Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tyler's Beach

Tyler’s Beach, 2005

I’d been driving in the country along the south side of the James River for most of an afternoon before I came upon Tyler’s Beach.

It’s not quite a beach in the sense that people go there to lie in the sun or play in the surf. For one thing, there’s no surf. The James River is wide and flat. And hardly any beach, thanks to the constant coastward tug of erosion. And it’s just downstream and barely out of sight of a nuclear power plant, which despite what a few cynical locals say makes for pleasantly warmer water, most people seem to want to avoid.

Agriculture is still the main business of Isle of Wight County, Virginia. Farming and raising livestock don’t allow for a lot of leisure time. Centuries of racial segregation have also left this area scarred. (Nat Turner’s 1831 slave rebellion took place not far away.) Some white residents are still uncomfortable interacting with their black neighbors.

What they do like about Tyler’s Beach is that it has a nice boat ramp and the little protected haven, seen above. There are no services, no marinas, gas docks, convenience stores or bait shacks. But on warm weekends the parking lot fills with pick-ups and trailers carrying boats for fishing, water skiing or kayaking along the edge of the river.

It was overcast on the day I visited. The sun was just starting to set. Tyler’s Beach was deserted except for two elderly men who were fishing off the boat ramp. Each brought a folding chair and enough supplies to keep him stocked in bait, tackle, food and drink for a day. Yet they sat on opposite sides of the ramp facing opposite directions.

The friendlier of the two told me the other man “has problems and dudn’t take kindly to people.” So I avoided him. The friendly man, on the other hand, seemed happy to have company. He told me he’d once been a taxi driver in New York City. He’d made good money. His wife didn’t have to work and he put two children through college. But life up north had gotten too hectic for him. So he retired home to this rural stretch of Southside Virginia where his great grandparents had once been slaves and where he still had family and a few championship coonhounds.


  1. You have the vernacular down, that's for sure. I love the way you summarized his life story in a line or two. Classic. Great story. I also love that your photos really are all personal stories.

  2. this is a wonderful Tidewater greygreen image, and I "know" the story as well. ALL kinds of folks mix (? or not? will have to observe more closely...) down at the waterfront to fish in Hopewell. All races, connected more by socioeconomic level than anything...