An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

October 29, 2011

Along the Nottoway

Last Saturday I took what will likely be one of my last kayak trips of the season.  My destination was the Nottoway River in Southampton Co., Virginia, close to the North Carolina line.  The Nottoway is a slow moving blackwater river that drains a good part of Southside Virginia.  Blackwater refers to the distinctive dark, tea color of the water which is due to all of the leached tannins from surrounding trees. This part of the Nottoway flows through a bald cypress/tupelo swamp ecosystem, which were once very common along the coastal plain from Delaware south to Florida, west to Texas and up the Mississippi Valley.  Unfortunately only about 1% of the original bald cypress/tupelo ecosystems remain in this country.

Near the landing I saw one power boat, but once past it I had the river to myself. In fact, for most of the time I felt like I had the whole planet to myself, which is a most precious feeling.  I was awed by the trees along (and in) the river.  Most were either bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) or one of two species of Tupelo (Nyssa aquatica and biflora), but there were other trees present including several species of oak and the common red maple (Acer rubrum).  At certain places I could paddle between the trees and I felt like I was at the feet of giants. I was hoping to see some fall color from the water, but I think I was a week or two too early for the best show, though there was a good deal of red coming from Hawthorn (Crataegus) berries.

The river was mostly quiet except where a fallen tree here or there was snagged in the current or where a fish would jump.  However, the woods were loud with birdsong, especially from belted kingfishers, who I would disturb and they would head further up the river bitching the whole time, only to have me catch up with them to start the whole process over again.  Also keeping up a ruckus were the crows and hawks. Deeper upriver the water narrowed and I felt as if I was travelling on some small tributary of the Amazon, but reminded myself that this was not exotic and that there are still a few places like this much closer to home.

There will likely be a second part to this post next year.  After I got back and was telling a friend about my trip, he told me how close I was to Cypress Bridge Natural Area and how to get there.  Cypress bridge is home yo one of the only remaining tracts of virgin forest in the state, and its location has been deliberately kept vague.  Within its borders are trees purported to be over a 1000 years old, including several champion trees, and it is also the final resting place of fabled Big Mama.  The treehugger in me has an itch, and I will be back to scratch.


  1. Silence, grandeur, and history.
    I will assume the mosquitoes are mostly gone at this time of year. Your photos resemble a make believe land in an old computer game, Myst.

  2. Great pictures. Great place. Keep it secret.

  3. Thank you for taking us along, and upon your return please don't fall victim to the sign.

  4. I experienced the peaceful setting with all your lovely photos. I guess you were there on a lucky day when you heard no gun shots! Me, I have too much imagination to venture alone into such a forrest.

  5. Vidunderlige billeder.
    Hvor er der dog smuk.
    Jeg kan godt li`,år træer og andet spejler sig i vandet.
    Tusind tak for rundvisningen.

    Jeg kom bare tilfældigt forbi din blog.

  6. What a beautiful place, such a primitive landscape with those enormous tree trunks rising out of the water. Magical. Don't get shot...

  7. Color me impressed. This is one amazing place. My one client has a large bald cypress, but nothing compared to these. 1000 year old trees, I want to see them for myself!!! That would be a real treat, but I am a bit fearful of shotguns. Lovely images too. They really give you a sense of this place.

  8. This brings back memories of canoeing and hunting in southern Virginia Beach and Chesapeake when I was a boy.

  9. Swimray,
    I remember Myst, and thankfully the mosquitoes were just a memory also.

    I believe the secret is out.

    Truth be told, I pushed past the sign and took my chances.

    Hunting season here is still a few weeks away, so the woods were free of gun shot.

    Jeg er glad for at du faldt over min blog. Du er velkommen til at vende tilbage når som helst.

    It is magical, you can feel it in the woods.

    I look forward to my next trip and hope to find some ancients. I have only been around trees that old once, and they were bistlecone pines in Colorado.


  10. Chip,
    Judging from the number of duck blinds on the river, I'd say that was the preferred game on this stretch of the Nottoaway.


  11. What magnificent trees! I bet it did feel like you were at the feet of giants. It must have been quite something to be alone with the trees and the birds. I really like the shot showing the tree interior and its perfect mirrored shape in the water. I am looking forward to seeing the 1000 year old trees in the future.

  12. Wonderful area, amazing how they grow in such a wet place, great shots!

  13. beautiful, beautiful! your photos nearly bring tears to my eyes...i am crazy about this type of environment, especially this time of year. i was just at the lumber river with its wet-footed sycamores, cypress, gums and water oaks this week. love it.

  14. Jennifer,
    I am really really looking forward to seeing those trees too. I thought about trying to get back there this fall. We have had stellar weather this week, but duty calls.

    Thanks for stopping by.

    Yes, NC has a good number of these places still left, more than Va. does. They are indeed extroidinary environments.