Never Forever

The way things are can take on illusion of permanence. All permanence within nature is a fiction.

I remember as a very young man lying on my back in the cool shade of a sandstone ledge , its massive brow  sheltering me exactly as it would have another man ten thousand years before.  I took comfort in its stony immutability.

I held that thought as the shadows lengthened that summer afternoon, hands clasped behind my head, until a grain of sand fell on my cheek; then another. And with those few grains of mountain on my skin, the illusion of permanence ended.

Those bits of sand made their way to an ocean beach as the massive ledge disappeared, bits of it falling through my now –the constricted neck of the hourglass–while time, passing, made the lie of forever.

That lesson was made more firm when we stood recently on what Katrina left–the floor of the sleeping porch and all that remained of my wife’s home place–a forever part of her growing up.


And standing amidst the nothing of what had once been everything– just then the fiction of my own forever places touched my cheek.

This place on the creek so central to our narrow now will not persist indefinitely.

A storm, a fire, or simple neglect will, in an hour or a century, bring to an end all resemblance of our so-familiar every-day footprint of our less-than-eternal home.

A short bit of standing chimney in the tangle of vines and saplings may mark out place for a time, but that too will give way to grains of sand. And Goose Creek will carry away our firmament to the sea.

And so it goes.


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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 think we have to confront those inevitabilities, and these understandings should serve to shift our frame of reference in a way not possible for the young.

    When one can’t “look forward” to long projects in a way so familiar from the first five decades–at least not with anything like the same certainty–that tends to refocus attention on the long end of the tail and all that has come before. So there may be a lot of revery, a retracing of steps that carried us this far and to this place.

    In the uncertain near term, life transitions may lead one to consider in more urgent tones what comes next: black nothingness according to some, or a translation into a fuller, permanent reality not to be found here where time and entropy eat mountains and civilizations for lunch.

  2. I don’t know why, but even at age 71 “what comes next” still has no hold on my interest or attention. But I definitely am not looking forward to long projects like a would if I were younger! Impermanence of various features of my surroundings is something I think more and more about, too.