Photos and Front Porch Musing from Floyd County Virginia
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.
We got to poking around (again) around the edges of this semi-permanent feature down the valley and around the bend from the house. We were told by an long-time resident of Goose Creek that this was once a tobacco barn; and by others that a man and his son lived here, the latter killing the former.
Whatever the story, there was once an old cast-iron stove there, that is now in pieces.
Maybe it was used to keep the cabin’s residents from freezing in the winters of the late 1800s. Maybe it was used to create more heat than our cold valley could muster, to dry tobacco.
Whatever its use, its end was by fire, paradoxically, indicated by the overheated distortions visible in pieces like the one on the right, that identifies the stove as a Woodland, No. 32.
We plan to do more extensive hunting in the fall, when an old blog friend brings a metal detector to the task.
Housekeeping the catacombs of my desk, I found a reflection from early on. It speaks to my hopes for myself, for my readers, for our world.
Now, more than 15 years later, some hopes are realized, some will never be. If anything, the American masses seem even more untethered from their responsibilities and connections to “the environment” than they were when my writing life began in 2002.
And so this reflection, in hindsight, is a kind of dream unrealized, but not entirely so.
It is too long for a blog reader’s attention, so it is posted at medium.com
There are many who don’t hear the music; and many of the more powerful who hear it, and don’t want to get to the end of the dance. It is a new rhythm and meter called the Next Economy. And it is stepping on a lot of toes.
No wonder that it seems discordant and unfamiliar to the Growth Forever economy folk. It seems strange—dangerous even—to ears that cannot hear the words when it is suggested that so much must change so quickly. We can’t go forward much farther with BAU. Business has been as usual for a half century, or a century, depending on how you measure it.
And we have waltzed so near the edge of the precipice it makes one giddy, should they dare to look down. Most BAU folk don’t look down.
And those audacious enough to do so look to the other side of the chasm, across a long bit of stumbling and occasionally purposeful staggering to the music, with their eye on the world that has changed partners. Some argue you can’t get there from here, just accept that and live out your lives, best you can.
But others see it clearly, and they are becoming vocal about the reasons their future will no longer tolerate their father’s economics, built on the backs of our carbon energy slaves; powered by a disempowered workforce whose poverty is only now becoming so clear to them–a dis-ease given increase at the same rate at which the living planet and its non-human creatures have become impoverished and its habitats despoiled.
The New Economy folks don’t fully know the how, but they see the end-goal what, more or less clearly. And the bar has never been set any higher for our species. In the end, regardless of the pejorative labels attached to the awkward, difficult and disruptive dance ahead of us, the new waltz will come, if somehow we can strike up the band. Now.
And my children’s generation or the next or the one after that may see a sustainable, just, and equitable prosperity and true well-being that goes far beyond the “happiness” whose pursuit has, at best, failed to satisfy and turned citizens into mere customers and consumers.
I know this from my photographer’s experience: any image I take is one of a kind. Each composition in light or in words is unique. The light will never be that color from that angle on that exact configuration of barn, tree or wildflower ever again.
And this: that we too often take for granted the extraordinary senses of vision and hearing, touch and smell that are our gifts– opportunities given us by which we could know the familiar beauties too often missed or dismissed in our hurried lives. We have so little time in the present and there is so very much to take in and share.
There are wonders all around. From our everyday lives, these familiar things may seem unremarkable to us. But in these precious instants in time, if we keep our eyes open and our hearts ready to know it, there is nothing ordinary.
This topic could, and maybe will, become a too-long-didn’t-read essay someday, since it is AWE that might have been the single strongest driver over the 17 years of my writing life–to expect it, to search for it, to nurture it, and to understand its implications for the good it can do towards keeping one’s eyes and mind open to the largeness and wonder of the every-day fragments that make up our lives.
There is much to say about the gift and experience of awe. And much of it is said in this recent research study on the subject that is so underlined in yellow marker on my copy that WHY BOTHER?
For all but a few who will actually read the article, here are some selections that describe the human experience of awe and its consequences:
” the emotion we feel in response to something vast that defies our existing frame of reference in one area or another, and leads us to change our perception of that frame of reference.
“It’s how we respond when we see something new or novel that doesn’t fit with our understanding of the world,”
“…One important distinction between awe and other emotions (like inspiration or surprise) is that awe makes us feel small — or feel a sense of “self-diminishment” in science-speak. And that’s good for us, Stellar explains.
Feeling small makes us feel humbled (thereby lessening selfish tendencies like entitlement, arrogance, and narcissism). And feeling small and humbled makes us want to engage with others and feel more connected to others, Gordon adds.“All of that is important for wellbeing,” she says.”
“Other research from Anderson’s group (which he notes is currently undergoing peer review and is not yet published) suggests that more awe-prone people are more curious — as deemed by both themselves and their friends — and that this awe-curiosity duo may bolster academic achievement in grade-school children (as it has been linked to higher self-efficacy, work ethic, and academic performance).”
Think about how the experience of awe, at its best, creates a state of generosity, charity, curiosity and humility so infrequently seen today among our “greatest” public figures.
In a climate of fear; in an inward-focused, self-absorbed view of the world; in a world that is concerned obsessively with me-here-now, there is little place for awe to take us beyond our small worlds and bring us back to more solid grounding, with gratitude and joy, in the places and times of our lives.
Awe is epiphany; the AHA! that gives us perspective. It says YES to the cosmos. Faced with possibilities, it says YES, enter in. The climate of mistrust and deception, of hubris and fear says NO. Build a wall.
In another life, if I could pull the threads together, from beginning to end (well, not all the way to finish at which point I won’t be doing any typing) I would start and end that tapestry with AWE.
I distinctly remember the first time I felt it—at maybe three or four. Not uncommonly, awe is manufactured by bigger-than-life stories, or stories of bigger-than-life monsters or stronger-than-life superheroes. And Superman certainly contributed to the conviction that the world was stranger and more complex than it seemed, me at my sandbox.
But I wandered off into the rough. Sandboxes were for sissies. I was going to dig my way to China, in a hole I had started behind the garage in a Birmingham suburb, miles from the closest woodland or park. That digging hole would connect me, I was told, to a land of pigtailed Chinamen, in bathrobes and pointy hats. All it would take was persistence, and from time to time, a new spoon to dig with. I know it sounds trivial, but that the world was ROUND and my place in it connected by a straight line through the center of the planet to a people so unlike those in Woodlawn made the hair on my arms stand up. Or would have, if I’d had any.
And then, there were the quartz crystal and mica and feldspar and fool’s gold that came out of that random pit being slowly carved into what must have been excavated house foundation diggings, pushed into place a few decades earlier than the early 50s when I began my world travels.
Each nugget was a treasure, a doubloon from a pirate treasure chest. But more than that, the quartz: It was just translucent enough that vision penetrated it, imagined something faintly there inside it—another world found in my diggings to China’s other world.
Lastly, I remember a toy that became an object lesson with far-reaching philosophical overtones. We visited a childless family relative most Sundays, and while the adults chatted, my brother and I were sequestered in a room off to the side (if not climbing the sticky plum tree out back.) One of the few “play things” we were allowed to play with was a set of Russian stacking dolls. The largest hid the next largest, which hid an even smaller one, down to a tiny one the size of a peanut.
And I may be embellishing this backwards through the lens of adult understanding, but I believe that it was in these stacking dolls—these holons within the whole—that it dawned on me that at every level of truth, one could go deeper; could stare more deeply into the translucent haze with enough force of will to reach yet another embedded truth. And again, and again.
A few years later, a quarter acre woodlot was the microcosm of wilderness. In the part, I could imagine the whole, and it gave me shivers.
And in all these anecdotal personal remembrances, the common thread was a sense of being a small part of a much greater whole. This was a nascent feeling of AWE—a thrill of smallness that hinted of what could be found, known, seen, discovered, realized.
Small wonder I wanted a microscope from the time I was in the second grade. Or that I majored in biology.
I relate all of this to you, dear diary, so that soon I can offer a discourse by others on the potential consequences of awe—happening naturally more in some lives than in others; often coupled with curiosity; and held up as a desirable and intentionally achieved strength that, once acquired, could make us a better animal than what we presently appear to be in this brutish zoo of the early 21st Century.
So if I can pull it off, I’ll post the followup soon. No promises. Life in the trenches. And regarding the other end of this awe-some life of 70-plus years (the oft-mentioned third book), I wouldn’t wait up for that one.