Today we passed the 5,000 mile mark for the trip and our little Dixie now has 120,000 plus miles under her belt. But, before we got that far, we packed out of the Louisville area (actually Brooks, KY) and made a few housekeeping stops before taking to the road. First, we found a car wash and gave our little Prius a bath. It was sorely needed after so many miles and we had been talking about doing it for days. All that work necessitated a coffee for my driver and while he was getting that I ran into the nearest Kroger and bought some more sparkling water. Now we were ready for the road.
First stop was the Abbey of Gethsemane where Thomas Merton lived most of his life as a Trappist Monk. I had never been to the Abbey, but had read so much about it I had always wanted to go. And, here we were on our way there today. It’s situated in the hills of Kentucky and well off the main roads. So, you must know, along the way we took a wrong turn and saw even more of the back roads of Kentucky. If ever you wanted to get lost in a beautiful place, get lost in the back roads of Kentucky. Emerald green grass and ripening corn and beans covered the hills and valleys. Small farms with geese in ponds and horses in paddocks dotted the roads. Some of the roads were so narrow we had to almost pull off in the ditch to allow some farm machinery to pass us. It felt like we were traveling back in time – into the back woods of Kentucky where the deer and bird song are common and expected. Indeed, we saw several deer, and heard the birds and the crickets as if someone had turned the volume up.
Finally we found the Abbey of Gethsemane and made our way to the welcome center. We watched the film that informed us about the Monk’s daily routine. Prayer, labor, and leisure are the three staples of a monk’s life. Interspersed throughout the day are various periods of prayer and at 12:15 the Monks would gather in the chapel for Sext. Anyone who wished was invited to join them. We definitely wanted to do that!
We made our purchases at the gift shop and walked in silence to the chapel. I did stop along the way to take some pictures. The chapel was stark, but simply beautiful. The monastery was established in 1848, but the chapel had been renovated in 1967 to reflect the changes that came about as a result of Vatican II. Interestingly, the monastic tradition of antiphonal seating was maintained in the renovation.
At 12:15 exactly the Monks who had gathered stood in their stalls and began to sing the psalms for the day. Their slow chanting, all male voices, and the resounding brick of the building made for a moving experience. I couldn’t always make out the words, but the phrase I captured and will remember is, “O Lord, my soul longs for you like a watchman waits for the dawn.” It was truly beautiful and I found myself feeling the vibration of their chanting all the way down to my toes.
After sharing prayer with the monks we went on our way to the next point of interest. Not far down the road was the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. We stopped at the one room log cabin where his family lived when he was 2 to 6 years old. Then we went on to the actual place where he was born. The monument that stands in the place houses a one room log cabin believed to have been the actual house where he was born. In 2009, however, it was scientifically determined that the cabin only dated back to 1849 and Lincoln was born in 1809. It still is a typical log cabin of the era and it still gives the modern person a sense of what life in the early 1800’s in Kentucky was like. I think my bathroom may be about as big as that cabin! Seriously.
While traveling on to the next point of interest we gained back that hour we lost last week. In Kentucky they ask “Are they on slow time, or fast?” “Slow time” is Central time and is an hour earlier than “fast time” or Eastern Time. We laughed as we heard that little colloquialism.
Mammoth Caves National Park lured us into its central Kentucky location and we found the Visitor Center. Mammoth boasts the largest system of caves in the world and we found the largest number of people in one place we had seen since the Air Museum in Dayton. We walked the museum and watched the informative film about the discovery and history of the caves. One statement in the film caught my attention: “Exploration is at the heart of the human experience.” I couldn’t help but think about our travels, this trip and all the exploring we are doing. Interesting to consider this journey we are on is at the heart of the human experience. Truly, it is exciting to think that one step into the unknown can yield so much in terms of possibilities; and sad to think of missed opportunities simply because fear inhibits exploration. Yet, we found most of the tours were already full today and since we had just been in Lehman Caves in the Great Basin last year, we elected to move on.
We had two and a half hours of driving to go before finding our place for the week in Canton, Kentucky. We rolled in with only 15 minutes to spare before the office closed, checked out our keys and started to relax. We have a little condo for the week that sits right on the Cumberland River off highway 68. It’s a small complex, off the main road, with everything you could dream about. A river front you can see from the screened in porch; birds and crickets chirping; squirrels frolicking; and the setting sun pulling the shades on a beautiful day in Kentucky.
Pictures were hard to get to this point. The internet here seems to be affected by the relaxing pace.