Old Friends and Seamless Reunions

A Cherry tree has overtaken an old farm utensil in an abandoned field
A Cherry tree has overtaken an old farm utensil in an abandoned field

The short piece below is from What We Hold In Our Hands: a Slow Road Reader. The “friend” it speaks of I had not seen since the early 80s. He was just here, and it was as if we’d had our last conversation over coffee a week ago instead of 25 years ago. I’ll hope to tell you more soon.

One summer not long after college, a good friend and I were backpacking through the sunken canyons of the Bankhead Wilderness in Alabama.

We laid out our sleeping bags that afternoon in the humid shade in a half-cave of sandstone, looking out on the Sipsey River close below us. A summer shower sent sheets of warm rain sweeping over the narrow swath of forest between rocky rims. The sound of it hissed softly like the surf in a seashell.

Lying on my back with my hands clasped behind my head, a serene and wordless five minutes passed. I blinked away a speck of sand, and then another. A few minutes later, my friend reached up and wiped at his eyes. He turned to me with an amused chuckle in an instant of mutual comprehension. In that twinkling we grasped the cosmic scale of single grains of sand falling from the massive roof of our seemingly immutable stone shelter.

So this is what becomes of mountains, we said, and laughed, the irony of the moment appreciated.

Later that afternoon, we sat on a ferny boulder above the river. Deep in its warm green waters small fish held their place, barely, against the current.

“They use up a lot of energy just to keep from being swept to the sea” I remarked.

“We all do, Fred. We all do” my friend said.

And as we sat quietly watching, listening to the remnants of the last shower still dripping from the tulip poplars, the sandy bottom of mountain bits beneath those bright fish washed, speck by grain and foot by foot, towards a distant Gulf Coast beach.

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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. Man, I love that photo………I really like seeing old farm equipment, especially in it’s natural setting……………I also enjoy seeing old farm trucks, and tractors, dotted around on different farms.
    It always makes me think about the work, the labor, that went into farming, or the ranching……..I often wonder about the people, and what became of all of them……..I enjoy old farm houses also…..

    Thanks Fred !!!!