Weekends at The Rivah
Remember when I told you that Fredericksburg is about two hours from just about anything you’d want to do? Well, I’ve already taken you west into the mountains, and this time we’re headed almost exactly two hours east, to the Chesapeake Bay. Now I don’t like to brag, but the Chesapeake Bay is kind of a big deal, so pay attention class.
(Technically, this wasn’t a day trip, but I’m not making any more logos.)
I spent the past two very enjoyable weekends at the river. For as long as I can remember, weekenders have been flocking to “The Rivah” at the first hint of warm weather. And this time I was one of them.
Back in December, my parents bought what my dad keeps calling “just a little fishing shack” in the Northern Neck. (The rest of us call it a house.) Before last weekend, I only had a vague notion of what the Northern Neck meant. I knew it referred to an area near the water in eastern Virginia, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never really bothered to learn anything more about it.
Similarly, when people said they were spending the weekend at the river, I considered it just an interesting kind of local shorthand, a colloquialism. To me, “going to the river” simply meant you were gonna spend some time near the water. But according to my dad, the people “around here, when they talk about river country, they’re talking about the Bay region. Which for us, is going to be the Potomac River”. And now I know.
So, about that Northern Neck thing: if you look at a map of eastern Virginia – hey, I just happen to have one here – you’ll see there are three peninsulas created by the Potomac, Rappahannock, York and James rivers. The Northern Neck is the topmost peninsula, bordered on the north by the Potomac River and on the South by the Rappahannock. (As an item of interest, the City of Fredericksburg is on the Rappahannock River, but much further up – it would look like a trickle compared to the water you see on this map.)
Just to give you a reference point, my parent’s house is at the top tip of that Northern Neck peninsula, just where the Maryland/Virginia borderline dips down into a point, before it heads across the Chesapeake Bay. Their house is separated from the Bay by another strip of land, but we can see the inlet to the Bay from the backyard. If you stand in just the right spot, but it’s still pretty cool.
Folks, let me tell ya, the Chesapeake Bay is huge. My dad took us for a ride on the boat, and when we went out into the Bay, I noticed that you can’t see land on the other side. I asked my dad about it and he acted like it was no big deal: “…it’s not as far as you may think; it may be ten miles or so, before you hit Smith Island and places like that.” Ten miles of water seems pretty far to me! And there’s still more water on the other side of Smith Island. In fact, the widest span of the Bay is 30 miles, which you can see on the map is pretty much across from where my parents live. That much water in one place is a beautiful thing to see…as long as I’m still in the boat.
I interviewed my parents for this post, because I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about. At the time, I thought I was definitely going to need some filler; while I was there, all I could think was, “pretty”. During the interview, I mentioned Captain John Smith’s exploration of the Bay. He thought it was a mighty pretty place, as well. My dad:
“It was a rich land. It was filled, filled with natural resources. They said when he came up the Bay…number one, the water was clear. It was not like it is today. Back then, you could look down and see the bottom like you can in some of these Caribbean places. That’s because everything was growing up – the run-off that we have today from all the farming and the cities and the roads and all the pollution that’s going into it, that wasn’t there. The Bay would have been filtered, the water would have been filtered every day. There were enough oysters to do that. The oyster population is, of course, decimated now. But the Bay would have been filtered. There were piles and piles of oysters that he saw, just coming out of the ground. They said that it looked like you could walk on the fish, going to shore, there were so many fish. This is one of the most important estuaries there are in the world – the most important in the United States. The biggest and most important estuary in the United States is right here, the Chesapeake Bay. There’re others, but nothing like this.”
There is still beauty here, but I wish I could have seen it like John Smith did. That makes me sad.
Last Sunday morning, I helped my mom stake a plant hanger into the ground. At one point, she went inside for something and I was standing there holding a hummingbird feeder in one hand and a hanging basket in the other. After a moment, I realized that I was looking out at the water. And that was all. My mind was empty of thought; I was simply watching – no running mental commentary, no internal oohs and aahs, no categorizations or classifications of what I was seeing. It was just seeing… The waving of the tall slim reeds, the constant movement of ripples across the water, an osprey flying in low… I was mesmerized, perhaps.
In the interview, I asked my parents, “What would you say if you were writing about the river?” My dad answered,
“What I would say is that water is something that gets in your blood. … It’s something that gets in your blood and you need a fix every now and again.”
Here are some of the pictures from my two weekends at the river, where I was getting my fix.
Items of Interest:
Map Image Courtesy of esva.com