When speaking of the greatness of Kentucky writing I often hear people say, “must be something in the water!” I don’t think so. I think it’s in great part due to the mountains that rise and stretch out all around our homes and farms. Our greatness as writers has to do with the land. Our connection to it. A wonderful old man in South Carolina once told me this wonderful thing, “God ain’t making no more land.” He was right. He was trying to tell me to remember what was important in this life. We don’t really own the land. The land owns us. Mountains that have been with us here in Kentucky for a million years. We never credit the mountains enough for helping shape who we are, for giving us a specific lens through which to see the world, a lens to nurture what we have to say about our human presence in it. We never credit the mountains enough. We think that they are tough and resilient and can take care of themselves but more and more we know that is not true. We have to be better caretakers of this landscape that is so particular to our sensibilities. We act as if the mountains will always be there — surrounding, protecting, helping to situate our contemplative nature, and yet we know it just takes a little dynamite and greed to change all that. The history of Kentucky writing has been what it has been because the mountains that inhabit so much our our particular skyline have long been our favorite horizon; that wondrous place where our eyes land and lift.
This is an early traditional fiddle tune from Kentucky named for a gap in the Cumberland Mountains, played here on clawhammer banjo and rhythm guitar.
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Mary Breckinridge rode through the mountains in the summer of 1928, visiting lonely cabins and riding up steep mountain canyons. She gave nursing care to men, women, and especially children. Word spread that she was a nurse and mothers flocked to her with their sick babies.
For the next 40 years, Mary Breckinridge served the Kentucky mountain people as a nurse, midwife and friend. She had seen and fallen in love with a stretch of land facing the great North Mountain, on the Middle Fork of the Kentucky River a few miles from Hyden. She bought the land and had a log cabin built there which she named Wendover. For many years, Wendover had two of the only five bathtubs in the county. She recruited nurse-midwives from England to come over and work with her.
Frontier Nursing Service today www.frontiernursing.org/