The wild animal in my life

The ancient ash tree in our back yard reaches halfway to Orion, where its loftiest branches fork and fork again to throw new shoots toward the sun. Tucked into those soaring ash cradles—not big enough yet to make Louisville Sluggers, … Read More

The Candy Bomber

A cold corridor in the Truman Library recreates Berlin’s postwar reality: refugees who didn’t freeze to death had nothing to eat. Enter the Berlin Airlift. A photo captures the spirit of that humanitarian armada: an American plane flies one hundred … Read More

Our Raft Encounters a Queen

Around a sweeping bend we noticed thick black smoke that signaled one of the rarest sights on the river, at least nowadays. Sure enough, a paddlewheel steamer appeared, churning toward us. As the distance closed between our two craft, the … Read More

Wild Woods

The music you bump into in these remote hamlets can be surprising. So are the venues. Of all the hundreds of places I’ve played, none resonated so sweetly as a spot just a stone’s throw off Highway 19. Atop the … Read More

Outlaws need pants.

Just south of Lawson, in the pastoral countryside, a huge factory, built more than 150 years ago, made pants and sweaters. The factory may have sold pants and sweaters to Harry Truman, who sold pants and sweaters when he was … Read More

Ignored the Signs. Went In.

Johnnie’s Bar has been serving whiskey in downtown St. James since the Irish laborers built the railroad through here. Even from the outside, Johnnie’s looks foreboding, with its big neon Stag Beer sign over a doorway into cold, smoky darkness. … Read More

Connie, the KC Cutie

Connie stays across the river from downtown Kansas City at the old municipal airport. She’s known more formally as a Lockheed Constellation, the airline workhorse of the 1950s. If you saw her, you’d instantly recognize the plane, with her curvy … Read More

Puzzle Heaven. Puzzle Hell.

Sleeper, Missouri, hides some big stories. Years ago two trains collided in Sleeper. The trains piled up like accordions, and only a jigsaw puzzle master could put them together again. Appropriate, as I approached Nancy Ballhagen’s Puzzles, a major distributor … Read More