The Commonwealth has an abundance of regional writers whose works honor the earth. Here are twelve months of reading ideas for the coming year.
January: Wendell Berry
Berry is a prolific writer and activist. From his now-iconic 1977 Sierra Club publicationThe Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture
to his 2014 collectionTerrapin and Other Poems
(Counterpoint Press, 80 pp., $25), with its kaleidoscopic glimpse of natural-world observations for all ages, he has emphasized thoughtful stewardship of the land. How much of this agrarian identity is deeply rooted in the place and community surrounding his farm in Port Royal? "I would say just about completely and in all of it. Most of my life has been lived in, and all my life has been influenced by, a few square miles of Henry County," he says.
In defining a sense of place, Berry's work stands in the forefront of American writing. His 2012 National Endowment for the Humanities medal-winning lecture, "It All Turns on Affection," presents that focus in terms personal enough to be easily understood, yet moving enough to gain acclaim and acceptance worldwide.
February: George Ella Lyon
A poet, environmentalist and teacher, Lyon works to weave literacy into the fabric of everyday life. At Georgeellalyon.com, she reveals a valentine: move the "h" from the end to the beginning of the word "earth" to transform it to "heart." Her new children's book, What Forest Knows (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 40 pp., $17.99), is an engaging, woodsy exploration through the seasons, with just enough detail to impart a sense of wonder for the mountain forests she knows so well. About herself, she shares a new poem with us:
Grown from Kentucky ground
Held by Harlan County hills
Mused by mountain voices
My words written
With Cumberland River's
March: Ed Lawrence
Ed Lawrence's first book, Kentucky 120(Zedz Press, 160 pp., $39.95) is a series of uncluttered white-bordered color landscape photographs, one for each of Kentucky's 120 counties; brief captions are included later in an index. "Given the choice between earth, sky and water, I would be an earth person. My landscape photographs are dependent upon the earth," Lawrence says. "Whether they depict crops, flowers, trees or even barns, there is a connection to the bountiful earth of Kentucky." Go to Zedzpress.com.
April: Tom Barnes
When University of Kentucky Forestry professor Tom Barnes died in October, he left a natural history conservation legacy exemplified by his last beautifully photographed book, Kentucky, Naturally: The Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund at Work (Acclaim Press, 144pp, $39.95). His widow, Jamie Barnes, has almost completed a volume featuring waterfalls that they explored together along rarely traveled streams. "He has been all over Kentucky, in the nooks and crannies of the hollers," she says. He was first attracted to prairie wildflowers on family outings in his native South Dakota, and the diversity of plant life in Kentucky fascinated him. Ephemeral spring flowers, including the white trillium that blanket the forest floor on Black Mountain in Harlan County in late April, were his favorites.
May: Bobbie Ann Mason
Best known for her novels, Bobbie Ann Mason grew up on a Graves County dairy farm near Mayfield in Western Kentucky. In Clear Springs: A Memoir, Mason relates the circumstances of her early family life. Of her mother, Christy Mason, she says "Mother was a formidable gardener," and with a wry smile that gardeners will understand, adds, "I feel a moral obligation to grow something every year. I grow a lot of weeds, and I have a lot of volunteers, with arugula running wild and catnip run amuck. Here and there in that jungle, I have some tomatoes and peppers." Go to Bobbieannmason.net.
June: Tammy Horn
Before becoming Kentucky's state apiarist in June, Horn's books, Bees in America: How the Honey Bee Shaped a Nation and Beeconomy: What Women and Bees Can Teach Us About Local Trade and Global Markets, brought her national attention, as did hive and reforestation programs she initiated on reclaimed surface mine sites in Eastern Kentucky. Go to Tammyhorn.com.
Horn says that after finishing a doctorate in English literature, she was determined never to do math, agriculture or science again, but after helping her grandfather Ted Hacker with his beekeeping operation in Leslie County, her attitude turned around completely. "I was — and remain — smitten with honey bees, and am now a prime example of what happens when a hobby becomes a full-time occupation." She now does math, agriculture, and science every day and loves those topics.
July: Jan Watson
From her first novel, Troublesome Creek, to her latest, Buttermilk Sky (Tyndale House Publishers, 364 pp., $14.99), Watson has tied together faith, values, history and romance into relaxing summertime reading. She was chosen the 2012 best Kentucky author by Kentucky Living magazine voters.
Of her connection with Kentucky's land, she says, "I pull from my own heritage to give credence to the characters in my Troublesome Creek series. I was raised on a farm in Robertson County. My family didn't have many modern conveniences, but we had other, far richer things: a garden right outside the door for nourishment, a creek to play in, and an apple tree for dreaming under." Go to Janwatson.net.
August: James Archambeault
It's difficult to pass by one of Archambeault's annual wall calendars or large-format collections of brilliant color photographs without turning pages to experience the gorgeous scenery. The cover of James Archambeault's Historic Kentucky (University Press of Kentucky, 168 pp., $45), an image of two weathered barns reflected in a pond with autumn-colored Estill county mountains in the background, is one of his favorites. He says, "I came to Kentucky in 1969, but in truth I believe Kentucky came to me. I was soon taken by its beautiful landscape. Yearlings galloping in the falling snow, a tanned young man bent cutting tobacco in the August heat, sunrise over the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains near Berea — I remember each as I would any emotional experience in my life."
September: Jim Wayne Miller
Just out in 2014, Every Leaf a Mirror: A Jim Wayne Miller Reader (University Press of Kentucky, 256 pp., $50) is a collection of work which reflects his voice and his influence on regional Appalachian-studies programs. Miller was a professor at Western Kentucky University before his death in 1996. His writing, most notably poetry, draws on the rich imagery and landscape of the natural world, which refracted through his Appalachian character lens affords readers images of wilderness sophistication. Mary Ellen Miller, his widow and oft-time editor, says this work "reflects his love of the land — its beauty, its nourishment, wondrous way of sustaining and embellishing the human spirit." Go to Jimwaynemiller.net
October: Frank X Walker
Kentucky's 2013-14 poet laureate, Walker is a creative contemporary writer, a University of Kentucky English professor and originator of the term Affrilachia, which refers to the melding of Appalachian regionalism with the work of black American writers. He is a native of Danville in Boyle County, and his childhood experiences brought him in contact with the land. "Both of my grandfathers were farmers. One primarily raised tobacco while the other harvested all of the family's fruits and vegetables," he says. "The reverence for green spaces found in my work can be traced directly to them." His poetry collections include Affrilachia and Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York. Go to Frankxwalker.com.
November: Rona Roberts
Rona Roberts' Classic Kentucky Meals: Stories, Ingredients & Recipes from the Traditional Bluegrass Kitchen (The History Press, 192 pp., $22.99) makes discovering and preparing local food easy. Perusing her Savoring Kentucky blog at Savoringkentucky.com is enlightening: Every week seems like Thanksgiving. Roberts says, "Kentucky food delights me every day. I am compelled to write about the fantastic flavors on my plate and the farms and farmers that produce them. I see Kentucky's glorious food as the means to our state's permanent economic and physical health and self-sufficiency: our true homeland security."
December: Bruce Richardson
The master tea blender at Elmwood Inn Fine Teas in Danville, Richardson connects scents with early memories. He says, "My childhood was often flavored with the smell of freshly-turned earth as I followed my father's plow on a spring morning. Those aromatic notes inspired my signature Kentucky Blend tea. With each cup I drink, this earthy mixture of Yunnan black teas infuses memories of my roots into my day." A Social History of Tea 2014 (Benjamin Press, 288 pp., $24.95), co-authored with British tea historian Jane Pettigrew, was recently expanded in a second edition to include history in the United States. Go to Elmwoodinn.com.