Nine years old this week

Good Garden
Image by fred1st via Flickr

I am definitely slipping, when important dates come and go without notice, after making my way forward each year until now by gauging where I am by where and who I have been on any given date——one, five, or 20 years ago.

May 2, 2002——nine years ago Monday. It was a Friday that year. In the back of my car that afternoon was everything that had been in my desk at the physical therapy clinic I managed in a town nearby. I had handed in my notice, and May 2 was the date I officially resigned–from a job, maybe from a profession.

The job had the smell of death when I took it a year earlier, so, although the handwriting was on the wall since the beginning, it was another thing to know that when the next Monday came around, I would stay home. And that I might stay home for quite some while, for the first time in my life, not having a Plan B.

I did not know how to process the mixture of anxiety and exhilaration that came with making a clean break from an unsatisfying  relationship with my profession.  And so, like Forrest Gump who started running, I started writing. And when I got to the ocean, I turned around and started writing back home again.

And today, nine years and three days later, I am preparing to drive some distance to speak to an audience of strangers (many of whom are also writers and probably all of our readers) about my nine years of exploring a “personal ecology” that has included both my photography and the written word.

And I’ll tell them that, as a nine-year-old writer-photographer, my voice is still changing. I’m still learning who and where I am by what I choose to write about and what I choose to photograph. And I’m learning that what motivates me to collect these fragments of language and light is to better understand my own relationship to nature, to place, and to community. That is what ecology is all about. We all have an ecology that is unique as our fingerprints, whether we know it or care to embrace it.

And I will tell them that in narrating my own niche and habitat and role in this ecosystem on Goose Creek for my own purposes, I’m coming to understand that unless we, as a county, a country, and a species, can regain that deeply meaningful reconnection with this greater house of ecology, of relationship, our smaller house of economy can never be truly healthy, resilient and sustainable.

“If we don’t know where we are, we cannot know who we are” Wendell Berry has said. We will rebuild this fractured society quite literally from the ground up. We must start with the face we see in the mirror, with the view of earth we see outside our kitchen windows.  And those are the things I write about, “folk writer” that I have turned out to be on my ninth birthday.

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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. Very insightful! I’ve enjoyed reading the blog for a few weeks now and look forward to being a near neighbor (Rockbridge County) soon.
    Congratulations on breaking away from an unsatisfying job and finding a path that brings you (and others) happiness.

  2. And a good choice it was. Hopefully you are still feeling the freedom. I know both feelings of uncertainty and anticipation. What a ride.

  3. I have been reading your blog for about 8 years, since my retirement from teaching. It has been so enjoyable. Your habitat is where I would like to be, and I get to be there vicariously, thanks to your blog. Pleae don’t ever stop.