by Leslie Yesbeck, Richmond, VA

Story prompt: The river is important to me because …

I’ve always been more drawn to the riverbanks of the James than the water itself.

Growing up, the river represented evening or weekend walks with my parents. We’d frequent the wooded trails at the Pony Pasture, where you’d find me running back and forth between my mom and dad (my dad is a notorious fast-walker, and my mom is more leisurely). Ruby Sue, our energetic Brittany Spaniel, joined the family in the fifth grade and became a river lover as well. During her first jaunt to the river as a puppy, Ruby sprinted down a trail on Belle Isle without stopping, landing herself in the fast-moving waters of the river. She quickly learned the difference between land and water, and thankfully, how to swim.

In my teens, I attended James River high school, giving new meaning to the river. With a wider, calmer stretch of the river just down the street from school, the James was an easy escape. It became a spot for trail runs with the soccer team, weekend adventures on boats and paddle boards, and the occasional meeting spot for friends when we had nowhere else to go.

During the several years I spent away studying and working in other parts of the state, the river was a signal that I was home. Coming and going meant crossing the river and seeing the Railroad bridge, often in the soft light of an early morning or a fading dusk. That view was a welcome home and a “see you soon”.

Throughout young adulthood living here in Richmond, the river has most often been a destination on my daily runs. My favorite loop takes me from the Fan, to the canal, and across Brown’s Island. Sometimes I’ll cross the Potterfield bridge and make my way over to the Manchester floodwall, where I’ll forgo my music and podcasts for the calming sound of the rapids. Running may seem like work sometimes, but those bridge moments are a therapeutic reward.

Most recently, the river became a place to share with extended family and friends. My husband and I got married at the Tredegar, which hugs the river on one side. Family and friends from all over came to Richmond to celebrate with us, and got to witness the springtime contrast of soft pink blossoms against the rushing waters of the James. On that day, we learned that those views can make any unseasonably cold day by the river worthwhile.

Much like the James, I’ve been through highs and lows over time, but Richmond remains a core part of who I am. I know I have many more phases of life ahead of me, and I can only imagine what the James will mean as the years go on.

Photos provided by Leslie Yesbeck