Nature Nudges

In this short excerpt from “A Floyd County Almanac” I’m following the thread backwards to explore my own roots in childhood that might have predisposed me to a lifetime as a “biology watcher.” What would you discover in your own life that left you with a persistent sense of belonging in and to the natural world? If you lack that connection, where might your life have diverged away from (what I feel is built into all of us) that inborn sense of curiosity and wonder in the outdoors?

…A hundred small nudges of genes, genius and life-events move our metamorphosis along the path towards our grown-up selves. The script for the play of your life might have been drafted long ago around a place–a secret hedgerow or hayloft, a mysterious back stairway or attic hideaway, or even haunting illustrations from a special story book. Your attitudes of trust and fear, of wonder and or curiosity, may be the residue of a childhood peak experience, good or bad; a marvel in the park or the delight of watching clouds.

If you make such matters the fuzzy object of lucid daydreams, you might glimpse shadows of critical turning-point events, memories of adult teacher-guides or relatives or private revelations whose influences altered the course of your own journey.

A tweak of the rudder early in the journey, even if not perceptible to those on board, can  make the difference between arriving in England or arriving in Spain.

If you could walk backwards through time, the distant music that has guided you forward might turn out to have been performed on unlikely subliminal instruments–probably in the outdoors–whose melody has carried disproportional weight in tipping you towards the present passions you cherish and away from roads not taken…

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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 don’t remember a specific event, but I know it all funnels back to my kindergarten thru 3rd grades years living in Spain. Without American TV, living in house without AC or even decent heat (enlisted personnel housing in the USAF!) I was outside pretty much outside all of the time. Our community bordered a swamp that our parents told us to stay out of.

    Fat chance of that!

  2. This is a beautifully written excerpt. It really calls me to do some lucid daydreaming about my childhood, too. Right now what stands out is the many hikes I took as a kid with a dozen or more relatives in Peninsula State Park in Door County, WI every August. My grandpa loved to push over dead trees, to the thrill of all us cousins. My dad was tallest and walked in front, with a bandana around his forehead to catch the spider webs for the rest of us. Those were idyllic woods.