The cries of Canadian geese, of cormorants and seagulls; the gentle ripple of a lake, the roar of the ocean tide, and the sound of boats on the water; the stony silence of a bald eagle on a river pylon, the cry of a blue jay, the tapping of a woodpecker, and the song of a mockingbird; the echoes of a fife played strangely out of tune, the war cry of wild turkeys, a ferry bell . . . such was the soundtrack of my week in Tidewater, Virginia.
I’ve been promising to write about my most recent trip to the east coast ever since I returned in late October, but I stand firmly by the old adage “better late than never”. I shan’t bore you will all the details, but I do want to share some of the highlights.
I lived in Norfolk during my teens, attending what was then called junior high, as well as high school. As expected, after more than a few years, many things are now different, but incredibly, many things have remained the same. My schools looked exactly the way I remembered, although the surrounding neighbourhoods have changed a great deal. The red-brick building containing modest apartments where I once lived has been converted to high-price condos, although I couldn’t see any changes in the building to warrant this astonishing transformation.
I found the Hague and the Chrysler Museum right where I left them, but light rail now runs through the downtown area. The dodgy docks I haunted on Saturdays have been magically remodelled into a tourist area, and there was no sign of the beloved Asian import shop I had frequented on summer afternoons. It was wonderful to return to the urban area which holds so many vivid memories, including the tiny park where I watched fireflies on summer evenings, chatting endlessly with an English boy (my first crush), but even better to finally get to see so many things I didn’t have the opportunity to see whilst living there.
A dear friend took me across every bridge and tunnel in the area, and showed me nearly enough water – in endless varieties – to keep me satisfied in the desert for a few more months. We drove across the magnificent Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, stopping on the man-made Sea Gull Island to walk around. If you count the approach roads, the total length of the bridge is a mind-boggling 23 miles and includes two tunnels in addition to the nearly endless span of bridge. The bridge is still considered one of the engineering marvels of the world, and crossing it was an amazing experience.
As I think back, one early morning spent at Holly Tree Lookout by Lake Maury stands out, partly because I’d never seen holly trees before, but mostly because only a few feet away from us, sitting in a tree enjoying the sunshine was a great blue heron. Although he never unfolded his wings to stretch to his undoubtedly impressive breadth, it was clear just how big he was by how much space he took up on the branch. Except for brief bits of honking by some geese swimming by, the air was still and eerily quiet – a moment of magic I shan’t ever forget.
A trip to Jamestown also held special moments; the best (if you don’t count the early morning deer standing literally at the edge of the road as we drove by) was clambering aboard the replica sailing ships, going as high and as low as possible on each one, above deck and below. We didn’t dare attempt to climb the rigging, although we seriously considered it.
The single best experience, however, had to be crossing the James River by ferry. Driving onto the ferry, we quickly left the car and went to stand at the front (prow? bow? You can tell I’m no sailor!) of the ferry. A few seagulls hitched a ride on a platform near water level, while others flew around us. Just past the half way mark I spottted a magestic bald eagle seated on a river pylon, only a few feet away from us. I’d never seen one in the wild before, and it was breath-taking. I’m sure he was hoping for brekkie and seemed completely oblivious to the ferry as we noisily passed. I wasn’t clever enough to grab my mobile and take a photo, but it remains a moment frozen in time that still seems as crisp and clear as when it happened. The only thing missing on that ferry ride was a hot cup of coffee!
Regretfully the trip was over all too soon, with so many places left to see, so many conversations left unspoken, and so little time spent at the ocean. This holiday provided a different sort of soundtrack for my life, but a soundtrack nonetheless. The sound of early morning silences remains with me as clearly as the tolling of a ferry bell.