Weekly Photo Challenge: Layers

November 13, 2013 parkway 017

The James River, from a bank along the Colonial Parkway

Jamestown, Virginia, November 2013

The scarlet Virginia Creeper vine caught my attention.  I was walking along the bank, camera at the ready, on this first very cold and windy day of autumn hoping to see birds out on the river.  The wind was too much for all but the eagles, who were riding the wind currents far above.  All of the ducks and gulls were sheltering in the marsh on the other side of the Parkway.  This place, in and of itself is about layers.  Layer upon layer of life and living gathers in this place.  

November 13, 2013 parkway 009

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The presence of the native people is still strong here.  The mighty Powhatan Confederacy controlled most of present day Virginia west to the Shenandoah Valley, north as far as Washington, DC, south into North Carolina, and east along the Eastern Shore of Virginia as far north as Delaware.  A political alliance of many individual tribes, their seat of power was very close, across the York River in Gloucester.  They fought hard against the British colonists for control of this beautiful and rich land, attacking again and again until treaties limited them to small reservations in 1647.  The Pamunkey Indians, who still have land to our northwest along the Pamunkey river, were native royalty, and at times ruled the Powhatan nation.

The presence of the first English colonists is also strong here.  Replicas of their ships sit tied up to the river bank near where this photo was taken.

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Replicas of the ships used by the first group of colonists to come to Virginia in 1607 sit anchored at Jamestown Festival Park.

Replicas of the ships used by the first group of colonists to come to Virginia in 1607 sit anchored at Jamestown Festival Park.

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The archeological dig is ongoing at the site of their 1607 settlement less than a mile away.  I’ve visited with groups of students, sitting in the first chapel at Jamestown, gazing at the foundations of their homes, their grave sites, and even the recovered skeletons and armor of those first, ill-fated colonists.  The decisions they made, precedents they set, and political organization they established here, along this river, still reverberate in our lives today.

Their attempts to establish themselves here were broken and scarred, again and again, by fire, starvation, war, and disease.  So many died in terrible circumstance, to be replaced by the ongoing replenishment of ship after ship of hopeful immigrants to Virginia.  Eventually the colony took hold, and spread, and prospered; you know the rest of the story.

But tangible evidence of that awkward beginning is what remains here at Jamestown.  Like the dead limb overgrown with vines in the photo, layer after layer continues to accumulate, the new overlaid on the remains of the old.

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The ferries run all day between Surry and Jamestown.

The ferries run all day between Surry and Jamestown.

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Part of the new is the ferry which crosses this river many times each day.  So many people who actually work in Williamsburg and James City County commute daily from Surry and other rural areas south of the James; from Newport News to the east; even from as far as Richmond to the northwest.  Many people find work here in the hospitality industry, in retail, at the hospitals, or at the college; yet choose to live elsewhere.

We have a vibrant, thriving community here now thanks in large part to The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, established in the town of Williamsburg by the Rockefeller family beginning in the late 1920s.  The “colonial capital” fell into disrepair after the seat of government was moved to Richmond in 1780, during the Revolution, for greater security further inland.  It would have decayed into oblivion but for the efforts of Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin, once rector of Bruton Parish church, and  John D. Rockefeller, along with his wife Abby, who began purchasing property and restoring buildings with a vision to preserve the area’s rich history.  Their efforts laid the foundation for the beautiful community and strong economy we enjoy here today.

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August 11 2013 CP trees 008

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And development continues.  We grumble as forests are cut to make way for new shopping centers and neighborhoods.  A new hospital was just completed, along with a new road through what was forest just months ago.  Signs of more development along that new road are already apparent.  Traffic has noticeably increased in just the few years we have lived here.

And we remain keenly aware of the children growing up all around us.  Students at The College of William and Mary prepare for their professional lives in wave after wave of coming and going each year.  Some remain and join the community.  Others move on.  All follow in the rich tradition of Jefferson, Monroe, Marshal, Clay, and so many others who have studied here since 1693.

Layer upon layer of life and living, all here, in this tiny bit of Virginia; accumulate like the layers of stone on a stalactite.   They are all visible at once.  It’s easy to feel the fourth dimension of time here as though the shades of all who have come before remain.  We can see and examine them all; tease them apart, see their interconnections, and hopefully learn something from the rich tapestry they create.

“You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself.”

Alan Wilson Watts

November 13, 2013 parkway 027

A marsh on Jamestown Island near the original 1607 settlement.

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And the Forest Remains

ImageA forest has its own web of life woven over centuries of growth and decay, comings and goings.   Our bit of forest was once part of the land holdings of a great Native American nation,  Tsenacommacah, headed by Chief Powahatan in 1607, when the first English came and seriously disrupted the way of life along the marshes and forests near an island they named “James Forte”.  Fixated on their fears of Spanish ships, they closed themselves off in a tiny, triangular stockade.  Most of these early English settlers had come from the cities of England and didn’t have the wardrobe, tools, skills, or mindset to learn to survive in this native land.

May sunset 003

The marshes along College Creek at sunset.

Had they settled along the shores of what is now called ‘College Creek” and  forged positive relationships with the native people, instead of building a tiny fort on an island with no fresh water supply and souring the relationship with their hosts, their story would have unfolded quite differently.  But then, history, whether the history of our nation, or our own personal his-story or her-story, is built on just such musings of how things might have unfolded differently.

May sunset 012

A tree along the Colonial Parkway near Jamestown Island

Nearly all of that first group of English died or returned to England within the first few years, but more colonists kept coming.  The banks of College Creek were soon part of vast tracks of land owned by various English families. The forests were cut to build settlements, construct fences and burn for fuel.  Much of the land was put under cultivation to grow food for the colonists, and later tobacco to trade. My own garden is on such a steep slope, I doubt it was ever cultivated, except in trees.Image

Thirty one years after that first landing, Middle Plantation, later Williamsburg, was settled between College Creek and Queen’s Creek in the center of the peninsula.  Soon a road connected James Towne Island and Middle Plantation, where the seat of government had moved by 1677.

Jamestown Island, viewed across the James River.

Jamestown Island, viewed across the James River.

turtle in juneI like to remember that the land where I garden once was hunted by a mighty nation of native people, and respect the heritage of forested ravines and creeks still here.  I’m reminded that the deer, the birds, the frogs, the foxes, the squirrels, the possums, and even the mosquitoes are the descendents of the families of creatures who have lived here for centuries.  The families of bright birds in constant motion from tree to tree were here before this home was built, and will still be here, I hope, generations from now.  Taking this long view reminds me that I am only a steward of this land, with a responsibility to live lightly and manage, but not destroy, the web of life that is now my home, too.

the ravine in fall

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