At Norfolk Botanical Garden, everything is just so. Horticulturalists deadhead roses in the summer to ensure visitors encounter a perfume-filled, technicolor display in the fall. Azaleas are arrayed for maximum visual pop in the spring.
Even the wildflower meadow is meticulously combed for undesirable upstarts.
This oasis of beauty is perched on a 175-acre peninsula in Virginia, less than 3 miles from the Chesapeake Bay. But what statements can such a manicured place make about the nature of this southernmost loop of the Bay’s watershed?
I’ve always been fascinated by the influence of topography on where humans have decided to set up camp over the millennia.
Here in the Chesapeake Bay region, as recently as a few centuries ago, settlements in coastal areas were all about water: The best place to live was along a navigable river or creek, so that canoes and rafts and boats and ships could bring you stuff and people, or take away stuff and people.
Farther west in the Appalachian Mountains, though, waterborne transportation is less workable.
After a mile of increasingly pitched hiking through a dense forest, a strange scene unfolded. Quartzite boulders, ranging in size from La-Z-Boy recliners to school buses, reared up, blazing away in the sun. The absence of green was matched only by the audacity of white and its kindred tints: alabaster, ash, gray.
The well-tended trail continued upward, following the rim of woods along the outcropping’s flank. But I didn’t come all this way to take the path of least resistance. I came to explore one of the East Coast’s singular hiking experiences: the Devil’s Marbleyard, a rock slide of epic proportions and views.
The year was 1829, and the news was big — big enough to be trumpeted on a broadside that exercised all of the exaggerated fonts and eye-grabbing capitalization of the day:
“Notice is hereby given,” it stated, “that this CANAL is NOW OPEN FOR NAVIGATION ... The rates of Toll have been fixed so low, as to make this the CHEAPEST as well as the most EXPEDITIOUS and Safe channel of communication, between the waters of the Chesapeake and Delaware."
In the small central Virginia county of Fluvanna, a triangle of historic farm and forest is wedged between the Rivanna River and Virginia Highway 53, just 20 miles southeast of Charlottesville.
At the western end stands a three-story story brick house, built in 1854 by Col. William Haden where he raised 12 children and managed a plantation of approximately 3,000 acres. In those days, the river connected the Haden family to the world — and markets — beyond their home.
Today, 830 acres of the original Haden land have become Pleasant Grove Park, named after the original plantation, connecting visitors from near and far to the river, local history and the natural world.
I once heard the Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse described as a Victorian rendition of a lunar landing module.
It’s an absurd image that stuck with me, not just for its succinct visual depiction of the structure — a white, six-sided, lapped-board cottage perched on spidery iron legs in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay — but also for the sense of vulnerability and isolation it evokes.
Indeed, there must be parallels between landing on the moon and spending weeks at a time encapsulated in a tiny shelter surrounded by a vast, inhospitable environment. That was the reality of life for a succession of lighthouse keepers who tended it for 111 years.
It’s embarrassing to admit this, but I worked in Annapolis for nearly 20 years — and lived there much of that time — but never once visited Historic London Town and Gardens in nearby Edgewater, about three miles away on the opposite shore of the South River.
Well, wait, that’s not exactly true. There was the time I was looking for a bar on Londontown Road, but drove past it and had to turn around where the road ends, which happens to be the entrance to Historic London Town. So there’s that.
It was fitting, therefore, that when I finally did manage to visit the Colonial era historic site, I was again looking for a bar. Don’t judge me; this time it was a historic bar — or rather the place where a bar once stood, and will soon stand again, in the 18th-century William Brown House.
More than 6 million people live in the Potomac River watershed, but relatively few get the chance to wade into its waters on a regular basis.
That’s why the Potomac Riverkeeper Network started RiverPalooza, a two-month-long series of events giving residents of all backgrounds the opportunity to get on — and even in — the so-called Nation’s River, as well as its major tributary, the Shenandoah.
Not to be confused with the many concerts and festivals that attach the word “palooza” to the name of the nearest waterway, almost all of the 12 events that make up this summer festival involve boating, fishing, wading — and even snorkeling — in the river.
In the annals of Virginia whitewater paddling, the Maury River at Goshen Pass has earned a reputation. The five-mile stretch of river, a tributary to the James River in mountainous western Virginia, can be a bruising paddle even if you’re very skilled and very lucky. In high water, it can be downright foolhardy.
Experienced and knowledgeable paddlers nevertheless flock to Goshen when the river is up but, fortunately, there are plenty of other ways to experience the waterway and protected lands that surround it.
We seem to be alone under the canopies of bald cypress and black gum. Hawks soar overhead. Leaves on the rose bushes rustle. Remnants of a beaver lodge hide among the brambles. An old truck, possibly from the 1950s, sits rusting on the water’s edge.
There is much to look at in a six-mile paddle through the Nassawango Creek Preserve, a 9,953-acre ecosystem on Maryland’s lower Eastern Shore. But what our group of five didn’t see during three hours of paddling its meandering path were other humans. We encountered no other paddlers and heard no footsteps. Even though the creek backed to some houses, no one was in the yards. We didn’t even hear a dog bark.
As I clawed my way west on the traffic-jammed outer loop of the Washington Beltway, it occurred to me that I should have scheduled my tour of the C&O Canal’s Lockhouse 10 at noon or so. Not at 10 a.m., which, in this neck of the...
Little known fact: On the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, in the days before fossil fuel, there were dozens and dozens of wind-powered gristmills.
Maryland’s Dorchester County alone, by some accounts, had 20 of them. That makes...
Laid bare of its sound-absorbing foliage, the forest of lanky hardwoods becomes a cacophony of sound. On this cool morning, the leaves crunch underfoot and rustle nearby as a squirrel digs for hidden treasure.
The din of a waterfowl...
The fields and forests of Gifford Pinchot State Park in southcentral Pennsylvania are still in winter dormancy, but not for long. You will actually hear the change.
When the days are cold and short but the spring thaw draws near,...
Have you ever wanted to kayak on the Chesapeake Bay, but didn’t know how or where to start? Here’s your chance. On March 10, the Chesapeake Paddlers Association is offering a one-day introduction to sea kayaking at a retreat...
On the outskirts of the sprawling suburbs to the nation’s capital, there’s a time machine of sorts that can transport you back a century or two. It’s a quaint village called Waterford.
You’ll find it preserved like...
From a distance, Cove Mountain looks like it floats on the Susquehanna River. Closer up, it’s a typical Pennsylvania red oak-dominated forest, with scattered lichen and moss-covered boulders, clear mountain streams and clearings...
An easy 10-minute hike through towering oak and hickory brought me to an observation deck 25 feet above Bush Mill Stream on Virginia’s Northern Neck.
Below, the stream meandered through straw-colored cordgrass, fringing dark...
In a black-and-white photo from a bygone era, a skipjack floats in space.
The sky on this day is a gray smear of clouds. Low light defines lightly rippled water in the foreground, where a lone, silhouetted oysterman works a dredge on an...
Fall migration is an excellent time to spot a wide variety of birds, and identifying a few birding hotspots can help fledgling birders — as well as experienced ones — know where to go. During fall and well into winter, bird...