Yet Another Barn Picture

image copyright Fred First
I look at the exotic images from far away places taken on great adventures by photographers who post their works now so easily on the web for all to see. There are breathtaking panoramas in mind-numbingly beautiful light; local people in bright dress engaged in unguessable celebration or worship; and amazing animals in lush rainforest or stark desert places I cannot imagine.

Then I look at my monthly photo-archives of very ordinary local insects, pasture flowers, fall leaves, and always: the barn. It is certainly the most photographed structure in all of Floyd County, and almost all of those images are mine. But that’s okay, and by intention.

Almost five years ago I heard the story of a New York City photographer who became disabled to the extent that he was not able to leave his room. His room, fortunately, was on the fourth floor of an apartment building that bordered Central Park. But his passion for capturing the everyday scenes of his life didn’t end. He continued his career for several years, growing where he was planted, taking thousands of images from his window–of people passing by on the sidewalks below, of snowfalls on treetops in the park, of light reflected from the windows of the building across the way, even of pigeons on his windowsill. That story of immersion in the close-at-hand resonated with me that winter.

And six months later an empty page of time opened in my life when I left my profession not knowing what would come next; and I remembered this story. Even if I don’t leave the house every day and see no other people but the mailman on his rounds, I told myself, there is a world of color and form here in this valley–easily enough to keep my camera and eye, mind and heart filled with good images to contemplate and to share.

And prominent among those images, the barn. It is an illusory symbol of permanence here. The house is much changed since we first saw it in 1999, with a new front porch, new windows, foundation, a paint job, and now the Annex. The house has been “improved” and it shows to anyone who knew the house in its earlier incarnation.

But the barn would have looked just the way it does now at the time my grandmother was born. And this old structure hewn from logs cut on these hillsides puts the human lives lived here into the beauty of the natural landscape in a way that I find comforting, and visually satisfying–to draw the eye to its unnatural straight lines in contrast to the pleasant curve and chaos of 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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  1. Old barns are a tangible connection to our past. Sadly they are disappearing, but thanks to photography and folks like you who see the beauty in the old structures, we can enjoy them always.

  2. Fred, it was a photo of the barn on one of the first pages of yours I ever viewed that caught my interest. Then your story stirred my imagination. The journey you are on has become “our” journey to a lesser extent. Never knowing what may catch your interest on a given morning keeps me returning each day for the next installament…keep up the curiosity and the joy of telling your story.

    By the way, it looks mighty frosty out there…

  3. Barns are my favourite structures, and yours is magnificent – I never tire of looking at images of your barn in any season, and I am just a tad envious (in a nice way of course). Oh yes, and it is good to be able to comment again – may your move go smoothly!

  4. The confortable thing to me is that it is still standing. It doesn’t have the age of the buildings I saw in Italy, of course, but it is a testament to the lasting nature of our work.

  5. First time visitor. I love your images and your sense of place.

    That sense of place is all too rare in our country anymore and so it’s particularly precious. I’ll be back.


  6. re: ny photographer- fascinating! the epitomy of “blooming where you are planted”. and i agree about the barn… and old barns and farmhouses in general. there is something timeless about them… especially set against the backdrop of mountains. and you capture that so well in both your photography and words.



  8. Fred, love the photo and the new site.

    Everything looks fine in Firefox but my eyes did have a bit of trouble reading the posts. They were sort of clear, but nowhere near as easy to read against the background as your list of recent posts which was much clearer.

    Love the fact that comments pop up with my ID there, even if it is my knitting that you’ll find there! LOL. Other stuff, a bit out of date at the moment is at

  9. Because I’m not as mobile as I would like at the moment I have started taking photographs of a tree at the bottom of my new garden with the aim of showing it through the seasons and different weather conditions.

    A couple of the other houses we investigated had barns, but alas it wasn’t to be…