Refugium: an area where conditions have enabled a species or a community of species to survive after extinction in surrounding areas. An area in which a population of organisms can survive through a period of unfavorable conditions;  an area of relatively unaltered climate that is inhabited by plants and animals during a period of continental climatic change (as a glaciation) and remains as a center of relict forms from which a new dispersion and speciation may take place after climatic readjustment.

As a few of you know, we traveled again, far south–perhaps for the last time, as the passing of the patriarch and his interment there this month marks the likely end of a geographical chapter in our lives.

IMG_3382bayhouse480The Mississippi gulf coast was part of our growing up as young marrieds, then with small children who fished from the pier.  Out the back door, we wandered hundreds of unmanaged acres along the bayou within easy sight of the runway at Keesler Air Force Base, and crossed the quiet road to hunt squirrels or “buttercups” or bog buttons or swamp rabbits, mucking up over our ankles in tea-colored water and black mud.

IMG_3392pocosin240And so, in a similar way to seeing for the first time after long absence a good friend, things are the same, but different. Mostly different with this once-familiar quiet bay enclave, which has been encroached on all sides by “progress” of one kind or another.

There is very little left of the once-common estuarine mudflats along whose margins we gigged flounder by johnboat at night and threw the net for “sardines” or shrimp. The MacMansions have invaded on all sides, and a family holdout where we gathered recently is all that remains of the way things were, tucked back in what live oaks Katrina left there.

Behind our Marriott, a ten acre strip of more-or-less natural pine pocosin hosted hundreds of pitcher plants that were as welcome to see again as old classmates.  I dropped to my knees to greet them. They will not last long, there in sight of Interstate 10. The bulldozers were already leveling the adjacent acreage for yet another toss-up motel or strip mall.

And so, from that remnant of old bay life, human and other, we returned at last to Floyd County, then down the slow road to Goose Creek–to our refugium: an enclave in the eddie of time where glacial change presses in from all sides.

We will remain in our refugium, our storm home, as long as we can before others  will come to belong here–relict forms from which, perhaps a new dispersion might take place on the other side of a cultural readjustment not far ahead.



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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. reminds me of “the place I long for but have never seen” but I know it by my gut and intuition, kind of makes me glad to settle in for the winter!

  2. Beautiful, but sad…and gorgeous photos, Fred. However, no pictures of those pitcher plants or did they just not photograph well, as sometimes happens? I remember them fondly from my childhood in the South too. May you seek refuge as long as possible here!

  3. I couldn’t get close enough to the pitcher plants for a good photo because, as is common in these pine flats, the water table is at the base of the vegetation and I only had one pair of shoes on the trip. They were “gone by” but many had turned a beautiful scarlet. I could see this from our motel window, and it really tempted me early in the morning and late in the afternoon when the lighting was nice, to just go out in the muck barefooted. Ann thought that was not a good idea.

  4. I get homesick when I see your beautiful pictures of the Virginia mountains and nature..Living here in Delaware is quite a contrast….My Dad would take my little sister and me to Floyd to visit his sister,Aunt Daisy and husband Uncle “Paul Bunion” (as we small ones would call him), and cousin Charlie….we loved the trees, the stream….wish could go back there again…..But time doesn’t stand still….!