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Where I Am Married

January 5, 2006

When we are young, we live where our parents live. For some of us, the place of our birth is a perfect fit, and we never leave it. For others like me, something is missing there, and we look for home in places we have never been but long to find.

After college, my wife and I stayed in my birth state of Alabama just long enough to save a little money, have a baby, and decide where it was that we belonged in this world. Native soil for both of us was in the deep South, but we felt certain even then that our true roots were north of Alabama, and that they would take their source from mountains we had not yet seen. When we found southwest Virginia in the mid-seventies, we were confident that we had come home, or at least that we had found the larger neighborhood of mountains and valleys where, some day, we would put down roots and stay. We’ve lived in or longed to return to Virginia ever since. And now, finally, we’re here in Floyd County for good. But why here?

Something has drawn us here all these years, brought us back, caused these hills to be a nutrient we could not live comfortably without. Maybe the longing we felt could be called a persistent, inborn “sense of place”. Others have used the term, defined it for themselves, found it—in the far north, the Midwest, the desert or shore. But what is it? Is it an essence in the air like the salmon sense as they migrate relentlessly back to the creeks where they were born? Is it a magnetic compatibility with geography, an imperceptible, persistent resonance in our bones that tells us we are home—or not? For me, this siren call to place has come from the southern Appalachians. All of the places I’ve chosen to live my adult life have been in or within sight of the mountains. It is a kind of marriage, perhaps.

A man can be fond of women, but he will settle down in a relationship and build a love affair full of meaning with one woman. And so it is, ultimately—if we are fortunate—with finding our place. I am drawn to the Southern Highlands. I have a particularly strong affinity for the Blue Ridges of these ancient Appalachians. But I sleep every night with this singular configuration of creek and forest and high ridge that I now call home. For the first time in my life, I feel a monogamous fidelity to one fixed and particular place that is as deep and permanent a commitment as the vows I have taken to this one woman, my wife.

In the past two years of living intensely at home, I have had the blessing of time alone with this land, and I feel that we have consummated our bonds: on slow winter walks along Nameless Creek; in quiet summer mornings standing on the front porch with my coffee; during autumn afternoons alone on the ridge sitting with my back against the smooth trunk of a tulip poplar watching pasture grasses down below swirl in the wind like coursing, surging wildebeests on the Serengeti.

It has not always been an easy companionship with this place. I confess that I have resented being here at times—the sameness, the separation, the hardships of living faithfully committed to this bucolic retreat week after week. But the relationship still grows. The more I come to know the shape and moods of this valley through the seasons, the more I know myself as I walk its paths and photograph its beauties and imbibe its wonders every day. And the more I know that we can live together— ‘til death do us part.

Written by Fred First, of Fragments from Floyd.

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  1. January 6, 2006 at 10:32 am

    A beautiful love letter to a place, Fred. I wonder what the place would reply, if it could speak in words?
    I’m envious of your relationship with a particular place, the sense of fidelity and permanence, because I’ve never had that. Or only for a while, as a child in one particular small corner of South America, though I had no links to it by birth or culture.
    Thanks for this moving homage to your valley.

  2. January 6, 2006 at 8:58 pm

    I’m glad you mentioned your occasional resentment. If I were headed for this kind of a marriage, I would want an honest assessment from someone living in it.

  3. January 9, 2006 at 9:22 am

    Fred, what is the origin of Nameless Creek?

  4. January 9, 2006 at 11:00 am

    So nicely put, Fred. It is nice to see that you see your effort to ‘find home’ as an ongoing relationship and that that ideal often develops along with our growth.

  5. January 12, 2006 at 5:59 pm

    I love the analogy to marriage here – wonderful.

  6. Fred Garber
    June 2, 2006 at 6:11 pm

    Garbers are people of the land.This Fred Garber’s place is in the Shenandoah Valley

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