Friday morning, I led a family visiting from Seattle, Washington on our Signature Bicycle Excursion, "The River Where America Began" with lunch at Upper Shirley Vineyard's Winery Restaurant. After a 14-mile bike ride on the Virginia Capital Trail, as we were returning to the vineyard for lunch, I was asked about the deep green plants, dotted with white and bright pink flowers. Did I know what they were? I knew from days spent biking last fall, when I saw the sea of white exploding across the fields, and later wrapped into giant rolls with flamingo pink cellophane after harvest, that it was cotton. But, I was still unsure. These verdant plants looked nothing like the stalks of snow white powder puffs I recalled. I remembered hearing Shirley Plantation keeps cotton planted in some of the fields as a reminder of the hours long sacrifice that many of our ancestors gave, sweating under a warm autumn sun to harvest by hand. But, maybe it is something else? Do they practice crop rotation? I decided then I had to have more confidence and assurance in my answer. My guest riders are looking to me, and all our guides, to be knowledgeable about the history of the area and the interesting things we are seeing in pastoral Virginia. When I led another group on a picnic ride Sunday morning we were delighted by the pretty pops of color that were peeking out from the shiny sea of emerald leaves. And I was even more delighted to say with confidence yes, it is cotton. For the next few weeks you can see cotton blossoms by the James River near Shirley Plantation and Upper Shirley Vineyard. Whether you are there for one of our signature bicycle excursions, to tour the plantation, or to sample a bit of wine and lunch with impressive views of the James River at the vineyard (all of which you can do one one of our rides!) look for these fields dotted with creamy white, yellow and fuschia flowers. Cotton starts with a bud or "square" then opens with a creamy white flower, which once self-pollinated turns this lovely pink before deepening to red, withering as flowers do, and falling off. This makes room for the young boll, shaped liked a tiny football, which matures, turns dark brown and hardens, as fibers grow inside forcing it to crack open to reveal the bright tufts of white that most of us recognize as cotton. Fibrils woven into the magic mystery of a baby's blanket, a summer dress, or just that favorite white t-shirt to which you gravitate, time and again. Watching the fields change with the seasons in Charles City County has been a fascinating part of biking these Virginia country lanes and the Virginia Capital Trail. Come along with us on a bicycle ride, ask us some questions, and we'll find the answers and watch the seasons unfold together!
Ride • Savor • Connect