Who Are You?

It seems a simple enough question and on Thursday night at the Blacksburg library, in light of the fact that most people there will not know me, it seems fitting to tell them who I am.

And so I began to think about how I would explain that to strangers, and suddenly it becomes a metaphysical issue that I’m not at all prepared to tackle; and it reminds me of a similar philosophical consideration I used to put before my freshman biology students on day one of class:

“What is life?” I would ask them. And I would get back answers that told me that life was things that reproduce, things that use energy, things that grow, that respond to stimuli, etc.

“Those are reasonable answers” I would respond, “but you are only telling me what life does to matter. What I want to know is what is life?”

We can easily say what living things do, what qualities they possess that differentiate them from nonliving objects. But defining life is much harder than that. we still don’t have satisfactory answers that will be suitable for any organisms we already know, will yet find on earth, or may encounter someday on another  planet.

And so, I can tell the audience some things I have done for a living, some things that are interesting and important to me; I can tell  them where I live,  or some things I am currently involved with, and that sort of thing.

But who we are, it turns out, is a pretty heavy existential question, after all.  What I will do is speak a bit about my identities as a writer, photographer, teacher, and biology watcher, because it is those passions in my living on the planet that have brought me to deliver the photographic feature that will be the main focus of the evening.

What I think I will do is spend about 15 min. with this introduction, followed by the 15 min. visual presentation that includes some 100 digital images——essentially the same presentation offered at the SustainFloyd open house last June——and then hope that there might be 10 to 15 min. of discussion about our relationship to local landscapes and nature, particularly with regard to the growing up of our children in contact——or out of contact——with nature, and the implications of that relationship.

It would be nice to see some of you at the event, which begins at 7 PM at the Blacksburg public library. I will plan also to bring the photo notecards, since some of you have been asking about where you could find them.

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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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