Kentucky in One Word: Southern

Everything I love so much about growing up in Kentucky and continuing to call it home can be summed up in one word: Southern. 

The view from my parents' house
I'm not talking about its geographic location (especially because some people tend to argue that it's not technically a southern state) and I'm not talking about its history (which also causes controversy over whether Kentucky should be considered Southern. to which I say, "Pshaw").

In my friend Alecia Whitaker's book, The Queen of Kentucky, the main character, Ricki Jo, is a girl who lives on a tobacco farm. (If you haven't read it, do. Then buy it for your friends. So good.)

Alecia, who lives and works in New York now, mentioned to me once that when she does readings from her book up there, it's almost like her book is a fantasy novel because Ricki Jo's lifestyle is so foreign to kids who are growing up in the city. That conversation stuck with me, because I'd never really given that much thought. After I considered it, I realized that the idea of growing up in a place with no front yards, with thousands of people living around you, where the traffic never really stops--that hardly seems real to me either. 

Where I grew up, five o'clock traffic isn't even a thing. I could sit on my parents' front porch and hear the soft sound of water trickling at the start of the Dix River across the road. Our cows getting out and traipsing down the road was about as rowdy as it got around there. It was beautiful and quiet, and I still feel the need to escape to it every now and then.

I love being a southern girl. It's always one of the first things I say when asked to describe myself. That one word says so much about a person and about a place. I love wide, open spaces with tall weeds, wildflowers, and enormous trees. Religion is a big part of my life. I think sweet tea should be consumed daily. I think all girls should know when to be ladies, and all ladies should drink bourbon. I have a deep appreciation for great football. Everything tastes better when it's made from scratch. There's no party like a good field party with a bonfire and pickup trucks. I believe that "Yes Ma'am," "No Ma'am," "Please," and "Thank you" are some of the most powerful words a person can say. 

There are times when I wonder what it would be like to have grown up somewhere else, or to live somewhere else now. While the glamour of city life appeals to me now and then, especially as I learn more and more about the publishing industry, I just can't imagine being this in love with another place. No matter where I go, I'm always going to want to come back to peace and quiet on a wide front porch with a huge glass of iced tea.

Kentucky in One Word: Beautiful

It's hard to reduce our home state to just one word. I really struggled with the idea, but kept coming back to the word "beautiful."

Native Americans discovered and returned to Kentucky again and again for the bounty that the land provided. Later, the Early European settlers must have seen bits of home in the highlands of Appalachia, the verdant meadows of the Bluegrass and the meandering waterways across the region. Today, I often find myself gasping at the beauty my state offers, and I'm in awe of the diversity of that beauty. Mountains, forests, rivers, lakes, and arches are some of the beautiful natural world we call home, but we've also had the (generally) good sense to work to preserve a lot of those places and enhance them.

My words are woefully inadequate to describe the beauty of Kentucky, but if you've ever lived through a Kentucky spring, you know that the green surrounding you is enough to make your heart squeeze with joy. If you've ever hiked a Kentucky forest on a crisp autumn day, you know the sights, sounds and smells of Kentucky.

Kentucky is beautiful beyond words and beyond my amateur photography abilities. I hope you enjoy some of my favorite images and will share links to some of your favorites!

Cove Spring Park Hike
Waterfalls Abound in Kentucky - Cove Spring Nature Preserve, Frankfort
Bright Summer Colors - Washington County
Majestic Waterways - Russell Fork River, Elkhorn City
Spring is Perfection in the Bluegrass - Capitol Lawn, Frankfort
Cove Spring in Snow
Winter Brings Its Own Beauty - Cove Spring Nature Preserve, Frankfort
Russell Fork Gorge
Fall in Appalachia - Russell Fork Gorge, Kentucky/Virginia Border
The Underside of Sky Bridge
Arches! - Red River Gorge, Slade

Kentucky in One Word: Iconic

Colonel Sanders. The Twin Spires. Muhammad Ali. George Clooney. Some of the most famous images in the world. Icons. Symbols of Kentucky.

To me, the one little word that describes Kentucky is "iconic." The defining imagery that conveys the Bluegrass State. The pageantry of the Derby. The limestone fences that outline the Central Kentucky countryside. The quilts. The actual blue grass, and the unique genre of music which shares its name. The college basketball tradition.

You can go anywhere in the world and identify yourself as being from Kentucky and, invariably, you'll get the response of "Fried Chicken" or "Derby." Our horses and our whisky are unparalleled. Our local boxing legend is The Greatest and our hometown heartthrob is The Sexiest.

Kentucky is a land of unmistakable images. Kentucky is iconic.

(All images Leroy Neiman.)

Kentucky in One Word: Comfort

It's funny - I was reading Sarah's "Kentucky in One Word" post and I thought she stole my word... home. Turns out that she actually led me to the word that should have come to mind in the first place: Comfort.

You see, my family isn't in Kentucky. I wasn't born in Kentucky. I resented being in Kentucky for a long time (this is what happens when you move a very moody girl in her early teens). It wasn't until college at UK - my last resort school - that I started to really feel comfortable. I experienced the spark of UK basketball, finally went to see the ponies at Keeneland, and started to pull the stick out of my butt that seemed to lodge there when I first moved here.

I met a Kentucky boy who is the very definition of comfort to my heart. His family added an anchor that is comforting to have when my family is so distant.

I love to travel, and am surprised every time how much I look forward to flying into LEX and driving home with my heavy suitcases and oily travel face - windows down and breathing in the fresh air.

Today while I write this, I'm curled up on my sofa with my laptop with a down comforter wrapped around me like a burrito. I just drank a cup of hot tea and my pup is trying to get my attention. In this place I am warm, loved, wanted, and needed. Comfort is what Kentucky gives to me.

Kentucky In One Word: Home

To distill Kentucky’s essence into one word is to try to distill my own. It is a land of bourbon and bluegrass music and horses. I am redheaded and a mother and a writer.

The latter describe the wholeness of my being no better than the former describe the state I love.

My ancestors have lived and died on this land for over two hundred years. Generations of Jennings and Stewarts and Lovelaces who made homes and livings and families in the same state I now raise my own sons. I think about them often. How did they describe Kentucky to family members far away in Virginia and North Carolina?

I think about how my own children will describe Kentucky as they go out into the world. Will they describe their birthplace with fondness? Will it be place they defend or a place they disown?

Kentucky has never been a mere place to me – a descriptor of a small part of my own history. No matter where my story took me, Kentucky was never just the beginning. Kentucky was the foundation – the framework – of all that had been and ever would be in my history.  Kentucky was my mother, my birthplace, my friend.

When I returned after years “abroad,” my dear friend looked me in the eye and welcomed me back to the promise land.

Kentucky is in my blood. Knitted into my very DNA is a love of this land – this state. I can no more imagine myself without it then I can imagine my body without blood. It is my past. It is my present. It is my future.

It is my home.


~ Sarah Stewart Holland 

Kentucky in One Word

A single word can be a powerful thing.

This week, some of the HerKentucky team members have written about their commitment to the One Little Word project in the New Year. Lydia's mantra for 2013 is "commitment." Sarah's word is "simplify." Both are great words that have the power to transform a year.

As I read Lydia and Sarah's respective mission statements for 2013, I thought about the One Little Word that I plan to use personally and professionally in 2013, which is "Do." I have so many ideas, plans and dreams that have seemed just over the horizon lately; it seems time to bring them to fruition. I also started thinking about the power of One Little Word to characterize our unique Commonwealth.

In recent weeks, it seems that the use of One Little Word has polarized Kentucky. As y'all have probably seen by now, the guys behind the Kentucky for Kentucky project are once again spreading the message of a Kick-Ass Kentucky.  This time, they're suggesting a re-branded state.

Image via Kentucky for Kentucky
While advertising experts and social media users have overwhelmingly embraced the Kick-Ass Message, the Kentucky Department of Tourism was less than amused. Now, I personally find the idea of re-branding Kentucky as "Kick-Ass" kind of hilarious and edgy and irreverent, even if that opinion places me in the Department of Tourism's "constituency of no one."  The word "Kick-Ass" makes people take notice -- they high-five, giggle, or squirm, but they don't readily forget it. It doesn't have much gravitas, and I would imagine that there are a lot of people who don't want to see a mild expletive on billboards and license plates. I sure do like the idea of an upgrade to a hipper, more modern view of Kentucky, though. 

We first started HerKentucky was to provide an outlet for Kentucky women's voices. We wanted to share our unique experiences of life in the Bluegrass State. Along the way,  we found that there were few absolutes. Our respective backgrounds are rural or urban, equine or agrarian. We identify with different colleges, cities and sports teams. We sit on different sides of the partisan aisle.  Some of us fall into the "Kick-Ass" camp, while others identify with an "Unbridled Spirit." Kentucky life is a little different for each of us. In a way, we each have "One Little Word" that sums up our Kentucky experience.

And so, as we begin 2013, I'd love to hear from our writers, readers and friends. What One Little Word describes Kentucky for you?