On July 4, 1999, Timothy Taylor will be 81 years upon the earth, the good earth.
His body has worn remarkably well (he has an artificial heart valve). He treats it with the same respect as he does the beloved grassland upon which he lives in McCreary County. You can find him there in the midst of magnificent trees. He roams with his wife, Peg, and their Border collie, Clyde, beneath the tulip poplar, oak, hemlock, sweet gum, dogwood, mountain magnolia, cedar, hickory, walnut, persimmon, and pine.
To Timothy, a tree is not just a tree, it’s a sustainable, renewal resource, each with its own purpose. Timothy is not in favor of wasting anything. And he’s not in favor of standing around doing nothing. This year alone he has planted 1,000 trees.
He points to one of the true giants seeded long before his time, an American beech, probably 400 years old. The notches on the towering behemoth mark the boundary where public land ends and private ownership begins. Some such trees, Timothy explains, have been known to make 1,000 fine doors for houses.
Anybody who thinks the slim man with the shock of white hair isn’t spry ought to try following Timothy Taylor through the Daniel Boone National Forest. On a Sunday afternoon, he wants his visitors to experience a hidden waterfall on Rock Branch Creek, another essential part of the ecology of man and his surroundings. Along the way we savor the intricate delights of lady’s-slippers and discuss the possibilities of partridge peas.
Lifelong teachers, Timothy and Peg live nearby in a 126-year-old log cabin. Presently, she’s director of the McCreary Center of Somerset Community College. He’s retired from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture but continues to consult.
My wife and daughter and I sit with Tim and Peg beneath a shady plum tree in the front yard at Good Spring Farm where, literally, weeds don’t dare to grow.
Most of his life, Timothy Taylor has been a scholar of grass and legumes-bluegrass, orchard grass, clover, alfalfa, tall fescue, and, of course, timothy. It is the grasslands working with the woodlands that provide life for human beings for thousands of years. “We as practical people need to harvest trees. It is my practice to replant and nurture the forest,” says Timothy.
Student and teacher at Cornell, Penn State, and the University of Kentucky, Dr. Taylor “retired” in 1985 to the place where he was born near Cumberland Falls.
A book cries out to be written about all this and, maybe, Timothy will get around to finishing his manuscript.
But there’s so much to do, and Timothy Taylor can’t seem to resist doing it. There’s the kitchen garden to be kept just right, so that Peg need take only a few steps outside the back door to gather in lettuce, tomatoes, and prize asparagus. There are the seven beef cows, the bull, and Peg’s riding mare, Molly, to be rotated among five small pastures, each lush with grass that causes animals to know a good thing when they chew it.
Past his great-great-grandfather’s millstone at the swinging garden gate, past the water barrel where the goldfish control the mosquitoes, past his father’s sourwood walking stick leaning against the front door, inside this small cabin of hand-hewn tulip poplars are books in all directions.
In the sunroom where two pairs of binoculars are constantly available for bird-watching, there’s a mini-arsenal of books: Kentucky Birds, The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Eastern Region, Weeds of Kentucky and Adjacent States, The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects & Spiders, Trees & Shrubs of Kentucky, and Peterson’s Field Guide, Eastern Birds.
Timothy Taylor’s bywords, which could be passwords for many who care about heritage and the future: “I try to do the things that I judge to be important.”
Timothy’s words can be interpreted many ways. The challenge in understanding his fundamental values lives in simple, grass-roots reality.