Richard Taylor’s newest book, Elkhorn: Evolution of a Kentucky Landscape (University Press of Kentucky 2018), is a passionate meditation on the history of Elkhorn Creek, and the author’s home within the surrounding landscape. As such, it presents a variety of historically and culturally significant historical anecdotes with each chapter. These anecdotes are preceded by fictionalized accounts, which imagine the daily lives of the creek’s most impactful historical players.
The most important resonant thread within the work is the author’s dedication to “Topophilia,” or love of place. When asked about the importance of place, Taylor informed me that “knowing one’s place is essential to fully appreciating it.”
He expanded, “[place is] important for the very practical reason that if we do not love the places we are, we tend to abuse them, we tend to be indifferent to them. If we are indifferent, we create… ecological disasters.”
Due to the creek’s palisades and its dangerous rapids, it has been mostly let alone by industry. Therefore Elkhorn remains a popular attraction for fisherpeople, kayakers, and nature walkers. In reflection of these facts, Taylor writes hoping to increase appreciation for the natural landscapes of Kentucky.
Taylor, an English professor and Transylvania’s Kenan visiting writer, is most noted for his poetry. But he chose to write this book as creative nonfiction, citing a wish to convey factual nuance. Though poems are referenced within the text, Taylor says he wished to approach the subject of Elkhorn’s history with a more exact construction than poetry often allows.
The narrative vignettes preceding each chapter add an element of intrigue to the work. For example, the italicized text before a section on Judge Harry Innes invites the reader to imagine Innes as a lover of land over law by depicting him planting the first trees in what would eventually become a grand orchard. The orchard is factual; the sentiment, assumed.
In another endearing feat of imagination, Taylor also imagines famous Kentucky artist, Paul Sawyier, using water from Elkhorn to wet his brushes as he depicted scenes from the creek in his paintings. In these spots, Taylor brings the stagnant facts and figures of history to life with artful prose and creativity.
A passion project and a thoroughly researched piece of creative nonfiction, Taylor’s work truly earns the University Press of Kentucky’s Thomas D. Clark Medallion, an award reserved for books concerning Kentucky history and culture. I recommend Elkhorn: Evolution of a Kentucky Landscape for lovers of Kentucky history, and for all those who seek topophilia in their daily lives.