As my kayak slipped quietly into the Chickahominy River in Virginia one early spring morning, my mind was on a winter day in 1607.
In December of that year, Capt. John Smith — a leader from the English colony at Jamestown — launched a canoe into this river from an Indian settlement near present-day Providence Forge. Smith traveled with a handful of men, including two Indian guides, hoping to find the source of the river and possibly a new route to the East Indies.
There’s every chance he passed this way, I thought, as I nudged my kayak into the river.
I’ve been writing about the Chesapeake Bay for more than a decade. I appreciate its beauty — and its fragility — and I try to stay attuned to its different moods and colors. Yet, after so many years, I sometimes feel that I’ve seen almost everything there is to see, at least once.
When Audrey returned to the shores of Kent Island last year with her new mate, Calico Tom, they once again enjoyed a devoted following as the subjects of an online reality show.
Wye Island in Queen Anne’s County, MD, is one of my favorite places in the world. In the mid-1970s, this beautiful place was nearly lost to the public. Plans to turn the island into a housing development failed to come to fruition because the state purchased the land with Program Open Space funds and turned the island into a Natural Resources Management Area.
Historic St. Mary’s City, an archeological and heritage center at the site of Maryland’s first capital, features an extensive collection of American Indian artifacts, true-to-the-time replicas and re-enactors in period costume.
But the original city nearly became lost, a footnote along a state highway with perhaps nothing more than a plaque marking the site where colonists established the first Maryland settlement that prized religious freedom and tolerance.
“This is not an oar. It’s a paddle, and you are going to be the power for our rafts,” Dave Fary of Richmond Outfitters told a small group of rafters, dressed to get wet on a September morning. They stood under a railroad trestle along the James River in Richmond. At 10 a.m., it was already 85 degrees. The day would be a hot one.
The dark, tannic water of Dragon Run slides downstream in an ever-tighter channel, taking us deeper into the tupelo and bald cypress swamp on a cloudy April morning. The dark water adds to my foreboding.
After all, this is a swamp where for centuries people have gotten lost — some purposefully, others unintentionally — never to be heard from again.
The houses at the Landis Valley Village in Lancaster, PA, span building styles of nearly 200 years. They are crafted from logs, brick, lumber and stone. Some are modest and others handsomely made with decorative trim or hinges.
But there’s a practical presence, too, with boot scrapers by the doors and garden plots out back. And in these details, a theme of Pennsylvania German heritage is revealed: Growing things was a way of life.
Most years, Moochie Gilmer scoops up little more than razor clams from the sandy Chesapeake Bay bottom near Kent Island. The 62-year-old waterman has been selling his catch from there as bait to crabbers since the late 1980s.
But in the last three years, the hydraulic dredge aboard his boat, “In Lieu Of,” has brought up a growing number of soft shell clams, rarer finds these days that garner double the price of razors. He sells them mostly to buyers in the Northeast, who use them in chowder, fry them as whole-belly clams or steam them. Lately, though, he’s been holding back a growing number for local eaters.
St. Clement’s Island, a 62-acre state park in the Potomac River off the shore of St. Mary's County, MD, is accessible only by boat. If you take the water taxi from the mainland, you will have a faster and more pleasant trip than the English settlers who arrived there on March 25, 1634.