Inside a broad cove there’s a sand beach, out of the wind beneath a bluff. Cypress knees serve well for docking cleats.
The beach is covered with purple-black and green berries, that Barbara tells us are pickerel weed seeds. They’re everywhere. You can see them in a distinct band along the whole shoreline in every direction. They remind me of the coffee beans I saw fermenting in water, then drying in Guatemala.
Across the beach bar and next to the bluff is a blackwater tupelo swamp, the water so black it looks blue.
This western shore is all Wildlife Refuge and Management Area for the next three miles. Deep in the Management Area is a practice range. With hunting season upon us it’s a very busy place, apparently. Gunfire is constant, like a battle raging in the distance.
This landscape has been witness to repeated battles over hundreds of years. The site of the Jamestown Colony is just downriver; we could see it as we left the marina. Conflicts between the settlers and the Powhatan tribe occurred all along this river and in the forests that surround it. Williamsburg, the Colonial capital, is only a few miles from here. King George’s redcoats marched through repeatedly, harassed by farmers and woodsmen with muskets and bayonets. During the Civil War, gunships moved up and down the James past pre-revolutionary war plantations, on the way to attack the Confederate capital in Richmond, or to defend it, often engaging in battles along the way.
But in all that time, this whole countryside – swampy and of little financial value – has changed very little. So little that when the movie The New World was filmed, they filmed it right here in this same wilderness, the same place where it all happened over 400 years ago. Even in the trailer you can see some of the places we passed today.
A good friend of mine is a member of the Pamunkey tribe, a branch of the Powhatans. He was impressed by the great lengths the film crews went to getting the everything visually accurate.
From the beach, I can see fossils embedded in the sandy bank of the bluff. Layer upon layer of history, going back millions of years.
The shadows are getting longer, and there’s a little breeze to catch. We pack things up and shove off.