A Legacy of Land Nola Albert's gift to the people of Floyd County

Nola Albert was from here, in the best and fullest sense of the term. I could tell that the first time I met her in 2003 at Joe Baum's cider pressing family and neighborhood gathering on Howell Creek near Nola's place. Heck: she might have walked there through the woods.

She was a "been-here" with a curiosity and openness that allowed many of the "come heres" like me to be taken into the reach of her compassion, with the expectation that she just might come to learn someone or some thing she didn't know.

She was not shy, did not mince words or suffer fools and loved Floyd County. It didn't take much time around Nola to know what she thought about a vast range of topics you might not have thought a "local" elder would have much interest in or knowledge about.

But more than what she knew, it was what she cared about that came across in her words--her caring for the land, for her family, and for the future. She was a thinker and a doer, that much was apparent the first time we sipped cider together.

Nola turns the pages of the Albert and Shelor family album full of maps and photographs. Dr. Joe looks in tolerant amusement as Jonathan gets the full benefit of Nola's attention to historical details.

We ran into Nola from time to time over the following years. She showed up in the audience at meetings at the Country Store when the topic was one where the "rooted community" was hoped for but not expected--issues like water conservation or forest management or low-impact agriculture.

So in 2004 when a photographer-friend, Jonathan Kingston, wanted to get to know the "roots of the community" through its native elders, Nola's name came to the top of the list.

Sure, she'd be happy to meet a young man interested in learning more about her homeplace in the county, but she'd be more comfortable, maybe, if we met at Joe's

Wheels before the days of rubber

Jonathan--who Nola thereafter referred to as "that handsome young photographer"--wanted to see some of the places she had told us about at that first "tea party" at Joe's so we arranged to meet her at her place a few days later.

After coffee and a generous chunk of cake still warm from the baking, she regaled us with the complete walking-tour history of her house and adjacent buildings. She told about her childhood, laid out her early career in education, remembered her deceased husband and spoke with pride about the family land where she grew up.

And why didn't we just the three of us get in her car and go see some of this, she insisted, if we had the time, of course, and were the least bit interested in the stories and special places of an old country woman, as she described herself.

I'll share a few of the images that came from that day with Nola--her daddy's lumber mill near Canning Factory Road; and Shelor's Mill on a piece of land that had been the coming-back-to place for widely-scattered family that came together here every summer.

Daddy's Sawmill: one impressive assortment of machinery.

Valves and belts and pipes in the multi-use pole barn

Nola explains to Jonathan how it all worked. Howell Creek is just visible top-center of the image.

Shelor's Furnace on Old Furnace Road. I wish I had saved all the local history she taught us that day.

Flash-forward: I got to spend the most one-on-one time with Nola when I saw her on two occasions as a physical therapy home-visit patient, the first time in 2009. And a routine for our sessions quickly began to take shape:

"Now I know you came here to make me work on those exercises, but you sit down right here and eat some cake and let's solve the world's problems. What do you think about ______? And we would offer our opinions, our hopes, and our frustrations over whatever had been on her mind in the absence of another set of ears to bounce it off of. Our Therapeutic Conversation, I came to call it.

The bits I remember best from that time together was our mutual excitement about how landcare and agriculture issues were rising up into the radar just then.

"What do you know about these conservation easements I'm hearing about?" she asked. She wanted fervently to know, when she was gone, that her farm on Howell Creek would remain in larger tracts, in production and not chopped up into subdivision lots. She wanted to have young people be able to make a living from the soil and the forests and living in harmony with the natural world, she said.

And that year, I had just become involved with this new outfit called SustainFloyd. "Tell me all about that" she said, and we shared our common hope that this county would not go the way so many others had gone to create jobs at any cost. "We've been farmers and it should be possible for today's young people to do the same."

We agreed it was just possible that our community would come to appreciate and protect a kind of rooted relationship to place; that together we would choose to preserve what is precious, what is fragile, what is of so great a value-—our soil and water and beauty of this landscape. That's what we both wanted as a legacy for those that came after us, and we were taking different paths to move in that direction.

Unplanted Garden: Wild Phlox across from Nola's house

The last time I saw Nola was on the final visit of our second encounter as therapist-and-patient. She was getting frustrated with her continuing pain and difficulty getting around due to back and hip issues. She was determined to have surgery since it might allow her to keep her independence for a few more years.

She had the surgery and died soon thereafter. But the choices she made before that day have gone on to make a different future possible for the young farmers of the county. And elementary school kids have eaten the fruits of Nola's gift to all of us.

Buckwheat cover over the lower pasture

SustainFloyd was instrumental in obtaining funding for the local Farm to School program. And since Nola and I first imagined a better future for young Floyd farmers, the high school ag program has blossomed. Those classes are using the field across from Nola's house for their school farm.

In early September of this year, I look wistfully at Nola's carport where she used to wait for me on a nice day. We'd sit outside before continuing the therapeutic conversation at the kitchen table. And I turned left, into the field where already, a number of cars were parked and kids were running everywhere.

Three elementary school classes from Floyd, Check and WIllis came by bus for a morning of potato digging (they'd planted the eyes here in the spring) as well as games and singing vegetable songs with Kari Kovic.

And as I stood there with my camera taking it all in--the fertile field, the children scurrying around like so many ants in the sunshine, and Nola's empty house across the road--I had the most profound sense of satisfaction. This was what she and I had talked about, though we did not know then what form it would take. All of this was just exactly what Mrs. Albert would have wanted to see out her front windows on this warm September morning in 2015.

Thanks, my friend, for what you've left for all of us.

Created By
Frederick First
All photos by Fred First

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