Order or Chaos?

image copyright Fred First

I was unwell at midnight. I was still awake at 3 with chills. I crimped my 6 foot frame onto the 5 foot loveseat by the woodstove and slept rounded like a comma, til almost 6. And now I don’t know if I’m over illness or just ramping up for it. And I need to decide soon: we’ll leave the house for Wytheville before noon, and I’ll be ON, need to be UP, ready, engaged. I feel none of those things just now, even after two cups of coffee.

I told Ann reluctantly that I was not quite well. Her highest priority is having the strength to get up and do what needs to be done for the gathering here on the weekend, and if means treating my like a leper for the remainder of the week, no doubt she can and will do so.

I’ve had episodes before where, in the wee hours I was racked by fever and violent chills, only to wake the next morning with no serious repercussions, and go on. So I’m going on this morning, assuming once again that the army of immune cells and the chemical warfare of self-versus-nonself has tipped in my favor.

It depends on how you hold your eyes when you look at it: diseased or eased ? chaotic or cosmicly ordered? creek ice or a place where stars are born? I chose to hold up the latter in all these dichotomies; we’ll see if things look different by the end of the day.

Creek Under Ice

image copyright Fred First

Nameless Creek comes from darkness underground, beginning in a dozen springs a mile south. In its past, it has raged back and forth between the ridges, swollen and angry, carving our narrow valley from Appalachian stone. Today the little stream purrs along peacefully enough, cold, clear as liquid glass, on its way down mountains. It carries the smell of snow to a sandy beach on the sea. Tonight our little creek will freeze along the edges. In a month, we will hear a river embryo calling faintly from under ice and we will walk on water. (from Slow Road Home)

I’d carried my pocket recorder with me yesterday when I stood admiring the late-morning light on the creek. I would take a sound sample of the babble of the creek under ice, patch that as a fade-in and fade-out either side of a reading of the paragraph above, combined with the image. I really thought I would do it. I have the pieces. But I never quite made it to complete the task, and now I’m off to work again, tomorrow the rotary presentation in Wytheville, Thursday all day at a CE meeting in Roanoke, then the vortex of the weekend gathering to prepare for. And from now til Monday, I’ll kick myself for not getting to done on this. Heck.

But a bit of good news: The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation’s Virtual Bookstore now stocks and sells Slow Road Home! Here is the press release just posted to their site yesterday. Many thanks to Joe and others who helped make this happen, and I hope the book warrants the virtual shelf space and doesn’t collect virtual dust. So okay now readers, it’s up to you. (And by the way, if you wanted to order more than one copy and pay by credit card, THIS would be the way, as my PayPal button on the book website is set up only for a single purchase.)

Winter at Mabry Mill

image copyright Fred First

“Did you come east on the Parkway to get here?” asked a booktable visitor yesterday at the winery. “There’s ice on Mabry Mill pond” she said, herself a photographer, and, seeing my photo-notecards, she knew I’d want to know such a thing.

So, as smile-weary as I was after four long hours of the last of four such days, when four o’clock came, I cleared the table of my dog-and-pony-show paraphenalia in two trips out to the car, and headed west toward Meadows of Dan and Mabry Mill, a few parkway miles away.

The beauty of a visit to Maybury Mill in December is that there’s nobody there but me. And a few ducks. If you click on the image above it will take you to a larger image on Flickr; this is actually a (poorly done) merging of three different images: a normal exposure, 2 1/2 stops underexposed, and one that is 2 1/2 stops over exposed. This is a rudimentary first attempt at what is called HDR photography. High Dynamic Range is a technique available to digital photographers to take advantage of the computer’s ability to create an image where both the highlights and shadows are optimally exposed. The three images were slightly out of register, even though I used a tripod, so this image is a little blurry, and the difference between the shadows and highlights was probably not significant enough on this image to do justice to the technique. More not-quite examples sure to come on FFF in coming months!

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.