty that this part of the Midwest has to offer.  It hasn’t been the sudden revelation that Monet had when looking at his pond – the appreciation of where I grew up has been a slower realization for me.  But, when I watch a muskrat swim across my own pond, or catch the scent of grass in the air being cut by a farmer for hay, it reinforces that I am right where I want to be – for now.

A Missouri hay field


Even Van Gogh would envy this sunflower found along a country road...

For those visiting Hermann, you’ll find Linda Heck’s artwork at the Kunstlerhaus Art Gallery and Pottery Shop on 1st Street.  This gallery is one of the best additions to Hermann during the time I was away.  There are many talented artists in this area, and you’ll find much of their work under one roof here – everything from oil paintings to metal art to hand-designed jewelry and textiles. 

You can go home again…

Growing up in rural Missouri, I daydreamed about my escape, as kids do the world over.  We always think there is something better out there.  In high school my best friend, Candi, and I would spend our study hall hour drawing up the floor plans of our future homes – hers, a rustic lodge in the Colorado mountains – mine, an apartment in Manhattan.  I wanted to work in fashion, and I would flip through the same Vogue magazines until the pages fell out, looking for inspiration as I sketched my “fall collection”.  We planned to always get our families together for holidays.  Candi was to have a son named Logan (which she did).  I would have a daughter named Willow…that maternal instinct to procreate and nurture never kicked in, and so I ended up with a black lab-mix named Callie.

            My friend Candi never found that home in Colorado, but she tries to get out of these hot Midwest summers by going to Michigan.  And although I have visited New York City a few times since I left high school, I ended up on the other end of the spectrum…in Alaska.  I went there to work with a college roommate following graduation, met my husband, Mick, that summer, and made it my home for over twenty years.  At the time we met Mick lived in a one-room log cabin at the head of a bay along the ocean.  The cabin had no electricity – he read by oil lamps.  There was no running water – he carried water from the creek and heated it on the stove for bathing and doing dishes.  Needless to say, there was no toilet, just an outhouse.  And yes, I moved in!  Which is proof positive that when in love, you are capable of doing extraordinary things.  Mick and I eventually moved into a beautiful log home with endless ocean and mountain views, watched grizzly bears from our living room window, and lived a life that for most is only a dream. 

            Our years in Alaska are worthy of their own blog, but this blog is about “life after Alaska”.  Everything runs its course, and for us, it was time to move on to the next chapter.  Mick had retired from his job on the Alaska State Ferry System.  He had also just had a pacemaker/defibrillator implant, and I was afraid that one more winter of shoveling snow might just do him in.  So I quit my job, and we found a buyer for our home, reluctantly turning over the keys.  And, on a wintry January night, with snow falling thickly, we loaded the last of our things, and our dog, Callie, into the back of the Jeep, said our good-byes to friends at the ferry terminal, and boarded the ferry bound for Washington State. 

            We had been talking about moving back to my hometown of Hermann, Missouri.  Mick was sure he could be happy there – small town life with low-key tourism – maybe we would buy a B&B.  From past visits he had fallen in love with the countryside around Hermann – the rolling hills, views of the Missouri River, the sound of car wheels on gravel roads – he already had the Lucinda Williams’ tunes going through his head – now he just needed the setting to fit the soundtrack.  Besides, winters in Missouri would be a cakewalk after all those years in Alaska.

            I was not as easily convinced that I was ready to go back to Hermann.  After spending my childhood dreaming about the life I would build outside of my rural upbringing, I had succeeded in doing it.  I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel and go home yet! I was sure we could find a nice community, other than Hermann, to call home.  So, when we drove off the ferry in Bellingham, Washington, we started driving south along the West Coast to see where we wanted to live next…first Oregon, then California.  We started heading east through Arizona, New Mexico, and before I knew it we were in Missouri in the midst of one of those famous February ice storms.  A few more hours down the road, and there we were, driving into Hermann, with Mick grinning ear-to-ear.

            Before the end of that first day back in Hermann, we had signed a contract to purchase the Grapevine Guest Suite, and by the end of the week, we had found a house and acreage in the country to call home.  I can’t say the adjustment was easy for me.  Suddenly I was back in the heartland of conservative politics, where you can still find people who have never traveled outside of the state, and avocadoes are considered exotic cuisine.

             Initially I viewed this move as a backward step in my life, but now I see it as more of a rejuvenating respite.  Whether I’m at a church picnic or watching a Friday night high school football game, or listening to the retired farmers complaining about the price of fuel at the local cafe, the scene hasn’t changed much in the twenty-some years that I’ve been away, and that’s okay.  It’s actually reassuring in a way.  You see, my time back home has shown me that self-fulfillment doesn’t necessarily come from traveling the world and having new experiences.  Those times are just icing on the cake.  Having a fulfilling life is, first, about feeling content in your own surroundings and enjoying the people and places right around you – and small towns are full of folks doing just that.

            As you read this blog, whether you are already familiar with historic Hermann, Missouri, or you are planning an upcoming visit here, I hope my reflections on life and happenings in this area of the Midwest will inspire you to return again and again, or maybe to even make it your own home some day.