Friday, May 8, 2015

Episode 265 (5-11-15): A Water-based Look at Geography

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (4:04)

Transcript of audio, notes on the audio, photos, and additional information follow below.All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 5-7-15.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of May 11, 2015.

MUSIC – ~12 sec – from “Wandering Boots,” by Chamomile and Whiskey

This week, that opening of “Wandering Boots,” by the Charlottesville and Nelson County-based band, Chamomile and Whiskey, sets the tone for exploring the basics of geography – the complex and changing interactions of people, places, and resources across space and time.

Geographers study the earth’s physical, human, and environmental features, aiming to understand how these factors interact and result in patterns of landscapes, human settlements, and ecosystems.  In everyday terms, geography helps answer questions about where people live, what they do, how they use resources, how they cooperate, and how they conflict.

As a science, geography’s origins go back about 2000 years to ancient Greece; in fact, the word “geography” comes from Greek for “earth writing.”  Exploring, describing, and mapping the earth were geography’s first tasks, and mapping water was a key objective, such as the ocean maps needed by 16th- and 17th-Century European seafaring nations seeking to expand trade or their empires.  In Virginia, water has always been a fundamental geographic feature, because of the Commonwealth’s coastal location and its thousands of miles of streams and rivers.  So let’s have a listen for about 15 seconds to sounds from one Virginia river basin, and imagine what geographic stories that basin might tell.

SOUNDS  - ~16 sec – James River at Richmond in Feb. 2014, James River at Lynchburg in June 2013, and Craig Creek in Montgomery County in Apr. 2015.

You heard the James River at Richmond, the James at Lynchburg, and the Montgomery County headwaters of Craig Creek, a James River tributary.  Some of this river basin’s many geographic stories include those of the past—such as how settlement of Virginia proceeded up the James from tidal areas into the Piedmont; of the present, such as where water supplies or floodwaters in James River cities begin; and the future, such as how the water available in the James matches up with projected populations in different localities.

Like oceans for early geographers, water’s still a major topic as modern geographers continue to try to “write the earth.”

Thanks to Chamomile and Whiskey for permission to use this week’s music, and in the spirit of human migrations that help keep geographers busy, we close with another short excerpt of “Wandering Boots.”

MUSIC – ~24 sec – from “Wandering Boots,” by Chamomile and Whiskey

For other water sounds and music, and for more Virginia water information, visit our Web site at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  From the Virginia Water Resources Research Center in Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


The James River at Richmond was recorded on February 17, 2014, at Brown’s Island; thanks to Michael Martz for providing that sound.   The James at Lynchburg was recorded June 15, 2013, at Percival’s Island; and Craig Creek was recorded on April 26, 2015, in Montgomery County.

“Wandering Boots” (track and 2013 album) are copyright by Chamomile and Whiskey and by County Wide Records, used with permission of Chamomile and Whiskey.  More information about Chamomile and Whiskey, a group based in Charlottesville and Nelson County, Va., is available online at  Information about Charlottesville-based County Wide Records is available online at

Thanks to Dr. Luke Juran, in the Virginia Tech Department of Geography, for his help with developing the ideas and content for this episode.


James River downstream of Richmond, Va., June 22, 2017.  In the distance is the Interstate 295 bridge.
James River at Lynchburg, Va., June 15, 2013.
Craig Creek in Montgomery County, Va., April 26, 2015.


Used in Audio

Encyclopedia Britannica, “Geography,” by Ron Johnson, online at

David Hackett Fischer and James C. Kelly, Bound Away: Virginia and the Westward Movement, University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 2000.

Sarah L. Holloway, Stephen P. Rice, and Gill Valentine, Key Concepts in Geography, Sage Publications, London, 2003.

Oxford Dictionaries, “Geography,” online at

For More Information about the Science and Study of Geography
National Geographic Society, Geography for Life: National Geography Standards, 2nd Edition (2012).  Informatiom about this work is available online at

For More Information about Virginia’s Water-related Geography
“Hydrologic Unit Geography,” Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, online at  This site provides detailed information on how watersheds are designated, plus access to interactive maps of Virginia’s watersheds.

“Surf Your Watershed,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), online at  This site allows users to locate watersheds and watershed information across the United States.

“Water Resources of Virginia,” U.S. Geological Survey, online at  This is the home page for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Virginia Water Science Center.


The “five themes of geography” is a widely used framework of the major concepts that modern geography addresses.  According to the National Geographic Society, “Education/Frequently Asked Questions,” online at, the five themes are location, place, human-environment interaction, movement, and regions.

The “National Geography Standards and Skills” were published by the National Geographic Society in Geography for Life: National Geography Standards, 2nd Edition (2012).  National Geographic Society.  The standards are grouped into six “essential elements,” which parallel closely the “five themes” – The World in Spatial Terms, Places and Regions, Physical Systems, Human Systems, Environment and Society, and The Uses of Geography.  Information about the standards (18) and skills (5) is available online at

And for one more framework on geography’s range of concepts, here are the main topics covered in Key Concepts in Geography, by Sarah L. Holloway, Stephen P. Rice, and Gill Valentine (Sage Publications, London, 2003), as shown in the Table of Contents: space, time, place, scale, social formations, physical systems, landscape, environment.

Virginia’s water-related geography is typically described by major river basins.  Virginia’s major river basins (or river watersheds), as used by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (accessed online at are part of three larger watersheds: the Chesapeake Bay, Atlantic Ocean, and Gulf of Mexico.  The river basins contained within each of the three large basins are as follows:
In the Chesapeake Bay watershed – Chesapeake Bay Coastal, James River, Potomac River, Rappahannock River, and York River.
In the Atlantic Ocean watershed
– All of the river basins in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, plus Albemarle Sound Coastal, Atlantic Ocean Coastal, Chowan River, Roanoke River, and Yadkin River.
In the Gulf of Mexico watershed
- Big Sandy River, Clinch-Powell Rivers, Holston River, and New River.


For previous episodes on water-related geographic features in Virginia, please see the  “Rivers, Streams, and Other Surface Water” category” category at the Index link above (  The following episodes also have geographic connections (including, in some cases, the role of water-related geographic features in Virginia’s history).

Walk across Virginia | EP110 – 5/14/12
Exploration of the Chesapeake Bay | EP140 – 12/10/12
Water and settlement of Roanoke | EP181 – 9/30/13
Water and the Revolutionary War | EP103 – 3/19/12; EP168 – 7/1/13
Water origins of Virginia Declaration signers | EP220 – 6/30/14


This episode may help with the following Virginia’s 2010 Social Studies Standards of Learning (SOLs):

World Geography Course
WG.2 – how physical and ecological processes and human activities shape the earth.
WG.3 – concept of a region.
WG.6 – past and present trends in human migration and interaction as influenced by social, economic, political, and environmental factors.
WG.7 – types of natural, human, and capital resources and their influence on economic activity and land use.
WG.12 – applying geography to interpret the past, understand the present, and plan for the future.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at