I’ve had 10 St. Louis homes – 14 if you count my dorm rooms and apartments in college – and each one has opened up new worlds for me. When I lived in Olivette, for example, I had neighbors from around the world who had come here to study or teach. They were from Russia and South Africa and Romania. They worked as chemists and inventors and pilots. Their life stories and their intellectual curiosities created a community unlike any I had ever known.
Then there was the Holly Hills home, where my husband and I rediscovered the magic of our youth. We would get on our bikes on a Saturday morning and ride to the Y or Mom’s Deli or one time to Lowe’s to buy a new washing machine! We quickly assimilated into this community, because our neighbors made it clear that we belonged there. We talked over fences and yelled midnight greetings up and down the street on New Year’s Eve. We cared for our neighbors like they were family, not because of the people we were, but because of the people they were. We were simply following their example.
Then we moved out to the county and discovered a new and unexpected wonder less than a mile from our front door: Castlewood State Park.
Castlewood. It sounded so magical. But we soon learned that the park was as tough and gritty as it was beautiful, with trails that challenged the daringest of mountain bikers. You could walk the wide banks of the Meramec in Castlewood, you could climb to the cliff’s edge for a bird’s eye view. You could venture miles into the forest until you found yourself in neighboring Lone Elk Park.
When I choose sites for A YEAR IN THE CITY, I always make it a point to represent as many parts of the metro area as I can – city, county, Illinois – because, regardless of where we live, it is our shared spaces that bring us into community with one another. And I’ve learned that, in order to be part of that community, you have to open up the door and walk outside.
Of the 48 illustrations I have created to date, 42 take place outside, which means they can be enjoyed safely during COVID. And for every one of those places, there are dozens more waiting to be discovered. Even during stay-at-home, St. Louisans have a long and meandering leash.
For all our wandering, my husband and I are finally settled in our home, having put down roots as the trees – and the neighbors – have. But we’ll never forget how Olivette brought us the richness of a diverse community or how Holly Hills brought us into its family. And we’ll never quite get used to the majesty of the natural world right outside our door.
Castlewood State Park was featured in my 2020 YEAR IN THE CITY calendar. Signed prints are available in St. Louis shops and online at ayearinthecity.com/shop. You will also find the 2021 calendar on my site with 11 new outside prints, suitable for framing.