We fished the North Fork of Elkhorn Creek in Franklin County, Kentucky yesterday afternoon when Theresa found a few hours away the confines of the office. My blues seem to go away when traveling down a road barely big enough for the wheels of my truck; the chink of gravel caught in the tires and the crush of fallen leaves seems to give me a piece of mind that I can’t get anywhere else. Therapy is where you find, I guess, and the rolling hills and cliffs of my home woods are the best I know of. The leaves are almost off the trees now except for the few who are stubbornly holding on in a last blast of defiant color against the coming cold. The bones of winter, sycamore and birches, stand tall and starkly white against the gray afternoon skies that only portend of the cold and freezing rain that will chill the bones in a couple of weeks.
Kentucky has the fourth largest number of counties in the modern United States. They total 120 and follow Texas, Georgia, and Virginia, in that order. This is important to realize when discussing Kentucky history and the routes we took over the last 223 years. I often think of how Kentucky became (or was able to stay) the way that it is when I’m trying to find those calm, isolated spots to hunt/fish. There are so many remnants of those who passed prior to us, shadows of histories that stand next to us, regardless of our awareness, like the towering sycamores and old stone fences that dot my Kentucky landscape.
Kentucky became a state in 1792 but has a history of settlement well prior, the indigenous population (some Shawnee, Cherokee, and a little Choctaw in the western lands) used the land well before the first adventurers came through. I’ve always thought the state presented multiple chances for the outdoorsmen, but it has occurred to me that the original settlers/farmers/indians might have been the ultimate “outdoorsmen”.
The original idea of so many counties was that, in the days of poor roads and horseback travel, a resident could easily make it to the county seat in a day and return to the homestead. The result, unfortunately, is that the county governments became isolated from one another and the resulting provincialism seemed to garner nepotism and dirty politics—another Kentucky standard.
Franklin County, KY lies in the rolling hills and limestone karsts of the Bluegrass region and is home to famed bourbon distilleries, the state capitol, and miles and miles of creeks and various hardwood and coniferous timber. We fished a creek about 8 miles north of the state capitol but far enough way to not smell the stink of state politics and while the creek is a simple afterthought in our modern times, it was important to the development of our state. And if you look closely enough, you can see the clearings and wagon roads of a bygone time.
Kentucky politics have a sordid history of infighting, partisanship, and scandal which include intrigue, cold blooded murder, and nihilistic corruption which have kept roads poorly maintained (even into the era of 1930's-1950's) and a deplorable school system. It is unfortunate that my home and favorite state has done little to shake the terrible backwoods reputation that it received soon after induction as a state.
But there are isolated, rural, and stunningly beautiful places that can be reached within minutes of major metropolitan inhabitation. And that keeps me coming back. It’s comfortable to me as is the familiar cadence of Kentucky speech and conversation. Those syllables, perhaps indecipherable to an outsider, are part of my spirit and cell structure.
I've roamed the hills and hollers of this state since I was old enough to walk and have not found a place that has called to me as compellingly as my home woods--and I've traveled a fair amount.
We fished Elkhorn Creek on this day (which has a huge amount of history associated with it) amongst century old sycamores that literally towered above us, standing tall and quiet as sentinels of time, patience, and the ever changing face of our simple fishing creek.
What’s fishing to you?