As I’m walking along the edge of a wintered field about to enter the woods, I hear three shots. My blaze-orange hat and bright blue fleece imply that I’m expecting gunshots to potentially play a part in this planned day in the woods. I’m not hard to spot on this first Friday of firearms deer hunting season. I trudge on aware now that I’ll be sharing the woods with bullets… and having to put trust in my fellow man.
Then a second blast. Now I’m concerned, but maybe it was just the final blow to a wounded deer and the gun will remain silent. I stand and think for a few minutes. Then comes the sign: two more shots. Sounds like the civil war is going on in the woods, not just a simple deer killing. I don’t feel like being caught in the crossfire, so I retreat and start cursing. Two and a half hours of driving and only a quarter mile of trail walking.
When my cursing ends, the day takes a nice turn. My geographic acumen kicks in. It’s only 7:30 and there are so many cool places on this Northern Neck peninsula to explore. It’s the perfect opportunity to wander freely.
Twenty minutes later when I spot water, I pull my car onto the side of the no-outlet, gravel road I chose to investigate. I grab my camera and scale a pretty steep embankment. It’s at an angle nearly qualifying as a cliff; each step has to be carefully placed. The down-climb is worth it though. It’s about as pristine of a river’s edge as you’ll find in this part of Virginia. The photo ops of one of the state’s prominent rivers and the tranquility of its narrow beach are endless. I’m a kid in a candy store… and know right away that this will become one of those remote spots I’ll always point to on a map with a smile.
Three hours later, on the flank of an old plantation, I pick up a woods trail again – this time without deer killing or civil war activities announcing themselves. The only noises are the slight breeze rustling the trees and the crunching of my bootsteps over deep layers of dry foliage. I again reach river’s tranquil edge and flit about for a while. As I’m about to leave, I set my pack down and deliberately decide to linger a bit longer; not wanting the whim-following to end just yet. I climb out onto a tree growing nearly perpendicular as they sometimes do near rivers. I find a moss-softened notch that cradles me quite comfortably. I’m ten feet above the beach surrounded by pristine beauty and the quiet sounds of water. At my back, I hear a wind wave approaching through the trees. I brace for the cold blast. As it hits, my cradled position sways securely back and forth, then becomes still and quiet again. It’s the best moment of the time I’ve spent following my whims.