Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Finding Country

Nanney’s Creek Road, 2011

It used to be that you didn’t have to go far to find the country. You could drive five or ten minutes and you were in either the fields or the fields.

When I live now, it takes a good thirty or forty minutes to get to the edge of suburbia. There’s only one small farm left within a couple of miles of where I live, and it remains only because the patriarch of the family that owns it won’t let it be sold. But when he’s gone, I’ve no doubt his children will swoop in and turn the remaining pastures into fields of cookie cutter McMansions.

The Southern part of Virginia Beach is still rural in character even if less and less of it is no longer authentically rural in fact. Bit by bit, subdivisions of surprising affluence have crept down into the farming country. It’s still our city’s horse country, though these horses don’t work and when they’re carried somewhere it’s more likely to be in trailer towed behind a Range Rover than behind a pickup truck.

When I drove down to the North Carolina border this past Sunday afternoon there was hardly a place along the old two-lane country road where I couldn’t see at least a half dozen large homes situated on lots so close to the water level of Back Bay and the North Landing River that they were once considered undesirable for anything but raising soybeans and big fat water snakes.

February isn’t the best time to go looking at farms. The fields are just starting to warm for spring planting, which means most of the action is taking place underground. But every now and then you come across a view that reminds you that there was once some breathing space around here.

Princess Anne 36, 2011

I took the pictures posted here because I was initially drawn to the trees. I started photographing the big tree in Nanney’s Creek Road years ago. Each time I go down to look at it another storm seems to have hacked more of it away. It wasn’t until I came home and looked at the photos on the screen, though, that I noticed that the skies were a much more interesting story.

We’ve become accustomed to photos of the earth taken from airplanes and satellites that show weather systems swirling above us terrestrial souls. It didn’t occur to me until I looked at Nanney’s Creek Road that I was getting a view of such a swirl from underneath. Is that a dynamic sky, or what?

The sky in Princess Anne 36, below, is arguably less thrilling. You could probably argue that it distracts from the composition of the trees that first attracted me. But upon reflection I think it makes for a more interesting photograph. Besides, my car tires were sinking into the mud at the edge of the field as I contemplated this shot. If I’d waited much longer for the sky to clear, I’d probably still be stuck there now.


  1. They really are amazing skies! Beautiful.

    I remember when I visited the Netherlands, I kept noticing how dramatic the skies were, and I thought of the Old Master paintings--some of them really captured that--the skies were two-thirds of the painting and the landscape was a mere speck on the canvas in comparison.

  2. Man, does this ever take me back. In 1970 my girlfriend's family moved to Knott's Island and I put many a mile on my 64 Ford Galaxy on that 2 lane country road. Even after we broke up I continued to roam that area south of the green line when that car, loaded with several of my running buddies, just wouldn't turn left into the parking lot of the old F.W. Cox High School.