Big Bone Lick: The Cradle of American Paleontology

There was a time when the eyes of the world were drawn to Kentucky. Long before the run for the roses, international intrigue came not by animals running a derby but by animal bones unearthed at Big Bone Lick. Stanley Hedeen’s book Big Bone Lick: The Cradle of American Paleontology tells the story of those bones.

If you grew up in Kentucky you know about Big Bone Lick. That knowledge though is little more than a passing thought of the mammoth bones discovered at the site. This book puts that passing thought into prospective. The story is far more interesting than this oversimplification, the bone discovery was huge news at the time and reverberated around the world. Scientist in European countries studied the bones taken at Big Bone Lick. Debates spurred over the exact species of the animal. Many did not believe God would allow extinction but were confused by the bones that seemed to be elephant but had different characteristics and were in a region without elephants. Americans Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark (of Lewis & Clark fame) also took interest in the site or excavated bones.

Big Bone Lick: The Cradle of American Paleontology weaves the history and science of Big Bone Lick into a well written story. Intermingled with the famous mammoth bone narrative Hedeen includes the recounting of legends behind the site from different native tribes. You also learn about the bones of other extinct animals found at Big Bone Lick, including a mastodon and two different sloths. (I did not know that these animals once roamed our state.) The geography of the area is discussed as well as the circumstances that led to the amassing of such a large concentration of bones in the area.

We have traveled to many Kentucky state parks. My hope has always been to take my son to visit each one in the state. After reading Big Bone Lick: The Cradle of American Paleontology I have moved Big Bone Lick to the top of my list. I can only imagine what it must have been like when Native Americans and the first frontiersmen discovered the area, it must have been quite the sight to behold. I hope my son can experience just a little bit of that wonder and understand Big Bone Lick’s significance.

Map by early Kentucky historian John Filson. Quote from The Embargo a satirical poem denouncing, among other things, Thomas Jefferson’s preoccupation with Big Bone Lick. Both can be found in the book.


Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky

I wanted to like this book. There definitely are parts that were beautifully written. However, the story technique employed by the author fell flat and took away from the story. There may be a select few I would recommend this novel to but overall most people would not enjoy it.

Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky shifts through the years of Leah Shepherd’s life. As a child her brother disappeared, never to be seen again. As an adult she lives her life mostly in solitude. The exceptions, a relationship that ended under vaguely unusual circumstances and her friendship with an elderly woman that resulted in a lawsuit after her death.

The stream of consciousness writing technique used in the novel was the most severely executed I have ever read. The drift from past to present was often one paragraph, even one sentence, to the next with little to no discernible way to tell where it fit into the story. I spent the first half of the book trying to figure out what it was even about. The second half was better and I could enjoy the eloquent wordplay. I loved the paragraph from which the novel derived it’s name:

“The Commonwealth of Kentucky was once an ocean. Not a land of bluegrass but an endless expanse of blue waves, waters full of indescribably creepy creatures that frisked and scuttled below the surface of a sea that was ancient even then, but over time the waters receded and the dead of those obscure monstrosities slumbering on the floor were battered and crushed by currents to grains and granules. Trilobites, brachiopods, gastropods, crinoids, edrioasteroids. Crushed and crushed and crushed. The bodies sifted down, each upon each, and as ages passed they became stone, the strata of which tell and retell a story. Limestone, the living rock, the soft monument, rainwater washing it away in drips and drabs, year after year, leaving a vast vein of caves. At every moment that soft rock erodes away under unsuspecting feet.”

It is apparent that the author, David Connerley Nahm, is a great wordsmith. A second reading would help distinguish the story but the character development wasn’t enough to make me care for another read through. Nahm grew up in Kentucky but now lives in Virginia.

All the Living

C.E. Morgan is a master of plot and character development. The richness of story in All the Living is not reflective of the page count. At less than 200 pages, this book packs more raw feelings and emotions into it than a majority of much longer novels. With just three main characters Morgan constructed an entire novel that resonates truth.

The story follows Aloma as she moves to her boyfriend’s family farm. He has just lost his family and is struggling with his new role running the farm. She is struggling with the loneliness of life on the farm, living with a man who has shut down emotionally, and the dream she has sacrificed for her move. Then a local church preacher offers the chance for Aloma to regain a part of her dream.

The rhythm of Morgan’s storytelling is phenomenal. There were times when the things left unsaid were more powerful than putting them to words. When the nuisance of a look or the movements of bodies better portrayed feelings than any verbal interaction. Then there were times when a character said something that was so true to human nature, it made me pause and reflect. Morgan knew exactly when each element was needed.

As a Kentucky author, Morgan’s portrayal of life on a farm in rural Kentucky was not only accurate but beautifully written. From tobacco fields and barns to the behaviors of a small town church congregation, I was vividly reminded of my childhood. The loneliness of Aloma is also so masterfully portrayed that you feel it within yourself while reading.

I read this book in one day. It was engrossing. This is C.E. Morgan’s first novel. I have added her second book The Sport of Kings to my reading list.

This I Believe: Kentucky

This short book is a collection of essays penned by Kentuckians for the This I Believe series. Started as a television segment by Edward R Murrow in the 1950’s, This I Believe was revived in 2005 by NPR as a radio broadcast. Each essay is a glimpse into the author’s life and describes the core value they use as their guide.

The variety of each individual answer to the question “What do you believe” is fascinating. From libraries and sharing stories to faith, nature, believing in yourself, and taking care of others, This I Believe: Kentucky is an enjoyable little read for anyone interested in the human psyche.

As would be expected, many of the essays in This I Believe: Kentucky highlight elements of Kentucky as core to the author’s belief. In the essay The Answer is in Rural America Gerry Roll shares her belief that small town life is the answer to our nation’s seemingly declining civility. “A person can still breathe in rural America, and I don’t mean just taking in air. There is real space for everyone. We all fit comfortably.”

The end of each essay includes a footnote about the author. I discovered new Kentucky authors and other Kentucky citizens I’d like to investigate further. With his essay The Knowing I concurred with Silas House that dogs make us better people, then discovered he is the author of several books. After reading This I Believe: Kentucky my Kentucky reading list continues to grow.

The above photo is from almost 10 years ago. Our doberman was often meet with frightened looks and trepidation but was one of the sweetest souls I have ever known. He was the most gentle with my son. Our family has not been the same since his death.


A visit to Mamaw’s today to celebrate her birthday. As she smiled and waved goodbye I could think only of the poem “Now” by Kentucky poet Jane Gentry.

The view in the picture is from my grandparents front porch this summer. The poem “Now” can be found in “The New and Collected Poems of Jane Gentry.”

Water in Kentucky

There is something extraordinary about water. The soothing way it trickles over rocks in a slow moving stream or roars over a dam during flood season. Water is intricate to our lives yet goes mostly unnoticed. Only with the lack of water or the flux of too much water do we pay it much attention. Water in Kentucky delves into the awe inspiring aspects of water in our state, how our history interconnects with water, the times when our water has been under crisis, and how we can be better conservationist of this natural resource.

Part textbook, part collection of essays, Water in Kentucky provides twenty-three unique chapters. Each chapter is written by a different author who shares their prospective on water in the Bluegrass state. This gives the book a wide range under which many different water related topics can be covered.

I enjoyed the chapters that described the historical significance of Kentucky water, like Chapter 3 Springs and the Settlement of Pioneer Kentucky by Gary A. O’Dell. Chapter 8 The Martin County Coal Waste Spill and Beyond: Reflections and Suggestions by Shaunna L. Scott and Stephanie M. McSpirit was an eye-opening view of an event that happened when I was too young to grasp the significance. There are also chapters on wastewater and protecting water resources that gave a greater insight into Kentucky’s water management and a realization that I’ve taken these topics for granted.

My favorite chapters, however, focused on the author’s more personal relationships with the water sources in their lives. Chapter 10 The Mighty Elkhorn: Our Home Creek by Zina Merkin had me reminiscing about the 2001 canoe trip down the Elkhorn I had with my then boyfriend (who is now my husband). Chapter 23 Water and People at the Confluence by Amanda Abnee Gumbert started and ended with the author’s childhood connection to the Licking River. Her words stirred within me my favorite memories of wading in the creek with my childhood friends. We grew up on the banks of the North Fork of the Licking River. It is a quote from Gumbert that best concludes this book:

“I return to my childhood home from time to time and cross over that same Licking River…As I cross, I crane my head to get a good look at the water below, churning it’s way downstream. It still carries the story of the land and all the ways we use it. It is my hope that more of us will notice and respect our local waterways and become part of a small group of committed people to protect them.”

The following are just two of the many interesting maps and pictures included in Water in Kentucky.

Kentucky is my Land

My land is in the news today. Though I am on the other side of the state and can only imagine the horror Marshall County experienced. But we, as a state, are collectively opening our arms and grieving with our “neighbors” in Benton.

Jesse Stuart wrote that Kentucky is the core of America. If the United States could be called a body, Kentucky can be called it’s heart.

Tonight our heart is heavy.

The Kentucky Cycle

A haunting tale of generational violence and dysfunction. Not only could I not put the book down but I can’t stop thinking about it now, even days later. The story is still reverberating in my mind.

The book is actually a compilation of six one act plays that follow the Rowen family from 1775 to 1975. It portrays the dog eat dog world of the beginning frontier days in Kentucky, followed by the equally harsh times during the Civil War, and ending with the ruthless controlling coal companies as they make their way into the region. Through it all you witness the Rowen family fight to make it by often choosing the most savage solutions to their problems and passing down their cruelty to the next generation.

I was surprised to learn that the author is not from Kentucky. He so accurately illustrated the brutality and poverty I’ve witnessed in Eastern Kentucky that I was sure he’d experienced it first hand.

I often speak lovingly of my grandparents on my Dad’s side of the family. Lovely people who exemplified neighborly good heartless and kindness. But, there is another side to my Kentucky story. My Mom’s side of the family were “rough as corncobs” and had fiery tempers with explosive personalities. Not only were they capable of murder, they did in fact commit murder. They held grudges for years and firmly grasped onto them into their graves.

This is their story.

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