GooseCreek Mill DamIf you’re a Fragments Regular (???) you will have seen somewhat fewer images of the mill dam on Goose Creek than you have seen of our barn.

My guess is that, if you are a photog of any length of days, you have your own worn favorites–vistas, buildings, places, details from your life–that recur over and over in your image archives.

Such places that ground us in place, such special features in our local lives are iconic. They ground us and help tell us who and where we are. They are sacred in a way, and have disproportionate meaning–perhaps only to us, but maybe to our community with some larger reach of significance.

Floyd County icons include Buffalo Mountain; the rock churches; Schoolhouse Fabrics; Mabry Mill; downtown and the Country Store.

Our iconic places form part of our identity by which we know the world and are known by it.

I think about our neighbors around the planet whose iconic places have been devastated by hurricane, typhoon, earthquake and flood. Just like that, a centuries-old village and all its special places of the heart are gone, never to return. Heartbreaking.

But perhaps even more so might be the pain of losing iconic places to ignorance, violence, greed and indifference.

I fantasize: a mining company that owns the rights to or has irresistible power over southwest Virginia comes to mine some rare mineral and takes the town, the special place, even Buffalo Mountain down to bedrock.

Welcome to Mountaintop Removal; to rainforest destruction; to sea-rise loss of Arctic coastal villages. The Iconoclasts of today are very very active and powerful (natural and national alike.) And place by place becomes placeless.

The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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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. Just as dangerous to sense of place are the developers and the communities that bring in the Outbacks, the Applebees, the WalMarts, the CVS pharmacies – back when I used to travel a lot I woke up one morning realizing I didn’t know where I was – looking around I could be in just about any community in the US as, at least in suburbia, they are all looking increasingly the same…..

  2. The PlaceTakers. And we beg for them to come to our “communities” that once were unique and quickly become homogenized, franchised NoWheres, until there’s no there there anymore.

  3. Which is why a number of us have banded together to keep them out of Floyd as best we can by buying up the properties when they come up for sale. But it is rather interesting that when I first moved to Floyd we had a Sears, a Ben Franklin, an IGA…..