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 7, 2012

Along the Nottaway, part II

Last October I took the kayak up the Nottaway River, which is about an hour west of here.  At the time I did not know how close I was to a patch of virgin forest, home to and now final resting place of Big Mama, once Virginia's oldest tree. Last fall I vowed to return, so yesterday, armed with a clearer picture of where this remnant forest is actually located, I headed up the Nottaway again.  Unfortunately the river is so low right now, almost 4' below normal, that I could not get into the swamp to find Big Mama or any of her nearby relatives, and had to stick to the main river channel instead.  However, I always appreciate any opportunity to get away, and the day was not wasted. Just like last year, I had the river all to myself, except for the animals.  Fish were jumping at every turn, and I startled a few deer and some wild turkeys.  I also saw the usual crows, egrets, herons, kingfishers and as best I could tell, a flock of common mergansers, but I was most excited to see a pileated woodpecker.  All and all it was a very good morning, even if I couldn't find what I was looking for, but that will just give me an excuse to go back again.

Old Bridge


Morning Light (2)


It may not have been Big Mama, but this bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) was about 8' wide at the base and had what appeared to be a collection of smaller trees for a canopy.
Old Cypress

Morning Light (6)

There were a couple of benefits to the low water mark. One was that I found this layer of shells on the mud bank composed of mostly oysters, scallops and a few things I did not recognize. Considering this is a freshwater river and is over 60 miles inland from the Atlantic, this layer told a telling tale.
Shell Bank

The other benefit of such low water was being able to appreciate the exposed tree roots along the river bank, some of which I did not fully appreciate until I got home and flipped the photo. What do you see?
Root Mirror (6)

The complete set of my Nottaway photos can be found here.


  1. Lots of history on that river. That's interesting about the oyster shells. You don't have to dig too far most anywhere east of the fall line to find oyster shells.

  2. Wonderful set, Les. The Rorschach roots photo is terrific!

  3. Great light. You really know how to get there when the great pix are made. Cool flip. You'll be doing kaleidoscopes before you know it.

  4. A face ! I see a face in the tree roots Les.

    Love the magical river and those amazing trees.

    Thanks for letting me tag along.

  5. Really evocative photos. The only parts of Virginia I have been in were highly developed. I don't even really think of it having unspoiled natural areas.

  6. Love the mist and rays of sunlight. Breathtaking!

  7. Les,
    thanks for taking us along on your paddle. Your photography is always remarkable.

  8. I love your moody shots and reflective water. Beautiful. I think I see an ancient idol or totem in the image.

  9. Thanks for your beautiful photos! The lighting you captured is supberb!

  10. Isn't that where Indiana Jones entered to find the Ark? That tree root image has many tales to tell, it looks like a totem to me.

  11. So beautiful! Thanks for sharing these.

  12. As if you needed an excuse to go back! Your photos are so evocative, that third one belongs in one of those fancy coffee table books.

  13. I just NEVER tire of your photography. Absolutely spectacular...

  14. I can see why your returned - gorgeous! I see a demon king in the flipped photo.

  15. Beautiful photos as always. And the face is just an added bonus. But also worrisome about how the trees and critters are faring with such low water. We are now 10inches below our normal rainfall. Watering is almost useless but I keep working on the shrubs that were planted last spring.

  16. Les, these are great images! Light... reflections... shadows... Amazing! Plus kayaking itself is a pleasure. I am a bit jealous. Thanks for sharing!

  17. Chris,
    I often dig up oysters in my garden, but I think they are part of some long ago feast.

    I was please with how they turned out as well.

    We just got a scanner in the house, so look over your shoulder every now and then.

    You used the correct word, magical.

    Most of Virginia is actually quite rural, but unfortunately the sprawl monster goes unchecked.

    A big fat thank you.

    Thanks for stopping by.

    Yes, I got there at just the right time.

    Michael G.,
    Thank you very much.

    You saw something similar to what I did.

    You are quite welcome.

    I think so. He and I were both looking our for snakes.

    You are quite welcome.

    When the book comes out, I will let you know.

    Thank you.

    Good eye!

    It does look a little demonic.

    We are a little dry here, but I think the low water was not a big issue for the animals. We have fared much better than many areas this summer.

    Thanks for stopping by and for the kind comment.

    ALL - what I saw was the entrance to a some sort of vine-clad temple, one whose sculptures would have made Victorian explorers blush and reach for their bibles.


  18. Now you know you need no excuse to get in that kayak and head to the wilderness other than just to enjoy the beauty! I have no doubt we will all soon be reading about Big Mama and can't wait! That bald cypress is mighty impressive too. Your scenes incredible.