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FRED FIRST: Passages – Remembering How I Got to NOW

In the very wee hours, I gently opened the sliding doors onto the porch, coffee in hand, to watch the fireflies rise from the mist, a thin veil of ground fog barely visible in the darkness.

Our neighborhood Whip-poor-will was at his post, singing his heart out with that persistent, consistent, short but heart-felt mantra.

And it occurred to me that I had lived in this moment before, on exactly this date, in 2002.

On June 5 that year, writing became a way of knowing where I was; perhaps of where I was going; certainly it was to become a trail of crumbs to record where and who I have been over an increasingly long life.

I was 54 on that June morning. Today I am 75. And the essence of June-ness still feels just the same on my skin and in my story. And I still feel blessed. And I am still trying to find the words.

And so I invite you back to that porch epiphany from 2002, reprised on the blog some years later, and now lifted up out of the ground fog, one more time . . .


It is late, and I am last to bed, past the usual time. I step out onto the front porch into the cool, sweet air of early June, and sit on the top step quietly as if not to disturb the wildlife, whose nocturnal day I am entering.

The pasture grasses just beyond the maples are in full flower and their pollen smells like midnight bread baking, while Goose Creek sends up wafts of spearmint, wet mud and turbulence.

My eyes soon learn to see in darkness and I am aware of soundless flashes of summer lightning, and stars overhead. My night vision comes and goes with each flash and pause and flash.

Rising from the dark field on the fragrance of grasses are tens of thousands of lightning bugs. Put them in a jar, shake and see them illumined with the cold translucence of memory. They pulse and rise above the field in counterpoint to the tempo of the clouds, signaling ancient syllables that we could understand, if we were more often still, less hurried, and more at home in our own pastures.

Gravity pulls me down and I lie on my back, on cool stone horizontal, before a mock-infinity of space, wondering what is my place in this world of men and of words? Do I deserve to be so blessed among Earth’s teeming humanity? What must I do in the warmth of this gentle epiphany that is revealed to me tonight and how should I then live?

Maybe I will try to find the words in the morning, after the house is quiet again, and the fireflies have gone to bed, and the world smells of heat and ozone and toast.

Fred First 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. 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. 

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