We All Live Downstream

En Route home from Page Turners mtg / w Droid Phone
En Route home from Page Turners mtg / w Droid Phone

I met this week with a book club in Blacksburg who had chosen What We Hold In Our Hands: a Slow Road Reader for their monthly reading. It was a bit of an unusual setting since I did not “present” but simply sat in the circle, more for the purpose of looking with them as an observer at the issues raised by the book than to explain or defend the way I framed the topics.

It was gratifying to know the message had reached receptive minds and that my intentions for the collection of essays have been in part realized, on this small scale and over the short reach from Floyd to Blacksburg.

To begin, seated in the comfortable sun room of one of the members, each participant told a little something about themselves–which was very interesting for the varied histories, nationalities (England, Netherlands, Eritrea) and perspectives each brought to the discussion. But it was also revealing of their perceptions of the book as they briefly described what they gained from the reading.

The most consistent perception of the book as a whole seemed to be that it spoke to our relationship to nature, and I think I’d agree that is its central message. Members told of how important free-range outdoor play had been in their own lives, then in the lives of their children. Several spoke of the pressures and constraints of careers that carried them to places that were not theirs or of having found the “sense of place” spoken of often in the book.

Several heard in the book the plea for a return to what matters–to those things we hold within our grasp but could easily lose–in our communities, in our economies and in our responsibilities as earth-citizens. One said she saw part of the book as “missionary work” but that it did not feel heavy-handed as each short piece began and ended with the personal story of my own struggle with the issues of life-in-balance in real time and place in Floyd County.

I could easily say much more. Maybe someday, I will. For now, just a note here to say the connection with readers, and more, the conversations that were rooted in this small volume of collected hopes has given me courage to stay the course. Thanks, ladies.

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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. I am so glad a book club chose your book and invited you to attend the meeting. My book club recently invited the author of our chosen bood to attend, and it made for a memorable evening for us all. Meeting an author is a thrill for us readers. You are looked at in awe.
    Your book’s many messages are valued, and you are being the spokesperson for us all.