Small Ponds and Great Expectations


Ann asked when she got home from work how Earth Day went, and I honestly couldn’t say. I told her I felt removed from the event the way I feel after hosting one of our rare big parties at the house, in which case when it’s all over:

Yes, I saw all the cars parked along the road, so we must have had a good crowd. Yes, I said a few words to all of our guests but not many to any; I sampled a few of the covered dishes and saw but never had time for a taste of my favorite Pecan Pie somebody put on the table though I heard it was wonderful. And I saw people meeting new friends and finding common ground and apparently enjoying themselves and most said as much as they left. And afterwards, I was totally exhausted from the stepping and fetching and general “upness” required during the several intense hours of the event after days of planning. But I was not immersed in but rather hovering outside of the time, an overseer, not a participant.

And at the end of the day yesterday, I felt like the “good steward of a few things” of the Biblical parable. How many times over the years I’ve approached a responsibility with the full force of my energies and planned as if it would be presented to an auditorium full of interested people only to have the three or four politely bored elderly ladies who came nod off during my carefully crafted discourse. No so many came yesterday as I’d hoped (something like 85) but about as many as I expected. But those who came seem to have thought it worthwhile. I couldn’t say, too involved in tending the trees to see the forest.

Will yesterday’s event be only the first of similar environmental-focus gatherings in the future? Could be. And I think that those who came yesterday will be more inclined to come back to future events and bring a friend. And those involved in planning will know some things learned yesterday. Most things went right, only a few details fell through the cracks. It was a Floyd-scale success by almost all measures, for sure, though “the choir” composed a good bit of the audience. How do you bring in those people who aren’t already convinced of the worthiness of the topic you will present?

Meanwhile, a varied slate of events for Earth Day are scheduled at nearby Virginia Tech. Of note, there were few young people in the audience in Floyd yesterday, and this is one deficiency that could perhaps be addressed in future efforts.

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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. Kudos to you, Fred, David St. Lawrence, Jack Wall, Kamala and Dede who all worked so hard to make this Earth Day event so special and informative. You are right…more people should have turned out and perhaps a different time, other than Saturday morning, would work better for folks in the future. Those who DID come heard terrific speakers and enlightening discussions. We thank you!

  2. “How do you bring in those people who aren’t already convinced of the worthiness of the topic you will present?”

    Good question.

    Before I present some ideas that occur to me, let me acknowledge that I am fully aware that Floyd County is a place that takes its religion very seriously. In no way am I demeaning or casting any aspersions on this culture. Quite the contrary. While “I am not from around here”, I have an enormous respect for the conservative, so-called “Bible-Belt” culture of this area.

    Having said that, I think Earth Day celebrations are perceived by many as a place where elitist liberal hippies gather to bemoan the state of affairs in the world. This perception needs to be acknowledged and addressed. Failure to pay closer attention to the issues addressed during Earth Day celebrations is leading to increasingly dire consequences for all of humanity.

    Here are my ideas, for what they are worth:

    1. Draw a connection between soaring gasoline prices and the need to be more mindful of everything that the word ‘conservation’ implies.

    2. Emphasize the ‘conserve’ part of political conservatism. The fact that Barrack Obama carried Floyd County in the primary is evidence to me that folks are beginning to see that the GOP has been hijacked by ideologues with agendas antithetical to true conservatism.

    3. Engage Christian conservatives by emphasizing God’s mandate to care for the Earth. As an example of one strain of thought on this matter, look at this URL:

    I hope that these ideas stimulate reasoned responses and evoke other ideas that will result in higher attendance at next year’s Earth Day celebration.