Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Into the Woods

Into the Woods, 2002

For all but just a dozen or so years of my life I have lived very close to what is today known as First Landing State Park, a 2,900-acre reserve in the northeast corner of Virginia Beach.

It’s a rich natural resource with thick woods, tall dunes, ponds, lakes, swamps and all manner of crawly, slithery reptiles, chiggers, ticks, indigenous plants and itchy vines. Needless to say, it’s one of our favorite places.

But seriously, it’s also serves an important ecological purpose and as a bonus gives us an appreciation of just how wild and untamed much of our heavily populated coastal area used to be.

The state bought the land for the Park from private developers during the Great Depression. Its miles of trails and many of its structures were built by African-American Civilian Conservation Corps workers who, as if trudging through the swamps and dealing with the aforementioned slithery reptiles, chiggers, ticks, indigenous plants and itchy vines was not enough, were prohibited from using the very park they’d shaped until it was integrated during the early 1960s. (In one of its many regrettable moments in modern history, Virginia very nearly got rid of all of its state parks during the 1950s rather than submit to court-ordered racial integration.)

Growing up so close to it—for much of my youth it was right at the end of our block—I’ll admit that I took the Park for granted. As kids, we played in the dunes. I used to ride my bike back to the little sandy beach at the Narrows between Broad and Linkhorn bays and crab.

The Sand Hills, undated postcard

As I grew older I gained a greater understanding and appreciation of First Landing State Park. I started visiting the park again and tried to be cognizant of my surroundings there than I’d been before. I’m still not a great fan of snakes, chiggers and ticks. And I’m no longer immune to poison ivy and poison oak like I used to be. But every now and then a walk in the Park is just what the doctor ordered (especially in the winter when the reptiles, chiggers and ticks are less of a problem).

On one such walk in 2002, I happened to notice the line of live oaks shown in the photograph above. I wanted to reduce what I saw to its most basic elements. So instead of presenting the image in its original color and texture, I converted it to black-and-white and increased the contrast significantly in order to emphasize the wind-blown tree trunks. In this form it remains one of my favorite pictures.


  1. That photo is amazing, Chris! Wow! Very ethereal.

  2. This past weekend the local PBS affiliate ran a special about Virginia's state parks. After living just a few miles west of what I still think of as Seashore State Park for most of my life I was surprised to learn about the integration issue. We make a point of visiting the park each time we get home. I was just there last week and was lucky to catch a flight of brown pelicans.

  3. I love First Landing State Park.

  4. This is one of my favorite haunts and there are a couple of places in the park I feel like I own when I am there. My son and I recently biked from the Shore Dr. entrance to the boardwalk for lunch at Ocean Eddies, and then back again. It was one of those increasingly rare days when we did not have any major arguments. Like Chip, it will always be Seashore State Park to me.