Archive | March 2013

Meals of the Northern Neck 1

Whiting sandwich with onion rings and slaw from Rocket Billy's in White Stone. At least half the incentive to eat at Rocket

Whiting sandwich with onion rings and slaw from Rocket Billy’s in White Stone. At least half the incentive to eat at Rocket Billy’s is the fun of the drive-up itself. This crackerbox stand in the parking lot next to the lumber yard has been serving excellent barbecue, crab cakes, burgers, and other breakfast and lunch fare for nine years. A bench and a couple of tables are available but most people seem to pick up their meals and leave or sit in their cars and eat in the parking lot. The slaw and onion rings were great, and the sandwich was pretty good, and plenty.

I’ve been in quest of the ultimate fish sandwich on this trip. Something about being on the coast, I guess. I’m afraid the best one yet remains the grouper sandwich with fries that I ate at the Bayside Inn in Florida, but that may have been because we were outside on the water. After an unfortunate couple of incidents with otherwise delicious oysters a decade ago, I have eschewed all mollusca. Trust me, if you’d been through what I went through, twice in a row, a week apart in two different states, oysters from hundreds of miles apart, one dish cooked one raw, you would also never eat another hard-shelled sea creature again. It’s too bad, because I loved oysters until that trip. We used to steam barrels of them when I lived in the quonset hut in swamp decades ago. It pains me to be in the presence of a fried oyster po’boy and not be able to eat it. So I content myself with the luxury of a good fried fish sandwich when I’m near coastal waters, and I’ve not been disappointed yet on this journey.

Rockfish sandwich at the Car Wash Café in Kilmarnock. Maybe it was the sweet potato fries, but this plate definitely took the fish sandwich prize for Virginia. It may not have quite measured up to the Grouper sandwich at the Bayside Inn in Florida, but that could have been so good because we were eating outside on the water. In any case, if you ever find yourself near the tip of the Northern Neck Peninsula in southeastern Virginia, do not miss the opportunity to dine at the Car Wash. An old gas station/car wash has been converted into a great cafe/car wash. You park along side the vacant pump aisles or behind the building and the bonus is, after a delicious breakfast or lunch, you can still wash your car on the way out.

Rockfish sandwich at the Car Wash Café in Kilmarnock. Maybe it was the sweet potato fries, but this plate definitely took the fish sandwich prize for Virginia. If you ever find yourself near the tip of the Northern Neck Peninsula in southeastern Virginia, do not miss the opportunity to dine at the Car Wash. An old gas station/car wash has been converted into a great cafe/car wash. You park along side the vacant pump aisles or behind the building and the bonus is, after a delicious breakfast or lunch, you can still wash your car on the way out. One appealing feature of the Car Wash is the kitchen, right next to the tables; you know it has to be clean when it’s out in full view of the diners. Staff and owner could not be friendlier, too.

Flounder sandwich at Bentley's Grille in White Stone. A very good fish sandwich with crispy enough homemade fries. The bread was lacking in character but not the waitress!

Flounder sandwich at Bentley’s Grille in White Stone. A very good fish sandwich with crispy enough homemade fries. The bread was lacking in character but not the waitress! Coquille St. Jacques and tomato soup with grilled cheese were the other specials the day we went, and the dining rooms were fairly quiet. A couple of other groups of ladies came in to dine, and the dining rooms provided a welcoming ambience.

Other meals of note will make their appearance in the next installment. Bon appétit!

After the Gale

I couldn't wait to get out to the bay the day after the gale warning, and I was not disappointed. The beach was entirely changed! Of course, the general coastline remained the same, but the details had changed more dramatically than the usual day-to-day tidal modifications.

I couldn’t wait to get out to the bay the day after the gale warning, and I was not disappointed. The beach was entirely changed! Of course, the general coastline remained the same, but the details had changed more dramatically than the usual day-to-day tidal modifications. Gulls rested on choppy waters in the first inlet.

The tidal duff that is usually scattered in streaks has piled up a foot deep in the first inlet...

The tidal duff that is usually scattered in streaks has piled up a foot deep in the first inlet…

...the rest of the beach was swept clean.

…the rest of the beach was swept clean.

The salt marsh filled to the brim, and all along the beach where it was previously not possible to get both the bay and the marsh in the same frame, I could now capture both.

The salt marsh filled to the brim, and all along the beach where it was previously not possible to get both the bay and the marsh in the same frame, I can now capture both.

Untrammeled scallop

Untrammeled scallop

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Marsh to the right, bay to the left. With the dune grasses flattened or buried (or torn away) by the storm, I can see both sides for the length of the point.

Marsh to the right, bay to the left. With the dune grasses flattened or buried (or torn away) by the storm, I can see both sides for the length of the point.

The beach seems so changed, yet I can't be sure of how it looked before. Am I simply expecting change, and therefore see it? Is it possible I never looked for the bay from this spot, or was it really obscured by the grasses?

The beach seems so changed, yet I can’t be sure of how it looked before. Am I simply expecting change, and therefore see it? Is it possible I never looked for the bay from this spot, or was it really obscured by the grasses? For sure (I think!) the waters are closer together than I have ever seen them.

A stretch of small pebbles laid down by waves and then blown by wind into little pedestals.

A stretch of beach where small pebbles laid down by waves have been blown by wind into little pedestals.

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A new braided channel from the marsh to the bay flows out by the usual down trees. I've seen this channel open before, more than a year ago after a storm, but the next tide closed it off again.

A new braided channel from the marsh to the bay flows out by the usual down trees. I’ve seen this channel open before, more than a year ago after a storm, but the next tide closed it off again.

Looking back up into the marsh from the bay along the new channel. Couldn't quite leap it, and this time there was no fallen log to walk across. Oh well. Wet shoes.

Looking back up into the marsh from the bay along the new channel. Couldn’t quite leap it, and this time there was no fallen log to walk across. Oh well. Wet shoes.

The Stump, roots completely covered with sand. My sense is that the whole beach was raised a couple of feet with sand pushed up in the storm. Nobody else has been out this far since the storm. Our prints are the first; the whole beach has been smooth packed sand, not the usual stripes and layers of hard, soft, fine, coarse; most of the driftwood washed away.

The Stump, roots completely covered with sand. My sense is that the whole beach was raised a couple of feet with sand pushed up in the storm. Nobody else has been out this far since the storm. Our prints are the first; the whole beach has been smooth packed sand, not the usual stripes and layers of hard, soft, fine, coarse; most of the driftwood washed away.

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The steep bank of the usual outlet at the tip of the point supports my theory of a sand deposit from the storm. This is usually a smooth slope, not nearly so high even in low tide. Today's walk has been a study in perception: it feels so different than it did two days ago, and I can pinpoint a few specific changes. But overall, it's called into question my powers of observation, recollection, and documentation. And it has only enhanced my fascination with the beautiful, mercurial Chesapeake Bay.

The steep bank along the usual outlet at the tip of the point supports my theory of a sand deposit from the storm. This is usually a smooth slope, not nearly so high even in low tide. Today’s walk has been a study in perception: it feels so different than it did two days ago, and I can pinpoint a few specific changes. But overall, it’s called into question my powers of observation, recollection, and documentation. And it has only enhanced my fascination with the beautiful, mercurial Chesapeake Bay. 

 

Ship at Sea

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Gale warning on the bay today, and yesterday was almost still. I took the dogs in the morning, anticipating today’s winter storm. I have only been managing to get there two or three times a week, so time my trips in accordance with weather and tides. Though it doesn’t much matter, low or high, the beach has always been walkable so far. In a way it’s more interesting at low tide; tide pools exposed, more things on the beach. But it’s always beautiful, choppy, rough, sunny, grey or glassine, the bay is always balm. Always good exercise for all of us, too.

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Yesterday two fishing boats and a ship at sea; most usually nothing, just water, sand, shells, seaweed, wind, the dogs, and me.

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This stump waits in a slight cove near the end of the beach, always there, always different: sometimes stilting feet above the sand, others nearly buried, sometimes under water… like today, when there’s a gale warning on the bay, and high tide at 4:15, just a couple of hours away. Rain pounds the house intermittently, wind shakes loose limbs from driveway trees. The Bradford pear in bud should survive the night even if it snows; tonight’s predicted low is not below freezing. It’s not a day for the bay, though part of me desperately wants to go see.

O’Leno State Park

Resurrection ferns, spanish moss, and other epiphytes grow high in the live oaks ~ and low, also, on limbs or trunks that have fallen down.

Resurrection ferns, spanish moss, and other epiphytes grow high in the live oaks ~ and low, also, on limbs or trunks that have fallen down.

Just north of High Springs, Florida, where I visited a dear friend, lies one of her favorite state parks. A new friend was heading up there after we met for breakfast to hunt for wild azaleas called pinksters, to see if any were in bloom yet in early February. I invited myself along and got a guided tour of one of several trails. We walked down the Santa Fe River to the end then back up the other side and crossed a swinging bridge to return to the parking lot. From there, he headed into the wilds and I hit the road again.

One of many bridges across creek beds wet or dry that fan out from the sink where the river disappears underground.

One of many bridges across creek beds wet or dry that fan out from the sink where the river disappears underground.

After strolling a beautiful path from the parking lot we came to the end of the line: the river disappears underground to emerge three miles away in River Rise State Preserve. My friend says this spins, most of the time; he shot a time lapse of the turtles spinning around the eddy. There they sit on the logs sticking out from the far shore.

After strolling a beautiful path from the parking lot we came to the end of the line: the river disappears underground to emerge three miles away in River Rise State Preserve. My friend says this spins, most of the time; he shot a time lapse of the turtles spinning around the eddy. There they sit on the logs sticking out from the far shore.

Looking upriver from the observation deck by the sink, you'd never know it was coming.

Looking upriver from the observation deck by the sink, you’d never know it was coming.

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When the river floods, these pools fill in some of the drainages leading out from the sink. Upwelling water also helps keep them full.

When the river floods, these pools fill in some of the drainages leading out from the sink. Upwelling water also helps keep them full.

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At the far end of this pool, a white plastic bag is stuck in a tree. Each spring my friend comes up in his boat and cleans the sink before the music festival.

At the far end of this pool, a white plastic bag is stuck in a tree. Each spring my friend comes up in his boat and cleans the sink before the music festival.

Live-oaks and deciduous trees arc over the trail through scrub that would be ripe for rattlesnakes in warmer weather. I feel safe letting the dogs run ahead on their leads.

Live-oaks and deciduous trees arc over the trail through scrub that would be ripe for rattlesnakes in warmer weather. I feel safe letting the dogs run ahead on their leads.

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Dan shoots me shooting him shooting dogs on the main bridge across the Santa Fe River. I think I came to a party here when I was younger, but I don't remember it quite this way. I remember it as an enclosed spring where we swam, and we saw for the first time, any of us, a rattlesnake swim completely underwater, at a level in the clear blue water parallel with us. I remember the amphitheater seating, the picnic tables, and maybe vaguely a walk down to the sink. but I did not understand the ecology as I do now; I did not comprehend the world yet in quite the expansive way I do now, after living out west. My boundary is bigger.

Dan shoots me shooting him shooting dogs on the main bridge across the Santa Fe River. I think I came to a party here when I was younger, but I don’t remember it quite this way. I remember it as an enclosed spring where we swam, and we saw for the first time, any of us, a rattlesnake swim completely underwater, at a level in the clear blue water parallel with us. I remember the amphitheater seating, the picnic tables, and maybe vaguely a walk down to the sink. but I did not understand the ecology as I do now; I did not comprehend the world yet in quite the expansive way I do now, after living out west. My boundary is bigger.

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Swim at your own risk; looking upstream from the bridge; watch for alligators; what's that shining on the far shore? Downstream, shortly, is the sink: water spins slowly into a giant hole in the ground; the river ends, briefly, before re-emerging downstream from various upwellings in sinkholes, creekbeds or culverts.

Swim at your own risk; looking upstream from the bridge; watch for alligators; what’s that shining on the far shore? Downstream, shortly, is the sink: water spins slowly into a giant hole in the ground; the river ends, briefly, before re-emerging downstream from various upwellings in sinkholes, creekbeds or culverts.

duh. Not to mention alligators and cottonmouths.

duh. Not to mention alligators and cottonmouths.