One of my favorite places in the whole world is not exotic or even world-famous. It is a trout park by the name of “Roaring River” near Cassville Missouri. Pictures of it does not do it justice. Its beauty has to be touched and breathed in. It’s a sensory infusion of rushing tumbling ice clear water, trout bolting from the depths to gulp down a dragonfly and the sound of whipping trout lines. In the evening the campfire’s glow and soft voices of friends and families echo around the high valley walls as they laugh at their stories full of memories of long-ago and the adventures of the day. At dawn the smell of bacon and eggs frying in old cast-iron skillets permeate the air.
The river seems surreal as the morning mist creates clouds that hover over it. The rainbow trout are hungry this time of day but everyone must wait for the whistle to blow that indicates fishing is open. It is this combination of family, friends and nature with its exquisite beauty that feeds my soul.
When I was a single mom still raising my four kids I took a job managing a 150 site KOA campground. It was on the Gulf Coast and hundreds of snowbirds would come down during winter months passing through to Florida. There were also campers from other countries touring America with their rental cars and tents. Once a week I would put on a potluck event which was a great opportunity to taste food prepared from different areas of the America as well as other countries.
One of my kid’s favorite was a ratatouille casserole brought by a couple from the eastern seaboard. I learned to make it and served it often. I have not made it for years and when I tried to look up a similar recipe on the web there was none so I dug out my old notebook and decided to share with everyone. This recipe was always popular when I brought it at holiday time and it is a great way to use up any leftover cheeses you have in the refrigerator. When this starts baking the aroma is delicious.
- 1 large bottle Italian Dressing in the bottle
- 2 cups small diced yellow onion
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 medium or 2 small diced eggplant, peeled
- 2 green peppers, cut in big chunks
- 1 red bell pepper, cut in big chunks
- 1 large or 2 medium zucchini squash, diced
- 1 large diced yellow squash
- 1 large can diced or whole tomatoes, no need to drain
- 1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
- 1 8oz box mushrooms (optional)
- Bread crumbs
- Any and all left over and new cheeses like Swiss, cheddar, parmesan, Monterey jack, asiago (literally any cheeses, the more diverse the better).
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a large skillet with high sides or a deep Dutch oven place all the vegetables and seasonings together including the bottle of Italian Dressing. Bring to a boil then turn down to simmer and cover. Continue simmering until vegetables are caramelized and in a thick sauce. This takes an hour or so.
When done turn off and set aside. Prepare a large enough baking dish with spray oil then start layering starting with the vegetable mixture just covering the bottom, then any of the cheeses mixed together, then a sprinkle of bread crumbs. Repeat the layers and finish with a light cover of the cheeses.
Bake at 350 until cheese is golden brown on top. Let set for 15 mins before serving.
Most of my friends would probably characterize me as energetic, determined and fun loving. It is true I want to be active and involved with life, especially nature. I love camping and everything that goes with it like the smell of wood blazing in a campfire, cooking on an outside table, waking up to the sounds of Crows, Finches and squirrels chattering. It feeds my Soul and brings me comfort I can find nowhere else. That is the reason I decided I was not going to let the disability I incurred almost 20 years ago keep me from what I have enjoyed all my life.
The early years of camping with a disability were arduous to say the least. At that time people with disabilities were not even considered in the planning of recreational outdoor areas. The Americans With Disabilities (ADA) was brand new in 1990 and nothing was even close to being enforced. Some planners and budget minded designers perceived laws like the ADA as intrusive. Just like the Civil Rights Act implemented in 1964, both have been praised and ridiculed as an answer to equality. There is no doubt, however, the guidelines enforced by both have made our society a better place to live and work for everyone. For people with disabilities it ensures equal opportunities to access the very same experiences and privileges people without disabilities have always cherished.
Now it’s beginning to be a whole new experience with accessible docks, concrete pads to camp on that allow smooth wheel chair access, accessible toilets and showers, raised picnic tables and fire grills, accessible entrances to lodges and bait shops and plenty of disabled parking. I no longer have to take a lawn chair into the shower to sit in or take a roll of paper towels for hand drying because the hand blowers were too high or be restricted to one or two places that were not to steep or rocky to fish safely. One of my favorite camping areas is Roaring River State park located just south of Cassville about an hour from Springfield. Known for it’s premier trout fishing, it nestles in a valley with clear ice blue water meandering from a deep underground cave. If you are lucky enough to wake before the whistle that signifies fishing is open, you will drink in a breathtaking view of the mist lifting off the earth in a mystical silent dance. A weekend there and you will feel like you’ve had a two-week vacation.
There is also a huge variety of adaptable equipment for anyone with any disability to enjoy their favorite outdoor activity weather it’s camping, hunting, fishing, archery, bird watching or just walking. A great place to find out about all of these wonderful technologies and actually try some of them out is at the annual “Day At The Range and Outdoor Adventure Fair” held at the Andy Dalton Shooting Range in Bois D’Arc. Additional information can be found on the web at www.swcil.org or by calling Southwest Center for Independent Living at 417-886-1188. This is a great way to find out everything available to you and maybe some things you didn’t even know existed! And where else can you have all that and a free lunch too?
I have always believed being in outdoor recreational activities promotes life long development of character as well as camping skills, teamwork and appreciation of the environment. It gives a chance to experience first hand what none of us can afford to lose, our connection and responsibility to the earth we share. Camping is a group experience for my family and my four kids were raised loving it. Now I can enjoy it equally with them and my eight grandchildren. Thanks to the dedication of disability advocates and the visionary planning of the Missouri Department of Conservation, the outdoors in Missouri is available to all of its citizens. Everyone knows Nature is ever evolving so why shouldn’t we?