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Nice Day, Good Catch

A mile along the James River prompts pause.

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We'd sit there in the car for what seemed like an eternity. I'm sure now that it was only a minute. But it was a 60-second refresher for my mom.

My dad's river reflection required more time — and immersion.

He taught me how to swim in a shallow, mossy pool alongside one of Pony Pasture's trails, where cattails and willows grew. We fished nearby, too. And my claim to fame in childhood was that my brother Ben and I made the front page of the defunct Richmond News Leader holding up four slimy catfish we'd reeled in. It was a slow news day, May 9, 1975. I wore a Brownie uniform; Ben wore Toughskins. The words below our picture read: "Nice Day, Good Catch."

As a kid, I never had to cross a road to get to the James River, only ride my bike down one. I took its access for granted because it always awaited me.

My husband and I now live in the same Stratford Hills neighborhood where we both grew up. The river is about a half-mile downhill from our house. The road around it, Riverside Drive, is flat in this part of the city and snakes along the bank. High tree canopies shade much of our walk, and even on the hottest, stickiest days, the river spits a breeze our way.

Now and then, we've noticed the mysterious foam on the water's surface, caught in eddies or clinging to algae. But it doesn't appear to be stopping people from enjoying the James.

Regularly we meet strangers whose faces and gaits have become familiar — the pretty new mom and her twin girls, the cheerful visor-wearing couple, the man with the run-walk who tilts his head to the right — and we wave and say hello. Occasionally, others we pass peer at us oddly, we assume because of the beer cans in the bottom of our baby jogger. We've fetched water bottles from the roadside, too, not far from where trash and recycling bins stand.

Mostly, the James River has good stewards. This one-mile stretch from Pony Pasture to Rockfalls Drive reveals them. Teenagers in bikinis and swim trunks hoisting inner tubes, Hispanic families picnicking, fishermen in pickups, hip-hoppers in cruisers, kayakers in wetsuits, seniors in golf shorts, cyclists in spandex — you get the picture. In terms of diversity, it's Mother Nature's Costco.

Inspired, my husband got his fishing license and a $20 Zebco. Sometimes he carries the pole with him when we make our loop. There's a little beach east of the dam and across from a quarry where he wades in and casts his line. Our 10-month-old daughter seems to enjoy the stop. Free from her stroller but not from me, she plucks at the grass or else sinks her toes in the sand. Before long, we're back on the road and moving again.

For those who don't walk, run or bike it, the speed limit on this portion of Riverside Drive is 15 mph. If you exceed it, you miss things. Gaggles of Canada geese, for instance, are so plentiful these days they seem to outnumber the fish. Eyeing dinner, blue herons perch one-legged on rocks below Williams Dam. And the river's edge becomes a seek-and-find of mallards, ospreys, otters, hawks, turtles and snakes.

Still, some people blaze by. But slowing down along Riverside Drive — even slower than the 15 mph — may be inevitable. When City Council reconvenes in September, Councilwoman Kathy Graziano, whose 4th District encompasses the area, plans to introduce a paper calling for speed bumps along the scenic route. While I'm not sure how speed bumps might alter a person's experience of the James, I can't help thinking about the scene and that if it were up to my mom, stopping would be required. S



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