Try to Find the Words

I stepped quietly in the darkness, coffee in hand, with only the lightning showing the way to the front door this morning. Ann still asleep, I slipped out onto the porch and sat in the swing while my eyes learned to see in darkness. The fireflies were mesmerizing.

This moment is so familiar. Twelve years ago today, my writing hopes began with this passage that appears very early in Slow Road Home. Twelve years and a mountain of words later, I still have to ask “how should I then live” in these days I’ve been granted? 

It is late, and I am last to bed, past the usual time. I step out onto the front porch into the cool, sweet air of early June, and sit on the top step quietly as if not to disturb the wildlife, whose nocturnal day I am entering.

The pasture grasses just beyond the maples are in full flower and their pollen smells like midnight bread baking, while Goose Creek sends up wafts of spearmint, wet mud and turbulence.

My eyes soon learn to see in darkness and I am aware of soundless flashes of summer lightning, and stars overhead. My night vision comes and goes with each flash and pause and flash.

Rising from the dark field on the fragrance of grasses are tens of thousands of lightning bugs. Put them in a jar, shake and see them illumined with the cold translucence of memory. They pulse and rise above the field in counterpoint to the tempo of the clouds, signaling ancient syllables that we could understand, if we were more often still, less hurried, and more at home in our own pastures.

Gravity pulls me down and I lie on my back, on cool stone horizontal, before a mock-infinity of space, wondering what is my place in this world of men and of words? Do I deserve to be so blessed among Earth’s teeming humanity? What must I do in the warmth of this gentle epiphany that is revealed to me tonight and how should I then live?

Maybe I will try to find the words in the morning, after the house is quiet again, and the fireflies have gone to bed, and the world smells of heat and ozone and toast.

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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 would love to be able to smell pollen like that (and see fireflies again, like I did in my Tennessee childhood.) Thanks for the virtual reality your words create.

  2. What a peaceful passage this is. I feel relaxed just reading it. Warm summer evenings dotted with fireflies was a favorite part of my growing up in the Midwest. Unfortunately, Colorado does not have fireflies and at times I long for those evenings of my childhood. Thanks for bringing back those memories for me.

  3. OK Fred… I bit. I followed the link and once again had a virtual visit to Goose Creek. I think I need to revisit “Slow Road” once again and walk that valley in memory.

  4. Since discovering your writings and reading your 2 books years ago, I always look forward to “fragmentsfromfloyd” when they arrive in my IPad.
    Your love of nature and the creatures that inhabit your surroundings along with your writings are very inspiring and the photography is a work of art!!
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and photos with us. It has encouraged my appreciation for this land where we live. Continue to bless us with your writings and beautiful scenes.

    Is there somewhere I could purchase your 2 books to give to a friend? Many thanks.

  5. Some of us DO indeed read everything, and respect you and your writing enough to visit the original post!

    So very beautiful, from start to finish. Most likely anyone who lobs over here has also been in those same shoes, merging with the nocturnal world and realizing how blessed one can be to just ‘be’ – and that’s enough.

    “… wondering what is my place in this world of men and of words? Do I deserve to be so blessed among Earth’s teeming humanity? …”