Walking in beauty

Soft purple prairie petunia (Ruellia humilis) taken while walking the roadside in Osceola, Missouri by Betsey Crawford

I’ve been a walker all my life. From grade school through college, I walked to school. As teenagers in a small town with nowhere to go, we would take walks to hang out together. I walked to my first job after college. There were a couple of years, after moving to New York City, when I took ballet classes and went to a gym. But then, in my late twenties, after my mother’s early death, I found solace in walking. That began a daily habit that has lasted over forty years.


White and red flower of sweet potato (Apios americana) found walking the roadside in Osceola, Missouri by Betsey Crawford
Sweet potato (Apios americana) Osceola, Missouri

This puts me in excellent company: Aristotle, Beethoven, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, John Muir, Mary Oliver. And Henry David Thoreau, who, in his dual role as both walker and scold, suggested that 

“We should go forth on the shortest walk in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return — prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again — if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man — then you are ready for a walk.”
~ Walking ~

Slender petalled and brown centerd yellow ozark sunflower (Helianthus silphioides) taken while walking in Osceola, Missouri by Betsey Crawford
Ozark sunflower (Helianthus silphioides) Osceola, Missouri

Needless to say, he found that he “almost alone hereabouts practiced this noble art.” And he would not have had me as an acolyte. I chafe against the need to apply sunscreen before going on a walk, much less rethinking my will. I love to put on shoes, grab my camera, and walk out the door.

There are, however, few places with beautiful walks right outside my door. Most need driving to get to them. But in Missouri, though I had to walk a short stretch of harrowing state road, I could leave my RV and quickly found myself on a country lane full of beauties, large and small, morning and evening.

a herd of curious cows in Osceola, MIssouri by Betsey Crawford

There was nothing special about this road. Everything was lush and green, which was lovely. The roadside ditches were full of wildflowers, which was delightful. There were a few houses, a patch of woodland, some fields, and a pasture with the loudest and most curious cows I’ve ever come across.

They weren’t always there, but if they were, they all came to the fence the moment they saw me and stared as I passed, several of them bellowing with abandon. Few cars went by. In the evening, the sky could be full of color as the sun set. I’ve walked in many more exciting and gorgeous places, but I loved this walk among the quiet roadside beauties of Missouri.


The only excitement in three weeks of walking there came one morning when a killdeer flew across the road and started squawking at me. She was exhibiting typical killdeer behavior, trying to convince me to follow her into the field on my right, which made me assume she had a nest to protect in the field on the left.

On the way back, however, when she started squawking again, I saw it wasn’t a nest she was trying to protect. A young killdeer, almost invisible against the gray road, was running along its edge.

A tiny, running killdeer is a hilarious sight. They have legs the size of toothpicks, which scissor madly back and forth, carrying their ball-of-fluff bodies. But after being amused for a while, I joined its frantic mother in her anxiety. The road was narrow, and when a car went by I held my breath, though the little one just kept going after it passed. It jumped, headfirst and sideways, into the tall grass along the edge, when the next car went by, then emerged unscathed and scissored off down the road.

A creature with red-brown fur crept from the thicket on the opposite side of the road. It was so quickly scared off by either me or the shrieking mother that it disappeared before I could see what it was. Dogs ran out to greet me, and luckily didn’t see the bird. I began to wonder how any killdeer makes it to adulthood.

A killdeer's broken wing display
Killdeer protect their nests on the ground by trying to get predators to follow them in another direction. They frequently pretend to have a broken wing, as this bird is doing, so they look like easy prey.
Thanks to Jim Rathert at the Missouri Department of Conservation for this amazing photo.

In the meantime, the little one kept going, now a quarter of a mile from where we’d started. I would have assumed that mother birds have ways of shunting their children into more desirable directions. She alternated between landing in front of her chick to scold and trying to distract me. But it was soon obvious that birds have no more control over their determined-to-be-free adolescents than we do.

As we went down the slope to the state road with its occasional but always high-speed traffic, I realized I was the problem. They were going to keep going as long as I did. I stopped to see what would happen, just as a big RV turned and started toward us.

The young one, who occasionally veered across the street and back, had just done so and was in the middle of the road as the RV roared its way up. Gearing myself for tragedy, I pointed to the virtually invisible bird, hoping the driver would see it. But those tiny legs made it across, dove headfirst into the grass, and the RV went by.

Before either mother or child could recover and start off again, I quickly walked to their far side, hoping they would now head toward home. After a long pause the little one emerged, and, to my relief, started scissoring back up the hill, mama squawking after it.

Vivid orange butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) found walking the roadside in Osceola, Missouri by Betsey Crawford
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) Osceola, Missouri

Other than getting caught up in that family drama and the passionate lowing of the cows, the walks were quiet and peaceful, always beautiful. In all these years, I’ve walked through joy and tragedy, calm and anxiety, humdrum life and frantic life. These lovely walks were about as serene as they get.

And they did what all walks do: cleared my head, opened my heart, and placed my feet firmly on the planet I live on, over and over again. I enjoy walking through towns and cities, exploring their details of place and community. But I love walking on coastal trails, woodland paths, along country roads, and being enveloped in the heartbeat of the earth.

The green seeds and wine colored stamens of vine-mesquite (Hopia obtusa) taken while walking in Osceola, Missouri by Betsey Crawford
Vine-mesquite (Hopia obtusa) Osceola, Missouri

More than anything else, this constant interaction with our green and breathing planet has told me I belong here, that I am woven into the fabric of life. Graceful stems bending with the weight of luminous flowers, grasses shimmering with light, cows lowing, leaves rustling above sturdy tree trunks, clouds still vibrant with sunlight already out of my vision. All are threads so interlinked with me it is impossible to disentangle us.

This sense of belonging is a great gift, a lifting of the weight of separation and loss that our disconnect from nature engenders. Soon enough I am back in the world of clocks, lists, plans, errands. But I bring with me a heart that knows paradise is not lost.

Deep yellow partridge pea (Chaemaecrista fasciculata) with velvety black stamens found walking the roadside in Osceola, Missouri by Betsey Crawford
Partridge pea (Chaemaecrista fasciculata) Osceola, Missouri

Top photo: Prairie petunia (Ruellia humilis) Osceola, Missouri

I’d love to have you on the journey! If you add your email address, I’ll send you notices of new adventures.

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A short grass prairie never suitable for farming, the Pawnee Grasslands were born out of grief. Now they are filled with quiet beauty, dramatic skies, hundreds of birds and other wildlife, and enough wildflowers to make me very happy.


The Nature Conservancy’s Smoky Valley Ranch is a working ranch, dedicated to preserving its prairie acres and developing ways to save and renew others. It’s beautiful, but not easy. And then, there are the prairie dog wars.

6 thoughts on “Walking in beauty”

  1. I’m with Carol. That photo of cows is just hilarious. Makes me wonder just WHAT they all are looking at! And the way you’ve caught the light on their ears amazes me. The photos, the saga of the baby killdear, I’m right there with you. I’ve been missing you more these days. It makes me wonder if this means it might be soon that you might be headed back west. Though I can see how you might not be wanting to. What a summer of wonder in the prairies. Sending love.

    1. So great to hear from you, my dear. The cows were all staring at me. They rushed down to that part of the fence every time they saw me and just stared. The dark ones did the bellowing. I am on my way back this week, and you’re right, I both am looking forward to being there, and wishing the wildflower season would go on and on. Love to you!

  2. My DearBets.. That’s the best picture of cattle I’ve EVER seen, including the dude in the back with the one horn… Curious. Interested. Paying cow-like attention to your presence…

    The flowers, as ever, are… Gee; what’s the word? Exquisite? Lovely? Magical? All of the previous?

    Your reminding all of us, over and over again, that there is other life, real life, so much more meaningful than the latest tweet-storm from that orange POS, is valuable beyond belief.


    1. Thanks, dear friend. Yes, the cows were amazingly attentive. If I gave you a moment of peace in this wild season, I’m very glad of it!

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