Blown out/casting about 

20 October, 2019           Blown out/casting about 

I had a long flight planned for Thursday but it got too windy so we cancelled. We were blown out! I wanted to write about that flight but that will be a future blog entry. Now I’m casting about for subject matter! But it’s been such a nice week anyway. 

Buffleheads will show up at Pony Pasture soon and outdoor flowers will disappear until  daffodils open in March of 2020 – five months from now. But Evelyn’s hibiscus is sending out the season in a glow. Maybe more next week – we’ll see. This is from Tuesday just before lunch: 

Hibiscus OMG – look at that petal, that shadow, that sky, those trees – beyond compare

I just realized we have blooming flowers in front too – we’ll see if they keep going. Stay tuned! I’m beginning to get some improved raptor images. Red-tailed hawks are around daily but Red-shouldered hawks are currently less plentiful. And they’re always a bit more colorful. I saw this one (Red-shouldered) in western Henrico Friday morning: 

Red-shouldered hawk perched in a loblolly pine in front of a crisp blue sky

I got another raptor picture this week (a bunch really, naturally) and it’s far from my best but I’m always thrilled when I get a “double” Red-tail. And this was on the power line across from DS Freeman HS; I could have walked from my house to the corner and taken this picture: 

Better light would have been nice, but any “double” Red-tail picture is a prize

Part of being “blown out” this week means I’m relying more heavily than normal on raptor pictures, which I realize are not everyone’s favorite. But I got one in the woods at Pony Pasture yesterday while I was hiking with Mackey and Turner. No one will be surprised that I spend a lot of time in Pony Pasture, but it’s quite rare to see a Red-tail in the woods. This isn’t the first one I’ve ever seen there, but they’re non-typical. Yesterday afternoon at 2:00: 

Red-tail in the woods at Pony Pasture, 2:00 PM yesterday. They are a lot harder to photograph in the woods. Autofocus is not always your friend. 

No moon viewing tonight (Sunday, 10/20/2019) here in Richmond – solid clouds. But it was full seven days ago and it’s been waning all week. It was 100% full Sunday; now (if you could see it) it’s ~60% full and shrinking. I’m learning lunar features currently – many are naked eye visible or binocular or telescope or telephoto lens visible. We always see the same side of the moon – it’s always turned toward earth. There are some enormous craters like “Copernicus” and a few more that you can see on any clear night when the moon is full or near full. Copernicus is almost sixty miles wide! Think about the blast that would make a crater so big it would stretch from Richmond to Fredericksburg. And it’s not as if the destruction ends at the crater’s edge – it must have continued for miles. Think about if that hit DC. It would make an atomic bomb seem like a firecracker. 

Anyway, here’s an image I took Monday evening, October 14 at 9:40 PM. At this point (according to an app called “world clock” and another (more precise) app called “Sun Surveyor,”) this moon is 98.5% full and it’s been 16.3 days since it was a “new” moon:

Waning moon, Monday evening at 9:40:

At the risk of sounding too nerdy (because this is too nerdy), this is some data about this moon. At that time. It had risen at 7:23 PM; this is two hours and twenty minutes later. It rose a tiny bit to the north of east (80º) and in the two plus hours it had been up moved to an equal distance south of east (100º). In that brief period of time it had diminished from 98.7% full to 98.5% full. Tonight at 9:40 (if you could see it) it will be all the way down to 55.1% full. Seven nights from now – even if there’s not a cloud in the sky – it’ll be invisible. It’ll be a “new” moon, less than 0.2% full. So if the weather clears up tomorrow night or the next, go outside and have a look at the moon. It’ll disappear (clouds or no clouds) on Friday and won’t become visible again until Wednesday: 

Relevant (if you’re a nerd like me) data about the precedeing moon picture from Monday

This just in (in a manner of speaking). Ev and I went out a couple of hours ago and when we returned home it had stopped raining and was light enough for me to photograph the front flowers. So in addition to the spectacular and un-shy hibiscus at the top of this post, we also have these asclepius – the ones that bring monarch butterflies and monarch butterfly caterpillars and hummingbirds and more. Though I believe those insects and birds are gone for 2019. But the flowers are still here!: 

Asclepius in our front yard (outside my office window) this afternoon at 4:30:

And what would a blog post be without dogs at the river! Our pal Yuki is on an extended road trip; I’m not sure when he’ll join us next. But he’ll show up on this blog! Have a great week, 

Jay (and Mackey and Turner!) 

Mackey and Turner rock-hopping at Pony Pasture yesterday at 12:30

Posted in Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, James River, love, moon, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“First, be a good animal” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

13 October, 2019            “First, be a good animal” – Ralph Waldo Emerson 

When I sent this picture to Ev (from the river this morning) she said “That’s the same photo you sent last week!” Which, scroll down to the first picture from last week, you can see why she said that! Same dogs, same rocks, same river. She then added “Ha! Same but different”. There’s an expression that says “you never bathe in the same river twice.” It was the James River last week and it was the James River this week but a lot of water has come down from upstream. And gone downstream: 

I hope you don’t tire of these pictures; I never tire of taking them:

Those are good animals, they’re really the best animals, but that’s not what this blog post is about. I have friends who are caring for a very ill child. Actually the hospital is caring for her. She’ll pull through but it’ll take a while and it’ll be difficult. I thought about the necessity of the parents to take care of themselves. That’s what Emerson was referring to. As humans we have great qualities such as compassion and caring and empathy. But if we allow ourselves to get sick and exhausted and weak – if we’re not good animals – all those great qualities are the first thing to go. The healthier you are – the better animal you are – the more able you are to express your more “human” capacities. 

We continued to be good animals when we hiked for an hour or so after that. We see all sorts of cool stuff in the woods. The keys here are officially “for scale,” but they’re a good accessory for this image: 

When we were young (this is true) we called this “shelf fungus”

It finally cooled off enough to have our first fire this week. All the animals in our house are drawn to it – two legged and four legged! It’s not cool enough to get my firewood conveyor belt in gear (that’s what it feels like in real cold weather) but it was nice to take the edge off Wednesday evening. Dash beat everybody to the prime spot: 

He who has the sharpest claws gets the fire:

I’ve mentioned in the past my difficulty in photographing Evelyn’s pineapple sage. They’re gorgeous and we have big patches of them in front of the house and behind the house. Ev took this picture and sent it to me. Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), grown and photographed by Evelyn: 

Pineapple sage, grown and photographed by Evelyn

I got a nice Red-tail at the cemetery this week, and I’ll put that picture here in a moment, but I’m currently on the theme of plants Evelyn has growing in our yard so I’ll continue. I took a picture of her hibiscus Friday afternoon around 3:00. A ray of sun was shining on the back of the petals; it lit up like someone had turned a switch. Grown by Evelyn, photographed by me: 

Look at that glow. Luck of timing, but still – what a spectacular flower

I’m not seeing a ton of raptors at the moment – I’m uncertain why. But this female reliably perches in the same tree most mornings at Westhampton Memorial Park on Patterson Avenue: 

Red-tailed hawk perched above the cemetery on a gray morning

I did get a single bird feeder picture I enjoyed this week. This female Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) was about to fly off with some bird seed: 

Female Red-bellied woodpecker with a seed

Speaking of birds this week – there was one in the creek bed at Pony Pasture today. We’re getting some rain (around 7:00 Sunday evening) as I type these words but central Virginia is parched. So when the dogs and I came up to Charlie’s Bridge this morning on our way back to the parking lot, there was a great blue heron below us in the creek bottom. It didn’t notice us for a while but I wasn’t composed enough to compose a good image. It flew up in a nearby tree a moment later. I got a marginal shot but not the one I’d hoped. But still – always fun: 

Great blue heron in a tree at Pony Pasture this morning

Emerson’s suggestion to “be a good animal” has always resonated for me. When I’m tired and/or don’t eat right, it is so, so, so difficult for me to think clearly and make good choices. When my friend was telling me about his child in the hospital, I immediately thought of the parents. I trust this hospital; it’ll take care of their daughter. The parents need to take care of themselves. Because to be a good parent, first, you have to be a good animal. 

Have a great week, all best, 


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Being a good animal means eating right and sleeping right and getting a little exercise. It is uncomplicated. And whatever else you do in your life – whatever else you do – you’ll do it better if you’re a good animal. If you’re a parent, a sibling, an athlete, a student, a reader, a writer, a conversationalist, a photographer, a ship captain, garbage truck driver, cancer patient, minister, doctor, lawyer, sales clerk, stenographer, engineer, the roles are infinite but the same story is true for every one of them. If you’re a better animal, you’ll be better at whatever else you do. Plus it feels really great! 

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Posted in Birds, Dogs, Emerson, firewood, Flowers, Fun, fungus, James River, love, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-bellied woodpeckers, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

These are a few of my favorite things 

6 October, 2019            These are a few of my favorite things 

Dogs and hiking at Pony Pasture on the James River in Richmond are just two of my favorite things and I got to hike with dogs twice this week – yesterday with Lola and Luna and today with Mackey and Turner and Yuki. Here are Mackey and Turner and Yuki at the river this morning: 

Turner (left) then Yuki then Mackey, Pony Pasture this morning

Lola and Luna close to the same spot twenty-four hours earlier: 

For Luna, think “lunar colored.” Lola is on the right. Pony Pasture yesterday morning

Of course I love flying but it’s a bit pricier than hiking at the river with dogs. I had a fun flight Tuesday though (who am I kidding; they’re all fun flights). Joel (my flight instructor) and I flew to Gordonsville Municipal Airport (KGVE). Gordonsville made me think of Tastee Freez from a long  time ago and I told Joel a quick Tastee-Freez snapshot from my youth. I’ll include it (hastily) at the bottom. Here was the plane we flew, same one as last week, an extremely cheerful Tecnam P92 Eaglet: 

Tecnam P92 Eaglet at Hanover Airport pre-preflight Tuesday afternoon:

I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask Joel to “take the plane” while we were flying over Gordonsville, but I asked him on our way home a short while later. We’re flying roughly east here since we’re on our way home, and I’m on the left side of the plane so I’m looking mostly north. Lake Anna is in that general direction. We’re at 3,500’ here: 

Flying east, looking north, 3,500′ up, near Bumpass, VA Tuesday:

And what’s a week on this blog without the blog-bligatory Red-taied hawk. This little male was barely half a mile from our house. I suspect he’s young. He never really looks like he knows what he’s doing. Very adolescent: 

New kid on the block I believe. Not a confident bird (yet):

Sometimes there’s a male Red-tail at Westhampton Cemetery but I see the female more often. She is far from adolescent. She always looks around like she owns the place, a sense that (IMO) is shared by all raptors. They’re all at the top of whatever food chain they’re in. The only way anything kills a Red-tail is when it gets the eggs on the nest or unattended young. This is not a high quality closeup, but it is more than sufficient to show what fearsome weapons those talons are: 

Highly efficient for snatching up rodents. Fearsome too.

Here’s an odd raptor fact. The reason raptors often appear “stern” or at least unsmiling is they appear to glare, constantly. But some evolutionary adaptation has given all raptors what’s called a “supraorbital ridge,” a raised line of bone above their eye. Look at that guy two pictures up – you can see his. It’s difficult (again, IMO) to imagine a raptor smiling or laughing or chuckling. Unlike say a chickadee, who appear to always be thinking about something funny. But those are opinions. Supraorbital ridges on raptors, that’s a fact. 

Even in the first week of October Evelyn has lush flowers blooming. I photographed this hibiscus at 11:00 this morning when the dogs and I got home from the river. There’s a patch of bright red pineapple sage gleaming behind it but I haven’t yet figured out how to photograph it to its best advantage. Maybe I’ll work on that this week. Hibiscus this October morning: 

Hibiscus. If this was a person, it would not be shy. Not coincidentally my mom’s favorite color.

I’m writing a brief story – after a fashion – at the bottom of this post. About crows we saw. After we spooked them I never got another good look. But this is one that landed in the creek bottom for a short rest. Check out the story at the end (the second story): 

Crow in the creek bottom yesterday. You should have heard those wingbeats. In those silent woods.

I think I’m going to “put this one to bed” as the saying goes. I did take a couple minutes to jot down these two brief blurbs. 

Have a great week, come back next Sunday, all best, 



= = = = = = = = = = = = 

Butterscotch flashback

I should have photographed the traffic circle in Gordonsville. Next time we fly over, I will. When we were young and driving to the cabin, we’d pass through Gainesville, VA which at that time had a traffic circle and a Tastee Freez. It was a lot like Gordonsville is today. When Joel and I flew over the traffic circle there Tuesday I said to Joel “My dad used to love to stop at Tastee Freez and get a butterscotch milkshake.” In a tone that suggested I might have interrupted this precise thought, Joel said “Man, I could go for a butterscotch milkshake right now.” See what’s fun about flying? You guessed it – everything


Crows in the creek

Speaking of flying, only opening with that sentence just occurred as I closed the last section (about flying). Speaking of flying, I was hiking along the edge of the creek in Pony Pasture Saturday morning with Lola and Luna. It’s really, really dry and cool, and Lola and Luna weren’t even panting. They paced along in absolute silence. We came around a bend and there were five crows sipping from little puddles remaining the creek bottom. It was so silent. And they looked up and saw us and they took off all at once and I could perfectly hear their wings whooshing as they climbed straight up to get on safe branches above the creek bed. They did not make a single caw or other noise, and there was not another sound in the woods, but the noise of their wings whacking the air was loud. I always feel like it’s a privilege to experience something like that. It’s so unanticipated and lively and engrossing. You could never plan for that to happen. It’s just a treat to be there when it does. I’m always so grateful. 

I’m adding this – even though this was “finished.” I really can’t describe how moving it was for me to hear those wings pushing the air. It was like there was no wind, then these crows made the wind blow. I recalled a line from an old JD Salinger story called For Esme with Love and Squalor. The narrator described his experience of hearing a children’s choir singing and it sounded as if it moved him the way those wingbeats moved me. He wrote that it was “almost to the point where a somewhat more denominational man than myself might, without straining, have experienced levitation.” 

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Posted in Birds, Dogs, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, James River, kofp, love, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Tecnam | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


29 September, 2019            Calming


I snapped (in a manner of speaking) that picture at Pony Pasture this morning at 8:50. A moment later I sent it to Yuki’s owner to show her what he’s missing! She wrote that it’s a “beautiful calming pic… nice to see first thing in the morn.” It’s a beautiful calming pic at a beautiful calming place and that’s why I’ve returned there week in and week out for decades. Whatever other disruptions have bounced my life around in the past thirty years or so, it’s always calming for me to look forward to that river Sunday mornings. 

I started back flying this week for the first time since early June; it’s always a treat to be back in the air. We flew to Tappahannock-Essex County Airport (KXSE) on Tuesday evening. There were no other planes or people in sight so we landed, did a U-turn and taxied back up the runway, turned back into the wind and left. The runway at Tappahannock is 4,300’ long, or about a thousand feet shorter than Hanover, but those little Tecnams could easily take off and land in half that distance. It’s thirty miles each way so we climbed up to 2,500’ going there and heading back. We average about 80 mph. 

I believe it’s difficult to grasp just how calming it is to fly. Or anyway it would have been difficult for me to grasp before I really began to do it. Flying (at least at my level) demands such total concentration that your mind becomes entirely calm. Plus if you’re say a thousand feet (or more) in the air, you have to get back to the ground – hopefully close to your car – safely. Landing at the airport is so peaceful. Getting in my car and merging onto 95 on the way home, not so much. I flew a Tecnam P92 Eaglet Tuesday: 

Tecnam P92 Eaglet N162SF, ready for pre-flight

Of course I saw a hawk or two or more this week. A great deal of my attraction to hawks is how calm they appear to be – always. If you imagine birds can have emotions, it’s easy to imagine birds that are nervous or anxious. Probably beginning with wrens or maybe hummingbirds, although they normally look comfortable near humans. But they’re not calm. They’re always in motion. Raptors, especially buteos like Red-tails and Red-shoulders, hunt by sitting still. They perch and wait. Sometimes they soar and wait, but they’re tough to photograph. This Red-tail was on the cross at Discovery United Methodist Church. I don’t know what it means when the hawk is sticking its foot out like this. Maybe it means it’s anxious! But I doubt it: 

Red-tail perched on cross sticking foot out – I do not know why

I saw a second Red-tail at Westhampton cemetery the same day. This is a male, and unfortunately I was on the shadow side of his face: 

Male Red-tail stays incognito in the cemetery:

It’s calming – it’s really calming – to watch the moon at night or during the day. All this predictable, reliable stuff – the river flowing, the moon waxing and waning, the hawk behavior – it’s reliable and predictable and it doesn’t change in response to meaningless squabbling. It’s relentless, in the best possible sense of that word. 

This was the crescent moon (it’s waning) rising on Wednesday morning at 5:50, just as I was sitting down to breakfast. It had risen at 3:00 that morning and was about thirty degrees above the horizon. It’s 26 days old in this picture:

The moon is always calming. It would be hard to look at the moon and feel anxious at the same time.

I saw a skink (a few skinks really) this week, and a snake the same day. They’ll still be around for a while, but we’ll see less and less of them. Friday (9/27) in Richmond was the first day this season when the sun was above the horizon for less than twelve hours. Speaking of predictability. It’ll stay stay above the horizon for less and less time every day from now until late December. All the plants “know” it, the birds do, the insects, snakes, salamanders, everything knows. Soon there will be no more skinks in 2019! Here’s one from this week. It’s a no-no to post a picture where you can’t see the eyes – I don’t care for them anyway – but this tail is wonderful: 

Amazing that color appears in nature

Here was a mockingbird on my feeder this week – always a pleasing bird to look at. Calmer (IMO) than a wren or a hummingbird, but not in the same league with raptors: 

Mockingbird visited for a real brief instant

I almost left this out – Evelyn’s flowers are still attracting butterflies in the last week of September. I’ll bet some will be out there in October! I apologize for not taking the time to identify this beauty [this just in, post-edit, Evelyn says it’s a Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele)]:

If opened my window I could lean out and touch this:

The pawpaws are finished for 2019 – they are really, really quick. But here’s a bunch of walnuts we saw this morning near the river. And they’re all over the ground; that’s a lot of calories there. Except for the seeds, pawpaws are mostly sugar; that’s why they rot practically while you look at them. Also their skins are like tissue paper. These walnuts are filled with high calorie fat and protein and they’ll keep for ages: 

Walnuts ripening – more calories and last longer than a pawpaw (or any) fruit

Have a calming week! Come back next week! All best,


Posted in Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, Insects, James River, kofp, love, mockingbirds, moon, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Tecnam | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The rebirth of Corned Beef Row 

22 September, 2019            The rebirth of Corned Beef Row 

Evelyn and I rode Amtrak to Baltimore this weekend and had an excellent time with my niece Aileen and her friend Dylan. My sister Katie (Aileen’s mom) even met us today for brunch! We ate brunch at, and I am not making this up, on “Baltimore’s famed ‘Corned Beef Row,” which, who even knew. Not to mention the fact – I documented this with a photograph – that we ate at the corner of Lombard Street and Horseradish Lane! I’ll put in a few pics from our trip in a minute. But first check out what I saw earlier this week at Deep Run: 

Great Blue Heron preparing to have a frog in its throat

Monday was sweltering. This is how the white squirrel at Deep Run chose to cool off:


I work a few days each week at a residential place for adults with Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI’s). I am a Maryland native and there is another Maryland native around my age spending some time there while he recovers from his accident. I’m from Silver Spring, he’s from Baltimore. We talk about the Orioles a lot, and when I told him I was going to spend this weekend in Baltimore he immediately said “You have to have brunch at Attman’s Deli!” I’d never even heard of it! And it was established in 1915! One meal there convinced me why they’re still doing a booming business after one hundred and four years

But wait a second – here is the train we rode north yesterday morning – Amtrak locomotive number 184, a P42DC in the Phase IV paint scheme. It’s a long story even by train nerd standards, but Amtrak repainted a handful of locomotives to commemorate their 40th anniversary in 2011. Here’s the locomotive that pulled us from Richmond to Washington. It’s a diesel locomotive. In Washington they take the diesel locomotive off and pull the rest of the way with an electric locomotive: 

Train 88 prepares to depart Richmond Saturday:

Locomotive #619, a Siemens ACS-64

Train 99 prepares to depart Baltimore southbound

So – people too! And food, of course! Here are the five of us at Attman’s today at 11:52. Out of the five people in this photograph, only one is an enthusiastic photographer, and you’ll notice his obliviousness in blocking out his own face: 

Fun crowd! Sublime meal!

We had a fascinating visit at the Baltimore Museum of Art. I took like a thousand pictures, but we just got home and I have to go to bed! My favorite exhibit was Slavery, The Prison Industrial Complex: Photographs by Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick. I’ve read a couple books and seen a movie or two about the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola but they hardly prepared me for this unsparing exhibit. Take the train to Baltimore and see for yourself! Remarkable but painful. If it slips your mind how cruelly human beings can treat one another, that exhibit will bring it into sharp and literal focus. 

You could also choose to focus on how kindly human beings can treat one another – and that’s the way most of us are most of the time. It’s easy to forget. 

I’m getting lost a little here. 

This is Evelyn and me with Aileen’s cat Pancake – who stood in for Mackey and Dash and Turner while we were away from home. I think I’ve met Pancake maybe once, years ago, or possibly never. I know Evelyn has never met him. But when we walked in the apartment he greeted us in a manner that suggested perhaps he’d been waiting his whole life for the privilege. The friendliest cat ever: 

Photographer and cat owner: Aileen. Cat: Pancake
Plus Evelyn and me

We saw plenty of nice dogs too, and lots of birds, but the remaining late September flowers were still striking. We were staying on the eleventh floor of our hotel. But this pink hibiscus was growing across the street, and we probably could have seen it from our room: 

Charm City hibiscus

We also had a great lunch yesterday at Dukem Ethiopian Restaurant but I didn’t get any pictures! And dinner that evening at The Helmand on North Charles Street, “Celebrating 30 years of fine Afghan cuisine in Baltimore.” After Ethiopian and Afghan cuisine on Saturday, the only place I photographed was Attman’s on Sunday. Here it is from the outside: 

Attman’s Delicatessen – 104 years old!!

Street sign in front of Attman’s (on Corned Beef Row): 

That sign alone was worth the trip. On Corned Beef Row. Seriously.

Here’s the view from the top floor of the hotel where we stayed – The Revival at 101 West Monument Street: 

Downtown Baltimore from the restaurant on top of our hotel. THAT was worth the whole trip!

I could have done a hundred pictures of just the train station – it was gorgeous and welcoming and worth a visit on its own. But the only picture I took was a stained glass skylight! I wish I’d gotten a picture that would have gone perfect with this – a giant cook at Attman’s had a tattoo of this stained glass running the length of his right forearm. Another reason to visit Attman’s! Here’s the skylight: 

Stained glass skylights in Penn Station in Baltimore

I’d like to do a lot more with this but I’m headed for bed. Have a great week, 


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Casting about… 

15 September, 2019            Casting about… 

Family Easter – April 14, 1963

I was looking through my pictures for the week – I have some nice ones – working on a theme. I was “casting about” for a theme. I looked to my right on my desk and, inexplicably, that picture was lying under my right elbow. There were many others of a similar vintage but that one was on top. This is what it said on the back: 

Back of that picture: “Easter ’63” – my mom’s handwriting, back when it was smooth and graceful

My handwriting has always been illegible, similar to  my father’s. But mom wrote in that graceful, elegant hand until it started to get away from her a little in her mid-seventies. I’m not sure when she wrote that, but it was a long time ago. I’m wearing a stylish red cap, plaid shorts and suspenders, a white long-sleeved shirt and white shoes. I was just over eighteen months old. Katie’s next to me, and mom is holding Sheila, who was not yet two months old. Mom was twenty-six years old in that picture. Dad was twenty-seven. Kevin and Shane were still a couple of years in the future. Sadly missing here – a story I may share at some point – is our sister Anne Michele, who was born on a pretty September day in 1960 but lived for only a week. 

A quick break. For one of Evelyn’s breathtaking roses. These roses were well established when I moved to this house eighteen years ago (!). You know they’re tough plants because they survived my neglect – it was thorough – until Evelyn moved here in 2012. Our friend Judith tells us this is a Don Juan rose and that requires a lot of attention. I took this picture next to the garage Thursday evening near dog feeding time (5:30): 

Don Juan rose

That story about Anne Michele is a crude way to leave off that paragraph and that subject. I’ll return to it a little – flesh it out a little – at the end of this blog post. But I need to do it more justice. Mom and Dad never hid it from us, it was never a family secret. But talking about Ann Michele was not something mom and dad spent time on. I’m confident she was never far from their thoughts, but our house was always – every single day – so full and lively and active, they couldn’t dwell on it. Or much of anything else – raising us was a big job! 

I’m staring intently  at the sidewalk in the picture up there. Probably at an ant or some other insect. Mom and dad encouraged curiosity, mainly because they were both curious by nature. Dad was curious about everything – everything. He loved to know how things worked and why things happened. Cars, seasons, boats, people, birds, wind, gravity, computers, all of it. Dad’s curiosity was diverse and insatiable and never rested. But he also never learned things half way. When he found something that he was truly fascinated with – it seemed like everything – he read everything he could find. Dad was an only child and his mother was a librarian and I’m certain she encouraged him every day. The same way he encouraged the five of us. 

The white squirrel has reappeared for the first time since May at Deep Run Park in western Henrico. I’m certain this is the same one. It’s probably been up in the tree canopy all summer. But squirrels are busy gathering nuts for the coming winter, and this one was busy gathering hickory nuts this week. I’ll keep my eyes out and get a better image soon. They’re just a color variation of the gray squirrels we see 365 days a year, but they are (to me) unforgettable: 

White squirrel – Deep Run

Also at Deep Run this week – in addition to the white squirrel – I caught a quick glimpse of a handsome five-lined skink: 

Great looking five lined skink at Deep Run Park

Speaking of curiosity and encouragement – I have a new camera. I had it in the car yesterday when Evelyn and I went out for lunch at Fresca on Addison in the Fan. We saw passion flowers and gardenias growing against a warm south facing brick wall on West Cary Street. That’s where I photographed this enormous bee about to land on a passion flower: 

Giant bee in upper right, about to land on a passion flower

I’d originally planned this post to be about the recent predictability of two different Red-tails on my morning drive. Wednesday morning of the week before last (9/4) I was driving in Glen Allen and saw a big female Red-tail perched on the cross at Discovery United Methodist Church. 

9:30 AM Discovery United Methodist Church Red-tailed hawk – 9/4/2019

I headed down Lauderdale, turned left on Patterson and ten minutes later pulled into Westhampton Memorial Park and photographed this slender male Red-tail: 

9:40 AM Westhampton Cemetery Red-tailed hawk, 9/4/2019

Monday of this week, I drove the same route at the same time and photographed two more Red-tails in the same spots. The first on the same cross, the second in the same tree: 

9:30 AM Discovery United Methodist Church Red-tailed hawk – 9/9/2019

9:40 AM Westhampton cemetery Red-tailed hawk – 9/9/2019

When firetrucks pass our house, Mackey and Turner howl – every single time. This morning we were driving back from the river, headed north on Forest Avenue about to cross Patterson. Henrico County Fire Station 8 is on the northwest corner of that intersection, at 8000 Patterson Avenue. We were stopped at the light when the sirens began to wail and the trucks rolled out and Mackey and Turner chimed in. I took an eleven second video. When I showed it to Evelyn she said “That’s blog worthy.” If you have eleven seconds to spare, here are Mackey and Turner singing their enthusiastic hearts out at 10:41 this morning. I call it Greeting the firefighters

Speaking of Mackey and Turner – I usually put their picture at the beginning of the blog. Our buddy Yuki didn’t join us at the river this morning, but this picture is wonderful just the same: 

Mackey and Turner at Pony Pasture this fine September morning

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Regarding several paragraphs ago when I casually mentioned I’d return to the subject of our deceased sister “at the end of this blog post.” That mention was, as you may have surmised, easier said than done. The truth is, I don’t know a whole lot about her. I’ve seen her tombstone; she lived for seven days. I talked about her ever so briefly with my dad, years and years and years ago. As I’m typing, I keep referring to her as “it”; I’ve gone back and used a pronoun with gender so she’s a human being and not an event. If she cast a pall over our upbringing; I am unaware of it. If anything, her loss made my parents more grateful and enthusiastic and determined to raise more healthy and grateful and enthusiastic children. Five living, breathing expressions of health and gratitude and enthusiasm. More often than not, anyway. 

Do I sound as if I should have thought this through more? I should have. But rather than letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, I’ll begin with this. 

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Have a great week! Come back next week! All best, 


PS The latest sunset of the summer was 8:35. Tonight it set at 7:18. I’m having a difficult time with the light! We’d been out and just walked in the house when Evelyn told me there were new Monarch Butterfly caterpillars on the flowers out front. One looks pretty much like another, but I don’t get tired of them. I’m sorry if you do! But I took this picture at 7:20 this evening:

Monarch butterfly caterpillar in our front yard
two (2) minutes after sunset this evening:

These are the flowers it was climbing toward. I can see why they’d be irresistible:

How could a butterfly resist this? It probably reminds them of a family member.


Posted in Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, Insects, James River, love, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, roses, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), squirrels | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The kindness of strangers

8 September, 2019            The kindness of strangers

A total stranger took that picture! Just to be kind!

Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I had just gotten out on the rocks this spectacular early September morning, and we saw a young family enjoying the pleasant breeze and relaxing  morning sunlight. And the sound of that water, the best of all possible background noise. There was a young man and a young woman and they had two well behaved little boys, maybe one was five years old and his brother was three. They also had an adorable little mixed breed named Zooey who was around half Turner’s size and had the friendliest, most outgoing personality you’ll ever see in a dog. Dogs always channel the personalities of their owners, so I knew this was a nice family. I said “would one of you mind taking our picture?” and offered my phone. The wife said “sure” and it took her about ten seconds and she took four images and all four were perfect. Then the five of them sauntered off down the river. They were so nice

Here’s another picture from this week. Sunset is more than an hour earlier than it was in June, so moon photography is getting easier and easier. The sun set at 8:35 on June 21; tomorrow it will set at 7:27. It’s a lot easier to get moon shots when it’s dark so early. This will be more than a little bit geeky; if you find yourself falling asleep, don’t hesitate to skip ahead to something hopefully more interesting. But Friday night I took two pictures of the moon, one at 8:30 and the following at 9:30. You can see the slight change in angle. I also have an astronomy app that gives more detailed data. So I’ll add that data beneath each image: 

Moon – Friday – 8:30 – 59.27% full, 7.58 days old

Correct data for preceding moon image

Moon – Friday – 9:30 – 59.71% full, 7.62 days old

Correct data for preceding moon image

Our next door neighbor (please pardon the abrupt change of subject) was on vacation last week and when he came home he asked me if I’d cut his grass while he was gone. I said I hadn’t – I’d seen his neighbor on the other side cutting it. She wasn’t doing him a huge favor – it’s just a little strip of grass next to her yard. But it was a generous act and since he asked me if I’d done it, it was clear she’d done it on her own. She’s not a stranger, but she certainly was kind. This stuff happens all the time! Multiple times every day! 

I spotted another Monarch butterfly on our front flowers Tuesday at lunchtime. This is the first year I’ve paid real close attention to Monarchs, so I’m not 100% clear on their migration times. I’ll tune in on it a little more so I’m more able to anticipate it in 2020. When Evelyn planted those flowers in front of my office window her intention was to make that already beautiful view even more beautiful, and she succeeded. But she also succeeded either wittingly or unwittingly in giving me another little mystery of nature to obsess on. As if I needed another one. Here’s a butterfly from this week: 

Monarch butterfly outside my office window. This one is looking old. But graceful. I mean, come on, it’s a butterfly!

I also saw another small toad crouching beside a log in Bryan Park Monday afternoon. I believe this is an American toad (Anaxyrus americanus) but if someone said it was a Fowler’s toad (Anaxyrus fowleri), I’d take their word for it. 

While researching it a bit, I read these words on the Virginia Herpetological Society web page: “This species closely resembles the southern toad and the Fowler’s toad. These species frequently hybridize making identification difficult. So without further ado, here’s a little red toad I saw in Bryan Park this week: 

Toad in center of picture

I had to zoom in a whole lot to make that little creature visible. If they don’t move, they disappear. 

Ev’s roses are enjoying the pretty weather – they’re getting prettier! I took this picture yesterday around noon: 

A little dark but so pretty!

And boy are these beautyberries living up to their name: 

Beautyberries from today on the northeast corner of our house. Their name is well-deserved! And they’re native!

There was a solid article in this week’s New York Times called The Trick to Life Is to Keep Moving by Devi Lockwood. Ms. Lockwood spent a great deal of time with a woman half a century older than she was, a poet and activist named Cora Brooks. Ms. Lockwood said that they “talked about death, often.” Ms. Brooks’ response was “I’m in the afterlife already,” […] “Each day is a bonus.” I don’t think about death often – almost never. But I still feel that “I’m in the afterlife already,” and “Each day is a bonus.” I mean, look at that river! Those dogs! Those nice people! Take my word for it – they are all angels. 

Speaking of Evelyn’s green thumb. Our hyacinth (like our beautyberries and roses and nasturtiums and all the other photosynthetic life forms in our house and yard) is happy, happy, happy. Have a look: 

Our generous hyacinth

This didn’t make great pictures, but I’ll tell you – pawpaws. I brought my trusty Swiss Army knife and a ziploc bag to the river this morning and brought home a few tasty slices of fresh pawpaw. I tried them in oatmeal and I tried them in vanilla ice cream – both are perfect. But you have to do it real, real quick, because pawpaws have effectively zero shelf life. They still taste good for a while, but they’re really only fresh while you’re down at the river. 

For you non-snake people, I saw zero snakes at Deep Run this week – that’s a first since April. There may be a few still around, but I was looking and saw zero. 

Almost forgot – I saw a cute caterpillar just before we got back to the car at Pony Pasture this morning. Have a look – and come back next week! 

All best, 


Trailside caterpillar at Pony Pasture this morning

Posted in Birds, Bryan Park, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, hyacinths, Insects, James River, love, moon, Pony Pasture, Rivers, roses, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments