There is a spot along the beach where one of my favorite trees, bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), grow in a watery grove. This spot is very special to me, not for any particular event or reason, it just speaks to me. Perhaps it could be the spirits of my ancestors, who sailed by this point on their way to Jamestown, waving at me from the past.
April 19, 2014
Feeling a need for sights more rural, I traveled westward along back roads last weekend to Chippokes Plantation State Park. The park is a great place to experience one my favorite times of the year in the Virginia countryside, when all of the deciduous trees start pushing out new spring growth, but not yet enough to keep light from reaching the forest floor. Though not as in your face as fall, I have come to appreciate the spring colors of various trees in their mad dash to reproduce and photosynthesize. Of course all the shades of green were unfurling, but looking carefully, other colors were revealed in the canopy. Many of the oaks are dripping with amber catkins, and though the red maples are late this year, they are colorful nonetheless. Sticking out from its taller neighbors above, our native eastern redbuds (Cercis canadensis) were in peak bloom last weekend and were the showiest trees in the park.
Of course redbuds were not the only plant showing blossoms last weekend. There were flowers blooming in the gardens around the old mansion, along the field edges, and in the forests. Much of Chippokes is still a working farm, and the land has been used that way continuously since 1619. With nearly 400 years of soil disturbance, it is a good place to see native and non-native plants interacting. Some of the newcomers have been content to spend the decades sitting prettily in the garden, others have preferred to be a bit more mobile, and others still, will not rest until they have the whole place to themselves.
In addition to plants, Chippokes has long been a home for a few non-native animal species as well.
If they were here about 5 million years ago, the cows would have enjoyed a beachfront view from their barns, as this area was on the edge of a warm shallow sea. About half a mile away and 100' closer to sea level, the beach at Chippokes is covered in fossils from that long ago era. While I found lots of fossilized scallop and barnacle shells, the prized shark's teeth alluded me. I did find the remains of an Atlantic sturgeon, a fish who has called these waters home since the dawn of time and who has only recently returned after a human-induced absence. It's skull was comparable in size to what one of those cow's might have. I just hope what I saw had a chance to make lots of baby sturgeons before it expired.