Yesterday, March 28: the first day of Spring on Goose Creek.

The measure: not day length or temperature; not the blooming of Coltsfoot (come far too early this year) or pinking of the buds at the tips of trees along Nameless Creek when the sun rises earlier and earlier each day. The first day of Spring is marked by our first meal on the front porch.

This year, it was Ann–the irresistible force: Let’s eat outside! And I– the immovable object: it’s too cool yet, and everything is likely wet from the hard rains we’ve had (though they seemed to have passed by, the air cooler, the sky clearing a bit to the north though thunder still rumbled.)

It was pretty cool for sitting, but the meal of chicken casserole (the chicken we canned ourselves last fall) held in bowls in our laps warmed us even while the winds followed the storm south, down beyond the end of the pasture, out over the Blue Ridge, surging like a wave, spilling down into the piedmont and beyond. Behind the wave, a neon strobe of pink flashed in the near-dark, thunder coming later with each flash. There: the smell of lightning.

And listen: how very Appalachian the thunder. Remember: in South Dakota, the storm that passed over us, crashing it’s way toward the badlands? The thunder, for being so very close and loud, was flat, monotone, two dimensional–a sheet of sound dropped down hard against prairie that lay open to the horizon in every direction.

CLAP! And we held to our warm bowls, listening. Mountain Thunder in stereo, hi-fi, reverb and not mere percussion. Antiphonal thunder kettle drums answered by two or more pairs of tympanis back on Lick Ridge, set at fifths; and tonal heavy hammers, against steel out beyond Free State. Sound sent, sent back, modulated, amplified, and moving away. The pink-orange spilled down the great escarpment toward Carolina as Goose Creek rose clear and cold, to its own water music, and appreciative and silent, we took our empty bowls inside.

Sharing Some Good News

A few of you reading this have been following this dog and pony show since the early days (five years ago almost to the day). Suffice it to say that when this epic began, the destination was far from certain. In late March, 2002, the handwriting was on the wall, and it bode ill for my professional future.

I knew I would not continue to dig the same hole deeper. Just where I would plant my spade, and what treasure I would find there in the next excavation into the future, I did not know. But I had the strong and abiding notion there was treasure just outside my door, through my window that looks across at our barn and field. But what was it?

The blog started that month, and the mantra “write every day, write from the heart, write what you know” became the first thing in my mind when I awoke every morning.

And four years later, this week of this month last year, the manuscript for Slow Road Home was in the hands of Edwards Brothers, Inc. Soon, 1000 books would arrive on my doorstep.

And yesterday, five years from the inception of Fragments from Floyd, I learned that Slow Road Home – a Blue Ridge Book of Days will be acquired for distribution in all the Blue Ridge Parkway gift shops and book stores along the 469 mile length of the National Park.

The “reach” of the book is extended many-fold by this means of dispersal, and will find a population of readers to whom I very much wanted to speak. This news, for me, is a major encouragement and reassurance. And so, I wanted to let you know just where the slow road has carried us, you and me, here at the five year mark into the unknown.

And what chapter will unfold by this time NEXT early spring?

Hard frost last night. Sky is pinking up. The reflection of the woodstove flames dance orange against the windowpane, framing an utter calm, cold landscape beyond the glass. The barn roof is white, the butterfly bush outside my window limp with ice crystals fringing every curled and faded leaf.

How womblike-the warmth of the stove, the familiar touch of chair and desk, this old flannel shirt I wear as if it were my birth skin. I love this place, so constant, so fully known and at hand. This place: this room, this house, this valley, these mountains, this time in our lives. Especially now, as winter creeps closer and the days grow short, I appreciate the roof overhead, the full stacks of firewood, the canning in the basement and slow moments like this to see our blessings, the ordinary that we too often take for granted.

We can’t know what’s coming around the bend in the road. But it has been a very nice road, that’s for sure.
from the last page of
Slow Road Home ~ a Blue Ridge Book of Days

Day-after Debriefing

No matter how “successful” one my little book events is, there is a feeling of both relief and regret when it is past and not filling that spot on the calendar where it was for months. And I alway have preconceived notions of how it will be, who and how many will come, and where and how I will steer the conversation and readings just so–and none of this transpires according to imagination’s script. Often, it’s even better. But there are always regrets, no matter how “well” things have gone.

There were many I hoped to see last night who did not come. And some who came that I did not expect. The crowd filled all the chairs provided for the event, and they were responsive enough, if a bit “Lutheran” in their restraint–except for the front row: two grammar-school-aged girls listened to every word and followed me with their eyes and their imaginations as I acted out the story of Zachary, our lost dog who found his way home.

And they asked questions:

“How did you write your book?” one asked.

“I didn’t write a book. My words became a book. I just wrote paragraphs every day.You write a book one sentence at a time. Then find two sentences that fit together. Soon you’ll have a paragraph. Write another that belongs to the first. And soon you’ll have a page. Do this every day, and your sentences and paragraphs and pages will do a better and better job saying what it is you want to say. And in time, if you really want to, you’ll have written a book.”

And “Is your book TRUE?” asked the other.

“True? Yes, but it is a painter’s reality. A painter looks out at a landscape–a pretty barn, a couple of cows, the hills in the distance, and some power lines. He leaves out the power lines in his picture. With writing, you can leave out the power lines and just focus on the things you want your readers to see in the subject of your words. This isn’t dishonest. It just uses words to focus attention on parts of the view.”

After the program, the two girls twittered excitedly. “I’m going home and write the story of my life!” One said. “I’m going to tell my teacher about this!” said the other.

They both came up to the book table with one of my bookmarks and asked me to “autograph” them. Made me smile.

But who knows how this small influence on these young minds might take root and grow to become something of substance. My small appearance and fumbling half-hour could represent a gentle nudge towards a future for one of both these young girls to take writing as their voice to the world.

So I have my satisfications and my regrets. But who knows how we touch the lives of others in ways that can’t be known until their sentences that we inspire finally become their book.

A Five Year Blog Retrospective

This was too much to post as a comment over on Nameless Creek as a followup to a recent “allegory about blogging“, and perhaps a topic with which other bloggers might identify. Thanks Gary, Andy and others for your thoughts as I grapple with the purpose and end of blogging. Here I attempt to give voice to my vacillations pro and con about writing every day to this one-in-a-billion journal.

I feel such a strong ambivalence, not wanting merely to add to the noise of an increasingly bloated world of ego and opinion while having a self and point of view that wants to see the light of day.

I feel increasingly irrelevant in a world where more and more people are better qualified to discuss anything I would think to post. At some point, saving your own words is like saving barbershop floor clippings after a haircut. Yes, it’s yours. But of what value is it?

I find, for good or ill, that blogging satisfies too many of my creative urges–to the extent that I don’t have enough motivation to spill those energies over into anything concrete: a book, a magazine article, a for-real professional-quality gallery of images, a radio essay. Maybe that’s okay. Sometimes I think so. Lately, not so much.

I don’t want the blog to become a mere broadcast, and yet it feels far more monologue-ish and pushed compared to the multi-way, collaborative “front porch” it did at one time. There’s still a point to using the blog as a simple repository for future reference or posterity (of uncertain value for either). But again, it seems a sad one-man band keeping time when nobody’s dancing.

For the first three years of Fragments, I would have told you that there was at least one, usually more, reinforcing connections made through the blog every week–a new reader who was also a writer or editor; someone with connections in SWVA who felt reunited to place through the images on FFF; a “place blogger” who quickly became a kindred spirit and friend; a journalist, producer, photographer, writer, etc who was interested in or coming to Floyd and wanted to establish a relationship. Lately, not so much. None, actually.

For some of these deficiencies, I give myself credit. The teaching at Radford, the return to the PT clinic, the writing of the book, the marketing and promotion of the book, the Floyd Press regular column, the various other projects–all this has diminished my energies and focus for blogging. And rss readers put distance between me and the blogs I read in that way, and between those who read mine by newsfeed. There is a level of anonymity that didn’t use to be there.

And some of the loss I feel is simply the nature of the beast, the nature of something become routine that once was innovative, cutting-edge and unknown. Heck, folks: five years of doing anything every day is a long time!

Above all, I don’t want to become a blog that blogs about blogging.

Well, there you have it. I am my own worst enemy. And I apologize for this public navel gazing, and do so just to let you know I’m still home, still listening for the next traveler to pass down our slow road, still excited about this world-connection we have at our fingertips, and still just as confused as the rest of you about what all this means and where it is leading us.

What odd times we live in! — Fred

Farmer’s Tale

I woke up this morning thinking perhaps the wife in this little allegory from Fragment’s ancient history was right.

When we expose our greatest hopes and precious things to strangers, we may be thought a fool. But the ordinary treasures we share may touch lives in ways we cannot imagine. This is the tale of one hopeful fool.

He prepared them lovingly, his precious mementos and carefully pressed flowers. He arranged them prominently on simple benches near the road. Just beyond, by the barn, a rough oak plank set across two tree stumps formed a crude table to display all manner of clippings and cards that flapped in the breeze-some brittle and yellow with age, others crisp and white from yesterday’s journal.

Someone might care to turn the thin pages and read the forgotten stories, said the farmer to himself. Up around the bend near the low-water bridge, photographs were pinned haphazardly on the dark trunks of the maple trees-dog-eared, roughly framed or not at all; some new, most sepia toned from the passage of time, worn with a patina of love and memory. Trinkets and curios, found things and very private bric-a-brac lined the dirt road along a quarter mile of this seldom traveled path in a remote part of a sparsely peopled region of the rural land of Erehwon.

“Who will come?” she asked derisively. “You are a foolish old man” said the farmer’s wife, “and if anyone comes, they will think you mad”.

“Friends I have never met will come”, said the farmer. Strangers will come who do not know that they wanted to know about these things I show them here until they have seen them. In seeing them, they will see into me and trust me, and we will share the deep things of our souls with each other, me and my visitors.”

The farmer was careful to set out chalk boards nailed to roadside trees. He put pads of paper on the display tables so that his guests could tell him about themselves and direct him to their places. With these wonderful leavings, he would be able to visit them all around the world and see their treasures and know their found things, sepia memories, and golden dreams.

And so, the days and weeks passed. Visitors did come down his road, but more often than not, they drove by without stopping. Yet the farmer thought in their passing they might have acknowledged in some small way his racks and tables and adornments. Many came down his road quite by mistake, looking for the shopping mall or in order to read some strange and terrible story not contained in the farmer’s collection. Some surely thought him mad.

But lo, wonder of wonders, some of the wanderers who came tarried, even occasionally handling one or two of the treasures on the rickety tables. They turned them over curiously in their hands. Once, a visitor exclaimed “This is the most wonderful thing I have ever seen” upon discovering some small caged creature that was so commonplace in the farmer’s life that it was barely worthy of note.

This delighted him, and he was eager to tell his wife that indeed, his treasures were becoming treasures to one in a hundred of his guests, and that this was enough. But in truth, he was always disappointed when they remained strangers as they drove away. He soon learned to take joy in the fact that they had come at all.

His chalk boards and scratch pads and his green rusty mailbox near the stone walk to his door remained sadly empty. From time to time, a visitor would pen “hello I came by”, or “my name is Mary. Nice tables and stuff”. The farmer was always thrilled to see that the page was not empty, but dejected when he had given so much of himself and learned so little of his visitors. He began to feel foolish and doubted himself and the public display of his silly yard-sale memories and special things that were sacred only to him.

And yet, in his more hopeful moments, he thought “There is a point to this that I cannot see yet. If I am faithful to my dream, they will come and stop. They will share and invite me to their roads. And when those strangers are able to put their precious things on all the roadsides of Erehwon and the larger world beyond, we will grow to know and trust and care for each other. We will learn from and about those of us that seem strange and unfamiliar, as I must seem now to my visitors.”

And so, the strange farmer of Erehwon still searches in his garden and woods, and in his memories and hopes and golden dreams, to find things each day to display before his visitors. If he is mad, he is harmless; and if his strange ways become the way of the lands beyond Erehwon, his madness will have become his joy.