Still. Standing.

Age of Barns
Age of Barns

Earth meets sky. Soil below and atmosphere above. How deceptively simple and unremarkable. The ground under our feet, more than dirt; the few vertical feet of space we occupy from which we take our in-spiration, more than air.

We live in such precarious indifference to the health of both, taking for granted that the soil perpetually yields its trace elements as if all its mix of macronutrients were constantly and spontaneously created from the invisible gases above. The thin air over our heads that we acknowledge only when it moves the wet leaves in a summer storm we mind even less–so vast and immutable, big as the sky–the biggest thing we think of as children to express unspeakable expanse and omnipresence.

For all our technology, all our vast library of learning and mastery over some small details of nature that have made us healthier, richer, and seemingly autonomous beings–we still are subject to basic physics and chemistry. The smartest man still falls to the laws of gravity. The most sophisticated society still staggers when its soil is depleted of nutrients that cycle from the useful to the useless down the gradient of entropy, from farmland to wasteland, from humus to ocean sediments.

There are so many of us now and we ask so much of the land–so much that we spoil both soil and air. Either our numbers will fall or our relationship to soil and air will change. The earth has its ways of making it so. So, too, does humankind should we decide in time to correct our sins of injury to the horizontal and the vertical of our collective lives.

Life goes on. The barn rots from below, rusts from above, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. But for now, it is still standing. And so are we. What will we do today to shore up the roof over our heads, the foundation of earth we live on?

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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. Your questions are as heavy as the subject matter.
    These are rhetorical questions; are they not?
    We could do what mother earth has done from the beginning but I doubt that we would even know how to begin.
    How long does it take for wind and water, fire and ice to erode away a mountain, sending it down small streams, then rivers to scatter the minerals and nutrients over the surface of the earth, thereby renewing its life supporting value? We do not have that much time or the means to achieve it. Chemical fertilizers are not the answer either but we keep relying on them anyway.
    If God would only move our planet a little closer to our sun, slowly rotate it and allow the surface to melt and mix as a liquid, then move it back and let it cool. That might do it!