Of Mountains and Molehills

Just so those from *off won’t think life here is unrelentingly lovely, I felt compelled to show you the dark side of country life, with a snippet from a little essay under construction.

Image copyright Fred First Our dog, who scares away more potential animal observations than he produces, has a nose for small mammals, and brought us two mammal sightings this week. As far as his species memory and drive goes, insectivores (moles and shrews underground) and small rodents (voles and mice in above ground nests of pasture grass) are food morsels in a wrap of hair, little legged tortillas, and if not delicious, then at least no small excitement to catch and torment in cat-like fashion.

Yesterday, the dog veered abruptly from beside us as we walked across the pasture, ran thirty feet at right angles to our path, cocked his head raising one front paw to his chest, and pounced. His front feet churned the wet, sandy soil. (Did he smell this subterranean creature from that distance? Or hear it digging?) A half-dozen quick scratches later, a dark grey velour sausage of an animal lay at our feet, eyeless, earless, and covered in dog spit.

*Off: not from these here mountains, a term suggesting a general mistrust, a term that a local would use to distinguish the origins, for instance, of the do-gooders who came into the Appalachian backwaters in the late 1800s to gentrify the mountaineers. An outsider; a flat-lander.

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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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