FINDING FLOYD: Chapter One/Part One ~ Finding One’s Place

…from a possible book with the possible title:One Place Understood: Field Notes from a Small Planet

You may not always know where in the world you are, but you’ll know when that place is not home, just as you’ll know it when you finally find home for the first time. Or the second.

The first time we moved to Virginia in the mid seventies, we were shockingly young, looking back, but we had a vision and we were driven. Some place we would call home had beckoned us — north of Birmingham. It would be a place not flat, not hot for long, not busy, with dark night skies, open spaces and the freedom to fail or to thrive much closer to the land than we had ever been. That was about as finely-tuned a future as we could conjure then. All I was sure of in the mid 70s was that it was time to get ourselves back to The Garden.

How all of that fell in place, looking back today through the hindsight end of the lens, seems so ordained, when, at the time, there were no knowns, no clear paths forward — only the hope of home and belonging and roots someday; somewhere.

We baled on city life with the message sent by the Arab Oil Embargo of ’73, a symptom, visible to even the Earth-indifferent, of humanity’s impossible-to-sustain addiction to fossil fuels, and the political machinations and consequential suffering that comes from it. That wake-up call propelled us to aim our future toward a quiet rural eddy where we could raise our child (only one infant at the time) outside of cities.

We were encouraged when the first issues of Mother Earth News distilled the essence of a simplified rural life into an alternative magazine. Its pages empowered us to take risks and to improvise. But there was little that could be done towards “wiser living” from a second-floor apartment in Birmingham. We’d need to be closer to the ground in a lot of ways to live the Mother Earth kind of life.

At the same little book store in Homewood where we’d once purchased our first copy (and I think only the second edition) of Mother Earth News, we discovered “Finding and Buying Your Place in the Country.” The detailed instructions in that well-worn book (which is still on our book shelves upstairs) demystified all the potential hurdles to living the rural life and helped put legs under our naive dreams — a hope that stayed active even after we finally moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and bought our first home on a relatively-busy street in the city limits of Wytheville. There were still horse-mounting carved-limestone blocks in front of many of the old houses in this sleepy mountain town. Life was slow here, and our rhythms quickly adjusted to the pace. But even here in this tiny valley town, there was too much hurry, too much urban order, too little landscape.

We knew we were much closer to True North there, but had not arrived at our destination. The coaching and encouragement of this rural land guide we had found did much to boost our faith and confidence that, if we persevered with sufficient determination and passion and hope, we’d know what to do when we got to where it was that we knew we must be going.

It came as no real surprise beyond Alabama that we ended up in both the country and the mountains. Even in our first years of married life, we seemed to hold the common notion that where we would live was less about seeking the next-higher rung on the ladder of success than it was about succeeding in finding a compatible landscape and habitat. Jobs and career-tracks would come second. It was a choice with both costs and rewards.

I’d known since childhood vacations to Gatlinburg that mountains moved me. The cold, clear steams of the Smokies sparkled in my imagination and memory like liquid diamond after our first visit there when I was ten. One doesn’t forget the feeling of being where one belongs. That bond was sealed by backpacking trips ten years as a graduate student, from Auburn — deep in the steamy pine forests of south-central Alabama — to the high balds of the Smokies.

Since my first memories of the outdoors, I had known and been my best self when in the natural world. I liked the way mountains and nature made me feel in their presence; I liked who I was when I was where I wanted to be. And I wanted to live in that rare and special “vacation” kind of world and with the sense of lofty well-being that mountains gave me. And once we found it, I wanted to thrive within that “place of power” — as Carlos Castaneda had called such special places of personal alignment. And I was determined to live in that place year-round, year upon year, and not just two work-weeks vacating from work, like most of the unhappy mis-placed grown-ups I knew who had settled for no more than that.

Ann’s homing instinct was more precise than my own. She dreamed of our possible future for the first time the year we were married. With prescient insight, face lifted, eyes fixed somewhere beyond the ceiling, she saw the home we’d find one day: “It’s a two story white house with double porches, on a creek.” I think she also saw a white picket fence out front, and the name: HeresHome. The fence, she never got. Everything else I can reach out and touch.

That we ended up exactly here in the northeast tip of Floyd County both is and is not remarkable. Looking back, its inevitability seems written our live long before we met. The fragments join to form the whole of which they were always a part. The cause of every effect is apparent, each stepping stone appearing at the moment of need, or soon enough, to be the grounding firmament of another and another leap of faith, bringing us inexorably here, just when the time was right for this chapter in our lives to be written.