Interview: Fred’s What We Hold ~ Part One

This is your second book. How would you compare it to the first book, Slow Road Home?

The two books consist of essays and stories that are personal and local. The voice of both is avuncular and informal, and comes from my particular perspective and background as teacher and naturalist, grandparent and aging son of the southern Appalachians. Nature is central to both books, and the visual aspect of nature and local landscape is prominent in What We Hold in the fifty-plus black and white images in the book.

The first book was my story, the second is more our story, yours and mine, though this book too is in some sense a memoir. The plight of “nature deficit” in our children and the “physics of aging” at the other end of the life spectrum are recurrent themes in this book. It is deeply rooted in the local (especially as it applies to how we care for each other and this special part of the world), but a reader beyond our region may also follow the thread from my tales to their own stories, hopes, concerns for tomorrow and best memories.

What can you tell the reader about the title of the book, What We Hold In Our Hands: a Slow Road Reader?

Not surprisingly, there is a literal and a metaphorical meaning to the title. I’ve turned rocks, rolled logs and waded streams pretty much all my teaching life to hold things in my hands to take a long, close look at them. I’ve done that as a writer, too, and the fragments of my blog and newspaper columns have been what I hold onto from all the bits I have been drawn toward. So this book is a collection of things found, kept and shared to look at a little longer or in a different light.

Of all human features, it is the hand that most holds my admiration. It sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom in the power it gives us to create and destroy, to possess and to share. We make conscious acts every day–as I have done in my writing–to hold fast to those things that nurture and to let go of that which in the end might do us harm. This book is about those things we hold onto from the fragments of our lives by conscious choice–as children: an iPod or a mudpie? and as adults: a pen or a sword? This is an old, old story between new covers.

The cover image of the book showing our barn and pasture on a golden morning–one particular and special time and place–was chosen to be a symbol of the title. The book is very much about my local ecology and times that are a reflection of all our places and short span of days. “Only that day dawns to which we are awake” Thoreau said. I hope this book might gently awaken readers to the day they hold in their hands.


About fred

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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