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The Natural World

Bernard Cyrus of Big Hurricane Creek

By Gerald Milnes

Bernard Cyrus
Bernard Cyrus of Big Hurricane Creek, Wayne County. Photograph by Michael Keller.


When he was eight years old, Bernard Cyrus swung on a grape vine out over a steep hollow, slipped, and fell into a ravine below. It was an incident that would change the direction of his life forever. Outside of a few bruises, he wasn’t injured in the fall. He landed in a patch of green plants with red berries on them. Not knowing what the berries or the plants were, he took one home and showed his grandma.

She told him it was ginseng and that it was very valuable. Bernard went back and dug the plants, dried the roots, and sold them across the Big Sandy River from his Wayne County home at Louisa, Kentucky. The plant roots were selling for $8 a pound at the time.

This discovery started Bernard on a woodland journey that continues to this day. It has led him up and down hills, across mountains, into deep hollows, through swampy glades, and around craggy rock outcroppings, always with an eye to the natural world.

“I wanted to know what was around me,” Bernard recalls. And so, he set out to find out what was “around him.” This became a lifelong task, one that he still gets enthused about and will discuss for hours.

At first, Bernard consulted with the older generations of his family and neighboring families. Then, he began getting his hands on any books he could find about the flora in West Virginia and the Appalachians. While his formal schooling only went to the ninth grade, Bernard’s informal learning has never ceased.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.