I Love to Tell the Story

I thought about calling this blog ‘Sumer is Agoin Out,’ a rewording of “Sumer is Acumen In,” a famous medieval English part song, but settled on ‘I Love to Tell the Story,’ the name of an old Christian hymn. So why the title? Because we’re going to do some more storytelling. But hold on, because we’ll be jumping around a bit.

Paradise Creek Nature Park

Let’s start the visual storytelling with this: a midsummer shot of Paradise Creek in Portsmouth and the marshes on either side from the bridge at Paradise Creek Nature Park. As most folks at the park shoot into the park, I thought I’d be different and shoot away from the park, and toward the creek itself and the areas beyond. I thought I’d shoot toward the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, which in years past had used this area as a toxic waste dump, but has now been heavily involved in the clean-up effort.

So what does this photo tell us? It tells us that that dump has been replaced by a thriving, functioning wetland on the northern and southern shores of the creek. That bodes well for the creek and for the river beyond. The photo also tells us that the wetland extends into what is now Paradise Creek Nature Park. And that bodes well for the future of this wonderful park. The photo tells us too what is possible when groups of various kinds, like the Elizabeth River Project and its many partners, join together in a coordinated effort to restore and reclaim an area that had been badly mismanaged and degraded.

The Power of Photography

Telling stories with pictures is powerful stuff. I think of Dereck and Beverly Joubert, a couple featured in an article in the August 2018 issue of Outdoor Photographer. They ditched their plans to continue doing conservation advocacy by writing scientific papers, and decided instead to tell their ‘stories’ through films and photos. Words are powerful tools, but photos have incredible–and immediate–impact. Wildlands have been preserved and protected, and conservation measures have been undertaken all because of a single photograph.

Here’s a photo collage that might not be impactful in the above sense, but it does tell a story about our home river.

late summer fun on--and in--the Elizabeth River
late summer fun on–and in–the Elizabeth River

These are good late summer photos if I do say so myself. I took them from the dock at the Preserve on the Elizabeth. Of course there was some luck involved. But keep in mind: ‘Luck is what happens when when preparation meets opportunity’ (Seneca). Not only did I see tubers on the water that afternoon. I also saw a water skiier! I was reminded of Sandy (with a ‘y’). At least none of these folks was covered in creosote at the end of the day. I suspect that that’s what was in the ‘slime’ that covered poor Sandy years ago.

The dog here, Beau, part Chesapeake Retriever, part German Pointer, and part Atlantic striped bass, belonged to Dan, an engaging marine biology teacher at a Chesapeake High School. Dan used one of those gizmos you see to launch tennis balls into the river. True to his name, Beau did a great job retrieving. After Dan and Beau left, they were replaced by a lady with a couple of kids and another dog–and another tennis ball–in tow. But she wasn’t going to employ one of those gizmos you see. She was going to launch her tennis ball with a lacrosse stick!

Now for some standard storytelling. On 9/9 I headed to Paradise Creek Nature Park, where I’d earlier taken the feature photo. Along the way I stopped to take pics of immature herons.

Herons and Fire Ants

immature Yellow-crowned Night-Herons
immature Yellow-crowned Night-Herons

They’ll soon be making their maiden voyage south, but you wouldn’t have known that, that morning. No signs of migratory restlesness whatsoever. Instead they looked like unmovable statues. Of course, we’ve come to understand that some statues can indeed be moved.

While watching the birds, I stood on a fire ant pile. I felt something, but shook it off thinking it was the tall grass I was in. But then I looked down to double check. Uh-oh. It turns out an entire fire ant colony was beginning to crawl up my legs. And they were stinging as they went! Let’s just say that I started to dance. Talk about jumping around a bit. I suppose we could add fire ants to our Elizabeth River critters list. But I don’t have any photos. I couldn’t hold the camera still enough.

Paradise Revisited

I left. My legs were itchy and a little painful. But I didn’t care. It was a gorgeous late summer morning and I was headed for my ‘patch.’ The words to a children’s song came to mind: ‘Number five, number five, gee it’s great to be alive.’ Oh, the wisdom that can be found in children’s songs (and literature). I listened to a Bach keyboard concerto on the radio. I love Aretha’s music for sure. But Bach has no equal. Queen of Soul meet the King of Music. Life doesn’t get any better, I thought. Well it would’ve been better if I didn’t have all those itchy red bumps on my legs.

Along the way I drove through several neighborhoods. And I noticed something I often notice. But this morning, it was ridiculous. I must have passed 8 or 9 easy chair recliners set out for curbside pickup. Why are easy chairs such a common sight along the roadways? And why does one see more of these chairs on the side of the road than, say, kitchen chairs, wardrobes, or bookshelves? I digress.

Paradise was quiet for a change. One other car in the parking lot, few birds, few people. few anything else, except cicadas. At one point, one flew right into my chest. Alas, I have no photos to show for the trip. But I do have a collage of birds that I’ve seen both there and in the vicinity of the park this summer. These photos, like the ones above, are further testaments to the health and importance of the Elizabeth River. And I know I may sound like a broken CD here–but they are also further testaments to those who have worked so hard to restore this river and its watershed.

birds in flight above the Elizabeth
birds in flight above the Elizabeth

Birds and the Imagination

While visiting Paradise, I saw a mystery warbler and got to thinking. I’m sure it was migrating. Keep in mind that the switch has been thrown. Though I couldn’t ID it, I didn’t really care. And I got to thinking some more. When you see birds like this, and at this time of year, you can get carried away. The imagination can start to stir much like it does when you’re reading a good book. Was it an immature or an adult? If an adult, did it breed successfully? Where was it coming from and where was it going? If an immature, will it find its way? Will the bird succeed or succumb as it heads to its wintering grounds. Might it be driven off-course by a hurricane? Where are those wintering grounds and what are they like? Are they still suitable for wildlife? Will the bird return next year?

All of this reminds me. And I digress again. Please join me for the ‘Great Migration Bird Walk‘ from 8-10 am at Paradise Creek Nature Park on Sat. 9/29. And if you have children over 8 yrs., please bring them along. I love it when kids join us. I’m a big kid myself.

Fall is a great time to visit the park. Migrants, like the one mentioned above, pass through in good numbers, and we’ll be poised to spot them during the walk. And who knows? We could come across a rarity or two. Birding is always exciting because of its unpredicitable nature. So come prepared. It could be a routine walk, though no walk is routine there. Or it could be an unforgettable experience. Hopefully it will be the latter!  Over 150 species have been spotted in this ‘destination for birds’ so far.

Quip, Question, Thought
‘Nature in the city is nature at its most tenacious.’ Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

We remember the events of 9/11. We remember those who lost their lives 17 years ago this week. We remember the families who were left behind.

Please stay safe out there.

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



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