May 31 – June 6
We had a pin on the map to visit Louisville because one of our dear friends from college, Kimberly, lives there. We had the joy of hosting her for dinner one evening in Stumbo, and then got to eat in Louisville one evening in her neighborhood at a local favorite hot dog and ice cream shop.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time catching up with Kimberly, which she carved out for us in her busy schedule getting ready to move to the East Coast. But we were also delighted by all of the other unexpected opportunities for fun and unique experiences in the Louisville area.
It was striking how 2 very different worlds seem to collide in this area. Louisville, a very progressive city, plopped into a very conservative, southern state makes for an interesting recipe for crunchy meets hillbilly. It’s a breakfast of frozen Eggo waffles with organic, free-range chicken egg fried in ghee on top, served either with a Miller Lite or a La Croix – your choice. For example, in one day I visited two different “Flea Markets”. They were a mere 20 minutes from each other, but a world apart.
It was such a hot afternoon that even locally made popsicles and hipster furniture couldn’t help us. So we drove to a nearby playground for some refreshment.
On another day we got to visit a fascinating place called the Bernheim Forest, based upon Kimberly’s recommendation. It is a large, privately owned natural area that is an arboretum and research forest. It was a lovely and magical place where nature met art, and green architecture met family educational opportunities. It was another one of those grand places that we just didn’t allow ourselves enough time to explore, but days might not have been long enough. It tugged at both the natural and the creative spirit with building blocks made out of smoothed branches, prolific gardens interspersed with man-made art, and spaces where we were encouraged to interact with nature in surprising ways.
The girls and I also spent one afternoon at the Louisville Science Center. It was such a fun place, but it had so much to offer that we nearly ran from exhibit to exhibit to explore it all before closing time. If we had known how cool it was going to be, we would have planned to spend the entire day here.
Another site that we were able to explore from this base camp was Mammoth Cave National Park, which is home to the longest known cave system in the world. There are currently over 400 miles of cave mapped in and around the park, and the best guess is that they are not even half-way through discovering all of the tunnels that await.
One of our tour guides told us that there hasn’t been any portion of the cave collapse since the 90’s. That was before she was born, so it seemed to her like ages ago. As for me, I would have preferred to hear the story AFTER we were out from under the actual ground.
The first weekend of June is when many Special Olympics organizations all over the US hold their Summer Games, so I was lucky enough to connect with the Kentucky games during our time in Louisville. Sunny and I made the trek to Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond to help out for the day at their Olympic Town. I’ve had the great pleasure of being very involved with Special Olympics in Washington for over a decade, and if you know me well you know I’ve found this to be one my most meaningful pursuits in recent years. So it was a great joy to get to help out at the Kentucky games and see that this is a thriving organization that’s doing great things for people all over the country.
Our campground was the campground of SIGNS ABOUT RULES. For example:
The campground we stayed at just south of the city of Louisville was an interesting one. It’s only about 10 years old, and has been constructed on part of a property that was once a large family farm. The children still own the property, but now it’s part farm, part flea market, part donkey haven, and part campground. I spoke for awhile one evening with one of the brothers working in the office. He told me about how they had to build up and flatten all the ground where they developed the campground because the ground was a bit of a sinkhole. This information didn’t make me feel very secure after all that we’d learned about the underground structures that support (or should I say, often FAIL to support) the state of Kentucky. He told me about the time when he was 8 years old that a tornado hit his small cinderblock house, just a few hundred yards away from where we were standing. His parents and all 5 siblings were at home, and even though all that remained standing once it was all over was a stack of about 5 blocks in one corner, they all survived the event with only minor injuries. He was the most badly hurt, but a head wound that was assumed to have been caused by a cinder block flying through the air, and a compound fracture in one limb. I asked if the experience made him more or less afraid of twisters later in life, and his answer was that he had a healthy respect for them. It’s always been interesting to me that we hear about other parts of the world and their problems – whether its tornados and sink-holes, hurricanes, or violence – and we think, “Why do people choose to stay there?!” But I think the answer is because it’s “the devil you know”. It’s home, and so it feels like the safest place to be.