How a Wedding Photographer Plans Her Own Wedding

I am so happy to share today's guest post with y'all. I've known Amy Wallen for as long as I can remember -- our families have been friends and neighbors for generations. It's kind of amazing that the cute toddler who played in the yard with my little brother is now a beautiful bride-to-be with a unique and creative eye for photography and a business of her own! Amy agreed to share with us a few of the pro tips she's learned along the way and that she is working into her own upcoming ceremony. You can see more of Amy's awesome work on her website and her Facebook page. -- HCW

I just love the fact that my life is engulfed in weddings! What can I say? I love love, and I love photographing it! I still can't believe that I've created this business doing something that I'm so passionate about.

My fiance and I are coming up on our own wedding day, June 22.  Being on the other side of weddings, mixed up in all of the hype of planning, has truly given me a better sense of what a couple goes through when planning a wedding.

As a photographer, I never got to see behind the scenes during the planning process.  I would come to a wedding and instantly get excited. The venue is beautifully decorated, the bridesmaids are tending to the bride, the vendors are getting place.  It all seemed so fun to me! But now that I am so close to my own big day, I've realized just how much hard work, effort and MONEY goes into planning this monumental day. 

One thing that I like so much about shooting weddings, is the fact that each and every wedding is different from the last.  A ceremony on an airport runway, in a castle, at the church where her parents were married. Horseshoe favors, signature drinks, sparkler exits.  Everything about all of these little touches just gives me the warm fuzzies. I'm all about letting your personality shine through everything that you do. And when my clients show off a family heirloom, have a special father daughter dance, or incorporate a high school letterman jacket, I feel as if I'm right in the middle of their love story.

When I began planning my wedding day, I knew that I wanted it to be unique, and very true to Sam and me.  We are laid back, goofy, country and a little bit old school.  We love Sunday drives in his '83 Chevy truck, fishing at Jenny Wiley Lake, dancing in the kitchen, and laughing constantly. Our breezy outdoor field ceremony fits perfectly with our personality.  We both love being outside, and spending time with our friends and family. The woods were the perfect venue.
Amy and Sam
I love the idea of not being matchy. You can throw in SO many personal touches nowadays, there's no reason to try to blend in!  Mismatched bridesmaids dresses also pulled our big day together. Light peaches and pinks with breezy fabrics surely fit the bill.

Being a photographer really almost makes me overanalyze my decisions. “What if it rains like it did at x’s wedding? What if we run out of food? What if???” So many things run through my mind, just because I’ve seen so much of it before. At the end of the day, every single wedding I have shot has been beautiful, due in part to the bride and groom being head over heels in love. Isn’t that the most important part?

Sometimes I feel like we forget the reason for a wedding. It’s meant to share the love between two people amongst family and friends. I can’t wait to have my own wedding. Regardless of everything else, I’m marrying my soul mate.  That’s good enough for me.

{all images courtesy Amy Wallen.}

Top Ten Kentucky Geocaches

HerKentucky welcomes our good friend Jessica Lotz for a special guest post about geocaching Kentucky. Jess lives just outside St. Louis, MO with her husband, toddler son, and 5-year old dog, Cooper. After a successful 13 year career in health care administration, Jessica quit her job in November 2011 to answer life's next calling as a stay-at-home mom. Jesssica likes football on Sundays and cruises to just about anywhere. Although she's lived throughout the U.S. courtesy of the Air Force, Kentucky really is her second home. -- HCW

One of the many things I enjoy about HerKentucky is its ability to introduce readers to places, historic or trendy, that we may not have experienced otherwise. Whether through HerKentucky’s 60 Things Project or because of the passion of its contributors, it's not unusual for me to add new places to visit, businesses to support, and adventures to experience to my Kentucky Bucket List on a nearly weekly basis. As an adopted Kentuckian, I appreciate learning about it all.

In that respect, HerKentucky is much like geocaching. Geocaching, an outdoor recreational activity in which participants use GPS enabled devices to find hidden containers or caches, began in 2000 and since then has attracted hundreds of thousands of loyal cachers who have hidden over 1.6 million caches throughout the world. Caches range in size from nano (the size of a screw) to large (ammo box), and can be traditional caches (a physical treasure), virtual (no actual cache, but rather a site you’re visiting, usually for historical purposes), or Earth caches (think Mammoth Cave). Some caches can be located rather quickly (within minutes of arriving at the coordinates) while others can take hours (particularly if hiking/repelling/kayaking is involved).

My Geocaching hobby actually began in Kentucky. While visiting the in-laws over Christmas one year, I stumbled across something regarding geocaching. I started researching it online and within 30 minutes, I had my entire family outside looking for a cache in the park behind my husband’s childhood home. Using my sister-in-law’s iPhone, we quickly found the cache and immediately wanted to see where the next closest one was located. That’s how easy it is to get started.

Since then, geocaching has become a lifestyle for us. We love it because it gets us outside (year round), it's an activity our 2.5 year old son enjoys with us and we usually take care of Mother Earth while we’re at it (a practice known as CITO, or Cache In, Trash Out).

And, just like HerKentucky, it takes us to places we would not have otherwise visited or seen. Honestly, that’s my favorite part about geocaching. While I enjoy the fresh air and spending time with my little family, ultimately what gets me off the couch is knowing that we’re about to visit somewhere beautiful, unique or historically significant. 
Falls of the Ohio in Southern Indiana
Not surprisingly, many fabulous geocaches call Kentucky home. I recently spent some time researching them and compiled a list of 10 which I feel are worth a look:

1)    “Tom Sawyer” Traditional cache. Placed back in 2001, it ranks as Kentucky’s oldest and second most favored cache by those who have found it. Located in E.P. “Tom” Sawyer Park in Louisville.  Just as I was about to walk across the stage at my college graduation, someone placed this cache in a park mere minutes from where my future husband lived. Nearly 12 years later, almost 900 people have found this cache! How am I not one of them? This cache is top on my to-do list during my next trip to KY.

2)    “76 Falls” Traditional cache. Placed 10/17/2004. Located about 2.5 hours south of Lexington, on the south side of Lake Cumberland. Requires a hike, but pictures posted by other cachers are absolutely beautiful. Nature at its finest.
The view from 76 Falls geocache location
3)    “Kentucky Floral Clock” Virtual cache. Placed 1/3/2003. Located in Frankfort, KY. From the description: “There are other flower clocks in the world-one in Canada at Niagara Falls, some in Europe, and smaller ones in the United States. Kentucky's is unique because it keeps time over a pool of water instead of resting on a bank of earth. The face of the giant clock is 34 feet across. The planter that holds it weighs 100 tons. Dedicated in 1961, the floral clock was a project of the Commonwealth and the Garden Club of Kentucky. It takes more than 10,000 plants to fill the clock. All are grown in the Commonwealth's own greenhouses near the Capitol. Coins from the pool are used to benefit young people in Kentucky.” Best viewed in the spring and summer.

4)    “Reflections” Virtual cache. Placed 9/19/2002. Located in downtown Louisville. Ranked as the #1 geocache in the state. A very cleverly designed cache which takes you on a brief walking tour of downtown. Using the glass buildings, the cacher must look for reflections to get clues of how to proceed to the next point in the cache. Comments from those who have done this cache: “It was fun identifying the different buildings and making our way to them. We spent a lot of extra time just admiring the architecture and seeing different things in the downtown area” and “What an awesome cache. Had some time before catching our plane back home to Colorado and this was at the top of our list to do. We certainly were NOT disappointed. Fun, fun, fun. Got a nice walking tour of the town and even spotted a place to have lunch. Thanks so much.”

5)    “Gatti Land(ing)” Traditional cache. Placed 12/31/2006. Located in Pikeville, KY. It’s highly rated for its creativity (meaning the cache container or location is pretty cool). Historically, the site of the cache is now a popular pizza joint, but was once home to Valley Airport. Comments by those who have found this cache rave about how creatively designed this cache is....another on the top of my to-do list.
A very creatively hidden (inside a wooden log) geocache found in Florida.

6)    “Cache Across America- Kentucky.” Traditional cache. Placed 8/24/2006 as part of the Cache Across America Series. Located at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, KY. Any geocachers trying to complete the Cache Across America challenge must find this specific cache in order to qualify. This cache has likely been found by more out-of-staters than Kentuckians due to the nature of the cache.

7)    “Holy Overlook”. Traditional cache. Placed 11/21/2005. Located in Wickcliffe, KY (about 30 miles West of Paducah), this site is apparently very beautiful with an incredible view of the Mississippi River. Another highly rated cache. 

8)    “DOWN Town.” Traditional cache. Placed 5/27/2003. Located in Horse Cave, KY (about 80 miles South of Louisville, East of Mommoth Cave). From the description: “The town, which formed around the cave in the mid 1800's, once sustained a thriving tourist trade. Visitors arrived by the train load to see the natural wonder, once billed as the "World's Largest Cave Entrance". By the 1940's, pollution had cut off not only the drinking water but also the streams of tourists the cave attracted. The cave's restoration in 1993 was one of the most remarkable environmental success stories in America and a breath of fresh air for Horse Cave. Today, Horse Cave, Kentucky is a constant reminder of the delicate balance between caves and the sunlit world above.”

9)    “Vampire U- Fact or Fiction” Traditional cache. Placed 9/28/2011. Located in Lexington, KY. For all of the Transylvania Alumni! From the description: “Old Morrison, the only campus building at the time, was completed in 1833, under the supervision of Henry Clay, who both taught law and was a member of Transylvania's Board.”

10)     “Dead Men Don’t Cache” Virtual Cache. Placed 8/12/2012. Located in Lexington, KY. For all of the UK basketball fans. From the description: “The location of this virtual cache is nationally recognized as one of "America's most beautiful arboretums.” If you haven’t visited this grave, can you really call yourself a C-A-T-S fan?

Geocaching can be reduced to a mere hobby where folks use expensive GPS equipment to locate tupperware containers hidden in the woods. While that may be true, the other reality is that it also encourages participants to explore nature, delve into local history, and spurs commerce as people will sometimes drive 2-3 hours off course during a road trip just to snag a specific cache.

Three things are certain in my life: death, taxes and if there’s good weather on the weekend, you’ll find my little family, including our 5 year old dog, Cooper, outside geocaching.
A fellow and his dogs find King Kong's Log cache just south of Louisville. Coop would love this one!

Elizabeth Elfen Designs

Elizabeth Elfen Designs brings a little Kentucky charm to the Big Apple. Transylvania alumna Elizabeth Elfen Johnston's eponymous handbag line is as glamorous and charming as its namesake. Elizabeth currently resides in Brooklyn, NY with her well-dressed foot and ankle surgeon husband, whom she's nicknamed Dr. Hotpants!

Elizabeth was kind enough to answer a few questions about her designs, her personal style, and her Old Kentucky Home. She's also offering a custom bag for one lucky HerKentucky reader!-- HCW

Tell us a little about yourself.
At Woodford Reserve
I was born in New Orleans, LA and moved around to Virginia Beach, VA and St. Louis, MO before landing in Paducah, KY for my first year of high school. There, I fell in love with Kentucky’s elegance and southern charm and continued on to Transylvania University where I started, with the best intentions, as a premed/biology major. Whilst at Transy, my love of creating art grew and I graduated with a B. A. in Studio Art. After graduation, I moved to Florence, Italy to study 
Footwear and Accessory Design at Polimoda and reveled
 in the glamorous Italian lifestyle. Upon graduation, I moved to NYC and
 worked with my favorite fashion houses HOLLYWOULD, Lorelei NYC 
and Amanda Pearl.

To build upon my love of handbags, I went to work at an exclusive
 contemporary handbag manufacturer and immersed myself in all things
 pertaining to handbags! After a yearlong stint in the factory, I set out 
to make my own feminine contemporary clutches that add a touch of
 approachable glamour to one’s everyday life and night!

How did your company come about?
During my time at the factory, I noticed a void within the contempory handbag world. Everything just seemed so masculine, functional and lacked glamour. Because of this, I formed my company, Elizabeth Elfen, in 2011 to add a more feminine and glamorous 
touch to today’s contemporary handbags. I am inspired by old Hollywood glamour 
and a love of practicality and I strive to make clutches that go from 
brunch with the girls to après dinner drinks later that evening,
 all with the quick adjustment of your strap.

Bourbon or Beer?
With an actual pair of Dorothy's Ruby Slippers!
Maker’s Mark Manhattan straight up and extra frosty!

Coffee or Tea?
Is champagne an acceptable answer? [ed. note: Always! -- HCW]

Favorite spots in Lexington?
Cheapside Bar and Grill, Keeneland, Gratz Park Inn and Ramsey’s

Favorite things to do in NY?
Turning non-Kentuckians on to the culinary masterpiece that is the Kentucky Hot Brown. Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain has a great one.

Favorite Fashion Advice?
Fit is everything for everyone. When my husband and I started dating, he was wearing things that weren’t right for him, i.e., unfitted jeans, cargo shorts, ill-fitting hooded sweatshirts…. I could go on and on. I knew that he was a keeper, so I put in the time to outfit him in things that fit him properly. We put him in some better fitting jeans and got him some shorts that showcased his rocking calves and now he receives compliment after compliment!

Elizabeth has graciously offered one HerKentucky reader a custom handbag! Working from her classic 10" by 5" and 1.25" shape, she'll collaborate with you to design the perfect bag for you. It'll even be named for you! Just enter the Rafflecopter drawing before midnight on Christmas Eve!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

HerKentucky Adoption Series: Kathy's Story

HerKentucky is celebrating National Adoption Month with a collection of stories from Kentucky moms. Today, we're hearing from Kathy Ponatoski, my college classmate and Words With Friends nemesis. Kathy lives in Lexington with her husband Jeff and their sons Drew and Kai. -- HCW

I was 33 years old when I became a mother. It was in a room with concrete floors, 7000 miles and 13 time zones from my home in Central Kentucky. A nanny handed me a gorgeous infant boy who looked at me through curious, confused almond shaped eyes as dark as coal, before empting the contents of his stomach onto my freshly pressed blouse. In that moment, we were a family.

It was three years before when I received the phone call confirming what I had long suspected: that I would be unable to have biological children. As painful as that moment and the months that followed it were, they felt like a distant memory that morning in Taiwan, and more like ancient history as I write these words. The few months following were a sad range of emotion. I processed the anger of seeing people on the news sent to prison for child abuse and neglect. I endured a seemingly endless number of lunch dates, girls-nights-out and water-cooler conversations with other 30-something women where the conversation seemed to center exclusively around either the euphoria of pregnancy or the horror of childbirth. And perhaps most painfully, I grieved the loss of someday knowing what the combination of Jeff and I together would look like.

In our search to determine the right path, it’s safe to say that we never considered infertility treatments. They were among the options available to us, obviously, but it never seemed to appeal to either of us. I became aware during those few months of the number of families I ran into that had adopted: at the grocery, at our favorite Thai restaurant, at church. My good friend from work had just returned from China with her second daughter. We also became involved during those months with a group of adoptive families we met through my friend from work. Each family had a unique story… one had adopted twice domestically and were in process for a third child. One family had a daughter born in Russian, and another a daughter born in Guatemala.

Every family we talked to seemed to say the same thing. Call Adoption Assistance in Danville. After a preliminary meeting with them, it was easy to see why. We were blown away with what a tremendous resource was available right in our backyard to help us navigate the entire process. A few months later we had a completed home study, and were on a list a few months after that. We flew to Taiwan for Drew in January of 2008.

This past March, four years after my first trip across the Pacific, I was back in Taiwan to bring home Drew’s brother. Beautiful baby Kai turned one year old this week and is the perfect completing piece to our family.
Last night our family was out to dinner at Ramsey’s . I was reminded of how much fun it is to watch a baby explore new foods when Kai touched a fried green tomato to his lips and at first looked confused, and then horrified. As we were finishing our meal, (i.e., Drew was inhaling a piece of combo pie at record speed) a nearby patron stopped to say: “My goodness, your family is so lovely.”

When I talk about adoption, I often say that it’s the advice you cannot give, because people must arrive their on their own. Together.

I’m glad that Jeff and I were able to dream together of just how lovely our family could be.

Adoption Assistance now has offices in both Danville and Louisville, with social workers serving all regions in Kentucky. They offer home study services for all private domestic and international adoption programs. They also provide insight on available programs and preferred placement agencies. They are on the web at

Hope Conquers - A Campaign to Help Children With Cancer

I read as an escape, as a form of entertainment and as a way to learn. I've never thought about the idea of "reading for good," but I'm happy to introduce a way to do just that. Tammy Blackwell, a Kentucky author, is with us today for a post on her campaign of kindness - Hope Conquers - which aims to help children and families of children diagnosed with cancer.  - Lydia

I have lived in Marshall County, Kentucky, the majority of my life. When you live in a county of 31,000 people, there is no way to know every single person, but after thirty-something years, you feel like you do. You certainly know every member of your graduating class well enough that you feel a profound sense of sadness when one of them has a child be diagnosed with cancer. And when a person you grew up with is forced to bury their child, your heart becomes a raw ache inside your chest.

I was a member of the Marshall County High School Class of 1996. There were 300 of us. Three hundred. Out of that 300 people, four of them have recently had a child diagnosed with cancer. Two of those children died from the disease.

You would think that was enough for one small town, but unfortunately life wouldn’t agree. There are currently three teenagers in Marshall County missing school as they undergo cancer treatment. Three kids who should be worrying about exams, papers, and unrequited love are now worrying about blood levels, treatment options, and whether they will ever truly get to experience life again.

Cancer is cruel; it’s wrong; and it is certainly not fair.

I recently realized I could just sit around and feel sorry for all the families around me struggling, or I could do something to help. My day job is as the Young Adult Services Coordinator for the Marshall County Public Library. Over the years, I’ve seen how books can change a teen’s perception and attitude. I’ve seen books change lives. And so, armed with that knowledge, I came up with the Hope Conquers campaign.

The Hope Conquers campaign is simple: During the month of October, I will be collecting books inscribed with messages of inspiration and encouragement signed by the author. Those books will be donated to the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, the place most seriously ill kids in Marshall County go to receive care. I’ll also be donating all the profits from the Kindle edition of my novel Destiny Binds
to the Ronald McDonald House, which provides assistance to families with sick children.

I know in the grand scheme of things, Hope Conquers isn’t a lot. I’m going to give some kids some books and donate a little bit of money. So what?

Here’s the thing, though. I think it will make a difference. Actually, I know it will. I know, without a doubt, that every little bit helps. I know that if we work together, if each of us does what we can, our little bits will add up to a big something.

I encourage you to do what you can this month for kids with cancer. If you want to help the Hope Conquers campaign, you can do so by picking up a copy of Destiny Binds in the Kindle Store. (Don’t have a Kindle? No problem! Most app-enabled devices, like computers and smart phones, have a free Kindle app. And Destiny Binds is only 99¢!) Even if you don’t want to buy the book, you can help by
spreading the word about the campaign. Or by making a donation of your own to a charity that supports seriously ill children. Or by dropping a few coins into the collection boxes at McDonald’s. Please, just do something, anything, to get involved. 

Together we can make a difference in the lives of children battling cancer.

Tammy Blackwell works at the Marshall County Public Library in Kentucky and is the author of the popular YA series, the Timber Wolves Trilogy. You can visit her online at or follow her on Twitter (@Miss_Tammy).

Couples Tailgate Shower: A Guest Post from Just Lovely Katherine

Katherine of Just Lovely Katherine is one of my very favorite bloggers.  She's the modern Southern Belle -- sweet, adorable, and creative.  She's also a Lexington-based attorney and is planning her wedding in her "spare time."  Katherine graciously offered to share some photos and planning tips from a fabulous tailgate shower she recently threw.  I think y'all will love it! -- HCW
"We're a drinking town with a football problem!" Or so say some! As most of you are probably aware (or totally unaware because we aren't even on your radar), the University of Kentucky isn't exactly known for its tradition of great football. So around here, it's all about the tailgating! Bring together family, friends, food and fun and what better lineup than that for a couples shower, tailgate-style! Even though we don't do football well here at Kentucky, we still like to throw a tailgate that would make any SEC team proud! So, here's how to go about throwing a Couples Shower Tailgate.

Let's break this down into list form, because lists are my thing
  1. The first step in planning any party is to pick a theme. Well, let's back up...first go to A Pair of Pears blog and download their Party Planning Printables. Their free worksheets are fabulous for keeping organized! Now, decide on a theme. Head over to Pinterest and start looking for inspiration (thank heavens for Pinterest!) 
  2. Once you have an idea of the overall look and feel of the party, the next step is to come up with a guest list and order invitations. I had Mary Ellen at Mellen Designs come up with a custom invitation for our tailgate shower. Her work is darling and the invite turned out so perfect! She incorporated UK and monograms! She can create anything, so be sure to get in contact with her for your next party!
  3. After creating a guest list, you should have some sort of idea of how many folks will be attending your soiree, so start thinking about what types of food and beverages you will be serving. For our tailgate shower, we went with delicious southern style BBQ from a local restaurant. Great for feeding the masses! For drinks, we had planned on getting a keg (remember, it's a tailgate afterall), but ended up just purchasing a trunk-load of cases of beer. Keep in mind that when most guests come to the shower, they are also coming to other words, you will need plenty of beer (more than you would for your typical shower)! I think we planned for 5-6 beers per person. 
  4. Now, we have a guest list, invitations mailed out, food selected and ordered, what next? The fun part! Decorations! Like I suggested above, Pinterest is a fabulous source for inspiration. Gather ideas you like, then you can DIY (or attempt to DIY)! One thing to keep in mind - you will have to haul all this stuff to the stadium and back. 
  5. If you are co-hosting an event, be sure to take some of the pressure off yourself by assigning tasks for the other hosts. You can't do it all on your own! I asked my fellow bridesmaids to bring side dishes, desserts, serving things etc. 
  6. Try to incorporate your team colors, football and the honorary couple wherever you can. Then just concentrate on the details that really make a shower special. I painted some flower pots in blue and white an added a "T" for the couple's last name. I planted flowers and a small tree in them and sent them home with the bride and groom-to-be. I made bunting by cutting small rectangles our of fabric and hot gluing them to cord. I also made a rag-type bunting to decorate the food tent. Simply cut up strips of fabric and knot over a long string or ribbon. I baked a blue and white cake and made little "r {heart} j" cake toppers. You can get the little wooden letters and shapes at your local craft store. Glue them to a dowel rod and paint. Easy peasy!
That's about all there is to it! If you are smart, you might consider doing this for an away game and throwing a tailgate shower at home! It was a lot of work to take everything to the stadium and get it set up. Plus, the couple had to haul all their gifts back after the shower. Despite the hauling, it was a huge success and everyone had a fabulous time!!! And no...UK didn't pull out a win!

A Perspective on Kentucky's Forests - A HerKentucky Guest Post

I'm so pleased to feature a dear friend's guest post today! Merril Flanary is a Kentucky girl currently living, studying and working in Sweden. She's a Renaissance woman - talented with words, musical instruments and a love for the natural world. I hope you enjoy her perspective on Kentucky's forests.


Blanton Forest by Merril Flanary
Growing up at the end of a country road in a small town in central Kentucky, I was surrounded by forests.  Although my parents labored in flower beds near the house, they applied a more laissez-faire gardening approach to most of the property.  The eighty-year-old sugar maple and red oak trees planted when the house was first built were left to grow.  The shed where we parked the lawnmower was actually a ½-acre grove of pawpaw trees my dad saw no point in trying to contain.  We burned black locust for heat in the winter and revelled in the sight of dogwood blooms commencing Derby season in the spring.  For me, trees were beautiful and strong things that fulfilled our utilitarian needs almost as often as they provided us with seasonal aesthetic pleasures.  

I suppose it was all those years amongst my family’s trees that first sparked my interest in forestry.  A forestry summer course in high school sealed the deal.  After learning to identify a few species and how to use a compass, I was certain there was no better subject to study.  Soon after, I was enrolled as an undergraduate forestry student at the University of Kentucky.
Photo by Beverly James
Kentucky’s forests are incredibly complex.  Rivaled only by the tropical rainforests of Central and South America, Kentucky’s forests are among the most diverse in the world.  There are almost 100 native tree species found throughout the Commonwealth; the forests in the Pacific Northwest or the Rocky Mountains have only a handful.  The seven distinct ecological regions in Kentucky harbor an equal number of unique forest types, each with their own assortments of geology, soils, mammals, reptiles, insects, and birds.  Our forests are an important oasis for ecological processes and biodiversity.  

Kentucky’s forest industry is unique and significant.  Almost half of Kentucky’s surface area is covered in forests, most of which are owned by private landowners in small tracts less than ten-acres in size.  Unlike other states, where government or large corporations own much of the forest land, these private citizens provide 95% of the saw timber that makes up Kentucky’s forest industry.  Harvesting red oak, white oak and yellow-poplar, Kentucky is among the top three hardwood producers in the US.  

Blanton Forest by Merril Flanary
My love affair for forestry grew most significantly while studying and subsequently working in the forests of eastern Kentucky.  The remoteness and rugged terrain of this region are among the reasons it has earned the reputation of redheaded stepchild of Kentucky society, but it was for these reasons I found myself drawn to the region.  Dodging rattlesnakes and black bears, I studied and worked in eastern Kentucky for five years.  Nowhere else in the state are there as many tracts of intact forest, and it was in these forests my budding interests grew and prospered. 

Photo by Merril Flanary
When you walk ten feet in a forest in eastern Kentucky—with the smallest shift in aspect or a few feet in elevation—the scene completely changes.  In the bottomlands, dense stands of eastern hemlock and American beech trees shade freshwater streams and provide safe cover for birds.  Along a northeast facing slope, the perfectly straight stems of yellow-poplar grow as uniformly as the fields of corn that settlers grew there a century ago.  Majestic white oak, hickory, and black cherry scatter hilltops providing an abundance of food for an array of animals.  Perhaps the most endearing quality of these forests is the variety of plants finding purchase on the forest floor.  Squaw root punctures through the litter layer, maidenhair fern dances in a warm breeze, and Virginia creeper crawls over rocks and roots in search of sunlight.  

Photo by Kyle Napier
The diversity of Kentucky’s forests and the dynamic uses of these forests make them an integral part of our culture.  As a child climbing over broken branches in my backyard, I never thought I would one day commit myself to the study of forests.  It has been a rewarding endeavour that is far from over and makes my experience as a Kentucky girl all the richer.