As a child, my world was eighty-seven acres of farmland and woods in south-central Kentucky. My family came from a muddle of most of the British Isles, Germany, Cherokee and perhaps some unknown quantities; an uneasy combination of gentleman farmers and sturdy yeoman stock. Wedded to the land, tillers of the soil, Kentuckians are a people where the land sustains you and defines you. Land is important. The land is who you are. We say the land belongs to the farmers but really, the farmer belongs to the land.
We lived by the seasons. Our days ruled by the sun and the rain. The land sustained us, fed us, and defined us within our community. What we ate, we first grew, then harvested, and preserved. The seeds we planted in the spring, blistered our hands by the summer hoe, and were blessed at dinner through the winter.
We were farmers. Our neighbors were farmers. We left each other alone but helped when needed. There were never enough hands for work waiting to be done, so each household timed it so that harvest could be gathered before a storm. Neighbors rode over on their tractors and worked until sunset. We would be at their place tomorrow. Cutting hay requires generations of hard-earned, weather-wise knowledge. If it rains after the hay is cut, it will mildew. How many days must it cure on the ground before and after raking? How do you know it is properly cured before bailing? Too soon, and it’s too green. Too late, and the cattle won’t eat it. Horses and cows are choosy. There’s a reason for the old saying, “That’s only fit for a pig.”
I visited the farm for the first time in years this past autumn. My son and I went home to visit my cousin dying of cancer. We buried my cousin right before Christmas. My parents are both gone, dead from cancer years ago. The land hasn’t belonged to us for a long time. The farm passed out of our hands with the death of my father. Sometimes I wonder about the number of farm people who have died of cancer. Have we poisoned the soil beyond redemption? What is certain is that someday the land to which we belonged, reclaims us.
Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.
Kentucky (from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kentucky)
The origin of Kentucky's name (variously spelled Cane-tuck-ee, Cantucky, Kain-tuck-ee, and Kentuckee before its modern spelling was accepted) has never been definitively identified, though some theories have been debunked. For example, Kentucky's name is unlikely to mean "dark and bloody ground" as is commonly believed, because it does not occur with that meaning in any known Native American language. It also is not a combination of "cane" and "turkey". The most likely etymology is that it comes from an Iroquoian word for "meadow" or "prairie" (c.f. Mohawk kenhtà:ke, Seneca këhta'keh). Other possibilities also exist: the suggestion of early Kentucky pioneer George Rogers Clark that the name means "the river of blood", a Wyandot name meaning "land of tomorrow", a Shawnee term possibly referring to the head of a river, or an Algonquian word for a river bottom.