Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Riffles

Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First
Some times, some moments, this place, these times are so beautiful, achingly so, that it doesn't seem real. Often those fleeting instants have to do with flowing water--such a blessing in its music, its purity, the magic of its genesis out of oceans, rains, underground rivers.

When I slow down enough to listen, I hear voices there, laughter mostly, but have not learned the language. Not yet.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Slow Road Home: A Year Old Today

April 26, 2006, and there they were at last.

Mountains travel mountains music tourism Appalachian Blue Ridge ParkwayAnn and I watched as the delivery truck lowered the burden at the back door, just as it began to rain. Then there it sat: a plastic-swaddled pallet of 28 cardboard boxes, 48 books per box: my books, finally born, real and shrink-wrapped in threes. Very quickly the first case was opened and a few books spread out on the table in front of me.

And in that first hour, I knew both the beaming joy of a new parent and the utter terror of someone who has just realized he may have bought the Brooklyn Bridge.

I do not exaggerate the ambivalence or the extent to which, on that first day, I was not quite sure what I had done. Or why. Or of what to do next. But mostly, that moment brought relief. I had never seen more than a half-dozen proof pages of the book before April 26. In this leap of faith, this was the very first time I held the completed cover-to-cover book in my hands, and I could almost weep I was so relieved. They didn't look cheap, didn't feel slick-quick or second-rate like some of the earlier "author subsidized" books you see around. But now what?

In that first hour on a rainy April afternoon, I began getting books ready to mail to those of you who had more confidence in me than I had in myself. Dozens had sent PalPal orders and checks even before the book reached final draft! On April 27, I carried three heaping boxes of books to the post office with satisfaction and a sense of completion, finally having accomplished a goal that for almost three years I suspected was nothing more than a fantasy, a self-deceit, a pipe dream.

But more than ever, I was naked before the world now, exposed and public. To have invested so much time and so many dollars in this project would let the world know that in my opinion, there was something here worth the effort. The book seemed a kind of boast and I was both embarrassed and proud.

Was this what they meant by "vanity press"? Was Slow Road Home the ugly baby only a father could love? I had bared my soul in some of the passages now between the covers of this book, made myself vulnerable in ways I had not felt with the free-and-easy weblog and its forgiving and tolerant audience of readers who just blew off the many times at bat I struck out as a new writer.

April 26, 2007, and that slow road still goes on.

Yesterday, I received word that Forever Resorts (in Arizona) is interested in the book for distribution at their facilities along the parkway. This includes the store at Crabtree Meadows, but most importantly, Mabry Mill here in Floyd County. The Park Service will carry it at other concessions like Peaks of Otter and Rocky Knob Visitors Center (also here in Floyd County.)

Some few of you will appreciate how formidable is the task of getting a self-published book "out there". This is beginning to happen, and it has taken a full year.

Why does this matter to me? It certainly isn't about the money. I could add one day a week in the clinic and double my year's income from the book.

I think it's the fact that, when the memoir does find resonance in a receptive and appreciative reader, there is the satisfaction that my message and story has been heard. Something at the gut level has been shared:

Slow down. Open your senses. Appreciate the ordinary. Suck the marrow out of life, as Mr. Thoreau encouraged us to do. Tell your story. Say YES To the beautiful parts of this world just outside your door. Care.

Thanks to all who have shared this journey with me, some few since the very beginning, and also at anniversary this week: Fragments from Floyd is five years old! And here we go!

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Monday, April 09, 2007

In Search of Wildness

Emily Dickinson was right to see that a prairie consists of only one flower and a bee. When my world was small, a quarter acre vacant wooded lot was enough to make a wilderness.

I grew up in the limits of a sprawling Alabama city, but I was happiest when I imagined I was surrounded by 'wilderness'. In the leafy chaos of empty lots and wooded neighborhood margins I was a pioneer. Playing cowboys and Indians in a tiny fraction of an acre of woods, I could imagine that I was in undisturbed 'native land', and belonged there as a native myself.

As I grew older, I needed more of the nutrient of wildness than my little neighborhood woods could give. I went to summer camp and my backyard forest was magnified a thousand fold. Living at camp for a week, smelling of creek water and pine straw with a hundred other free-ranging feral children,I felt more connected to the larger life of the world than I would have after an entire summer of immersion in chlorine-smelling swimming pools or organized, sanitized sports.

I fished to find wilderness. Fishing possessed its own sense of isolation and otherness and was its own alien country fit for a young explorer. Mostly I fished alone walking the shoreline; more often than not, I'd find myself distracted by a little side creek or a rock bluff along the lake and I would forget fishing entirely. It was not the fish I was after, after all.

Like many of my friends, I followed my father onto the golf courses that spread into the countryside ahead of the expanding city. Our dads went there looking for something--to find tranquility and be near the land perhaps by chasing behind a little white ball. I'd wander off the manicured fairways into the rough turning logs for salamanders. And I decided that for me, just being out there was the point.

It is not easy these days for city children to know the joys of secret woods. Most of the tiny wilderness sanctuaries of my childhood are paved over now. Locked behind guardhouses of gated communities, they’ve become uninviting and forbidden domesticated places. Even the margins and edges from youth were not far enough away to provide reliable wildness. Maybe knowing this has made me long for remoter places when looking for our true home, a place for roots in our later years.

Now, far beyond the edges of a town so small that there are no spreading suburbs, we have found those roots. A vast forest surrounds me, and creeks flow full of bright fish and sunlight. I have tranquility by the sky-full here, and few neighbors to disturb in my rambling walks.

This little valley may be the place I knew I would belong to long ago in that half-acre woods. And I have to wonder if I did not start moving to Floyd County while picking berries with small hands-- beyond my suburban yard in a secret patch of woods where natives lived.

This is a repost from Fragments (or elsewhere) from years ago. It just seemed fitting, what with all the reading and thinking lately about childrens' exposure (or lack thereof) to the natural world.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Spring

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.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

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

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Friday, March 09, 2007

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.

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

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

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Friday, March 02, 2007

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". read more...

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Friday, February 09, 2007

But Not of Stillness

The Eagle soars in the summit of Heaven,
The Hunter with his dogs pursues his circuit.
O perpetual revolution of configured stars,
O perpetual recurrence of determined seasons,
O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.

from: The Rock by T. S. Eliot (1934)

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Being There

Buffalo Mountain from the Blue Ridge Parkway / Digital Photo / Fred First / Floyd County, Virginia<br />
I'm feeling a bit of grief over taking the path of greatest comfort on Thursday instead of suffering to get the shot. The place my tripod should have been was the spot from which this image was taken back in October. However, on this particular January day--when I was interviewing the Park District Supervisor nearby--the winds were spitting snow sideways and the chill factor was near zero.

In the distance, even from the Park Service office, you could see several distinct snow squalls in the distance, the soft slant of snow a gunpowder blue against steel gray mountains. Patches of sunlight broke through here and there.

But the wind was so fierce, I could barely open the car door. A tripod would have been useless without a cinder block strapped to the central post.

And yet, I should have driven to the half mile to Saddle Gap overlook and sat in the car and at least watched the weather play out from that high place, even if I couldn't bring home the imagery in the camera.

I shouldn't let the technology drive the experience. Sometimes, the higher priority needs to be the being there. No pen. No computer. No camera. Just vision. And imagination. And memory. (Click for larger size picture)

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Pennyroyal: The Smell of Winter

image copyright Fred First

I know, as recent landscape shots here go, this is a drab little composition--notable neither for color or form. But if posting this non-descript image leads you to discover Pennyroyal, you will share with me one of my deepest emotional connections with these mountains: the smell of winter.

While this "winter" so far is the exception, most Januarys offer little in the way of either color or fragrance. As I describe this in Slow Road, the olfactory landscape--the aromasphere--is a barren place, unless you go looking, or rather sniffing, for the smells of winter.

Along Nameless Creek, on the briskiest days of the cold months, there's always a spicebush twig at hand to scratch and sniff. And along the Middle Trail, if you know where to look, you can find a stem of yellow birch (or sweet birch) whose inner bark when revealed by a thumbnail scratching staggers the winter walker to another realm of perception--a kind of smelling salts to wake us from our hibernation inside our wraps of wool and down.

But for me, it is Pennyroyal that sends its musty minty tendrils deepest into that place where winter fragrance and memory live together in a way that only smells preserve. This particular plant carries an emotional weight so powerful it made me cry once upon a time.

In 1989, we had left the mountains and moved back to my home town of Birmingham. I was fully immersed in 14 hour days of physical therapy classes and labs, as absorbed in obligation and unreachable to myself as I have ever been, with a singlemindedness of purpose that comes when we know that, if we look down from our precarious balance in all we've taken on, we will surely fall.

In a rare moment, I slowed down enough one day to pull from the shelf near my desk a book other than a textbook. It was an old favorite of mine: Maurice Brooks' book, The Appalachians. It opened effortlessly to a page marked by a pressed plant: pennyroyal from back home--from a place, a time and a personal identity I could barely remember.

I lifted the flattened sprig from between the pages, and crushed a small whorl of drab brown flowers between my fingers, and inhaled, and was undone. How fully and effortlessly it carried me back to place I had made myself pretend had never existed.

So often back home in the Virginia we'd left perhaps forever, I had secretly plucked the dry inverted candelabra of a plant from a stony bank of a favorite trail and later hidden in my cupped hands, and stuck it under one of the kids' noses. "What is it?" I asked them, pop-test fashion.

They always responded with the name of a bird or salamander or such, just to pretend they couldn't be bothered to remember such silly lore. But they remembered: the sense of smell and power of memory will see to that. And I remembered as I put the pressed plant back between the pages of that book with tears in my eyes.

So for you, should you discover it now that you have seen it, this plant may offer only a pleasant aromatic instant. For me, Pennyroyal embodies the southern mountains in its chemistry and its magic, and this is just part of the thousand words in the worth of this simple picture.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Veneration

image copyright Fred First
Ann and I both noticed it as we rounded the curve of the pasture headed back toward the house in our morning walk: the old apple tree is leaning more than it has been. The hollow trunk gives way, its branches like arms reach toward Nameless Creek, as if in prayer, lifted up even as the old tree slowly lies down to die.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Gravity and The Flow of Things

image copyright Fred First
I left the feet of the tripod unmoved on the sandy bar beside Nameless Creek where yesterday's image was taken. Turned ninety degrees, the lens pointed downstream to follow the flow of spring water south. Just beyond where the creek disappears in the middle of this image, it will curve gently to the left following the edge of the pasture back toward the house, then on north and east to join first Goose Creek before passing across our neighbor's place, then Bottom Creek just beyond the Floyd County line. Together, they form the South Fork of the Roanoke River.

Crossing our little creek in my green rubber boots today, I stepped in water that last night seeped through dark crevices in bedrock underground. And a week from now, that same water will flow into the salty Atlantic by way of the James.

Having creeks in our back yard makes me feel a part of this predictable and regular cycle and of never-the-same-river transience and change. I can sit on the creek bank and think on these things for a half hour a few times each week and never tire of it. Where does it come from? Where does it go: time, memory, and Nameless Creek?

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

It Was a Very Good Year

When I was fifty eight...

No, I'll stifle my first impulse to write my own verse to this old song. But I have given no small thought and reflection here lately to the events of the past year--remembering mostly while driving, my mind wandering its own roads with hands on autopilot.

I'll spare you the long list of personal victories and defeats of 2006, but say only that thankfully there seem to have been more of the former than the latter. I suppose it is no great surprise that the most tangible goal accomplished, a material embodiment of a resolution kept, is the book. Most everything in it was already written this time last year, but getting it finally done, between covers and delivered is certainly one large milestone on the greater sweep of recent years.

We look back on things accomplished now and realize, had we not done that then (like undertaking the restoration of this old house, for instance, when we were 51) we never would have been able to pull it off today. Portals of possibility open briefly, and we step through them, or hang back, and the die is cast.

What windows to potential change for the better will come along in 2007? And will we be receptive, responsive, and willing to do what it takes to make them realities?

But now the days grow short
I'm in the autumn of the year
And now I think of my life as vintage wine
from fine old kegs
from the brim to the dregs
And it poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Party Balloon

The orange balloon pulled at the thin pink ribbon that tethered it to the green mailbox, the party done and nothing to celebrate.

The sun rose, lighting just the tops of tallest trees and I untied the child's toy from its hitch, moved back into the clearing to let it go where it would with space to rise free of the branches of maples and poplars by the house.

There had been the barest whisper of wind on the banks beside the creek at first light and from there, the orange teardrop rose vertically, slipping gracefully through the bare limbs outside the back door, drifting north up behind the little white house on a gentle slant into rising sun--itself an orange ball with a blue planet tethered to it.

Fifty feet above the silver metal of the roof, invisible waves pushed down, tossed and jostled the thin rim of elemental air in the undertoe of the surging wave, lurching, twisting, uncertain which way to go--pulled, tossed, lifted and swirled, the ribbon traced the erratic scribble of an alien hand.

At 100 feet, the golden dot was released, let go from the hold of the chaotic swirl that bedeviled its rise, found hints of the persistent northerlies, still bobbing and lurching a little along what would be its final course southeast.

At 200 feet, the struggle calmed above the level of the upwind ridge, a barrier like a snow fence that drops winds down our valley like drifts, crazy, erratic and weak.

And at 250 feet the tiny speck of gold lifted above the rim of our hollow, into the sun, out of the turbulence, its tail gone stiff behind it, rushing with certainty, driven above the bowl that holds home by the great blow of arctic air pushed heavy down from Canada.

Then on, no wavering, no ripples, no looking back. And at the rim of the distant ridge, it cleared the treetops as I knew it would and disappeared.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Winery Weekend

image copyright Fred First

I think I heard somewhere that the winery building at Chateau Morrisette was the largest timberframe structure east of the Mississippi. I do know the timbers were dredged from the bottom of Puget Sound after being submerged in cold waters for a hundred years--massively large and long. It would take more camera than I went with or own to do it justice. The upstairs room where the winetastings take place for this year's Wine Club Open House was still rough when I first saw it back in the summer.

I had stopped by in June with low expectations that the gift shop folk would consent to putting Slow Road Home on their limited shelving for books. They consented and bought 12. Emboldened, I told the store manager I'd be happy to do a reading and signing, should they ever have an event where such was suitable. She brightened at the idea, envisioning this double weekend of crowds upstairs, and took me up to show it to me. Impressive, I thought, and tried to imagine my little book table in such a grand castle of a building. Today will be my fourth and final day, and it has been most interesting and rewarding, and I am most appreciative of the opportunity!

I spoke with so many interesting people. The situation is somewhat like blogging: nobody forces a visitor to stop by the table, examine the book, and know from what they see that we might have something to say to each other. There either is or there is not a connection between the book browser and author. For those who stopped to chat, there were interesting stories.

One poor gal choked up after reading the back cover. "I loved it here. My husband made me leave. I've never quit hurting or missing the mountains. They are a part of me, and I see that same connection from what little I've seen of your book."

Another book-buyer said he was convinced that the mountains (of Patrick County along the parkway) was where they belonged. His wife was not convinced. He hollered at me from the cash-register line: "Fred, does your wife like living here?" I told me that, if anything, she was more attached to this place than I was. And he called his wife over to hear our testimonial of how well this lifestyle fits our needs and preferences. "But it's not for everybody" I told her. You'll know it if it fits you.

image copyright Fred First

Others stopped to say hello, book readers already, or blog visitors, or appreciative of the radio pieces or newspaper column--people I would never have had opportunity to meet. One lady said "I loved your book, but there was one part, after I read the first paragraph, I couldn't go any farther. I was already crying." And of course it was the sad account of putting Buster down.

Another book reader, of all the little mundane details, delighted in the tale of walking with a "spider stick" down our loop through the woods. "We do that too! It was so powerfully connecting with the little rituals of our daily lives in the mountains to find common ground with you on Goose Creek. And when we're away (so many have weekend places here) we enjoy picking up Slow Road to remind us of how the season is changing back up here in the mountains."

There were people from Giles County, Pulaski County, Patrick County, and over in the Roanoke area who felt the same connection to place that Ann and I do here in Floyd. Yes, there are unique qualities here, but it is the larger connection and attachment to the southern mountains that we all love and seem to need. One fella, in conversation of "where are you from" told me about a T-shirt he'd seen in another nearby county. I'll just adapt it to here. It said...

No, I'm not a native of Floyd County, but I got here fast as I could!

It has been gratifying to find out that others have the same sense as we do, that we have arrived at a place we've been moving toward all our lives.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

The Front

Tattered clouds scattered east across what had an hour before been a cloudless cold-blue sky. The first arctic air mass of the season was on its way, predicted to arrive by late afternoon. Already the air had taken on a solemn and heavy feel. There was no cheer in the wind.

We are woefully behind on dry firewood for the coming winter. The woodsman has taken more to the pen than the chain saw of late, and words won't keep him warm in February. So across the county I headed for some easy wood on a friend's place, after stopping for a while in town for coffee with Dennis.

The old Dakota truck, abandoned since the new (used) Subaru replaced in August, lurched sideways on its shocks when a gust of wind tried to push it into the oncoming lane of traffic. But there was no traffic. Stonewall road was empty and quiet but for one man in one old truck, and someone's kite in the near distance, tumbling, falling, rising; for an instant it righted itself--stabilized briefly as if it regained a tail of torn fabric that gave it enough drag to balance left, right, front and back, and soar. Then it pitched and crumpled, barely airborne, moving my way. A great blue heron battered by the polar gale wished he had gone south after all, to visit relatives on the Gulf Coast.

After a short round of discussion at the local cafe, I wanted to show my friend a special place. It was the land that had been the love of another friend who never knew this weblog. She died about the time it was born. But that gal loved those woods. She'd be heartsick to see it has been logged--in a kind way, compared to most--but happy, I think, to know that I could still feel her presence there. And more than the firewood I wanted to show Dennis a special plant in this special place: pennyroyal in winter.

I can't find on the web any suitable pictures of it in winter. It is decidedly not much to look at. But I think next time I run across it, I'll hope to have my camera, so I can show you first, how to find it. Then, encourage you to smell it. More about that later.

By the time I turned and headed for home, the front loomed like an arching flint-gray wave overhead. The temperature had fallen ten degrees since the heron struggled to find refuge from the storm. The first flakes blew sideways, first a few, then a white blur, then patches of clear sky and nothing. Turning off 221 into the countryside was like stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia. Here, flakes at first blew like smoke, undulated like a dry-ice-vapor across the road. A mile further down into the hills, it began to stick on the northy patches that never see the sun. I put the truck into 4WD as I turned down into Goose Creek, descending into winter. I carried an armload of wood in with me for the stove.

Let the game begin. Another winter has officially arrived.

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