High lonesome, that is. If you’ve ever heard any country song ever, you know just what I’m talking about. Love found, love lost, he’s come home broke, he’s cheating again, she’s cheating again, the pickup’s up on cinder blocks, the engine’s rusted out. It’s a sound that hooks the heart, it’s a story you know: times are tough, the going is rough, and all you want every day of it is to go home.
Maybe it’s the sound of the South, of the blues and old-tyme string, but Kentucky sure is full with it. I might be sitting right there, in the place where the creek runs clean and the kitchen table is a run with greens, potatoes, corn cobs, fried chicken, cabbage, beans, and four different kinds of cobbler, I might be sitting right at that table, fork in hand, and still I’d miss being there, right there, where I am. “I never met a Kentuckian who wasn’t thinking about going home or actually going home,” our golden governor named Happy once said. It’s a feeling that’s irrational. It’s a revelation and a madness.
A reefer madness. No, not cannabis. The high I’m talking about is from breathing in another grass, one that grows just as wild, if you let it.
Poa pratensis, a.k.a. Kentucky bluegrass, is a hallucinogen. It’s also the grass growing in your front yard. Widely adaptive, drought resistant, ready to grow in times of stress, the grass we call blue is a survivor. It’s been seeded in lawns from here to Oregon, a favorite among long-socked, short-shorted mowers who prefer the blade’s erection to the less confident ground covers. But if you have your courage to hold your blade, to not mow, it will come up two feet, three, or more, depending on the moods of the soil and its people. In her papers dating from just after the Civil War, Sadie Combs records she saw a pasture that grew five feet; her diary says it was like watching confetti celebrate the air, seeing that grass release its strange bloom. I would suggest Ms. Combs exaggerated in service to history, but, in a recent interview with Mr. Walker (of the Nelson County Walkers), he told me in the months that followed the economy’s recent crash, his field came up taller than him. (If you haven’t made Mr. Walker’s acquaintance, I should tell you he is every bit of seven foot and does not carry the reputation of a liar.)
Kentucky bluegrass is a gift that comes up strong when you need it most, a grass of rooted hope. But grow it long with caution. For in that split blade a silver spore is ferried which, once you breathe it, will cause you to feel a sweet pang. You’ll start seeing things, visions, dreams, you’ll start believing that there really is a place in this world where you belong.
Photos by Sarah Jane Sanders