Diaspora: The Next Place

Morning detail, late April, late life on Goose Creek. You never know, when you give it a puff, where the winged seeds will find fertile soil.

 In the spring of 2019, we acknowledged that the time had come to relocate us from the wild to the tame. Or at least tamer—closer to town, less mowing and weed whacking and firewood toting and…

That we would reach such a Draconian view of What Comes Next is testimony to the common conclusion between the two of us that we are not, after all, going to live forever. 

But to not see the barn-roof frost going up in steam on a cold October morning; to leave in the rear view mirror this refugium of human neighbors, birds, bears and other familiars; then to hear road noise and be in a fishbowl settled and busy place: this is not an easy thing to consider.

And yet, even before we have any solid notion of where or when, we have already subliminally started saying goodbye to the most rooted existence of our lives and the blessing and comforts of belonging in place that many seek but few find. I wonder what the past twenty years will look and feel like in hindsight when we can not look out any window and see the known trees waving to the thrush and thrum of the sparkling creeks. Will all of this vanish into a fog of forgotten decades as we learn to wear a less comfortable new reality in town?

We need to move forward with caution, because we don’t know how either one of us (or the two of us together) will adapt anyplace that will inevitably be so different, so lacking of creek noises and valley echoes in our new self-inflicted captivity in a tamer place, wherever (in Floyd County) that turns out to be. This is risky business.

An animal extracted from its native habitat is subject to failure-to-thrive. A zookeeper doesn’t always know what elements from the native wilds might be missing to account for the downward slide towards disease or disorder for caged Orangs or Lemurs. There are subjective nutrients and essences in native habitat, likely not apparent to an objective Spockian observer, without which the resident pair may suffer emotional, physical and spiritual damage. Relocating highly-specialized species to more controlled enclosures needs to be studied wide and deep before bringing in the nets.

We are hoping that won’t be necessary. 

As movers we will be a realtor’s nightmare. We are looking for those subjective must-have conditions and know it when they are lacking, even while our friends will scratch their heads and wonder what could possibly be missing with this or that seemingly “perfect” place for us. And in this, we envy many of our less-persnickety friends who happily seek out, find and adapt to life in a suburb or brick rancher on two acres in or near Floyd, and contented to be in spitting distance from a busy road. We have certain needs for our downsized captivity, and must keep in mind our odd personal ecologies as they have grown since we were married in 1970. 

At the same time, the challenge of What Comes Next must not approach anywhere near the Matterhorn we faced in 1999, when we saw HeresHome for the first time. There was no indoor plumbing or wiring; no paint in or out for decades; and who knows what behind the hundred and twenty year old walls and under the floors that would need fixing.

The land that is now pasture had been planted in white pines, less than six feet apart and by then almost 20 feet tall, edge to edge and front to back between the ridges that form Nameless Creek valley. There were no trails. Logging leavings from the early nineties blocked the way in all directions, and blackberry ruled the landscape. This was a wild and untamed place.

Our friends and family were terror-stricken for what we had taken on. We knew then that it would take, and that we would gladly give five or more years to turn the house and land into our own. The neighbors at the time expected us to last exactly one winter, as I’ve mentioned before. And here we are, perhaps in place until our twenty-year anniversary in late November of this year. 

Or maybe not.

And so I wonder about the natural history of this place against whatever Next Place we might find around us and under our feet for however-many years ahead we are aware, are truly alive and in any meaningful sense, living, and capable to navigate within our new habitat–with or without assistance. 

The odd nature of this unknown block of years, of opportunities, of experiences, hopes, successes and disappointments came into a kind of bitter-sweet clarity last month when both our “children” visited–for the first time without their own families in tow. Our son, especially, is in the midst of a major life transition–to a new state, new house, new job, new biosphere on the coast of Maine. It will be a time of almost daily AHAs, of discovery and growth, challenge and opportunities grasped and nourished and nuanced into who he will yet become. 

We are happy for him, as we are for our daughter’s potential, to extend their abilities into new realms–personal and professional. That is where our children are in their middle-aged place in life. This is the life we have lived ourselves, until not so many years back. This has been, for the bulk of our adult years, the leading edge of every new year–to expand the reach of our voices, the scope of our understanding, the stride of our hillside climbs, and add to the things we could become a part of; to do more and more, in a wider and wider world. We were the Invincible.

But that was then. This is now. Is there such a word as vincible?

And yet, all is not lost. And as I consider the event horizon, the pressure is gone, the monkey of ladder-climbing off our backs–though in all honesty, that upwardly-mobile mind-worm never drove us forward. 

It has always been our roots that nourished us, not the tendrils reaching towards constantly-larger houses or salaries or cars. And we can be grounded some new place, and settle in. I’ll let you know how all that works out–but only as long as I am granted keystrokes, synapsing synapses and moment. Until then, we live in a white, two-story house with double porches, on Goose Creek. And it is springtime of the year out there, even if it is late autumn for the two lives inside.

NOTE: If you’ve managed to read this far, then maybe it will be of interest that this post in some more polished and substantial form will likely come towards the end of One Place Understood: Field Notes from HeresHome (or some such title) — a book I will likely be working on before and after our zookeepers find us suitable habitat elsewhere.

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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.

7 thoughts on “Diaspora: The Next Place”

  1. We can hardly bear the thought of losing you and Ann as “neighbors.” But, as always, your words are wise and well-chosen, your metaphors lively, and your topic (though sobering) worthy of much consideration, even for those of us in our “middle-aged place in life.”

  2. Well said Fred and i guess i have been thinking the same thing since i retired last june.
    How to keep the 2 acres mowed weeded snow removal all that hard work that once was so easy .
    But giving up the place i have called home for 25 years selling it i havent wrapped my head around that yet all the trees i planted the wild flowers my blacksmith shop can i walk away from all that humm .
    I guess we all go through the same kind of things .
    Hope you find your place to call home .
    And im looking foward to your book .

    Thanks .
    From Mikereedoutdoors .

  3. Wishing you the best, Fred, as you enter this new phase of your life and looking forward to following you as you write about it. May the adventure begin!

  4. I’m reminded of something I wrote about you in a book review, which I just saw when I found it was way back in 2006.

    “Fred lives the life I aspire to; busy, but not hurried. There are lessons for all of us in his journey. The world, even our suburban backyards, are wondrous places, if only we would slow down to see it.”

    I’m looking forward to what you can glean from a suburban back yard 🙂 Thanks for sharing all these years.

    https://odonnellweb.com/pelican/slow-road-home.html

  5. The setting you chose and lived in for the past twenty years sounds so idyllic! I have enjoyed your writings about it so much, but I also know you will adapt and thrive where ever you go. I wish you the best, and am looking forward to hearing more about your new venture, Fred!

  6. I can’t help but feel saddened, knowing how much you appreciate your home and location – and how much work you and Ann put into the property to make it so beautiful. However, I know (as you wrote) that you will be exacting when selecting another house and property.

    Is your house now 140 years old? I never would have guessed – even if I misunderstood and it’s 120 years old. Of course, I never saw your house before you renovated it. Since I’m interested in local history, do you know the name of the family who first lived there?

  7. The house was built in 1874 by the Boone family (previously Bohn I think). Sons in the family build it for a brother when he got married. Of the 200 acres, 80 went with this place. We gave the place indoor water and electricity, new windows all around, and the outbuildings save for the barn, which was probably built about the same time as the house, looking at the joinery of the timbers inside it.

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