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Category: Nature

The Other Day in Kentucky

The Canopy Walk of Bernheim Forest

I’ve told you about a couple of the days of events during my recent trip to Kentucky, but there was one more day…the “other” day.

I didn’t go to Kentucky with many expectations. I knew I was visiting the area where my ancestors lived just before they moved to Indiana. I didn’t expect to find a long-lost cousin or an old homeplace or log cabin. I just wanted to see the land, walk the paths, get a feel for the places in my history.

I got that and more. As I stood in the Collings Cemetery near the home of Brian B., I looked out over pastures and fields and woods. I could feel feeling the peace my ancestors must have felt when they chose this place to lay their loved ones to rest.

Walking along the banks of the Salt River, I imagined it as a roadway to a place that held a promise of home. Long, long ago it must have seemed to be all my ancestors needed to end their journey in this place…the rich mineral content of the earth, the bountiful hunting, the unoccupied land claimed only as hunting grounds for the natives.

But it was the “other” day in Kentucky that really painted the picture of this place for me.

On that day, we drove to Bernheim Forest, a vast privately-owned natural property that was purchased, developed, and donated into a trust for the people of Kentucky by Isaac Wolfe Bernheim.

This is not virgin forest. It is not the forest my ancestors knew, but it is a forest that can bring back to us images of how this part of the state must have looked at some time in the past.

Officially branded as Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, it is still fondly called the Bernheim Forest by locals. Bernheim Forest is dedicated to research and has close ties to the University of Louisville, as well as other institutions of higher learning. The Forest hosts public events featuring photography, fishing, plant identification, bird watching.

There are hiking trails for casual strollers and a 13+ mile trail for more serious hikers.

The visitor center opened in 2005 featuring construction from recycled materials and a “green” roof. I read that the parking lot was carefully located so that native mushrooms would absorb the exhaust contaminants of visiting automobiles.

We walked a more accessible trail that was clearly laid out for hikers but still gave the impression of being part of the forest.

The most memorable part of the visit for me was the overlook or canopy walk. This was a long wooden walkway that felt like a pier reaching out into the sky with a nearly 360° vista of tree-covered hills.

I was instantly reminded of the story of Henry Crist. With his severely injured foot, he struggled to crawl to the top of a hill, hoping to catch sight of the settlement of Brashear’s Station. When he reached the top, he saw only more trees and more hills as far as his eye could see.

It was that “other” day in Kentucky that helped me see the area as my ancestors saw it and to wonder as I always do: “why?” Why did they move on?


Corn, it’s what we do.

Corn, it’s what we do in Indiana. We measure our summers by the height of the corn. With days of sufficient rain and hot sun, the corn flourishes and towers over us and the fields appear to be vast blankets of lush dark green. When the days began to fade quicker and earlier in the evening, the progress of the corn beginning to dry becomes our clock to measure how long until Fall and Winter will overtake us. When the August sun has sucked all the moisture from the corn and the September wind blows through the long rows, the rattle of the leaves sounds like the bones of every farmer who has tilled the land. Then comes the harvest. Machines as wide as a county road strip the fields, our horizons expand again and we feel suddenly exposed and naked.

Having grown up in rural Indiana, I’m as used to corn in the summer as I am the hot, wet blanket feel of a humid July day. I never tire of teasing my city friends who freaked out every time they visited me, driving county roads bordered by towering corn plants on every side and from every direction even at intersections. They especially felt overpowered at twilight, hurrying to get to my house before full darkness pressed down on them as the corn seemed to get closer and closer to the sides of the car!

I heard a farmer casually state that the custom in his family was to plant corn on one side of the family farm, soy beans on the other. When asked why they did that, the young man paused for a moment as if he had never considered the question, then said, “Well, I guess it was because Dad didn’t like being surrounded by corn all around the house all summer. That can be pretty claustrophobic.”

Corn is so common here, it’s hard to remember it’s not exclusive to Indiana. In fact, corn is vital in the agricultural system of America. Its grown in nearly every state and its importance to the economy is not only in the actual corn on the ground, but in the research, breeding and promotion of corn and corn products.

In 2013, Indiana corn went 36% to Feed & Distillers, 26% to Ethanol production, 11% to foreign exports, 10% held for future use, 10% to starch and food production and the rest…well, just to Other.

As far back as the mid 1700’s farmers had to struggle with not only the problems of actually growing crops, but also how to use and store them in a way to maximize the profits. Crops fed their families, either directly or by feeding their animals, or by the sale or trade value of the surplus. Think of corn as money and you begin to understand early American economy.

Think about the huge grain bins that dot the midwestern countryside today and you realize that storing quantities of corn or grain until it can be sold or used is a bit of a problem. Pioneer farmers had that same problem. Early on our forefathers discovered a good way to store and monetize corn was to convert it into something more 1) portable, 2) economically rewarding, and 3) fun. Look back at the list of uses for corn in 2013 and note that 36% goes for feed and distillers and realize that once a farmer feeds his livestock, making whiskey solved the problem of how to store a grain that molds when it gets wet and is the favorite food of rats and other varmints when stored in a barn.

Whiskey storage barrels

In early America, distilling corn and other surplus grain into whiskey also solved another problem…stored away in wooden barrels, it only got better as time went on, so it was like money in the bank, earning interest every day, a win/win for the farmer. Making whiskey was not bootlegging in those days, it was sound economic business.

At least until 1791, when the government, as governments are wont to do, decided taxes would be the best way to reduce the huge debt incurred by the Revolutionary War. The new government of the United States imposed a tax on whiskey. The first tax on a domestic product, this “whiskey tax” was hugely unpopular, especially in western Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey. Since whiskey was an important commodity in the barter system that was the foundation of the frontier economy, this tax was like taxing money and was most burdensome to the poorer farmers and businessmen who did not have access to ready cash for their transactions.

The Whiskey Rebellion is one of those footnotes to history we don’t study much, but it played an important role in the westward movement.

There was a violent reaction and many of the protesters simply did not comply with the law. In 1794, more than 500 armed men attacked the home of the tax inspector, General John Neville. The government responded by sending 13,000 militia into Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to squash the rebellion. The rebels disbursed to their homes with no bloodshed, but the government, while proving they had the will to enforce their laws, still found this tax difficult to collect.

As a direct result of this “government outrage” many of those pioneer farmers and entrepreneurs decided to move on into wilderness beyond the reach of taxes and government and that, I believe is when my ancestors left western Pennsylvania and headed to what today is known as the Bourbon Capitol of the World, Nelson County, Kentucky. There seems to be an interesting correlation there!

Weeds – Part 2

If you enjoyed the weed column of a few weeks ago, you could think of this one as Weeds, Part 2, The Vine Returns.

One of the rules for classifying weeds, you may recall, was: if it grows anyplace you don’t want it… it’s a weed. I suspect that pretty well locks the morning glory into the weed category here in this farming community. I’ve seen how it vines around the corn stalks and creeps through the soybean rows, and I’m pretty sure all farmers see the morning glory as a weed of the highest (or lowest) order. Practically invincible, you never see just one morning glory in a field. On misty late summer mornings, the sun barely visible over the fence rows, some fields are nearly covered with a blanket of the characteristic blue, purple, pink and white trumpet‑shaped blossoms. Farmers probably look at morning glories much as suburbanites view dandelions on their lawns.

As with dandelions, children see something quite different. For several mornings now, a couple of young friends have been bringing in morning glory blossoms for a closer look. Every morning, it seems, we find something different, a different shade, unique markings and highlights.

The purple blooms are the richest, truest purple I have ever seen, the purple of kings and great wealth; purple that looks like velvet feels, soft as baby skin. They have slim stars in their centers, like a treasure.

Next to this deep purple, the blue looks like a pale cousin. It’s a pretty enough color, but it doesn’t stun you with it’s luxuriance. Probably it’s only that the purple has spoiled my color eye, but the blue seems washed out, like the blue sky on a hot summer day. I know it’s blue because it’s supposed to be blue, but it’s the memory, the sense of blue as much as the sight of it.

The pink morning glories are nice. Pink is thought to be a soothing color, and looking at pink morning glories, I believe that. They make me smile and feel good. Morning glory pink isn’t the pink of baby girls or healthy skin or mythical elephants, it’s more like the pink in the center of a white rabbit’s eye. It’s a happy pink, a slightly naughty pink, a pink that says, “Come out and play.”

Last but not least are the white blossoms. I looked closely at the white ones this morning because I had been avoiding them. White morning glory blossoms look so plain, so simple, so…well, homely. At least that’s what I thought until I looked closer. In the center of the saintly whiteness, some artist hand has, with studied nonchalance, placed five bold brush strokes of color that is a combination of all the morning glory shades and tints; sumptuous, but not quite purple; playful and teasing, but not quite pink; with the barest hint of a tint of blue that you can only see out of the corner of your eye. I liked the white ones much more than I thought I would, and that’s only one of the lessons I’ve learned from the morning glories.

You have to enjoy morning glories very quickly…a glimpse of them, trespassing where the farmer doesn’t want them, or quickly examined, fresh from a young and excited hand; because, you see, morning glories don’t last. They open with joy in the early morning light and fade with the heat of day and nothing you do can change that. Morning glories don’t last in sun and you can’t coax them to stay by floating them in bowls of water in the cool of the house. They are fleeting things, and lovely, and they are weeds, and let that be the best lesson they leave, that we shouldn’t judge too harshly or fail to see the beauty that’s around us, whatever it’s called.

Seeking the Promised Land

My great-grandpa, first generation in that branch born in the US.

At the risk of trivializing what’s going on in our country today, I have been spending some time lately thinking about current events on a more personal level. Recently I have been doing some genealogical research which has led me to a discovery about my very presence here in the US, and secondly, I’ve come to understand “catch and release” on a very personal level.

First, the fact is that I (and my family) may be here under questionable circumstances. I’m not sure what the statute of limitations is on entering the country in a manner that is not entirely legal, and maybe that has passed for my family, it’s just that I can’t help smiling a little at the audacity of my ancestor before being a little embarrassed about the way he got us here.

It all started when my great-great-grandfather sort of lied about why he wanted to leave his home country by telling the officials there that he wanted to come to the United States to fetch his brother back home so they could both fulfill the military duties they owed their Fatherland. He swore an oath he would not renounce his citizenship while he was gone.

See, the thing is, he lied. Not only did he renounce his citizenship, within 6 months of arriving here, he applied for citizenship to the United States. Now, maybe by applying, he was legal as far as the United States was concerned, but he was here based on a lie and he was mostly trying to avoid serving in an army he did not support. I’m not real sure if that is legal grounds for asylum. While it is true that I was born on US soil, and my ancestor (who will remain nameless, just in case someone decides to look into this case) did marry a woman who was a US citizen, you can see where I feel just a little uneasy about judging anyone who wants to come to the US for a better life.

Now the “catch and release” part of this story has nothing to do with my ancestry, but I have some critters in my yard that don’t belong there. They are criminal and they engage in criminal activity and I have begun a campaign to remove them by trapping them and relocating them to a place I think is much better for them.

The problem is that sometimes traps don’t always catch what we expect. The little thieves that I am waging my war against are chipmunks (so cute, right?). They eat my birds’ food, they dig up anything I plant because apparently roots are delicious, and they are trying to move in under my home where I am sure my wiring and my very walls look like natural resources to them.

So, I set a trap. Now I’m not a bad person. I don’t intend to kill them. My plan is to move them to the country…way off on the other side of the river. Good luck to them trying to return to their families! Not my problem, right? Hopefully, one by one, I’ll move their entire families to the general neighborhood where the first two went, they’ll reunite and live happily ever after.

The first day of trapping went well. Got one of the little critters and took him for a drive.

The second day was a totally different animal…literally. Rolled out my door and down the steps to inspect my trap and came face to face with a VERY upset possum! Now, I’m a country girl, so I have a little knowledge of animals and I know this chipmunk trap I am using could not hold a full-grown possum, so obviously this little guy was a youngster, but he had learned the mad possum hiss which is pretty intimidating, whatever the size of the possum.

I made a very quick and well-advised retreat to think over my options. I watched from a safe distance as he reached his strangely humanoid little hands through the cage and quickly decided I did not want to wrestle with him for the handle, nor did I want to travel with him in an enclosed vehicle! We have people for that, so I called Animal Control.

Long story – short…I don’t know where they took this guy. That’s sort of the point, isn’t it? I think the phrase is: “…not in MY back yard.”

If you want to draw some analogies from my stories, you are welcome to make of them what you will, but in the future, when I sit out on my deck drinking my coffee, I hope to see a yard that serves as a haven for me and does not contain any vandals or alien creatures…I’m just not sure that’s possible.

I have the distinct feeling that my yard is some other creature’s “better life.”


Welcome to Summer, 2018.

You’ve probably heard the song…“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy?” I’ll lay you 10 to 1 odds, that song writer didn’t have a garden. I have had gardens in the past, but this is not going to be a gardening post. Anyone with a lawn and/or flowerbeds will appreciate this along with the gardeners who are reading. The subject today is: Weeds—You Can’t Live With ‘Em and You Can’t Live Without ‘Em.

For the last two weeks, every evening after supper, I’ve been going out to study weeds. I thought you might be interested in some of the things I’ve discovered.

Weeds are tricky. Some of them look like what they are not, and many of them grow where we plant other things, so I’ve developed a sort of checklist for some of you new gardeners.

How to tell if it’s a weed:

  1. If it starts to sprout 3-5 days after you planted something…it’s a weed.
  2. If it grows 6 inches a day…it’s a weed.
  3. If it’s green in late June, July or August…it’s a weed.
  4.   If it has a pretty flower on it shortly after it breaks through the soil…it’s a  weed.
  5. If that pretty flower turns into thousands of little seed sails that fly away at the slightest breeze, or stick tightly to your socks, your dogs, your hair or any food product carried by a child…it’s a weed.
  6. If you yank on it and it has a root that pulls up your septic tank lid, or it snaps off neatly at the soil, leaving the root to sprout again…it’s a weed.
  7. If it comes up in the middle of your blacktop driveway or concrete patio…it’s a weed.
  8. If it grows anywhere you don’t want it…it’s a weed. This rule is a little tricky, because somebody in the audience always brings up grass. While it’s true that grass is not technically a weed…you’ve all seen or experienced grass that will not, no matter how much you weed and feed, simply will not grow in the vast expanse of your lawn, but can’t be kept out of your flower beds. For you I will repeat Rule 8: If it grows anywhere you don’t want it…it’s a weed!

In case you think I’m being too harsh, though, I must say I think some weeds are really very nice. Dandelions, for instance, get a bum wrap. My grandmother used to pick and cook dandelion greens and even as a child I thought they were quite tasty. While it’s true I’ve never actually gone out into the yard and picked any myself, I intend to someday and in the meantime, it’s nice to look out at the yellow carpet that is my lawn and know I won’t starve to death if I run out of food. Besides there’s a certain charm to any weed that can make a kid’s face light up the way dandelions do. What a pretty bouquet they make, clutched in a tiny little hand.

Another weed I’ve known and loved is honeysuckle. I know, I know! It’ll sneak and creep and wrap itself around any slow moving object and pull old buildings and fences down like quicksand, but oh! the scent of honeysuckle on a hot summer night when the fireflies dance like fairies and the frogs and crickets sing songs that make other frogs and crickets fall in love.

Maybe the guy who wrote that song…“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy”…maybe he didn’t have a garden, but I bet he had smelled that honeysuckle breeze!


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