Going With the Flow

Rock Paper Scissors

Sometimes, not going with the flow has its advantages.

Having a handicapped traveler along for the trip to Missouri was an impediment for those able to walk normal distances and speeds along the U MO campus trail. But my (temporary?) disability–plantar fascitis–gave me the excuse I needed to stop and explore the creek while everyone else walked on, to retrieve me on their pass back that way.

The geology of that area (Columbia) is so different from what I’m used to, and creeks are great places to see a bit of history of more than just the place on its banks where you stand. The various rocks deposited in that one spot where I took refuge spanned hundreds of miles of upstream geography and millions of years. In my next life, I might want to be a geologist.

It had been years since I’d seen flinty rocks, and remembered (stored in some remote dusty room of the brain) that if you strike two flints together, you can see sparks–and you can smell the gunpowdery smell of ignition on the rocks immediately after you clack them together. That one took me back many decades, as smells can so powerfully do.

The stream was lined with large sycamores–trees who prefer their roots wet and grow largest locally along the New River. And now I know another way they are adapted to a  riparian habitat: their roots readily wrap around rocks–loose, like this one, and to those that are the fixed substrate and anchor of bedrock–so that they better hold to earth against the forces of floods and winds.

The bit of stone is all but disappeared in the folds of flowing tree-flesh, and coated with a blush of green algae before it becomes temporarily invisible inside the tree roots. Someday, it will be freed again, perhaps to be swallowed up once more by a sycamore in the lifetime of my grandchildren’s great-grandchildren.

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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 think I would like to be a geologist in my next life, too. I was required to take an intro course in geology to renew my teaching credential, and I loved it. Then all my travels in the West in my RV have allowed me to ponder rocks galore, wishing I had more knowledge to interpret what I saw.
    This was a fine posting. I liked the reference to the strong memories smells arouse, and learning that striking flint creates that smell of ignition.