By Green Pastures: Morning in May


I wish you could step out onto the front porch with me this morning, that I could send you the sound of the creeks, the soft exchange between a towhee and a distant whippoorwill in the half-light; that you could feel the calmness, silhouettes painted against a dark pewter sky before dawn.

It is too early yet for the smell of pollen from the pasture grasses, but we’ve already had hints of the “mystery perfume” whose source we have yet to identify.

It is for me the most perfect of times, some wildflowers of spring still holding on, the rank overgrowth of summer yet to come. The garden lies fallow and full of promise like this white space before me filling with words never before seen above ground.

I’ll put in some lettuce this morning–a few weeks too late–to join the dozen strawberry plants a friend brought us, and the couple of dozen potato plants that was all we have room for this year.

I tilled the garden yesterday after unfouling the spark plug (thanks to a small-engineer neighbor for the problem-solving) and the term “from scratch” came to mind as I lurched along behind the Honda struggling to make a dent in the poorer soil on the shed end of the garden. Toward the house, a fill of topsoil gives us some depth and that’s where the potatos went. The rest of it will take a couple of years of cover crop, compost and sweat equity to bring to good tilth.

And in this world where almost never do goods come unadulterated with their own costs, my back is not doing very well since unloading a half ton of donkey doo from my truck. A recurrent muscle injury creeps in a day or two after this kind of moderate physical work these days to keep me humble.

There’s a fine line between humble and broken. But I’ve spent a lot of years teaching folks how to cope with physical disability, to adapt and problem solve. So I vow to be both resolute and reasonable and do what I can with the tools and time I have. All a body can do.

And regarding other crops: I sometimes consider an end to this long stream of verbiage and then I run across readers of various of my rambles who give me encouragement–two emails yesterday from Slow Road Home readers and in town, neighbors I’d never met–one who reads the blog and one who reads the Floyd Press columns. Thanks, all.

On mornings like this, the words come easily, and then the quiet moments I am heading toward just now with a third cup of coffee. Come with me. Listen.

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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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  1. Fred, please rest assured that your words serve a purpose for more than just the few that are able to send their encouragement. Posts like yours this morning let me start the day in a natural, refreshing frame of mind as I prepare to stare at the screen for the remainder of the day. Thanks.

  2. And as I made my way through the maddening traffic and faceless crowds of a city 1500 miles away and settle into my 8×8 ft impersonal work space, thanks to you, I can hear the calming sounds of the creek and of the whippoorwill and can picture the scene off your front porch without ever being there…

    A purpose indeed!

  3. rich thoughts this lovely spring morning…. i’m hearing you over here in the WV hills.

    and the mystery perfume? i remember your post about it. i think we had the same thing in our cove in NC. i would smell it on my walks, a sickening sweet smell, and could never find the source. it drove me nuts…..

  4. Fred I’m usually very envious when I read about how beautfiul it is where you are. But I’m over at Meadows of Dan doing some repairs to the house. Yesterday was incredible. A perfect day. Look for me in Floyd Friday night. I’ll probably still have paint on me.