One Place Understood: A Personal Ecology

A multi-media memoir from the Blue Ridge Mountains

Fred First claims that long before he began writing publicly in 2002, he had secretly been a “hydrovehicular writer,” saving fragments of language and narrating everyday stories to no one but himself—in the shower and when driving alone in the car. That all changed when, in a crisis of opportunity, he discovered the joy of sharing his creative musings during a time of professional transition at age 54. He describes his writing as "hyperlocal creative non-fiction."

That early writing took the form of a web log (blog) that he continues to maintain today called Fragments From Floyd (, where both his photographs and his writing (language often prompted by the images he posts) are viewed all around the world.

Since that beginning, he has broadcast more than 30 essays on WVTF, Roanoke’s NPR station and published hundreds of wide-ranging pieces in his regular bimonthly columns in the Floyd Press and Star Sentinel (Roanoke)--2004 to 2011. He has had images published in Smith Mountain Laker, Roanoker and Blue Ridge Country Magazines.

Through all this, First says he doesn’t feel he’s moved all that far from his first love, a passion to understand and care for the living world—a quality that made for a good fit when he taught biology at Wytheville (VA) Community College from 1975 to 1987. And out of that persistent fascination with nature has come a conviction that we stand at risk of becoming estranged from the living planet from which we take our very lives. That process of detachment may start very early.

Our children don’t play outdoors. They don’t seem to have the curiosity or the creative imaginations that earlier generations had for entertaining themselves outdoors until parents hollered them in at dark. And neither they nor their parents can call the creatures they live among by name.

With these and other related concerns in mind, First finds that much of what he writes about are the important, cohesive relationships that ideally bond us closely to nature, to each other in community, and to the places of our lives.

This kind of subjective consideration of personal relationships, has for this author, photographer and teacher inspired the emergence, in both his writing and his photography, of something he describes as a “personal ecology.” Central to this understanding of our individual roles of relationship to our manmade and natural habitats is “sense of place.”

A strong sense of place bonds us to those neighborhoods, mountains and villages where we live and travel each day, and gives us a shared identity of belonging there. That spirit of place forms largely through the senses, and most especially from vision. First argues that this bond can be made richer if we know even our non-human neighbors of forest and field by name, and that this appreciation enlarges the slower we go, if we are made ready to discover beauty and experience meaning at every turn.

First will offer "One Place Understood: A Personal Ecology" -- a multimedia event that combines the speaker's digital landscape and nature photography with his writing in, from and for nature. Check the Pound Ridge schedule for time and date, and bring a friend!