A few hours on the Nansemond River

Published 7:40 pm Friday, June 9, 2017

By John Carr

Last Sunday, I dropped a kayak into the Nansemond River a bend or two downriver from Constant’s Wharf. I paddled to the Route 58 overpass before turning back.

This stretch of river runs behind the Walmart, Lowe’s and Duke Automotive along Main Street, as well as the new Meridian Apartments and residential areas.

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It was a perfect day, but water traffic was almost non-existent. For the most part I had the river to myself for the afternoon.

Being so close to commercial development can put tremendous pressure on any natural resource. The world over, adventurous types know that trash manages to find its way into even the most remote places.

So it seems reasonable to expect plenty of unsightly junk along the Nansemond. A waterway that has seen consistent use since the explorers of the 17th century would testify to man’s impact on nearby nature.

My experience was exactly the opposite. In fact, the bank of the river behind Main Street seems largely undisturbed, probably much like it has been for hundreds of years as it varied from low tree lined bluffs to grassy marshlands. The opposite bank sports the backyards and docks of riverfront homes — not wilderness, but pretty nice in its own right.

The river was alive. A pair of ospreys patrolled high overhead looking to dive in and pick off any fish that strayed too close to the surface. The size of the fish they catch is impressive, and they often fly off with them gripped lengthwise underneath, like torpedoes.

Much lower than the osprey, a kingfisher scooted by. While stalking the mud flats at low tide, several great blue herons expertly speared minnows, while red winged blackbirds buzzed about tall marsh grass.

The muddy banks had armies of fiddlers that retreat in formation the closer you get. Another healthy sign.

I don’t know if the Nansemond holds redfish, but it should. Redfish love to feed on fiddlers in grassy areas when the tide rises. They often stick their tails in the air as they work to chomp on fiddlers and shrimp. Tailing reds is sight that gets an angler’s adrenalin gushing, but catching them is a challenge.

I took an offshoot into a small tidal creek. The water around me began to boil. The creek was thick with minnows that churned for space as the kayak approached in the confines of low tide.

Mullet up to about a foot long jumped through the afternoon. Mullet do this, and no one is sure why. There are some whimsical theories. Mine is that they are simply testing fate, creating a splash that is a dinner bell for ospreys, eagles and bigger fish.

Whatever the reason, I am always happy to see mullet. So many other species depend on them for food.

Even more pleasing than the wildlife was what I did not see — garbage. The day before, volunteers, led by Wayne Jones and the team at Keep Suffolk Beautiful, met at Constant’s Wharf and spent the day pulling an alarming amount and variety of trash from the river.

It’s hard not to get upset thinking of what little regard people have for the river most people would rank as Suffolk’s most precious natural resource. Most would not mind seeing some hefty fines passed out.

At least for now, it seems those working to keep the river clean are staying ahead of the thoughtless polluters. This is not to say it is entirely pristine or has completely avoided effects of pollution, but the river is very much alive.

On behalf of everyone who appreciates and enjoys our rivers and parks, our humble thanks to all those city staffers and volunteers who gave up a beautiful day to collect other people’s trash.

John Carr is the publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald. Email him at john.carr@suffolknewsherald.com.