Seeing & Looking
The dog pulls abruptly on her leash. Ahead of her, a tiny fawn flits away and bounds around a dogwood tree. Virginia rain lashed the pines moments ago, yet in minutes the sun and humidity have returned. Encompassed by emerald radiance, the world of tech, devices, speed and stress melts away and disappears.
We are walking a dog-friendly, well-marked forest trail that winds between the marsh and the Albemarle-Chesapeake Canal. We came not only to walk the dog, but to enjoy some morning forest bathing. Forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, is not about filling a tub in the trees. A health practice among the Japanese, shinrin-yoku embodies respect for the divine nature of the trees. It involves a myriad of ways to improve mental and physical health. For the Japanese, whose working culture suffers from "overwork death" (Karō shi 過労死 ), forest bathing is a way to balance stress with the benefits of immersion in nature. Studies from Japan suggest the practice can improve sleep quality, reduce heart rate, and lower cortisol levels.
Virginia is a forested state. We saunter by a diverse group of tree species. Overhead, stately pines are graced by sunlight beams. The ground is moist and needle-covered. As we walk, we pass native magnolia and sassafras. By the museum and parking lot, docent master gardeners who specialize in historic gardening are planting trees with deep roots in American history. Docents Linda Bradley and her husband have planted Eastern Redbud, Regal Prince Oak, Sweetbay Magnolia and Allegheny chinquapin (dwarf chestnut). The tulip poplar tree is also here; it was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson, who had one planted at his Monticello estate in 1807.
Two Local Heroes from Long Ago:
On the walk home, we soak up details of the Battle of Great Bridge, fought here on December 9th, 1775. Trail plaques mention heroes of the battle. Polly Miller, a single 35-year-old owner of an ordinary (or inn) served spirits and food at her establishment. Miss Polly ordered refreshments for the Patriot troops. She gave aid and comfort to injured Virginians but took charge of the British wounded as well. According to historian William S. Forrest, she saved the lives of half a dozen men.
William “Billy” Flora was cold. A rime of ice encrusted the march grasses of the Great Dismal Swamp that lay on both sides of the narrow spit of land where Flora was posted. An African-American sentry and freight company owner, Flora was the last to leave his post as the British advanced. He was crouched down in the lee of a pile of shingles next to a burnt out building. Less than 70 yards ahead, on the other side of the Great Bridge, British soldiers were about to charge. Amidst a shower of musket balls, Billy kept firing his Old Betty musket at the red-coats before he turned, crossed the causeway and lifted up a plank. This obstruction prevented the British regiment from crossing. Under fire from the Virginia Patriots, the British retreated. Flora was one of 5,000 Black free men who helped bring about American Independence.
LINK to an interactive map, click gbbattlefield.org/The Great Bridge Battlefield & Waterways History Foundation (757.482.4480.Open 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday-Friday)
Photos and Writings by Jim Austin Jimages