Husband Jim and I enjoying Chicago…… ….But we love fishing just as much!
My family looked at me like I was crazy when I informed them last winter that I applied to a position in a rural southern Missouri town that neither my husband nor I had never been, in the middle of a forest, where we knew no one, for a significant cut in pay, in a job that I had limited formal experience in.
“Why would you want to do that?”
The ever-present question of confused looks on people’s faces when I explained that I was committing to a year of service with AmeriCorps, where I would be giving up a formal paycheck and benefits and relying on a “living allowance” of less-than-minimum-wage pay instead.
We had been living comfortably in Champaign, Illinois, plugged-in to the University of Illinois and only a 2-hour commute from bustling Chicago. Good job, great benefits, nice apartment, surrounded by intellectual, affluent people, and we agonized over it. Clock your 40-hour-weeks in a confined, dark, dingy building, in a space shared with other people and restricted by closed walls, performing the same routine task day-in-and-out, with little room for upward movement or cross training. Go home exhausted. Repeat the next day. Spend weekends in the windy city, where it is uncomfortable to be in the open air, so you sit on the couch and watch TV travel shows instead, wishing you were there, wherever they were. This is the cycle that my husband Jim and I sluggishly found ourselves sinking into. This was not the life that either of us had envisioned, nor dreamed of. Then last year, after a bumpy ride through a situation at my workplace, we made the mutual decision to begin looking for a change in scenery.
Previous Office in Champaign
My New Office View on the Mark Twain near the Current and Eleven Point Rivers
That is when I stumbled upon the Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork Program. Mt. Adams Institute receives a grant for veterans, in conjunction with AmeriCorps (alternately named the “domestic Peace Corps”), to fund internship opportunities for veterans within the U.S. Forest Service and associated natural resource agencies. These veterans are placed at various local, state, and federal land management agencies throughout the country, performing 11 months of community service at their site, gaining experience, job skills, and networking connections within the agency. The goal of the VetsWork program is found in providing career development to veterans, ultimately providing potential opportunity for federal employment with an agency in the natural resources world. Direct access to the outdoors, ability to learn and grow in a new skill set, public service, opportunity for continued federal employment, returning to my wilder roots of growing up in the outdoors of Alaska, almost everything about this program seemed attractive to me.
And so I applied.
And that is simply how we ended up in rural Doniphan, Missouri – a town of 2,000 residents with a Sonic Drive-In on the main drag and a Dollar General on the corner. As the local courthouse is a landmark dating back to the 1890’s, Doniphan is a step back in time to an old-timey-town, filled with local business and not a Walmart in sight, the meandering Current River on one side and the rolling hills of the Mark Twain National Forest on the other. And we love it.
As I start my work here on the Mark Twain National Forest, the stark contrast between the old way of life and the new shows up in more ways than simply a new job and an attempt to have greater access to the outdoors. There is a more simplistic perspective in living here. Shops close by 7:00 on a weeknight, earlier on the weekends. Never in a hurry, and with only one stoplight in Doniphan, motorists take their time at a stop sign and teenagers can be seen out enjoying the main drag of town on a Friday night. Hunting, fishing, boating, camping, swimming all are local pastimes in an area without movie theaters or bowling alleys, shopping malls or skyscrapers, and certainly no subways.
We don’t know where the end of this internship on the Mark Twain National Forest and the connections that we make with the Doniphan community will take us, but Jim and I already know and feel that this eclectic change is for the better. This is much more of the life we were meant to live.
Skyscrapers outlining downtown Chicago, Illinois
The 1980’s Downtown Courthouse is the tallest building in Doniphan, Missouri
White Picket Fences outline the homes in Doniphan Apartments above a Chicago bank
Typical mode of transport throughout Chicago – Common mode of transportation in Doniphan
Shops and Businesses of Downtown Chicago
Local Doniphan Shops and Businesses
Picnicking – a Favorite Activity in the Mark Twain National Forest
Dollar General is the only store with the light on past 7pm in Doniphan
Chicago Street Corner Doniphan Street Corner
Flat cropland behind our rural Champaign apartment
Our wooded backyard behind our Doniphan home “in town”