Fantasy, Reality and other Fictions

Imagination running wild in a make-believe reality. We did it often as children, at least in my generation, and it was mostly language that primed our wells of creative exploration of all that was not but might be.

Today, it’s much easier to be passive while absorbing another’s graphically-enhanced fictional worlds of nature from indoors. There’s nothing wrong with that if it widens our own reach into daydreams of our own that send us into the real world with better vision. I was reflecting on Avatar over the weekend, and remembered this personal fantasy, recorded in Slow Road Home.


Lucid Daydreams

I sit on the front porch, still, on a calm and tepid summer day. I let my mind to wander free from limits, from reason and the burden of gravity. It is time to cast off.

Eyes lose focus, the body rises weightless. I hold power over time. Nature is at my whim and I call on the century-old maple tree at the edge of the yard to repeat before my eyes in five minutes and in reverse history a hundred years of growth. I bid it stop at the moment it entered the ground as a winged seed. Then I ask it to grow from seed to shade tree again. This I repeat over and over until I become saturated with the details of how a tree twists and lurches and spreads as it grows old, and the converse as it grows young again. And later I may cast this spell on different kinds of trees up the valley, noting differences in the choreography.

Farther down the valley where I wonder without leaving my chair, fireflies emit pulses of light and also give out concurrent throbs of percussive sound, a barely perceptible drum beat. Their language reverberates between deep purple hillsides at midnight. Is there a rhythm here–a pattern of light and sound, a message that my senses cannot quite make out?

I am still, still moving; still but wandering this new-alien terrain. The soil in our pasture and woods becomes transparent, but it gives shelter and substrate for a legion of insects and burrowing creatures visible, suspended underfoot. Each kind of being has its own unique bioluminescence and I walk spellbound on the surface of invisible ground, above endless thousands of subterranean animals I have never known that swim or float, as if under depth of water.

I walk Nameless Creek at the very edge of this world. I bend and lift one rock, then another–of rounded gray granite or pink quartz; of angular shale or sheets of slate–and each stone I see in its context of time, can go back to its life at its origin to the Very Beginning. I can follow the journey back to its source ten thousand miles and eons from here, and watch as sharp Paleozoic mountains melt into round-shouldered Blue Ridges of home.


If you are considering seeing Avatar, or if you’ve seen it and are trying to process the experience, do read “Luminous 3-D Jungle Is a Biologist’s Dream” that I found at the NYTimes web site. It’s edifying to know I’m not alone in my altered state in nature.

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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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