End of Days: The Turning

Last Color of Autumn
Last Color of Autumn

Most engaged and alive perhaps when I’m deep into writing or photography, I’m doing neither just now. Why?

How to account for those waves of inspiration and vision that come unbidden. Or don’t? Small wonder the ancients believed in visitations by Good Fairies or The Muses.

Perhaps true artists are in some degree of control over those creative energies and can chain in place the invisible agents who help convey creative impulse to paper, canvas, clay or stone; to melody, invention or movement.

I am not one of those people who keeps such servants at hand. And it feels, to use the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year, a bit like an “unfriending” –temporary, benign and without malice, but empty just the same.

I heard several physicians who are also writers speak about the greatest motive force of the arts: the awareness of death–something with which their profession is more closely familiar than most. And I think there’s something to that: with the imminent but uncertain end to our brief mortality, to know that our hands, eyes and minds have only this hour to create, to make sense of what little light we’ve been given, to leave something behind for others to see and say: this was life to him or her. This is what mattered. Kilroy was here.

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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. Very, very, eloquent piece, Fred. The muse was on your shoulder while you wrote it, for sure. Since I only have your science side, not the artist side, I don’t know what it feels like to create art with mortality as the incentive. I say, whatever works! Just create. You know it’s worthwhile just like you know (and I know) teaching is.

  2. I don’t know about “true artists [being] in control over those creative energies …” I think it might be more accurate to say that many artists are slaves to their creativity – they have to create every day. I don’t think the muse can be controlled, to be honest.