An Appreciation

If I’m remembering right, I found Tom Montag in a browser search for “sense of place”. Early in my wanderings in the summer of 2002, I’d come across that term, new to me then, and the hair on my arms stood up. Yes! There is something in this term that represents where I must dig next to find what is important in my life. And there was Tom’s site in the search results, a web page that pointed to his publications and speaking engagements, and detailed his long-term mission to accumulate enough disparate interviews and stories so that one day, he’d hold some sense of the place that is his “middle west”.

Image copyright Fred First I emailed him, a stranger, just to tell him of my appreciation for his undertaking, and that I was newly on a similar quest, though less well equipped by background, and with a focus of a much more circumscribed place than his middle-west. I, on the other hand, had something Tom didn’t have.

It was called a weblog, and it seemed to me that Tom’s work would display nicely in such an easily updated and interactive medium. It wasn’t long before he had set up the Middlewesterner. And not long after that that he was one of about two dozen collaborators on the Ecotone site–“where writers write about place.”

So Tom followed my pilgrimage, from rise to fall, clarity to confusion, pretty much from the start. At the end of my first year of writing–in the summer of 2003–a dear mentor had planted the seed that there was a book in the daily journaling. Tom concurred. And we began discussing the idea. Tom, no stranger to publishing and presses and such, even offered to help with the printing. We reached the point of exchanging some early manuscripts. And then, in the late summer of 2004, both Tom and I were offered teaching opportunities, and our lives turned in utterly different directions than the one that included my book. Part time teaching is full time work, it turned out.

Now, more than two years later, Slow Road Home sits on Tom’s desk. And of all the people who will read the little book, he knows far more of its history than most. And he has ears to hear both the voice and the hope of the book’s message. A couple of weeks ago, he wrote of his intention to post an “appreciation” and, at the time, I was not sure how that was different from a review. Given a choice, I’ll take an appreciation any day.

If you are a visitor with little background on this site, do read Tom’s bigger-picture description that brings Slow Road Home and Fragments from Floyd to the same table. Many thanks, Tom.

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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 was so happy to see Tom’s “appreciation” of your book. And boy, do I agree that “Part time teaching is full time work.” Amen, brother!

  2. I’ve been reading Tom’s blog for over two years. And I’ve been reading yours on and off for some time and now regularly for a few months, so when I read Tom’s “appreciation” I was familar with Floyd. Now this post of yours gives me an even greater appreciation of your very special literary friendship.

  3. Congratulations, Fred, on Tom’s “Appreciation” post and the Libraries of Virginia Award. You’re on a roll, man. Really enjoy Tom’s posts and thanks for directing us there.

  4. Hey Papa, did you know Jen’s arts thesis at Regent was a photo exhibit entitled “Sense of Place”? Much to talk about sometime, I’d gather. She gave a couple of talks just this last week on the topic, in fact. Now off to read Tom’s “appreciation…”