The two-tracked trail at the end of graveled Denner Lane runs generally parallel with Drennon Creek along the bottom of the west facing hillside that rises up to Barton Lane. It crosses four metal culverts that allow runoff from the ravines and toe slopes to drain across the bottom land and into the creek. I do not know who installed the culverts or hung the gate allowing entrance. I assume it was a previous owner, probably the man from Louisville whom I never met, who owned the land for ten years, and started construction of the cabin which sits at the drive’s end.
Neighbors’ stories about him vary, but he worked at the cabin on weekends and abandoned it unfinished when his wife became ill. He sold the property to a land speculator who divided it into three parcels. The cabin was an unpainted walled and framed 16’x12′ room under a gambrel aluminum roof. Across its back was an unfinished porch deck overlooking Drennon Creek. Inside were rafters for a half-loft, installed storm-like metallic doors and screened windows, and a blue velour lounger sitting on a green linoleum floor. My first year there, I employed Raph Ellis, now a flower and vegetable farmer from Wheatley in Owen county, to construct the loft, bead board the interior walls and ceiling, screen the back porch, build an outhouse, and install electric.
The outhouse was assembled from rough sawn poplar boards pried off the old homestead cabin where my daughter found the “Peice On Earth” sign. I put a wood stove in the middle of the main room and furnished the cabin with dated Goodwill Store furniture and a twenty year old sofa bed. In the loft I put the brass bed that I started housekeeping with that Cia White procured in Nebraska after her graduation from Stanford. I cooked on a two burner propane-fueled camp stove, kept food in a small refrigerator sized for a Winnebago, and bought drinking water in five gallon jugs inverted on an office-sized stand with coils that heated or chilled the water before it came out the spigot.
My first year there was limited to long weekends using hand tools, a chainsaw, and a Garden Way cart to gather firewood, plant bulbs and shrubs, reinforce culvert crossings with creek rock, and trim trees bordering the two-track drive. As I would later learn from studying old USDA aerial photographs, much of the land between the drive and the cabin had once been cleared and “pastured” by livestock. Now, fifty years later, it was a thicket of impenetrable red cedars made more menacing by the prickly unneedled lower limbs. The cedars are between 4 and 12 inches in diameter and as high as forty feet.
All over north central Kentucky there is a sizeable cedar timber trade for posts, lumber, kitty litter, and livestock bedding. Many farmers and young men cut cedar to supplement winter income and gain entry into the logging and sawmill business. In 2008 I sold a fifty ton patch of cedars that brought $4,000. The trees’ lumber was pithy from fire or flood and could be used for kitty litter only. (Cedar is still the only wood sold by weight.)
The ridge land at Drennon Woods is 825’ above sea level and descends to 590’ at the creek. Because the cabin and creek were the focus of my first year, I spent most of my time at the bottom of my property learning to live in a valley. In the summer it was often humid and without a breeze, bug infested, foggy in the mornings, and little direct sunlight until the sun got high in the sky. Days were shortened by the sun’s descent behind the western creek valley ridge of the same height.
I used my chain saw to bring in the sunlight, thinning cedars, trimming off lower limbs, and hauling tree tops and branches like a mule. The cedar debris went into gullies carved out years ago by water running downhill across untreed ground. The cedars were so thick and tangled in grapevines that I could cut entirely through two or three at once and have nothing fall. For most of the first years I removed cedar trees. Downed cedar trees make for a lot of work. Dense top foliage, many limbs, prickly lower branches. The first trees to sprout on deforested or over-grazed land, red cedar’s small blue berries contain meager fruit and the seeds are expelled intact and germinate rapidly. The seeds sprout densely, the evergreen saplings canopy the soil, their needles returning nutrients to it, all the while providing cover for hardwood saplings and encouraging their upright growth.
Cedar tree are easily split and can be made into good benches, foot bridges, kindling, endurable plank fencing. Their easily distinguishable growth rings tell a good story of the land’s use and obstacles to the tree’s growth. Cedar timber smells sweet and its sawdust is unmatched for concealing outhouse odors and composting night soils.