Some time ago I was talking on the phone with a man in Wichita Kansas I had never met.  After a few minutes of business conversation, he said: “It’s easy to tell you’re an Ozarks native.”

We hadn’t been talking about anything to do with Arkansas (where I live) or the Ozarks, so I said, “How? Just from the way I talk?”

“Yes, of course,” he told me. “I grew up in Fayetteville,”  (about 35 miles from our home) “so I recognize Ozarks speech.”

I didn’t tell him I had only lived in the Ozarks a few years.  However!!  I have come to think of myself as an honorary hillbilly, and that title ranks right up there with university degrees or other titles and awards.  (See the chapter “Hillbilly Hearts” in my book, DEAR EARTH: A Love Letter from Spring Hollow.)

I suppose the title “Hillbilly” could define a place of birth, maybe an occupation, creative ability, music preference, family connections.  But it is also a state of mind. To me, it’s practical use of intelligence and inventiveness.  It’s family devotion. It’s appreciation of values above the merely material. It’s awareness of things going on, especially in our more untouched areas,  that–dare I say it–the outside world often isn’t aware of.  And it’s magic.

I’m guessing most of you do not live in the Ozarks, and, when you think of a hillbilly you … well, you know what you think. However, as I believe you guess from what I said above, I don’t want you to let the stereotype fool you.  (I have some experience in this matter.)  So, how would you like to be an honorary hillbilly?

The first step comes from using our senses. You can do that anywhere, but it’s not as easy in non-hillbilly places. Walk in the Ozarks woods. What do you hear, see, smell? When you touch something, what does it feel like? Tree bark? A rock? Smooth? jagged? Broken? Sharp? Let your fingers run over the rock while you sit on a log or a bigger rock or, if you prefer, just stand still and wait to sense the world around you. This sounds quite simple, but in today’s world, it too often isn’t. Be quiet, really quiet.

Have you noticed how many people today can’t seem to be quiet? Something has to be going on all the time, fingers moving, screens flashing, feet jiggling. It’s becoming quite noticeable, and the fairly new term “nature deficit” is one you may have heard. Instead of quiet, something has to be going on all the time.

So, try this honorary hillbilly gig. Forget “civilized” society, and, if you can’t find woods, stand by a tree, on grass, and put your hand on the tree’s trunk. This is a good step toward becoming  an honorary hillbilly.

There is a verse in the Bible in First Samuel where Abigail says to David:  “The soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with the Lord thy God.”  I like the term “bundle of life.” I suspect that what Ozarkers and visitors to the Ozarks feel and experience here is bound up in the bundle of life as it has happened here for a very long time.  As we listen, observe, feel, we’re bound in the beautiful experience of our Ozarks.

What you will see in hillbilly woods is not a world corner-squared and organized. It isn’t even, like many northern forested areas, pine-needle cushioned, pillered with tall trunks, and open for walking. It is not defined by the words lush or soft or easy.  If you aren’t on an established path you’re likely to be caught by brambles, stumble over rocks, and get poked by branches. It’s a tough landscape, rocky, irregular, bumpy, scratchy. The soil is shallow, especially where forests have been cut, so things have to work hard to live in the country here, people included.  The term “lazy hillbilly” has to be one of the most inexplicable denominations in the English language.

Well, I’ll stop my rant here.  But I would love to have you in my group of honorary hillbillies. The benefits are all yours!

Learn more about the Ozarks by reading any of the books shown at


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  1. Nita Says:

    I love it! Not only am I a hillbilly (not an Ozark one, and Okie hillbilly), actually I may be more of a redneck, not sure. I’m going to borrow this, my quilting is definitely hillbilly. I may start calling my quilting style Hillbilly Quilting. Thanks for the inspiration. Nita

    • radine Says:

      Hillbillies can be everywhere! Welcome to the group. (Incidently, my upcoming novel, A FAIR TO DIE FOR takes place largely at the War Eagle Craft Fair, where Shirley Booth (a secondary character) is selling her quilts and Baby Cuddlies and Carrie is helping out.) Are you familiar with the novels by Earlene Fowler? Quilting mysteries. Also, hope you have been to Ozark Folk Center State Park near Mountain View, and spent time in the Quilt shop on the craft grounds. Lovely place, fun to talk with the quilters. Now those (too) are Hillbilly quilters.

  2. Jackie King Says:

    I’ll sign up!

  3. radine Says:

    You qualify, Jackie. Glad you’re joining we “Hillbilly Hearts.” (See chapter in DEAR EARTH.) That particular essay has won more awards than anything I’ve written–both as a published essay and as part of a book.

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