Walking -or swimming- where others have been before you, where history has happened in front of you is a humbling and centering experience.
One free day while working in Richmond (see a Whole New World post), I explored the James River, particularly Belle Isle and disovered that rodeos aren’t only found in Kansas -or on land!
On Belle Isle in the middle of the River, surrounded by falls and rapids and pink granite rocks, many layers of our country’s story wait to be uncovered. In the colonial days, a racetrack ran ‘round the island. During the Civil War, Union soldiers were held in a prisoner of war camp, and great steel works came later.
But previous even to that, John Smith met the Powhatan Indians, the original Virginians, there. Smith grew to know the Virginians quite well as he explored and mapped the land he called Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay and waterways. You can still follow his land and aquatic path today, via car and kayak (see below)! His maps are exquisite works of art that inspire one to further perfection in their craft.
The Powhatan settlement was a little further beyond the island, but according to one historic story sign, the Indian boys would prove their manhood by riding a giant gar, a long fish with a long, narrow, teethy jaw.
This would require finding, mounting, and clinging to the back of the slithering, jumping watery beast.
The ready young man would cling to the back of the fish, trying to ride him as long as possible in the deep pools of moving water. Picture him, one hand out in a triumphant whoop, before being swirled under the gushing river, water shooting up through his nose and ears, clinging to wherever the fish thrashed, yet WILLING him to stay in the pool coralled by the pink granite boulders.
Only the deepest focus and determination would enable him to come up one more time, triumphant on the fierce fish’s back.
The giant garfish referred to in these traditions are now rarely seen, but the information board noted that recently a gar eight feet long was sited near the falls.
This history was chewed with savor as I hiked around the island, gearing up for a refreshing swim in the river.
I found the perfect spot, after being a little scared that I was going to get kidnapped in the dark depths of part of the island. With both easy access to the loud rushing waters and a place to lay out, read, nap, and paint in security, I thought of the Indian boys riding their piscine bucking broncos in these same rushing waters.
I did not ride and wrestle with any giant gar that day. (Maybe some day down the road!)
But I did swim in the same waters. They were cool, swift, clear, and refreshing.
No fish were seen, only great herons and geese, occasionally perched on the rocks, watching urban white water rafters sweep down the gradual 107-foot drop towards the city.
After the dip in the river, I made myself at home for a few sun-soaked hours on the smooth pink granite. These great smoothed boulders were the silent, still-standing witnesses of the aquatic rodeos of our early American history.
Fini! Thanks so much for reading!
Scroll down to see some fun facts and products:
(Fun fact: I was in Richmond for a job with Evergreene Architectural Arts. Then I flew back to Kansas to do another job with them on our own, dear Immaculata, pictured above. Currently I am working between there and St. Isidore’s at K-state, painting and decorating the ceilings!)
If you’re into maps, or would like to observe Smith’s work, here’s that a reproduction of the map of Virginia crafted by his own hand! (Note: when you click the below photo links, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you. Click, and you’re the best! )
And here is a map of his trails, which are now accessible to the modern-day traveler!