Antithesis of Consumerism and Cynicism

This life has been given to you for repentance.  Do not waste it on vain pursuits.

St. Isaac the Syrian

The Christmas shopping season is upon us.  It used to be that merchants would, at least, wait until our Thanksgiving meals have been well digested and football fans had plenty of time to cheer or curse the results of the big game.  Alas, the infamous “black Friday” begins Thursday night.  It was one thing when a local restaurant or tavern would offer a holiday meal to weary travelers who were delayed from reaching their intended destination.  I suppose mall food courts will offer turkey steak and cheese hoagies to shoppers awaiting “door buster specials.”

Yet, it is not enough to bemoan how Christmas has become an overly commercial farce.  Cynicism is also a toxic mentality which destroys the joy and hope that we should have during this (and any other) time of the year.  Unmet expectations of special gifts under the tree, losing beloved relatives and friends, employment and finances taking turns for the worse; such things can easily lead people into a slippery slope of depression as real life does not always mirror the seasonal Hallmark Channel specials.

View from Humpback Rock (© John Gresham)

The words of St. Isaac the Syrian have become my mantra for these days leading into Christmas.  While I have done nothing to justify arrest and imprisonment, I am mindful of my imperfect actions, words, and (the source of these things) thoughts.  The fact that the Lord has not destroyed me in my wickedness is proof of his love and desire that I should change my ways.  Thus, repentance should be a part of everything I do from eating breakfast, performing task at home and work, even enjoying a quick game of mahjong.  One need not live in sackcloth and ashes.  But, to be careful of the thoughts harbored has a positive effect on words spoken and things done.

It is more difficult to shop until you drop knowing that one’s highest aim is a change of self.  Nor can one wallow in self-pity if they focus on developing a greater spiritual self.  We seek out greater principles of life instead.  This is where things are created and discoveries are made.  New bonds of interaction are forged and hope continues in spite of disappointments and disasters.  It is this higher awareness that cannot be found in fat men sliding down chimneys or washing away one’s misery in spirits.  It is found only when one pursues a life of spirit.

Give thoughtful gifts to the people you love.  Refuse to be swept up in the excesses of commercial marketing.  Seeking the higher point of our existence keeps us safe from this seasons toxicity and allows us a fullness of life that goes beyond January first.


Escaped to Mathews!

It used to be a bi-weekly thing.  I’d throw my kayak on top of the car, grab my fishing and camera gear, put a few bucks in my wallet and hit Route 14 until I couldn’t go any further east.  For years, Mathews County has been my summer hang out.  The public beaches attract wild birds more than sunbathers.  Kayak anglers can find almost anything swimming in the marshes.  The Saturday farmer’s market offers a variety of food and crafts.  How could anyone hate a mostly rural county surrounded by water and possessing no traffic lights?

At Low Tide (© John Gresham)

I barely stepped foot in Mathews in about a year.  Work caught up with me.  Being a ranger and pastor doesn’t lend me to much free time.  Oddly enough, I have been a bit more interested in hiking in the mountains rather than hunting for Oystercatchers.  Constantly shooting and blogging for the park and my recent pursuit of Orthodox Christianity has made my passion for pleasure photography dwindle.

Untitled (© John Gresham)

I couldn’t let the summer pass by without reigniting my love for the place (and the blog) that led me out of a basement in Richmond.  With the Pamunkey Baptist Association Annual Session out-of-the-way and having to lead a canoe trip on Thursday, I made sure the lawn and other chores were taken care of Friday.  Even though my time was limited by other responsibilities, I had to make an escape to Mathews Saturday morning.

Marsh Master (© John Gresham)

I was expecting higher winds.  But the Chesapeake Bay was rather calm at Bethel Beach.  I probably could have launched my kayak in it.  The colors at sunrise were fine for a couple of good images.  Returning to my car to switch lenses, an Osprey was kind enough to pose perfectly with the sunlight at it’s back.  I was a bit frustrated with myself for letting my skills wane a bit as  a couple of Dunlin and Wilson’s Plovers fed along the gently crashing waves.  Even at low tide, I couldn’t cross the narrow channel that cut an island from the rest of the beach.  But, I thought the sand flat would be a great area to create a panorama or two.

After a couple of hours, I pulled into Winter Harbor Haven and saw that a few kayakers had already hit the water.  If it weren’t for a sermon and eulogy I had to develop, my Pungo 14o would be in Horn Harbor hunting for croakers, red drum, and speckled trout.  Driving back through town, I had to make two stops.  A couple of guys were selling fresh Carolina shrimp from the back of a truck.  Eating the farm-raised variety for over a year, it was refreshing to taste the real McCoy again.  A little sugar baby watermelon from the farmer’s market made a good desert with grilled shrimp.

BBQ Shrimp (© John Gresham)

My Saturdays in August and September will be booked at work.  So, I will take a couple of days off during the week those months and make more escapes to the land and waters of my ancestry.  I hope some fish will be there to greet me as well.

Taskinas Creek Trail: In The Heart Of The Marsh

Yes, it is open again!  The Taskinas Creek Trail at York River State Park was renown as one of the best hikes east of I-95.  Due to storm damage, it was closed to the public for two years.  Park staff and volunteers worked hard to re-route and restore the trail.  Despite some significant changes, Taskinas Creek is a hike that is winning praise in the region for it’s physical challenge, views of wildlife, and unique beauty.

Taskinas Creek at Sunset (© John Gresham)

The long bridges across the freshwater streams at the beginning of the trail are gone.  Yet, hiking along the smaller crossings still provides guest with an idea of how estuarine creeks and rivers begin as mere trickles of water at the bottom of a hill.  As they flow, these streams get broader turning the surrounding lowland into bogs.  A variety of frogs, turtles, and other creatures can be found here.

The freshwater bogs give way to an open canopy marsh and cord grass as hikers reach the first Marsh Overlook.  The stream meets the larger Taskinas Creek at the Heron Overlook.  This is a great place to spot both the Great Blue Heron and the smaller Green Heron.  At low tide, Fiddler Crabs can be seen scurrying around for hiding places.  High tides bring Muskrat and Killifish swimming right underneath the overlook.

Flying Lesson (John Gresham/DCR)

After an elevation change, hikers are rewarded with the Osprey Overlook.  An Osprey nesting platform stands between  two bends in the creek.  These expert anglers reside here from March until September to raise their young.  This year, we have two chicks on the nest in the creek.  The platform was installed by a local Boy Scout working on his Eagle Badge.  An overlook named for our national bird can be found on a small spur trail before ascending on another hill.  Bald Eagles can be seen at the park year round, perhaps more frequently when the Osprey are back in Latin America for the winter.

Along the Creek (John Gresham/DCR)

A challenging ravine follows lined with Mountain Laurels.  In May, this is one of the most beautiful parts of the hike.  Ascending to the final hill is the spur leading to the Kingfisher Overlook.  Fans of the original trail will remember how the long bridge used to cross a section of the marsh.  A portion of the bridge was removed due to constant erosion damage.  But, a substantial section remains as an overlook that is perfect for wildlife viewing, photography, and waving to the canoeist and kayakers as they explore the creek.  Returning from the spur, the final leg of the hike is relatively broad with only slight elevation changes until completing the loop to the first two ravines.

New Trail Map (John Gresham/DCR)

As unbiased as I can be, this is the best hiking trail on the  peninsula.  I doubt if there is anything quite like it along the Chesapeake Bay.  The elevation changes will impress the most avid outdoors adventurers.  Birders and photographers can enjoy the diversity of nature’s beauty.  Environmental educators will find it a great learning lab for geology as well as ecology.  Make plans to visit the Taskinas Creek Trail at York River State Park.  Parking at the park is only $2 per vehicle on weekdays, $3 on weekends.  Visit the Virginia State Parks blog for stories about the trail and other items of interest at York River and around the state.

Benefits of Plan B

You would think that with “Gresham’s Law*” being a part of our lives that everyone would have some sort of back up plan for their outdoor adventures.  I used to be one of those poor souls.  I would come home in a foul mood if the fish weren’t biting, the weather turned bad, or if some other complication would arise just to ruin my day or weekend off.  Now, getting skunked or soaked no longer is something that I dread.  I look to my alternatives.

Water Meets Stone and Moss (© John Gresham)

My camera goes wherever I go.  I may not take it in the kayak while fishing.  But, if the day is especially bad, I can get some landscape and wildlife images in.  I have access to a couple of good point-and-shoot cameras when I backpack.  If I change my mind, “The Brick” (my Pentax K200D) is in the trunk for a shorter walk and better photos.  No matter what level photographer you are, a camera is a great thing to have.  Capturing a few good scenes can make a bad day better.

My appetite and taste buds are a part of me.  Having a few bucks while traveling can open one up to a culinary adventure when the waters and trails prove uncooperative.  Bypass the typical chain restaurants and fast food.  Local diners and dives have offerings that you just may not find at home.  You may even be inspired to buy the ingredients and try making the meal at home.

In this age of social media, we have forgotten what it is to have a good book on hand.  Yeah, Kindle and Nook may have their advantages.  But, there is something about the feel of hardbound or paperback that makes reading a holistic experience.  Some communities have neat local papers and magazines that beckon even the most discouraged adventurer to come back and try again next time.

A Friendly Local (© John Gresham)

This past Monday was to be my epic mountain adventure of the year.  I was going on a solo backpack of Crabtree Falls and The Priest.  I told everyone that I was going to make the climb on Monday, crash at the shelter, make my way down Tuesday, and use Wednesday to recuperate.  When I got to Massies Mill, I couldn’t even see the mountains due to the thick fog.  To make matters worse, the weatherman called for rain and thunderstorms all day and evening.  A 18 mile round trip solo hike in bad weather on some trail I wasn’t familiar with didn’t seem like a great idea to me.

So, I went to plan B.  I grabbed the “brick” and captured some waterfall images along Crabtree and the Tye River.  Unfortunately, the Country Store in Montebello didn’t take my ATM card.  The UVA Credit Union in Nellysford was available.  I found a great little Italian joint that had a used book exchange.  They didn’t have anything I was interested in.   But, I did pick up the “Appalachian Voice.”  Being discouraged about not being able to execute my original plan would have been self-defeating.  Enjoying the alternatives has given me an appreciation for Nelson County and a marinated beef and turkey sandwich with cheese.

*“Everything that can go wrong will go wrong.”  I wrote that on a post it note with no adhesive.  Some guy named Murphy picked it up, got the copyrights, and made millions.

Walkerton: Tidal Marsh Trip

Walkerton, Virginia is one of those little spots of real estate that barely show up on a map or GPS.  The King & Queen County town was once a busy little port on the Mattaponi River.  As with its upriver sister Aylett, Walkerton’s importance dwindled as more people relied on automobiles.  There is an attractive mill-pond, a couple of historic buildings, and a little gas station/country store to visit.  Civic organizations and the volunteer fire department hold different fundraisers serving delicious barbecue and Brunswick Stew.

Mattaponi Reflection (© John Gresham)

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, motorboats dominate the Mattaponi River here.  The river is tidal, but freshwater.  Water-skiing and jet-skiing are very popular with locals and those in the know.  But, things can get a bit congested here and there are a few shallow islands that one has to navigate.  This gets even trickier as the tidal current is said to be one of the swiftest in the state.  Canoeists and kayakers would do well to avoid the town on weekends.


Misty Foot Bridge (© John Gresham)


Weekdays before the Spring and Summer madness begins is a great time to paddle here.  The local fire dept. has a launch specifically for small craft (please leave a donation) and there is a kiosk of information about this stretch of the river provided by the Mattaponi/Pamunkey Rivers Association.  The freshwater tidal marsh is a fine place to admire the variety of plants growing along the shoreline.  Sunrise and sunset visits offer great opportunities for capturing a beautiful image or two with your camera.  Or, try your luck with a rod and reel.  Walkerton is known for catfish and yellow perch fishing.  But, the bass and bream provide action as well.

From Richmond, take Rt.360 East to Central Garage.  Turn Right on Rt. 30 and left on Rt. 629 (across from Hamilton-Holmes Middle School).





Not Just The Roe

People can be so wasteful it is embarrassing.  For many decades, watermen harvested the roe (egg sacks) from certain fish and throwing the carcasses to the dogs, scavengers, or letting them rot.  This was the fate of the once numerous Atlantic Sturgeon, Blueback Herring, American and Hickory Shad.  Fortunately, all but the sturgeon remain in numbers that can be harvested with heavy restrictions.  Shad and herring roe are delicacies that fetch a high price in top restaurants.

The fish is not as adored because they have a plethora of bones.  I grew up on shad and don’t mind picking out the succulent meat.  Smoked is the best way of eating them as their oily texture readily takes on hickory flavor.  Grilling and planking are also prefered methods to frying.  But, if you really don’t want to deal with the bones, I recommend the following method for baking:

  • thoroughly clean and scale a shad (leave the head on if you wish) and split the fish along the body cavity and backbone
  • Generously season the flesh with lemon & pepper seasoning, liquid smoke, and sliced onion
  • Close the fish up.  Cut 4 or five slits in the fish crossways and season as you did the inside.
  • Place the fish in a roasting pan and add a cup of boiling water.
  • Cover and bake at 250 degrees for 5 hours

Using this method, the bones will dissolve into the meat.  One bite and you will wish the shad were in season all year-long.

Trails To Hike In 2012

Yes, it is “THE BEST OF …” season.  Everyone in every hobby and occupation is talking about the great stuff about 2011 and what to do in 2012.  I’m sorry that I couldn’t resist jumping on the bandwagon.  But, there are a few places I recommend to people who want to put their new outdoor gear to use.  The trails range from an easy walk on the beach to hind parts kicking adventures and offer some of the most interesting scenery in Virginia.  No, I haven’t hiked everywhere in the state.  I’m only suggesting based on my experience in 2011 (and feel free to suggest some other locations you like).  Print this post and keep it.  It may be useful when you plan your next road trip.

1) Maritime/Vir-Mar Trail (False Cape State Park)Getting into False Cape is an adventure on its own (no private vehicles).  But, for a truly wild beach trek, this trail is hard to beat with its untouched sand dunes to the Atlantic and sunsets on Back Bay.  Call the park office to plan your trip around a ranger guided program and you may be able to crash at the Wash Woods Overnight Education Center.

2) Crabtree Falls (George Washington National Forrest)Yeah, it can get crowded on warm weekends, and for good reason.  It is the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi and has gorgeous views.  The trail has a challenging combination of stairs and switchbacks.  I prefer starting from the bottom (plenty of parking off of Rt 58) and hiking to the top and back.  Resist the temptation to play in the rushing water.  Too many hikers had fallen to death here.

Sanderlings blitz at the Bayshore Trail

3) Bay Shore/Winter Water Trail (Hughlett’s Point Natural Area Preserve)This Northern Neck jewel has one of the largest panoramic views of the Chesapeake Bay.  When permitted (some very rare bird and insect species are protected here), you can make a complete loop from the beach to the lower end of bayshore.  Nearby Dameron Marsh Natural Area Preserve has no trails.  But, has some interesting observation points and a kayak launch.

4) Wahrani Nature Trail (New Kent Co. Parks & Recreation)Forget your stairmaster.  This frequently overlooked spot on the side of the road to the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula playgrounds (Rt 33) packs plenty of elevation changes.  Use caution here because you may have to share some real estate with mountain bikers.  It is a great place to warm up for mountain hikes.

5) Cold Mountain (Appalachian Trail)/Hotel Trail (George Washington National Forest)Take the AT in and out from the parking lot for the marvelous panoramic views.  Take the Hotel Trail for views of Mt. Pleasant and cool running creeks.  Make a day of an almost 6 mile loop.  Camp overnight.  Do whatever you can.  But, this place is fantastic!

6)  Mattaponi/Woodstock Pond Trail (York River State Park)Taskinas Creek Trail will reopen in 2012.  But, don’t let that be an excuse to ignore fossil beach, the observation deck, and the spillway view between the pond and river.  You can make it a double loop hike, or connect to Backbone to reach the trails deeper in the park.

Humpback Rock rewards the hiker

7)  Humpback Rock (Blue Ridge Parkway)If you have never hiked a mountain, this is a good one to start with.  If you have done it before, this is a good one to visit.  The unique rock formation is almost like a window on the Shenandoah Valley below.  There is a connection to the AT for more advanced hikers.

8)  Herring Creek/Mattaponi Bluffs Loop (Zoar State Forest)Aylett, Virginia may be the best kept secret for adventure east of I-95.  This hike allows you to explore and play in cool, refreshing waters.  There are trails at the main section of the state forest and you can launch a canoe or kayak down to the Aylett boat launch (or further) for a great float trip.

Thanks to all of you for visiting Baystride Images in 2011.  I pray that you and your families will have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


John R. Gresham, Jr.