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June 2006
Of Woods & Waters: A Kentucky Outdoors Reader
edited by Ron Ellis

From the dust jacket of the 2005 first edition:

From the moment Daniel Boone first “gained the summit of a commanding ridge, and ... beheld the ample plains, the beauteous tracts below,” generations of Kentuckians have developed rich and enduring relationships with the land that surrounds them. Of Woods & Waters: A Kentucky Outdoors Reader is filled with loving tributes, written across the Commonwealth’s two centuries, offered in celebration of Kentucky’s widely varied environmental wonders that nurture both life and art.

Ron Ellis, an outdoors enthusiast and noted writer, has gathered art, fiction, personal essays, and poetry from many of Kentucky’s best-known authors for this comprehensive collection. The anthology begins with famed illustrator John James Audubon’s eloquent account of catching catfish from the Ohio River and progresses through over fifty contributions by both established and emerging writers. Covering two hundred years of hunting, fishing, camping, cooking, hiking, and canoeing in Kentucky’s woods and waters, these classic and original works show how writers have, as celebrated Kentucky historian Thomas D. Clark suggests, “fallen under the spell of the land.”

Of Woods & Waters does not merely recount fond memories. Many authors presented in this collection echo the sentiments of the award-winning novelist and essayist Barbara Kingsolver, who writes, “Much of what I know about life, and almost everything I believe about the way I want to live, was formed in those woods” adjacent to her birthplace in Nicholas County, Kentucky. The works collected in Of Woods & Waters serve to honor and defend what many recognize as a sadly declining way of life, one born out of genuine reverence for the beauty and bounty of nature. The contributions of Wendell Berry, Janice Holt Giles, Bobbie Ann Mason, Jesse Stuart, James Still, Robert Penn Warren, James Baker Hall, Silas House, and other esteemed authors examine the delicate balances that must be struck between humanity and nature, between progress and sustainable living.

While raising these crucial questions, these writings center on connections among friends and family in Kentucky’s beautiful natural surroundings. The authors spin tales of the whistling wings of ducks overhead, the heart-pounding excitement of a white-tailed buck’s sudden appearance, the joy of childhood plunges into cold lake waters after hours of climbing trees, and the thrill of watching sons and daughters catch their first fish. In these writings, the bountiful Kentucky wilderness that first captivated frontier settlers remains vibrantly alive.

Ron Ellis is the author of the fictionalized memoir Cogan’s Woods. His work has appeared in Appalachian Life, Kentucky Monthly, Kentucky Afield, and the Journal of Kentucky Studies. In 2004, he received a Professional Assistance Award in creative nonfiction from the Kentucky Arts Council. He lives in northern Kentucky with his wife and son.

“As many of the pieces collected here point out, what you bring home from a camping or hunting or fishing trip is often both more and less than what you went after. The unexpected gift of this excellent anthology—a lagniappe to its consistently fine writing—is the great Kentucky outdoors itself.”
Charles Gaines, author of The Next Valley Over: An Angler’s Progress

“A textured look at sport in Kentucky—one full of unparalleled diversity; but in its values and its human stories, its uses of the sights and sounds of the natural world, it is not only Kentucky but radiates out to touch the heart of all sportsmen.... This book is a treasure.”
Nick Lyons, from the Foreword

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