Cold Mountain: Home

This morning, more than ever, the hearth is the heart of home.

We were gone a week. Yesterday, we left Ann’s Subaru behind with our kids in Missouri, flew out of St. Louis, out of Chicago, out of Charlotte and into Roanoke on a clear, too-warm Saturday afternoon, comfortably surrounded by mountains–not the hills we’d left in the Show-Me State. Appalachian geology felt a Goldilocks just right.

We met the taxi at the curb, and for the first time–maybe ever–I was a passenger with no responsibilities but to observe all the way home. I remember noting on the dash that the temperature when we left the sunny airport was 71. When we pulled into the deep woods of Floyd County 45 minutes later, it was 49.

Remarkable how the world had aged since we left, its colors blanched toward but not quite brown. The whole world had lost weight, its bare bones showing in the forest. Seasons come shockingly quick when you don’t watch the changes day by day.

I had monitored our local weather from half a continent away, imagined the bite of high winds that had licked down into our valley and blown about a surprising number of things from under the shed as we discovered walking up the drive at dusk yesterday.

While we were away, temps had been in the upper 20s a few nights, but in balance I felt pretty sure the house would net a few degrees above daytime temperatures and remain safely above freezing overnight, what with the southern windows letting in a bit more sun energy than radiated back.

It was a chilly 53 in the house when we opened the door carrying a double armload of mail. We were otherwise unencumbered; our bags are stranded somewhere between Chicago and home.

Barely alive. That’s how the old place felt, neglected and inanimate for a full week and without life support.

It will take several days yet to rewarm the old-pine floors, walls and ceilings. By mid-week my oak desk will no longer be dead-cold to the touch.

The first hint of sun reveals the skyline of the east ridge. The wood stove on the hearth pulses flickers of orange flame through the glass door, living light reflected in my monitor. Life begins to knit back together, and everything–or at least enough for now–in its place and all is well.

The edifice at this address stirs slowly from a lonely, lifeless hibernation, movement from within once more. The soft incandescence of early morning economies within spills out the windows for no one to see but the deer grazing in the wet pasture, grasses just green now bent and butterscotch for the winter.

What has for days been only a house is once again a home. And if you’ll allow the cliché, there’s no place like it. (Click thumbnail for larger image.)

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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. I was intrigued by the road cuts, suspecting that with a little picking around, you could find fossils in the limestone so visibly stratified from old sea beds.

    And indeed, there was some folding in the bedding planes but nothing like what you find in the Appalachians–at least in the stretch from Poplar Bluff to West Plains to Columbia that we drove through.

    I hope to do some research on geology of Missouri–already have some bookmarked sites.

  2. Fred–great little piece o’ writing there. As I read it I pictured your hand touching your oak desk, the orange flickers from the stove and I was reminded, once again, what drew me to your blog in the first place. Thanks for that.