The Same River Twice

That’s the title of an acclaimed memoir by author Chris Offutt, and the title of blog #13. You’ll see why shortly. But first, a photo of the same river once, with a female Mallard aloft just above it.

female Mallard duck
female Mallard duck

Sandy’s Story

Sandy (with a ‘y’), who now works at Deep Creek Veterinary Hospital in Chesapeake (a wonderful place to bring your healthy–and ailing–pets), was a ‘much younger’ 16 year old when she set out on a waterskiing adventure on the Elizabeth. She started in the area around what is now Great Bridge Lock Park, “near the locks,” she said, and skiied all the way–quite a feat, really–to the waters just south of the old Jordan Bridge. She remembers passing beneath the Gilmerton.

Sandy skiied some seriously polluted river water. Of course, most folks back then didn’t think about the pollution. River cleanliness wasn’t on their radar. It wasn’t on Sandy’s radar either. She was a youngster out for a good time, and the river was inviting.

But she reported to me that when she had finished her trip, she was covered with ‘slime.’ The slime, the goo, hadn’t gone anywhere, (and wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while). It had attached itself to her skin. Little did she know (and I told her so) that she had passed through one of the most severely polluted river spots in the country: Money Point. I also told her about the transformation that that area had undergone. The area had changed dramatically. But one thing hadn’t changed, of course. And that was the certainty that Blackbeard’s treasures were buried there somewhere along its shores.

The Elizabeth River Has Changed

Now the same river twice. Dave was a toll collector and maintenance man on the old Jordan Bridge. He and his buddy, Lindsay, have fond memories of growing up in the area around Scuffletown Creek in Chesapeake. They called it ‘Scuffling Town Creek’. They told me that Scuffletown Creek got it’s name from the fighting that used to go on around there. They knew ‘old man Jordan.’

They remember houseboats in the creek, homes with outhouses lining the creek, and homes with indoor plumbing a little further out. They remember sewage and diesel fuel flowing into the creek. They remember tapping the creek bottom with sticks, and coming up with mold-blown bottles–and a trophy bottle of Lake Drummond Rye Whiskey. And they remember the old wastewater pipe just north of the Jordan.

Sewage from that pipe flowed into the river. Was it still active? They didn’t know. As kids, they crawled along its top, they dove off its top, and they crabbed from its top. The pipe evoked a lot of memories. Later on in the 60’s, and before he enlisted in the Army, Dave had a hand in dismantling it.

Perhaps I should have entitled this blog: ‘The Pipe’ or perhaps ‘The Tale of Two Rivers.’ The Elizabeth River is very different now. Sewage, diesel fuel, dead zones and goo–or slime–on their way out. Living shorelines, submerged vegetation, thriving fish populations, healthy oyster reefs–and good grades–on their way back. With our continuing use of baseball as metaphor–it’s a whole new ballgame now. Good execution is leading to good results.

Here’s a picture of the river today, complete this time with an unmistakeable blue color cast. Sandy began her waterskiing trip very close to this spot.

Elizabeth River near Great Bridge Lock Park
Elizabeth River near Great Bridge Lock Park

Hatch Year Birds

Here are some birds that were raised this year along the river banks (or very nearby).

Fish Crow
Fish Crow
Green Heron
Green Heron

Monica and Ray

And here’s a young couple, Monica and Ray, enjoying a summer’s eve outing along the river (at Elizabeth River Park).


If you look closely at this and the last two photographs you’ll see a much different, and a much cleaner, Scuffletown Creek in the background.

This is street photography, but with permission granted. We saw our couple sharing a laugh above. Now here’s Monica getting her groove on (music was playing in the background as a special summer program was underway).


And here they both are, happy to have discovered the Elizabeth River Project website!


Monica promptly bookmarked it. I told her they’d be featured.

You’re in our thoughts and prayers, Margie and John.

Click here to email Dave or leave your public comment below.


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