A Payne Hollow Visit

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least - and it is commonly more than that - sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements. ~Henry David Thoreau

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Location: Louisville, Kentucky, United States

"An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a definite proposition... A contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says." "No, it's not..."-Monty Python

Friday, March 20, 2015

Frozen In

Picking out a spot where the beach was widest, the anchor was carried out on shore and additional heavy lines run to trees further up the bank. There was no time for dinner that day. I placed the longer gangplank along the outside of the hull to protect it from the ice, hauled the ice-coated johnboat out on shore, cut a supply of firewood. By evening the ice in the river was heavy. The boat shuddered when the floes hit and ground along the side. Then, in the quiet, we went on reading until the next shock. Before long, however, there was an unbroken stillness - we were frozen in.

The situation did not alarm us. There was solid ice for several rods out from shore, but beyond was open water and moving ice. The shore was a sandy, gently sloping beach, in a wide, straight reach of river. The winter weather was glorious. The river of ice sparkled under the bright sun and moon. There was a tall stack downriver on the opposite shore, and its smoky pennant lay always away from the northeast.

More snow fell.

Then came a day when the slow pace of the floating ice became halting and intermittent. At last all motion ceased. The river became a new creation, a vast snowy plain, its smooth surface broken by low heaps and ridges of ice. The dogs scampered about in this new snow field and we walked far across the river to the other shore. It was a Siberian landscape.

Our first contact with the natives was a visit from an old man who was as hale as winter itself. He was very friendly, offered his services, but his opinion was that we were in a bad spot...

~From Harlan Hubbard's, Shantyboat, A River Way of Life, published 1977 by University Press of Kentucky

Monday, December 01, 2014

A New World

It was a little bewildering to be out on the broad water with no hold on shore. Yet we were stirred with a vague sense that a new world was opening before us. It was the river never before known. The familiar hills and reaches seemed almost a strange country. Our boat became more alive, turning around in the slow swirls of current, and rolling in the waves of a passing boat with a free motion we had never felt when it was lashed to shore.

~from Harlan Hubbard's, Shantyboat: A River Way of Life, published 1977 by University Press of Kentucky

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Drifting Slowly Along

It was very pleasant drifting slowly along. The late afternoon sun shining in our windows was a new delight to us who had lived under a western hill until this day. At sunset we pulled in to shore on the Kentucky side, above the first bridge...

Although only a few river miles had been covered on our first day's run, we felt it to be an auspicious beginning. Already we sensed that the joy of drifting did not depend on getting anywhere in particular. Just to have rounded that one bend brought us to as new a shore as could be desired.

It was no longer the stony one at Brent, but a sandy beach, backed by willows. Strange train whistles were heard, and the constellations of city lights shone from the opposite hill..

~from Harlan Hubbard's, Shantyboat: A River Way of Life, published 1977 by University Press of Kentucky

Sunday, January 06, 2013

That Strange Shore

Foggy Trees by paynehollow
Foggy Trees, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.
This was Christmas Eve. In the flurry of departure, we had not provided a Christmas tree, trusting to get one along the way. I took a walk on the hillside, but came back empty-handed. In the twilight I saw what appeared to be an evergreen growing on the riverbank. It was a weed, green and flourishing in the wintry season, which resembled very much a small cedar in form and color. This became our Christmas tree. When installed in state, with a border of hand-dipped candles, it performed its role very well.

We had a fine Christmas alone on that strange shore. It was good to relax, to forget about the river and the drifting. There were packages to open. We thought of our friends, and wondered how they were receiving the gifts we had sent-smoked catfish wrapped in aluminum foil and tied with a red ribbon.

Tuning up our instruments, we played twice during the day. We took a walk ashore, and in the evening enjoyed some good reading by the fire. Our thoughts, though, were on the morrow's voyage...

~from Harlan Hubbard's, Shantyboat: A River Way of Life, published 1977 by University Press of Kentucky

Friday, December 28, 2012

A World in Itself...

Heron Reflection 2 by paynehollow
Heron Reflection 2, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.
The river is a world in itself, separated from the country through which it flows by invisible walls. Its seasons are not the same as those of the country inland. The river air is softer, a little misty always, except in those times when all the land is scoured by the north wind...

When we first came to the river in autumn, the brilliant coloring and the stark contrast of the hills were left behind. The green willows changed to gold, faded and scattered their leaves as imperceptibly as the course of the sun moved southward. On sunny days the pale yellow shores seemed afloat on the heavy blue water. In the mild air, the migrating birds lingered, softly whistling fragments of their summer songs...

~from Harlan Hubbard's, Shantyboat: A River Way of Life, published 1977 by University Press of Kentucky

Monday, December 03, 2012


Driftwood by paynehollow
Driftwood, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.
A river tugs at whatever is within reach, trying to set it afloat and carry it downstream. Living trees are undermined and washed away. No piece of driftwood is safe, though stranded high up on the bank; the river will rise to it, and away it will go.

The river extends this power of drawing all things with it even to the imagination of those who live on its banks. Who can long watch the ceaseless lapsing of a river's current without conceiving a desire to set himself adrift, and, like the driftwood which glides past, float with the stream clear to the final ocean?

~Harlan Hubbard

from Shantyboat: A River Way of Life, published 1977 by University Press of Kentucky.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Shanty Boat excerpt

Hubbard Bust by paynehollow
Hubbard Bust, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.
An excerpt from Harlan Hubbard's Shantyboat, A River Way of Life, published 1977 by University Press of Kentucky.

Before the Hubbards stopped at Payne Hollow to create their little home, they made a long slow trip down the Ohio to the Mississippi and down the Mississippi to the Gulf. Here, Harlan explains their reasoning...
There were other and deeper reasons for my going down to the river. I thought I might be able to engage there in certain harmless and simple activities which town, and even country, interfered with. For where can one find more freedom than on the river? The fields and woods are all owned by someone, and beyond the narrow bounds of the public road the walker is trespassing. I do not say the river is entirely outside the law, although we have been told of certain sections that are, but it affords a chance for a more unhampered life than any other accessible region.

I had no theories to prove. I merely wanted to try living by my own hands, independent as far as possible from a system of division of labor in which the participant loses most of the pleasure of making and growing things for himself. I wanted to bring in my own fuel and smell its sweet smoke as it burned on the hearth I had made. I wanted to grow my own food, catch it in the river, or forage after it. In short, I wanted to do as much as I could for myself, because I had already realized from partial experience the inexpressible joy of doing so.


Payne Hollow Sign by paynehollow
Payne Hollow Sign, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.
Welcome to A Payne Hollow Visit. Here you can read excerpts from Harlan Hubbard's writings and learn a bit more about the beautiful life of Anna and Harlan Hubbard, who lived a simple, elegant lifestyle at a place called Payne Hollow on the banks of the Ohio River, just across from Madison, Indiana.

The Hubbards married late in life (1943, when Harlan and Anna were both in their 40s), and soon thereafter built themselves a shantyboat on which they made an adventurous and long trip down the Ohio to the Mississippi and then on to the Gulf. Once that was trip was complete, they returned to Kentucky and settled down at Payne Hollow and built their simple homestead, where they would live the rest of their lives (Anna died in 1986 and Harlan in 1988).

More information about them can be found at...


To be clear: I have no connections to either Payne Hollow or the Hubbards, I'm just a fan of their work and would like to help others learn more about them. I hope to provide here some excerpts from Harlan's writings and about his life and art. Enjoy and be challenged.