One of the things I love about Richmond is that it is a city of surprises. I’ve lived here for more than 10 (non-sequential) years now and the place still feels new and vibrant and special to me. Every week we rediscover why we love it so—a new restaurant, a new shop, a new overlook or nature trail. When it feels like we’ve explored all there could possibly be we happen upon another unexpected or new-to-us gem.
The Pony Pasture rapids, and the scenic roadway that connects to it, was once one of those unexpected surprises. We first met on a Saturday in the Fall of 2005 during a training run for the Richmond Marathon. My route that day was a 15.5 mile loop beginning at the Boulevard stadium, whipping through the preppy Libbie and Grove neighborhood, down and across the Huguenot bridge to Riverside Drive, up to Forest Hill Avenue and through Westover Hills, across the Nickel Bridge, around Dogwood Dell and Byrd Park, then to the homestretch on Boulevard and back to the stadium. (In case you run RVA and are in the mood for a little sight seeing.) :)
The happiest part of the route is the two miles that spans the river along Riverside Drive.
Here, on the James, it is another world; a nature retreat well within city limits. Along Riverside Drive the trees arch up into the sky, reaching for each other, high across the flat roadway that unfurls beneath it. The river here belongs to no one and everyone. In the Summertime people from all around spill out into the water and the road bustles with pedestrians on pleasure walks and dog walks, runners, cyclists; families making their way to and from the water's edge, inner tubes and coolers in hand; kayakers and paddle boarders carrying their transportation overhead to nearby access points. On the other side of the road is a haunting rural landscape of mansions old and new that loom over the great edge of the grassy hill on which they perch, and water-filled rock quarries that pool down below. Every day the sun rises at one end of the river and sets on the other. The River sees it all. If I had a church this spot would be mine.
Riverside Drive leads to Pony Pasture rapids, part of the James River Park System. This is the place we go to when the river is high to stomp along the trails that run parallel to it, taking care not to get too close, remembering that nature can be a wild beast; this is the place we go to when the river is low, and the boulder-studded underbelly emerges for periods long enough to allow green grasses and habitats to grow thick and high, a terrarium of earth, sky, and water. We walk the trails then too, but it is with purpose to find a little thicket opening to crawl-through and emerge on the other side into our own frontier, where long afternoons are made for rock hopping, creature discoveries, and slippery expeditions out into the shallow playground. The views are handsome and we are a part of the river as the river is a part of us.
It took me more than five years of living in Richmond to find this place, and it has lived in my heart ever since.
We’ve been semi-enthusiastic renters since 2011 when we moved back to Richmond for good, and we've been actively surveilling a few key areas in and out of the city for these past 3.5 years in search of just the right piece of land. We've known of every lot that has come on the market in these particular areas, and there haven't been many as the city is old and well established. The choice though, has always been to pursue small obscure opportunities found in the city, or acres on acres for much lower prices outside city limits. It’s been our joy to dream of what each situation could bring.
Earlier this year, two lots at Pony Pasture arrived on the market. We had just recently decided to cool it, after the Varina lot fell through, and for about a month we drove ourselves crazy passing by those two lots every day on our way to somewhere by the river. Finally, we called our realtor. We sat on it for a bit. We made an offer on one of them, and negotiated a price. There were extenuating circumstances on the part of the seller's and the deal couldn't move forward. We waited, we called more lenders, we looked at every other possible avenue. Months passed. Summer ended, and then earlier this month we tried again.
Our offer was accepted, and we are officially under contract for a half-acre wooded lot. The best part is that our closest neighbor is the trusty river. Always offering up something new for us and never one to turn down adventure or quiet solitude. The choice will be ours. We close in October! (Barring any unexpected challenges, ahem.)
We met yesterday with our architect Scott. It was a drizzly morning and the smells of the earth of our future homesite were rising up, lush and welcoming. I’ve been saving my enthusiasm for the end of this process, when I know that the land is good and finally secured, but I have to admit that standing together under the tree canopy sharing our vision with Scott and hearing his take on how best to nestle the house into the hillside, it was, well, hard not to feel the thrill. This has been our dream for a long, long time.