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Kentucky authors speak of spiritual connection to the land

An appreciation of, and spiritual connection with, Kentucky's diverse terrain runs through some of the writings of regional authors Tom Barnes, Kelli Carmean, Tammy Horn and Sally Van Winkle Campbell.

Each has learned how awesome, rugged and exhilarating time in the field can be, and they have distilled the experiences into works that readers can share.

They have many books to their credit, and Barnes and Horn have new ones coming out soon. All four authors talked about the places they love.Sally Van Winkle Campbell

After her first book, But Always Fine Bourbon: Pappy Van Winkle and the Story of Old Fitzgerald (Limestone Lane Press, 212 pp., $50), honoring her family's bourbon- distilling legacy, Van Winkle Campbell realized there were other culturally significant stories to explore.

Her eight-year journey across the commonwealth resulted in the 13 vignettes of Saving Kentucky: Greening the Bluegrass (Limestone Lane Press. 240 pp., $60). "In the past few years, I have traveled Kentucky, hiking through the Cumberland Gap, driving up and down two-lane roads where sagging tobacco barns bear witness to an industry so important but now all but gone from the landscape.

"I have traveled the roads of the Bluegrass, mile after mile of low stone walls snaking through the Thoroughbred horse farms that are legendary to the state. I have seen firsthand both the majesty and the heartbreak of the eastern Appalachian Mountains and the people who live in them, and it has been a privilege."

Which place afforded the greatest inspiration?

"I really fell in love with Kentucky on the Western Kentucky Parkway, headed for Princeton to see Nancy Newsom Mahaffey and her guys at Newsom's Country Hams," Campbell says. The land becomes a flat prairie out west, and in some spots feels like a barren wilderness. She drove in solitude, through periods of pouring rain, with mist, fog and not much traffic, she said.

"Yet I was overwhelmed by the eerie beauty of what still seemed to be a new frontier. I wondered about others that came through there a long time ago, full of anticipation and the promise of seeing a place for the first time, glimpsing a world just before it disappears."

Want to share more of her experience? Campbell will speak at 1 p.m. March 13, during the Blue Grass Trust Antiques and Garden Show at Keeneland. Go to Bgtantiquesandgardenshow.org for details. Find book information at Savingkentucky.com.

Kelli Carmean

An anthropology professor at Eastern Kentucky University, Kelli Carmean sees Kentucky landscapes with the eyes of an archaeologist who digs below the surface to unearth the history of a place. Carmean's novel, Creekside: An Archaeological Novel (University of Alabama Press, 226 pp., $27.50), employs historical fiction to provide a greater understanding of what archaeology entails. The novel is set along a creek in Madison County, on property settled during Revolutionary War times that is being excavated before housing development is permitted. The view of knobs beyond the creek inspires Carmean.

You can see the vista for yourself by driving east about a mile along Duncannon Lane just south of Richmond.

"The knobs are in the distance, off in a thick line, and they are smoky blue and lovely," Carmean says. "They represent a transitional space, from tamed farm fields of the Bluegrass to the forested land of the Cumberland Plateau. At their core is rock — a hard sandstone cap rock that erodes only very slowly. They are still mostly wild and seem profoundly unique to me, and connected deeply to the earth with long rock roots. To me, they seem very Kentucky, a place I love."

Tammy Horn

Tammy Horn's Bees in America: How the Honey Bee Shaped a Nation (The University Press of Kentucky, 352 pp., $27.50) will be followed this fall by Piping Up: A History of Women and Bees.

Horn works toward apiforestation — the planting of pollinator-friendly flowers and trees — as part of coal-mine reclamation in Appalachia. Placing and establishing working bee yards and reforesting with pollinator-friendly trees, such as sourwood, are basic to the process.

Last fall, Horn received the 2010 North American Pollinator Protection Campaign's Pollinator Advocate Award for her work, doing research through Eastern Kentucky University's Environmental Research Institute.

Horn found that faith came into play at a bee yard she established at Thunder Ridge, in Leslie County.

It "is not a conventional place to define faith," she says. "Driving to Thunder Ridge is a history of surface mine laws in transition on a Miltonic landscape. After climbing elevation through a mesophytic forest, one comes to the surface-mine site. Since the mine is active, one can hear blasting on a regular basis. Finally, 10 miles from the main road, the bees, the sourwoods and the wildflowers emerge.

"When I work with the bees on Thunder Ridge, that is the closest I get to a peace that passes for faith. I call it 'bee-ology' instead of theology. There is no either/or in my faith, but rather, a 'working through.'

"When I see a situation that can be improved, I roll up my sleeves, light a smoker, sow flower seeds by hand or plant a tree. Faith is the effort required to take those actions; peace is in seeing the results. I don't have solutions to varroa mites, for instance, so faith has come to define my meager efforts to make sure that bees at least have food and adequate habitat on mine sites that may not have included pollinators in post-mine land-use plans."

Horn opens the bee yards for scheduled visitors, and she holds seasonal workshops; e-mail Tammy.horn@eku.edu, or go to Tammyhorn.com. Her Coal Country Beeworks will sponsor The Vanishing of the Bees, a free documentary at the One World Film Festival, at 5 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 24 at The Kentucky Theatre.

Thomas Barnes

If your interests lie in Kentucky wildflowers and wilderness preservation, you're probably familiar with University of Kentucky forestry professor Thomas G. Barnes' writing and photography. To locate specimens for his book Rare Wildflowers of Kentucky (The University Press of Kentucky, 204 pp., $39.95), Kentucky's Last Great Places (The University Press of Kentucky, 216 pp., $32.50), and upcoming How to Find and Photograph Kentucky Wildflowers (Acclaim Press, 256 pp., $29.95), Barnes has walked miles of Kentucky trails in pursuit of temporal beauty at peak bloom times.

One of his favorite sights: trilliums in May.

"Black Mountain is a true treasure for all Kentuckians. I feel so close to God when I am up there; the ground, covered with trilliums, sometimes looks like it snowed because it is covered in white," Barnes says.

The possibility of habitat destruction by surface mining threatens the area.

"When I am up there, I find it hard not to believe in a God who would make such a wonderful place for us to enjoy, because you know, we all think we should please God, but we never seem to consider that God is also trying to please us," he says. "It really is a beautiful gift, and we should not destroy for some short-term gain."

You can join Barnes in experiencing what he describes as "visual delights, the peacefulness and the diversity of creation" when he leads a nature photography workshop at Pine Mountain Settlement School in Harlan County, May 6 to 8. A $300 fee covers tuition, meals and lodging; advance registration is required. Go to Pinemountainsettlementschool.com. For more about Barnes, Go to Tombarnes.org.