Sometimes, Ill be driving down a country road in the Bluegrass one of those narrow ones with stone fences and horse farms on both sides and Ill see another car coming. Lets say its a black SUV driven by a guy wearing a red baseball cap. We both slow down as we approach each other to make room. As we pass, the guy, hand atop steering wheel, gives a little wave. Thats one of the things I like most about living in the Bluegrass: that small, neighborly wave.
In the Bluegrass, like every other area in the country, we have problems social, environmental, economic but we also have a combination of warmth, politeness, and down-to-earth friendliness that I havent experienced in any other place Ive lived or visited, including both coasts. (I grew up in Lexington and have been back for a few years.)
Maybe its because Lexington is a city that acts like a town, as a friend put it. Maybe its because of our Southern roots and that good manners are considered as basic and essential as clean clothes and brushed teeth. Who knows. Were nice even sweet, if that doesnt sound too sappy and proud of it. We make good house guests.
If graciousness is one pillar of the Bluegrass, horses are the other, and horse-craziness accepted as a common condition. We have funerals for horses that heads of state attend. A friends niece is named Keeneland. Legions of horsewomen live here, drawn from around the country (and in some cases, the world) to work in equine-related fields.
These women are beautiful in that natural horse-girl way, strong and capable in their scuffed boots and plaid wellies. I like to listen to them talk for hours about their own horses, of cute movers and easy keepers, of the wild child who wont come in from the paddock for dinner.
The horse farms of the Bluegrass are what the wineries are to Californias Napa Valley: each one distinct, with its own feel, history, beauty, quirks. Claiborne Farms 3,000 acres are dotted with 1,000 sycamores that founder Arthur Hancock Sr. planted in the 1900s for 25 cents each. The long narrow fountain between Gainesway Farms barns has tributes to horses now gone. Calumet wouldnt be Calumet without its red-trimmed barns and its dramatic past.
I love the big ponds that can be found on so many of these places and the bullfrogs that converse with each other across them in the 5 a.m. mist.
I can be, unfortunately, too much of a worrier by nature. Many Bluegrass people are, Ive noticed, especially when it comes to being polite, self included. We worry we werent gracious enough to a colleague we bumped into out of the blue into downtown, or if were being a good-enough neighbor. But my biggest Bluegrass worry is about the future of the horse farms themselves, and whether our region will do everything possible to preserve the distinct beauty of where we live.
Im encouraged to see preservation efforts gaining ground and by meeting a good number of locals and newcomers the past few years who are buying farms and land to fulfill a lifelong dream.
When you think about it, is there anything more well-mannered than caring for this area in which we are all, in the end really, just houseguests here for a little while?
Independent journalist and freelance writer Leslie Guttman is the author of Equine ER: Stories from a Year in the Life of an Equine Veterinary Hospital (Eclipse Press, 2009).