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 9, 2017

Early Fall on the Lower Chickahominy

     This past Saturday I took my kayak to the Chickahominy River, close to where it meets the James. This was not my first time here. When I was a child my father belonged to a rod and gun club with a cabin on a bluff overlooking one of the river's tributaries, and visits there are some of my fondest place memories. The water here is brackish, more fresh than salt, but still subject to the tides. This mix of different waters allows for an abundant diversity of animal and plant species, which made hunger a little less threatening to the native Americans who once called this place home. It was here that Capt. John Smith was captured, and taken to the chief of the Powhatans. As the flawed story goes, Smith's life was eventually spared by Pocahontas, the chief's daughter. Today the river and its tributaries remain relatively free from development, and save for a few houses and a bridge or two, it is easy to imagine what the Chickahominy may have looked liked centuries ago.
Chickahominy River 10-7-17 (30)

Chickahominy River  with Taxodium distichum (Bald Cypress) 10-7-17 (18)

Chickahominy River  with Taxodium distichum (Bald Cypress) 10-7-17 (17)

Chickahominy River  with Taxodium distichum (Bald Cypress) 10-7-17 (15)

Chickahominy River  with Taxodium distichum (Bald Cypress) 10-7-17 (13)

Chickahominy River  with Taxodium distichum (Bald Cypress) 10-7-17 (29)

     The Chickahominy has become one of my favorite places to paddle, and after any time spent there I always come away renewed. Part of the allure for me are the trees, specifically bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), and the opportunity to paddle between their knees and underneath their canopies. At the moment this species is tied for first place with live oak (Quercus virginiana) as my favorite tree. This weekend they were just beginning to sport their fall orange color. As I rounded one clump of cypress I could hear a loud commotion created by a pair of belted kingfishers, whose calls always sound like bitching to me. They were upset by a wake of vultures and a juvenile bald eagle perched in the trees along their part of the river. The kingfishers would not rest until the intruders were gone, and the presence of a lumbering middle-aged man in a bright red kayak was enough to push the raptors on their way, quieting the kingfishers. The lone eagle joined several others further down the shoreline; the place is thick with them, almost like pigeons.
Chickahominy River with Turkey Vulture10-7-17 (4)

Chickahominy River with Turkey Vulture10-7-17 (5)

     In one area of the river some of the cypresses looked as if they had been frosted. While it made for interesting photos, the "frost" was actually a coating of guano, probably from cormorants, or egrets.
Chickahominy River  with Taxodium distichum (Bald Cypress) 10-7-17 (20)

Chickahominy River  with Taxodium distichum (Bald Cypress) 10-7-17 (21)

     The cypress were not the only trees with fall color. A few red maples (Acer rubrum) right next to the shore were starting to turn, as were a few sweetgums (Liquidambar styraciflua), both a little further along, color-wise, then their kin on drier land. In many of the trees poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) climbed in shades of red, orange, and yellow, proving that even one of our most reviled plants can have its moment. All over the coast here, not just along the Chickahominy, the white blooms of saltbush let you know what time of year it is.
Chickahominy River 10-7-17 (7)

Chickahominy River with Toxicodendron radicans (Poison Ivy) 10-7-17 (8)

Chickahominy River with Baccharis halimifolia (Salt Bush) 10-7-17 (6)

     Eventually I had to leave the river, and as I neared the campground where the landing was, I was brought back to reality. One camper at a site right on the river was busy hanging his oversized American flag on a pop-up tent, right next to his oversized "Make America Great Again" flag so, all the other campers and everyone on the water would have no doubt as to where he stood. Who does this on a camping trip? My gut response was to yell adjectives, but that would have been just as bad as waving oversized flags in other people's faces, and I didn't want to find out if he was exercising robust second amendment rights as well. I feel like we are living in a land of multiple realities these days, with collisions an ever present danger. I think I prefer a reality full of birds, paddling on mixed waters under bald cypress.
Chickahominy Riverfront Park 10-7-17 (2)


  1. I so enjoy the pictures you post from your kayak travels. I never saw a turkey vulture in the wild, it's pretty awesome. I can see how you'd come to value these surroundings as your church.

  2. Great pictures and story, sad ending!

  3. Yes, better & safer to stick with trees, birds, & nature, although all are more at risk than ever .... Beautiful Photos!

  4. I love paddling along with you on these virtual kayak tours. Your autumnal colors are more subtle than ours and still beautiful. Your photos are stunning. That campsite story made me sigh. Is there no escape?

  5. Not many places where one can get such a sense of the past all around them. Love those "knees'. They grow up here but I've hardly ever seen any. And yes, I am being careful about getting into it with strangers. Especially since we have concealed carry here. Ugh. Poor Wisconsin. We have been the guinea pig for the GOP since 2010 and it is hard to know how it all will end.

  6. What a great photo essay, both the images and the words. Nicely done, as always.