FRED FIRST: Country Mouse, City Life / Growing New Roots without Transplant Shock

As soon as we made the decision in November to move to Columbia, calculating the distance from our new digs to the Columbia Mall was not the first thing I did. You have to understand what a temptation that was (not): there are 11 men’s and 22 women’s clothing stores under that sprawling roof. My *Angels in the Attic Floyd attire will suit me very well until the very end, thank you.

Of course, the first thing that I actually did was to confirm, from my memory of our visits to CoMo a decade ago–that the city is criss-crossed by walking and biking trails in and between green spaces blended into the commercial and housing real estate for 31k university students and another 100k residents.

Depending on your source, there are 50 to 70 miles of trails and more than 3000 acres of parks within the city limits, and much more just outside of town and not far away from our new location on the southern perimeter.

► AllTrails has a good map with descriptions and photos.


A 70 mile sampling would give me a good sampling of the diversity of landform and nature. Every trip might add another bird or wildflower or new-to-me tree species or creek bed exposing the bones of the place. That is what the trails would be to me. And I will need that connection with the outdoors.

For the first time since 2000, we will not live at the center of our own “park” of wooded acres and creeks on our property, right outside the back door. Public lands will have to satisfy that need to escape from walls and asphalt; to find solitude, quiet and natural beauty. We will have to get in the car to be in those places. And so it goes.

On the other hand, there are 30 wooded acres on the Lenoir Woods 80 acre campus, with trails in earshot of highway 63. Meh. It won’t be a wilderness experience, but it will be convenient. I made sure of that before we committed.

The transplant shock will be considerable. But seeing my first Missouri bloodroot or Baltimore Oriole or two-lined salamander will assure me of the common biology between the alien and the once-familiar.

It will take more years than I have to feel like I know the Central Plains in the way I have known the southern Appalachians. But like Mr. Stills suggests, I will love the one I’m with. I want to become acclimated in a new “native” habitat for as long as I can navigate a level path. And then find my way home.

I have had the (maybe bad) idea to buy an e-bike and gain access to most of those 70 trail-miles. Otherwise, save for the first 2-3 miles from the trailhead, those miles will never be seen and remain only a potential, abstract reality. We’ll see how it feels once we get there. (They can be rented in town!)


The most notable of all the trails associated with Columbia is the Katy Trail. Our son’s new home is located just a few hundred yards from this wide, level, well-maintained path that he can take from home into town, or the other direction, away from it all. Here’s the skinny:

MKT Trail This trail is a 10.4-mile-long gravel trail that connects Columbia to the Katy Trail State Park. It passes through scenic landscapes, including forests, wetlands, and prairies. The trail is suitable for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. You can access the trail from several points, such as Flat Branch Park, Forum Nature Area, and Scott Boulevard Trailhead.

Katy Trail State ParkThis trail is the longest developed rail-trail in the country, spanning 240 miles across Missouri. It follows the former route of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, also known as the Katy. The trail offers diverse views of the Missouri River, bluffs, farmlands, and small towns. The trail is open for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. You can access the trail from many towns along the way, such as Rocheport, Boonville, and Jefferson City.

In the heart of Columbia, Missouri, the Katy Trail unfurls like a ribbon through the early morning fog. The sun peeks over the horizon, casting a warm, golden glow that illuminates the trail and the surrounding foliage. Native songbirds flutter about, their melodies creating a symphony that echoes through the crisp morning air. In the midst of this serene landscape, an engaged and trim 75-year-old man appears. He's riding an e-bike, pedaling with a vigor that belies his age.
In Missouri I may finally grow a gray ponytail. And get a tat. Sorry, mom.

*Angels in the Attic is Floyd’s non-profit thrift store and the source for 20 years for jackets and shirts for me, slacks and dresses for Ann. We will have to find the CoMo counterpart. You will NOT find me shopping for new clothes at the mall—or going there in HushPuppies for squirrel-cage exercise. Promise!

I am hoping that readers from the Columbia area will join the conversation. Poke somebody from CoMo. Maybe they will thank you?

– Fred First is an author, naturalist, photographer watching Nature under siege since the first Earth Day. Cautiously hopeful. Writing to think it through. Thanks for joining me. Subscribe to My Substack HERE

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