17. Came Here V: Fred & Ann First, Solstice 2013.

In June 21, 2013, the icy peaks of the Southern Alps jut from New Zealand as the sun hangs on to the northern horizon by its fingernails. But at the same time, rays flood the Blue Ridge Mountains in the United States. This phenomenon is best appreciated in a group, for it blends celestial mysticism with a touch of–well, think of cows eating fermented apples. One such ceremony was held on the abundant acreage of Fred and Ann First. Both were born in 1948, he in Alabama and she in Mississippi; Fred has worked as a biology professor and physical therapist, Ann as a board-certified PharmD. Both are charter members of the Floyd Yacht Club.

Visitors can get to their place from The Stoplight by taking Highway 221 north, then turning left at Kings Store–monarchical of name but only historical of inventory–then some miles later by making a dogleg at a business named Clyde S. Angle, vacant as well. Then you go down a hill so long that it would wear the tires off a Boxcar Derby racer. Finally you scrutinize the oncoming curve before darting left down to a narrow bridge. It might carry you onto a gravel road–made of dirt, holes, and curves, maybe puddles or snow-patches, all decorated by downed branches–that probably keeps you from tumbling into Goose Creek as it passes an occasional abandoned house, various tucked-away homesteads, and an antique fire engine. When your hopes flag, and you definition of “close friends” threatens to become geographical, you are halfway to the First farmhouse which, even after being rebuilt, hints of the previous dwellers

1. Acreage of Fred and Ann First on Goose Creek Run. 2. Kings Store Rd. (at corner of Rt. 221, Floyd Hwy. N).

1. Acreage of Fred and Ann First on Goose Creek Run. 2. Kings Store Rd. (Old store at corner of Rt. 221 N).

As various participants arrived–all of them originally from outside Floyd County–daylight gradually and grudgingly lost its brilliance while the sun itself inclined somewhere behind lush, high trees. The invitees negotiated a plank laid across Goose Creek, its slight give presenting an extra challenge to their sense of balance and kneeflexes. Then they passed a chicken coop, this evening devoid of a long black tube that bulged in the shape of an egg. Next they hiked down the bed of “New Road,” so-called (as Fred reports) by those who remember it constructed by hand in the 1920s. Dug flat and built up alongside of a hill, it disappeared before them into the dusky past.

Photo by Fred First.

   Photo by Fred First.

Fred, who once taught botany, led a brief field trip. At one stop he held out the crushed leaf of a sweet birch to the nose of someone who sniffed and exclaimed “Teaberry!” Eventually the hikers reached a mowed clearing furnished with a couple of tables for food and drink. Another clearing stretched in the sky, a narrow white space framed by leafy branches. After a while a pickup truck that had long ago proven its worth arrived with a dog, potluck dishes, and lawn chairs. Strangely enough, by the time a fire burned and the ritual wieners bent sticks, the pale light had stopped darkening. Had time stopped? Mystery solved by the appearance through leaves of the silver moon, which on this latest nightfall seemed to create a premature dawn.

About two dozen folks ate, sipped, talked and laughed to the burble of Nameless Creek. They strung marshmallows on wires to warm chocolate bars on Graham crackers. This year their host, perhaps out of modesty, declined to wear the cylindrical hat made of a birch-bark roll that earlier celebrants had discovered and presented to him as Spirit of the Woods.

fredhat

Now a few musicians took out their instruments and sang old-time favorites. Was it true that one of the banjo-pickers who played “Soldier’s Joy” hailed from Switzerland and had come to Floyd County as a musical tourist? And the fellow who grew up in Canada—was it an illusion, or did he take off his shoes and roll up his pant legs to hop-shuffle-flatfoot around and around and around the fire?

The longest day celebrated, one person after another, now wearing a sweater or jacket, picked up a folding chair and maybe an empty serving dish. These figures joined a procession of silhouettes with jiggling flashlights that resembled a line of pilgrims with candles in hand, an occasional syllable muffled by the dense air and tall grass. The queue traced a different way back to the plank, this one cut through a meadow that glowed faintly under silver. In the misty grass and trees, fireflies blinked out constellations, random and evanescent.