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Books & Essays

  • Book Cover

    What We Hold in Our Hands: A Slow Road Reader

    Date Published:
    May 2009

  • Book Cover

    Slow Road Home: a Blue Ridge Book of Days a "memoir of place"

    Date Published:
    Goose Creek Press 2006

    Some of us long for belonging to the land, for roots in particular and special places where, for reasons usually beyond our knowing, we resonate with the landscape. For those who have lived other places only to discover home in the Blue Ridge Mountains, there is a mystery and allure that draws them there. This pull First describes as a "magnetic resonance in our bones that pulls us toward an altitude, latitude and slant of sun that simply feels right for us like no place else." For such souls "the mountains hold a nutrient that we can not live without." At fifty four, the author left his profession in healthcare to explore where it was that he lived; for a time, this became what he did for a living. The daily discipline of intentional immersion in small wonders close at hand ultimately grew to become the story of the book, a celebration of one special mountain place that seems to have been waiting all his life for the author to find, to know and to share. Slow Road Home ~ a Blue Ridge Book of Days was published by Goose Creek Press in April, 2006. The author's background as naturalist, teacher and photographer inform this collection of more than a hundred lyrical essays and stories, many originally shared with weblog readers in the author's weblog, Fragments from Floyd. Slow Road Home is a book to read slowly as it unfolds through the seasons. Readers have commented that having read through once, they intend to read it again. Another reader states that Slow Road stays by her bedside where "it just makes me thankful and at peace, and I go to bed looking forward to what the next morning will bring." If you live in or long for the southern mountains, the pages of this book will remind you of the unique sights, sounds and smells of Virginia's Appalachian hills and home. Fred First is a physical therapist who practices part time at a clinic near Radford, Virginia and teaches as adjunct faculty for the biology department at Radford University. He lives on the headwaters of the Roanoke River in a remote part of Floyd County, Virginia, with his wife Ann and yellow lab, Tsuga.

    Book Review #1:
    ?Where does this road go? asks the title of the introduction to Slow Road Home. It is also, of course, the legendary question often asked of country people by lost travelers from urban centers. The favorite reply by bemused farmers over the years is probably this: ?Well no matter where you?re headed you can?t get there from here.? Fred First, posing this question in this utterly remarkable book of travel, offers a different response. ?It goes nowhere and everywhere.? Traveling of some sort seems essential to cultivating a sense of place. Fred First has traveled a lot along the banks of Nameless and Goose Creeks on his farm in Floyd County, Virginia, taking note of the endless miracles in the natural world. From the beginning, the move by Fred and wife Ann from Birmingham, Alabama to the Ridges of Appalachia is a journey of pilgrims seeking knowledge and meaning rather than a mission of true believers of one kind or another who already have all the answers. With open minds and hearts, before the immensity of nature and a willingness to change, what they learn and experience in life close to and directly off of the earth constitutes nothing less than a book of wonders. It is a picture of the natural world that is not only stranger than we think but stranger than we can imagine. The purpose of all art is to make us see, but Fred does more than that: he also makes us listen and hear, scent and smell, touch and feel, and taste while eating. Here is more proof, if any were ever needed, that all good writing begins with the senses before exciting feelings of awe, mystery and reverence of powers unspeakable all around us. Much in little: this is modus operandi of Fred First. Like Emily Dickinson, he notices ?smallest things,? things overlooked before, finds them italicized as it were, and makes them part of his memory, his diary, and now this book, vibrant with the rich sense of living things on the pages within it. Everything he sees is connected, barely visible and maybe even invisible, but clearly a part of the web of being running trough space and time. Tens of millions of years ago, according to Nigel Calder in Restless Earth, dinosaurs walked from Poland to Alabama by way of Ireland and New York. In Slow Road Home: a blue ridge book of days, Fred First reverses part of that journey, heading north from Birmingham and stopping in Floyd County, discovering the composition of organic life, the rhythms of seasons, and a kinship with everything that is, has been, or will be. I have never read a book quite like it. In River of Earth by James Still the mountain preacher opens the Bible and places his finger at random upon the pages, locating a passage which says that the hills of ancient days go hopping and a skipping like sheep. If one were to place a finger in Slow Road Home, it would more than likely land on a memorable metaphor linking in mystery and awe the visible world to the great spirit that animates it. by Robert "Jack" Higgs, Professor Emeritus, East Tennessee State University, editor of Appalachia Inside Out, Volumes I and II

    Book Review #2:
    Today for lunch I joined a friend I've never met. We walked along a creek with no name under hemlocks in a valley I've never seen. We passed a barn I've only envisioned in painted light upon my screen. The sun I couldn't see glistened on grasses in the field to dry the dew I did not feel. I wasn't there, and yet I was, visiting with Fred on Goose Creek in the mountains of Floyd County. I'll go there again tomorrow for lunch as I revisit a "Slow Road Home". Won't you come along? We'll visit Ann's Falls, we'll sit a spell under the white pines, we'll wave at the neighbors from the front porch. We'll while away the time as we discuss the important issues of the day, the bumblebees at play, and the hawks upon the wing. We can discuss anything at all as we visit there on the creek with no name along that "Slow Road Home". A visit to Fred thru a "Slow Road Home" always slows the day, sets the pace to another time, and takes you to another place. The place you've longed for since childhood, a place that brings back the memories of grandparents and more. A time when the constant companion was a single word...Why? Walk a while and listen to another's whys, you may discover the child you left a long time ago, far, far away. Where else can you feel free to laze in a summer rain, loll in an open field at night to watch the fireflies rise and stars fall, or chase spiders as they glide by? There is a maple on the cover that shelters a house that seems to have been there forever. The house is nestled up to the ridge like you shelter in the covers of a bed. How do I know this? I have seen this house thru the eyes of someone who loves it, and the tree, and the ridge and all it encompasses. You can see it too. Come walk the pages of Fred First's "Slow Road Home"...You never know, we may meet along the road. by Gary Boyd

    Book Review #3:
    "Again and again as I read, I went back to my bookshelf to compare this work with that of Annie Dillard. Fred expresses a similar wisdom tinged with amazed gratitude at finding himself alone and content to record the measure of his days along the winding valleys and hilltops of the Blue Ridge in Floyd County, Virginia. My only worry is that others will attempt to literally follow him there with less awareness of the fragility of this remote ecosystem, and so I recommend reading the book and not necessarily visiting (!) in order to experience the beauty of that place, whose remoteness and inaccessibility is intrinsic to its survival. Fred First takes us on a path of his own discovery that parallels the similar paths of others who have explored voluntary simplicity and introspection, leading us toward a closer connection with everyday experiences, finding the joy in shared experiences with a cherished companion, and the quiet peace that comes from solitude in natural surroundings. Through images and words Fred brings us with him, and we can truly partake of that same wonder, gratitude, and compassion, and recognize the value in simple reflection on nature's bounty, which truly is all around us. Thank you Fred, for sharing with us your heartfelt account of your personal geography. May you continue to bring us the same at Fragments from Floyd." by Susannah Eanes