This week, Julie and I are in rural Kentucky, about an hour south of Louisville. Julie’s mom is Chair of the English Department at Trinity Western University, and a prominent authority on Thomas Merton. Merton was, by apparent consensus, the most significant American spiritual writer of the twentieth century. He was also a monk, and spent the latter half of his life at the Abbey at Gethsemani, a Cistercian monastery here in Kentucky. Julie’s mom spends time down here most summers, and this year we decided to join her.
We’re staying in a house near the Abbey that’s operated as a retreat centre. It’s commonly called ‘the Solar House’, as it was a kind of early green architecture effort. It used to have a translucent roof, to let in the heat. It’s built right into the hillside, on a gravel bed, which I gather helps moderate temperatures throughout the year. It’s got a peculiar, pyramid shape (here’s a photo), though it sits very pleasantly at one end of a huge meadow.
The surrounding countryside brims with life. I’ve seen deer, box turtles, snakes (larger than we grow them back in Canada) and all sorts of birds–blue jays, cardinals, herons, owls, turkey vultures, turtle doves and dozens of other species I don’t recognize.
Of all the places I’ve been, Kentucky reminds me most of Ireland. It’s extraordinarily green–it has rained here every afternoon, like it does in the tropics–and has charming rolling hills. Of course, in Ireland the fences are made of rock, not barbed wire, and there are very few pickup trucks, but there’s a lot of similarity. For no reason other than my own naivete, I expected Kentucky to be more like the country around Austin, Texas. Where Texas was dry and brown, Kentucky is humid and verdant.
I’ve posted a few photos from our trip to Flickr. Tomorrow, time permitting, I’ll tell you about the monks.