…May Be Closer Than They Appear

So peaceful and serene, when only seconds before...

Gary Larson’s Far Side animal caricatures have ruined me for life. I swear, the instant before I rounded the curve on this Floyd County back road, the cows were walking upright, leaning on fence posts, one or two smoking cigarettes, when they heard me coming.

“Car!” the sentinel cow called, and they instantly assumed the quadruped habit for the benefit of romantic humans who think they look better that way, grazing peacefully in a lush pasture.

Vegetative Phase

This is the time of year dominated by the tyranny of the mower, hoe and watering can. We’ve been blessed by regular rain so far. The grass is finally past that initial surge of first growth powered by stored winter organic decay, and has leveled off to just routine but unrelenting summer maintenance cutting. We’re wondering how to do less of it, but have it to a bare minimum for access to the house, garden shed, compost pile and barn. Perhaps, a goat?

My Ship Has Come In

I’ll be getting my first wee Social Security check in the mail next week. And while I’ve eased into the role of the post-employed, that check pretty much punches my ticket. There’s been an element of denial, I realize now, and I’ve not fully accepted that I’m about mid-way into the “Third Age”, a time of “fulfillment and renewal.” It is said to run from age 50 to 75. At 50, we had sunk our teeth into this place where we knew we wanted to be living (but not working quite so hard) when we got that first S S check in the mail. Now, here we are–or at least here I am, while SHE keeps us afloat, buoyed up by our so-called health insurance should our fitness for this work turn south. I’ll say more about this transition by and by. If you have thoughts about the pros and cons of retirement, send them my way.


Crows have discovered the chicken food in and around their pen. I hear one cawwing now, and know if I so much as crack the front door–a hundred yards away and through the maple tree-the guard crow sitting on the chicken pen fence would flush, followed by 3 or more waiting their turn in the tree line nearby. But they don’t eat much. And if they come to prefer this to plucking up my beans and corn seeds sprouting in the garden, they’re welcome to a bit of laying crumbles now and then.

I Never Knew Ye

It has been a sad irony how many new species have been discovered in the past two years, even as the extinction rate reaches unprecedented rates never before seen save for cataclysmic geological or astronomical causes, whereas this one is caused by one sole species. This is the so-called International Year of Biodiversity–a sad joke. Meanwhile, life flounders, limps and slinks along and new forms of life discovered off Tasmania, off the Australian coast, including fish with hands. The NatGeo images are, of course, impressive.

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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. Social Security was the frosting on the cake. It was Medicare that lifted the scary burden of possible bankruptcy! There was a definite change in my day to day attitude once I officially “retired.” I felt like I was breathing again, having HELD my breath through those last couple of years, paying health insurance (perfectly healthy, never hospitalized, ever) of $6,800 per year ….just for me, alone! I LOVE being “retired.”

  2. Congrats on your first SS check, I’m still a ways off. By the way, we used to have a crow around here who figured out if she stood on one side of the plywood that covered the trash can and grain it would fall off and there would be food for her taking. After a while I outwitted her and put a large rock on the plywood lid. For a while she was smarter than me.


  3. I have personal and first hand experience with HER pulling the plow. For thirty plus years, I struggled along in heavy construction proudly bringing home a respectable paycheck.
    Then, one morning, I got up to go to work and my knees didn’t. Osteoarthritis surprised me and put my on the bench. The upside, though, is it gave us an open ticket to live anywhere. If I couldn’t do what I used to, I didn’t have to be anchored in the big cities where that work is. Enter, Floyd and some of the best people I ever met. Fred First being at the top of the list.

    Lemme get my truck straightened out and I’ll come out and take care of your crow problem. Can you say 12 gauge?

  4. Lawn care via goat(s)! I saw it used on a missionary compound in Korea years ago. Seemed to work very well. They will offset your wife’s chicken mania. (I suppose you should Google goat care, etc. before you run out and purchase some.)

  5. Don’t get me started on goats. I’m an animal lover but I also know that a loose goat will first eat my favorite plant, move on to my next favorite plant, you get the gist. And goats are very adept at getting loose.

    Retirement for me is bliss. Hang the expense, it’s worth it. I don’t know how I ever had time to hold down a job; I have many hobbies. Enjoy! You’ve earned it.

  6. Congrats on your first SS check!!!
    In fact, hoo-ray to all of you, who have crossed over into the “retirement” land.
    I am standing on the banks of “working land”, gazing onto that wonderful land of retirement. Just a few more years……… :):)