There is an old steeple in the thick of a maritime forest on the narrow strip of land between Back Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Were it not for the state line, this thin strip of sandy land would be part of the Outer Banks. It is the most isolated part of the coast in Virginia.
While there is a steeple, the church is long gone and so are the people. No one has lived there since the 1970's.
All that remains are the steeple, covered in lichen, and the cemetery. Under the muted cast beneath the live oak trees, the only color are green, brown and grey.
The name Wash Woods comes from the fact that the ocean, during tropical storms of summer and nor'easters of winter, would wash over the community of fisherman and farmers. Some say it was a hurricane in the 1930's that pushed so much saltwater over the land that the soil itself was ruined and could no longer support the farming. I do not think this is true. I suspect it was the modernization of the 1950's and 60's that left the village too isolated to survive.
I have been there twice over the years. It is not an easy place to reach. Last time, a few years ago, I rode a bike several miles through Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park (the least attended of all state park in Virginia, because it is in fact so hard to get to). This time I spent $8.00 and rode the tram, something called the Blue Goose Express. Even then, there is still a hike across the dunes and through the forest to reach Wash Woods.
I am not the only one that goes there. Someone visits and leaves sea shells and silk flowers at the headstones in the cemetery.
When it was time to the leave the driver said "Let's head to the tram." "Thanks, but I'll walk out" I told him. "To where?" he said with indignation. "To my car at the visitor center." He looked at me very skeptically, doubting that I knew it was about eight miles walking in sand to get back to the parking lot. I told him I had done it before. It was an easy decision for me to trade sore leg muscles of tomorrow for a nice walk today.
I climbed over the dunes, dunes built during the depression to keep out the waves that washed over Wash Woods, to the ocean and headed into a cool north wind, enjoying the view and thinking about people who lived their lives on the narrow strip of sand. I envied the simplicity of their lives, admired their tenacity and appreciated what I could learn from them.