FRED FIRST: There Are Places I Remember

The Moods and Memories of Mountains

On reaching the summit of the long incline up from Carolina on I-77 this week, I made the decision to take the Parkway instead of 221 for the last hour of the trip. This was a gamble, since a band of dense fog had already pushed up against the escarpment, but not yet overflowing to and beyond the peaks as it would soon.

I know the moods of fog here on the edge of the Blue Ridge, and so I gambled that, for the last hour of my drive, the blanket of cloud would stay mostly below the way home that I had chosen.

This is a road not traveled by cautious tourists on such a day. But I felt I had to do it. This might be the last time I drive this stretch of familiar road to home.

The Green Tsunami: the ridge of Rocky Knob poised over Rock Castle Gorge. March 27, 2024

I was right about the timing, mostly. In places like Groundhog Mountain, where the view on a clear day would show the horizon of the NC piedmont two thousand feet below and thirty miles away, a rucked-up blanket of cloud lifted to fill the bowl not quite to the brim.

The warm Carolina air would be pushed up and over the crest in a couple of hours, as it blew against the escarpment and cooled into cloud.

But I’d be close to home by then, when it would lift up out of the lowlands and pour through notches and gaps, and obscure the Parkway. Driving in those conditions is not wise for anyone who can avoid it!

Nearing home, Mabry Mill was deserted, but the road was clear. Belcher Mountain curve to the top–still clear at the winery.

But a mile east and the old FloydFest site was not visible. Rocky Knob was socked in heavy with tattered fog, passing over in visible wisps, south to north. I pulled off at the overlook.


The view from the overlook above Rock Castle Gorge on a clear day is a vista that would normally give a visitor a belly rush, the grassy slope beyond the pavement almost vertical and going on forever. I had the place to myself.

I had stopped there alone in the fog with the purpose of remembering the smell of Appalachian air. I must not forget.

But not just to breathe with the lungs. More, to inhale with all senses at once, to encode a memory that is touch, taste, sight, sound and smell all together. Then to store it as permanently as possible in the archives of memory-with-emotion. A picture-bundle-of-memories will be helpful in a time like those ahead. So I took a few shots.

The moodiness, isolation, and mystery of fog in the mountains is a piece of the ordinary life here that I want to remember.

Split Rail Fences along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Floyd County Virginia. March 27, 2024


I have given myself the task of remembering where I have been from for so long. And so I’ll gather unremarkable but important snapshots for the scrapbook in the last months (as many as 10 months possibly) before we punch our ticket on the train to the Show Me State.

I want pictures of places so ordinary that they don’t show up at all in my 35 thousand images, mostly taken in Floyd County since 1997. I don’t want to forget the ordinary.

I want to remember the visual particulars of everyday places where our stories have come to life. Get the image. Then the image tells the story; finds its roots in memory; and memory grounds it in a specific place and time. Worth its thousand-word reputation, I’m thinking.

And a warning: I will be obnoxious at any planned or accidental gatherings of friends in twos or tens, so that they all get into the group shot, which I will be sure immediately to caption with the names, as if I might forget. But I might forget. And might is a debatable fact.

I will share some of those ordinary day-to-day snapshots and their stories here from time to time. After all, and all along, these words and pixels are part of my personal timeline and commonplace book that I am happy to share with a few fellow pilgrims, for as long as I am able.


This Long Goodbye, in a life whose future edge is shrouded in the mist, feels like being told I have months to live. We know an end draws near. And knowing so far in advance seems more like blessing than curse, though a little of both.

I apologize for so many words, here, but I am new at this. I have never stood at this edge of time and looked beyond the brink. So much fog. So many questions.

How do I best use the focus that remains after learning the end (of life in the mountains) draws near?

How do I wisely use the minutes and the keystrokes; harness the diminished energy at hand while the hands still work? I am learning how this might be done. Am I up to the task?

Maybe the hope should be to look back and be thankful I did not simply coast to the terminus with my hands folded in my lap.

I think that’s it: to not be passive in this move into the life beyond the known; to not be so caught up in packing and unpacking boxes that we lose sight of the vanishing NOW in the ordinary moments that remain.

– Fred First is an author, naturalist, photographer watching Nature under siege since the first Earth Day. Cautiously hopeful. Writing to think it through. Thanks for joining me. Subscribe to My Substack HERE

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