Bridge Over Troubled Water

20 May, 2018            Bridge Over Troubled Water

My friend Hank had been hearing voices for a month. His doctor recommended he wear headphones and listen to music to drown them out. This is normal for people when they’re hearing voices. He and I walked and walked and walked. He’d sing and sing and sing. He hardly knew I was present.

The rest of that story is at the bottom of this blog post, following my normal assortment of photo observations around Richmond this week.

Speaking of observations around Richmond this week, I got a few more raptor pictures – two separate Red-tails and a Red-shoulder, but nothing spectacular. I’ll put one in at some point on this post. Today is last day of the twentieth week of 2018. Here’s a Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius) I saw at Pony Pasture Tuesday:

Spotted Sandpiper at Pony Pasture Tuesday

On the same walk about an hour later, I saw a five-lined skink basking in the sunshine on the side of an enormous cottonwood at the edge of Pleasant’s Creek. The light was gorgeous and the skink was relaxed so I got a bunch of images. Then I noticed another skink on the same tree! Two at once! Skinks move fast and it’s difficult enough to get one at a time in a picture; I was thrilled to get two at once.

This was the first one I saw. I “worked” on it for quite some time before I realized there were two. Here is the first one:

Five-lined skink – a nice looking animal

You can see the first one clearly in the next picture. You can see the second one clearly too – but it’s not  obvious. The first one is horizontal in the lower right corner of the picture. If the second skink doesn’t jump right out at you (in a manner of speaking), look diagonally up to the left corner of the picture. See it up there? Vertical on the bark? They are so invisible. That invisibility is the first line of defense for almost every animal in the woods. For deer, for squirrels, Barred owls, snakes, toads, most of this stuff just blends into the background. We walk past all of this stuff constantly:  

Horizontal skink lower right, vertical skink upper left – look closely

Thursday I was startled to see another whitetail buck near Charlie’s Bridge! So startled I fumbled with my camera – and it was a difficult shot anyway – and didn’t get the image I’d hoped for. But this image, although miserable quality, reveals unmistakably this is a buck. You can see his eye quite clearly, and on the other side his ear and his growing left antler. I am certain this is the “button” buck I spotted in mid-April and posted in Rare as an udder on a bull. It was precisely the same spot. There may be two bucks there but I’d be surprised.

What surprised me most about this guy was his size – he was enormous. I regularly see large does with herds of smaller deer. This guy was lying down when we first saw him and he was so large I thought he was a patch of dirt – until he stood up. See if you can see him next time you’re down there:

It’s easy to see his right eye. Look closely; his left antler is obvious too.

I’m not overjoyed with any of the raptor images  I took this week, but I am overjoyed I saw some raptors, especially non-osprey raptors. Not that I have anything against ospreys. They’re just no challenge. Here’s a Red-tail in the first image and a Red-shoulder in the second:

Red-tail at Henrico Fire Station 13

 

Red-shoulder at Stapes Mill Rd. Baptist Church

I suspect a lot of people missed getting to smell the locust blossoms last week. They are such a treasure, but they’re gone so quickly. My “love-hate” flower is (either fortunately or unfortunately) much easier to find – honeysuckle. The “love” part is the breathtaking individual and collective beauty of the flowers, and the absolutely heavenly smell. The “love” part is also that it’s abundant – and that’s the “hate” part too. This is a seriously destructive invasive species. But it sure is nice while it’s here. And I’ll bet a lot of little birds and creatures find cover in its thickets:

Consolation prize if you missed the locust blossoms

Speaking of beautiful flowers that are extravagantly delightful to look at and even more pleasing to smell, Evelyn has our roses putting out blossoms as fast as we can make arrangements on our dining room table. I could put in ten pictures every week this time of year, but I have to settle for my favorite. This one is pleasingly demure:

This rose is confident in its beauty:

This last by the way is an iphone picture; I should have pulled my camera out. According to my rain gauge we got more than 4” of rain Friday, on top of a significant amount the day before. Richmond was saturated. This squirrel was perched on a branch where its feet were out of the water:

Squirrel staying above it all Friday morning

Anyway, I’m going to sign off this part of the blog and leave the story at the end. Read it; it’s a good one. And come back next week! All best,

Jay 

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Bridge Over Troubled Water

My friend Hank had been hearing voices for a month. His doctor recommended he wear headphones and listen to music to drown them out. This is normal for people when they’re hearing voices. He and I walked and walked and walked. He’d sing and sing and sing. He hardly knew I was present. That was twenty years ago. His problems vanished a bit later. He was back to his genial self. Until last summer when they reappeared as suddenly and inexplicably as they’d vanished. I started to spend time with him again, mostly just reassuring his family he was safe.

I mention names in this story, but I made them all up. The people are real though, and so is everything that happened, as precisely as I can recall it.

Hank is a big, genial guy around my age, and he personifies the expression “never met a stranger.” He’d gotten low oxygen at birth and had no physical problems from it. But he was, as his father told me when we first met in 1990, “just a little slow.” He’s not “slow” in bowling; he doubles my score. He’s not “slow” in being an usher at church; he is flawless. He’s not “slow” to make friends – he does it quicker and with less effort than anyone you know. He’s not “slow” with sports facts – he’s up to the minute and precise. He can only read a few words, and his writing is a struggle. He swam at Special Olympics when I used to coach at the Y in the 1990’s.

Hank is also unable to explain his feelings clearly and in the month after he began hearing voices he went steadily downhill until he ended up in the hospital with a psychiatric admission. He has a brother named Joe who is a successful bussinessman and another who is an airline pilot. His older sister is a grandmother three times over. His parents have been my friends for decades, and have helped me through significant challenges in my own life. They’ve welcomed me into their own life as if I was one of the family. They came to my college graduation and they knew my parents well.

Hank’s family and I gathered around his hospital bed in a worried vigil. He had headphones on and was listening to a playlist Joe had put together for him. I wish I still had it. When we went walking together, he always had those headphones on, and he  always sang along. I’d hear him softly singing The Beatles, CCR, The Eagles, Chicago, America, Neil Young, Elton John, I knew and loved every song myself.

His behavior gradually became so erratic – and he was so big – that his parents took him to the ER. The doctors gave him mild tranquilizers on admission. Now he was lying on his hospital bed in the room in the dark, headphones on, staring vacantly at pre-season football on the television. He continued to sing softly. His family stood next to the bed and I watched from behind. I spoke with Joe and said “All the time he was walking around singing those songs, I was wishing he had Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel.” His brother said “let me get that song right now.” He gently took his brother’s phone away and downloaded that song – this is all happening while we’re standing there in the hospital room – and plugged his brother’s headphones back in and started playing it.

I leaned back against the windows and looked out at the street below. It was raining out and the window was wet and the car headlights were shining on the pavement. The street lamps made everything look yellow. Then I heard his voice, softly, sing “When you’re weary, and feeling small… “. I slowly turned back toward him. Joe chimed in – so soft I could barely hear him, just see his lips moving – “When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all…”. Hank continued to sing; I am certain he didn’t know Joe was in the room. Or even in the state. His other brother was wearing his pilot’s uniform; he told me later it’s faster getting through the airport when you’re in uniform. He began to sing too – but I didn’t sense he was aware either of his brothers were singing. “I’m on your side… when times get rough…”. A female voice softly chimed in as his sister Mary joined her siblings. “And friends just can’t be found.” This was two summers ago, and the hair began to stand up on the back of my neck then, and it’s happening again as I type these words. Hank’s mother is elderly – she has many great-grandchildren – and I could hear a painful mix of age and anxiety in her voice as she sang – nearly at a whisper “Like a bridge over troubled water…”. Six of them were singing – barely – together when his father’s exhausted voice added “I will lay me down…”.  

There was no strength in anyone’s voice, no choir-like harmony, no resonance or joy. I am certain no one was aware that anyone else was singing. They were off pitch and off-key and so, so tired – and I don’t care what you’ve listened to in your life or where you have listened to it, you have never heard a choir that sacred.

============

 

Posted in Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, honeysuckle, James River, koans, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, roses, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), squirrels, whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Oh no! Another SNAKE!

13 May, 2018            Oh no! Another SNAKE!

My friend Sam took this picture Monday afternoon. Sometimes people react this way when they see snakes. There are snake pictures at the bottom of this blog post:

“Oh no! Another SNAKE!” – photo by Sam – excellent image Sam!

 

I didn’t get out much Tuesday or Wednesday – but I had a few feeder birds – and a feeder mammal – outside my window. Mackey was in an uncharacteristically central spot Wednesday morning. If you spent time with Mackey, you would understand he prefers to be a “background” dog – he’s calm and likes to observe. Oddly, he was even that way as a puppy. I’m fortunate to have this being in my life:

Mackey doesn’t like or dislike attention – he accepts whatever comes along. He has and is a peaceful soul.

This being was in my life at the same time, although outside my window. This is a Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus). I’m about 85% she’s a female. She’s on the suet feeder in this image, but she was going back and forth from the seed feeder:

Female (I think) Red-bellied woodpecker, propping herself up with her tail on the suet feeder

That is a classically woodpecker pose, and there’s an adaptation to woodpeckers – all woodpeckers – that you don’t see on other birds. See how she’s using her tail feathers to prop herself up? All woodpeckers have strong tail feathers they use to support themselves while they’re pecking at trees.

I feed primarily birds, but squirrels root around out there too. And a year or two ago there was an opossum at night. Squirrels eat more of this than any other mammal. But we get chipmunks too. An adaptation that chipmunks make is they only feed near their dens. They fill up their cheeks – see picture – and take the food back to safety to eat. And to feed to their offspring. Great example:

That is a lot of food storage

If you ever had pre ground pepper, that had sat on a shelf for some time, then ground your own pepper, you know what a big difference it makes. Try the same thing with cinnamon; the difference is remarkable. We do it with nutmeg too. I eat oatmeal every morning, and every morning I grind cinnamon and nutmeg into it. This is the cross-section of a nutmeg that I’ve ground half of:

Cross section of a nutmeg

This is the bottle it came in:

This is where it came from:

My friend Marion tells me roses are meant to bloom in time for Mother’s Day. Ev continues to grow these jaw-dropping beauties in our backyard. They smell as great as they look:

It is impossible to look at this and feel in any way upset

Repeat preceding caption

These black locust flowers just finished blooming this week. It is a rare flower that smells as heavenly as a black locust. The look as beautiful as they smell:

If you missed smelling locust flowers in 2018, put it on your calendar for 2019. You’ll be glad you did.

Almost to the snake – I “got” it on Saturday. I’ll post two birds then it’s snake time. Here’s a bluebird from Deep Run Friday plus a Carolina Wren a few minutes later:

Not my best work technically, but I enjoy the pose and the color contrast

I took about 12 pictures of this wren. It just popped into the sunlight for this one.

Okay – Saturday was Snake Day. I got a carp too! But the snake came first. This is, of course, Pony Pasture, and the snake is another (possibly the same) Eastern Ratsnake. Here you can barely see the snake’s head through the undergrowth:

See its head and eye and white underbelly there between the leaves?

This video is thirty seconds long. It is not award-winning, but the first ten seconds are worth watching – it’s a crisp image. The background sounds alone are worth clicking on this one:

A very short time after I saw the snake I got to the edge of the canal – I believe it’s called “Pleasant’s Creek” – and saw this carp swimming around. It was certainly 18” long and may have been two feet:

Big carp moving up the creek at Pony Pasture

I am deeply ignorant about fish in general, and I don’t know as much as I should about carp. There’s a disparaging expression about eating carp. When you catch one, you filet it and put it on a board and put it under the broiler for about ten minutes. Then you take it out, and you throw away the carp and eat the board.

We used to catch them near a dock when we rented a houseboat at Smith Mountain Lake when I was maybe thirteen. We’d catch them with bread balls. I don’t recall whether we ate them or not. But it’s almost impossible to imagine my Mom not wanting us to eat fish we’d caught. Possibly one of my siblings will weigh in on this. Carp are big, and I know my Mom found the idea of “free food” irresistible. 

I’m going to have fish for dinner this evening – but it’s salmon, and I didn’t catch it, and neither did anybody else I know. But I love fish. I can hardly wait!

Have a great week,

Jay 

PS There is no raptor in this blog post! Today is the end of the nineteenth week of the year. And I didn’t get a raptor! I could have gotten an osprey on its nest but that’s like shooting fish in a barrel. You don’t have to understand birds – you just do it, and that’s not super fun for me. I have no idea why I’m seeing so few hawks. Hopefully they’ll turn up soon. Possibly tomorrow morning. I’ll let you know next week. 

Posted in Birds, Carolina wren, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, James River, Pony Pasture, Red-bellied woodpeckers, Rivers, roses, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Snakes | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Every single person was nice

6 May, 2018            Every single person was nice

All you can eat free cupcakes at the finish line. For like 2 hrs swimming, biking, running. Totally worth it.

Every single person I’ve met this week was nice. I flew twice at Heart of Virginia Aviation. I went shooting once at Colonial Shooting Academy. Evelyn and I had lunch at the Metro Diner, we had dinner at Lola’s Farmhouse Bistro – excellent food, terrific waitress. I have a friend with a disability; his recumbent bike has a flat tire and I took it to Endorphin Fitness for a repair. All the mechanics, the other employees, the customers – all nice. I did the PeasantMan Triathlon at Lake Anna this morning – every athlete, volunteer, race official spectator – all nice. I must have met a thousand people this week – or more – and they were all nice. It must be this pleasant Spring weather.

Speaking of pleasant Spring weather – a Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) has appeared on my feeders and seems to be staying around. I’ll watch for a female; this is a male:

Rose-breasted Grosbeak – isn’t that a treat?

All of my plane pictures look similar, but this is from when I flew Thursday. My instructor (John Doyon) was nice, and so was every other pilot, employee, student, instructor, visitor and administrative person at that airport: 

Not many things are more fun than triathlons – but this comes close

Evelyn has so many roses in bloom in our yard it’s difficult to decide which picture to use. Here’s one. There are at least five others equally or more beautiful:

More of Evelyn’s handiwork (plus the miracle that it’s even there at all)

Thursday I did the Sixth Annual Big Mike Biathlon. You can read about it there if you like – it’s a tradition I’ve kept up once each year in memory of my Dad. He died in late 2012. I ride my bike to the shooting range and spend a while shooting – just like my Dad did in the early 1950’s. Here is a picture of my bike at the range:

Perfect day for a bike ride

This year – you could never make this up – I found a restaurant ½ mile away that had a Big Mike’s BLT on the menu! Here’s the menu:

The menu

Prized item inside:

They named a sandwich after my Dad!

I can assure you Dad would be proud of his namesake sandwich: 

Yum! Great for refueling mid-Big Mike Biathlon. Especially since Ev met me for lunch!

The triathlon began this morning (my wave) at 9:08 AM – a civilized hour. Here’s the beach after the race:

Pano of the beach at Lake Anna this morning:

This image is also from today. The dog is wearing a finisher’s medal:

Random dog wearing finisher’s medal:

Also – I got a picture of a Red-tail Wednesday, on a church, being harassed by a mockingbird. This always surprises me:

Top of the food chain, everybody harasses you. Carefully.

More next week – although I don’t imagine I’ll have a week this busy! See you in a week,

Jay

Posted in Birds, coffee, Dogs, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, James River, People, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), triathlons | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Too wet to fly – but there were snakes!

29 April, 2018            Too wet to fly – but there were snakes!

Advance warning to those who don’t care for snakes – there will be a few pictures near the bottom of this post.

I think of “cheerful” when I think of bluebirds. “Bluebird of happiness” and so forth, you know what I mean. I was supposed to go flying Tuesday but it was cancelled due to rain. I photographed this bluebird Tuesday. The perfect expression of “too wet to fly” – but for birds it’s not optional:

I’m not kidding – I never knew a bluebird could scowl. Until I took this picture.

I was also scheduled to fly Thursday when it was not too wet to fly. This was shortly before takeoff:

My Cessna awaits, on a much nicer day for flying

When I “pre-flight” the plane I have an extensive checklist of items to check outside the plane. Fuel, ailerons, rudders, tires, antennas, brakes, tie down ropes, and many more. Once I finish outside, there is an equally long checklist for items inside the plane. Fuel gauges, compasses, seat belts, fire extinguisher, radios, flight controls, etc. I snapped this picture from the pilot’s seat. Lots of pollen that day:

This is the view from the driver’s seat – note stopped propeller, and LOTS of pollen:

The weather looks good for this week and I’m looking forward to flying more.

I’m embarrassed that the only bird of prey I got this week was this partially obscured osprey. When I arrived it was hovering above the Z-Dam that connects the south bank and Williams Island. It landed in a sycamore when I snapped this. I was pulled over on the side of the road with my flashers on so I couldn’t get a better shot:

Obscured face of an osprey waiting for a herring snack near the Z-dam

That was the same day Sam and I got some great pictures of an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) at Pony Pasture. So I can’t complain. I’ll put that picture down lower. Meanwhile – I’ve been getting a mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) on my suet feeder! Mockingbirds are not (in my experience) typically “feeder birds” and I believe this one was having a bit of trouble keeping its balance. You’ll never see a chickadee or a sparrow or a finch flail around like this:

Mockingbird flailing around on my suet feeder

Alright non-snake lovers, time to sign off until next week. I’ll put in a Mayflower picture then it’s off to the snakes. I’ve seen many, many Mayflower plants this Spring, but only a handful of flowers, and none in good light. Here’s one from the creek bank Thursday (even though it’s still April):

Mayflower in the shade Thursday

When my friend Sam and I were hiking at the river Monday, we ran into Rich Young and he told us he’d seen an Eastern Ratsnake near the trail a little ways back and suggested it might still be there. Sam was formerly among the most vehement anti-snake people I’d known, and I was impressed when he wanted to attempt a photograph. It occurs to me now he doesn’t like to be surprised by snakes, and when Rich told him he was going to see it, he was cool and confident and took a great picture. Sam took this picture at 4:20 Monday afternoon. Remember – a year ago, this photographer didn’t even want to be in the same zip code with a snake. Monday he sat down calmly about fifteen feet away and got this great image:

Congratulations Sam! Excellent shot – very calm and focused  

Ratsnakes are constrictors; they are entirely non poisonous. They wouldn’t even bite you anyway, even if you’re very small – they know you’re too big to eat so they’d just leave.

That snake was young and I’m guessing four and a half to five feet long. According to the Virginia Herpetological Society, Eastern Ratsnakes are the longest snakes in Virginia and the only one that regularly exceeds six feet in length. The Virginia record is 6’ 8” (80”) and the all time record is 8’ 5” (101”)! That is a lot of snake! You may notice there are not a lot of visible rodents in Pony Pasture. You can thank the owls and hawks for that, but you can definitely thank the Eastern Ratsnakes. Like the one Sam photographed Monday! I waded into the honeysuckle and got underneath it and took this shot from just below:

Same snake from underneath. I think they scratch their chins on thorns – I’ve seen them do it before

Here’s a video of that snake:

I like this picture of the snake sticking its tongue out:

Snake sticking its tongue out – that’s how they smell

I went to Deep Run on Friday with my friend Kendall and we saw a Northern Water Snake between the two ponds. The background is not as lovely as the one at Pony Pasture, but I was grateful to photograph two snakes in one week, especially two different snakes. Water snakes are also completely non poisonous:

Water snake coiled at Deep Run Park

Another image of that snake:

Same snake:

Water snakes are considerably smaller. The average length is 24” – 42” long and the Virginia record is 4’ 6” (54”). The known record is only an inch longer.

When early season snakes are out, so of course are early season flowers. Dogwoods will stop flowering soon, but I got this one at Deep Run the same day I got that snake:

Ever-graceful late Spring dogwood at Deep Run

There were other pretty flowers in the park that day. Ev says this is some sort of rhododendron:

Deep Run wild rhododendron

Enough! Well, never enough really – I don’t get tired of this. But I do need to get up an hour before sunrise tomorrow, which means I need to get to sleep around ten minutes ago. So until next week! All best,

Jay

PS – Couldn’t resist (I told you it wasn’t enough) – also saw a cute squirrel at Deep Run Friday: 

Some consider them the starlings of the mammal world. But they’re cute.

 

Posted in Birds, Cessna 172, Flowers, Fun, James River, mockingbirds, ospreys, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Snakes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Rare as an udder on a bull

22 April, 2018            Rare as an udder on a bull

When I get a lucky shot like this one, I’ll take it

The above photo is not “rare as an udder on a bull” – I just like the image. I took that picture standing on my front porch Tuesday evening around 6:00 PM. Notice the full “crop” – the stomach – on that Red-tail. It may be full of baby crows, but I doubt it. Probably the remains of some squirrel the crows wanted. 

The picture below is “rare as an udder on a bull.” I can photograph a doe at Pony Pasture almost any time I want. Bucks, on the other hand, are “rare as an udder on a bull.” Not that rare, but I don’t think I see six in a year’s time combined. Yesterday morning I took pictures of a little herd lying down. When I zoomed in I saw the “buttons” where his antlers are starting out. I learned this means he is around six months old: 

“Button” buck at Pony Pasture Saturday. See those tiny little “buttons” where his antlers will be?

Hopefully I’ll get a few more images of him as he matures. Mammals weren’t the only animals allowing photographs at Pony Pasture this week. This is a Five-Lined Skink from Pony Pasture Thursday:  

Look at those little claws on its hind feet. Remarkable: 

I got this frog a few steps later, not quite as pleasing an image. I think it’s a bullfrog but can’t see enough of it to tell precisely. More knowledgeable people are encouraged to chime in and I’ll credit you here:

Frog nosing up through the pollen:

lot of flowers still at Pony Pasture – they’ll be here all summer though. No honeysuckle or multiflora rose yet. This one is a beauty: 

Gorgeous

Speaking of gorgeous – look at this dogwood from our front yard the same day: 

Nothing I write can improve this:

Believe it or not – this cowbird was perched in that tree Friday afternoon when I came home: 

Brown-headed cowbird perched in that spectacular dogwood

About two hours before I took that picture I was hiking with a buddy at Deep Run Park. This Bluejay stopped long enough for an image: 

Bluejay at Deep Run Park Friday

As an aside – did (finally) get a Red-tail in one of their predictable spots. Perhaps this is the one being chased by the crow. This is near the Westbury Pharmacy Wednesday: 

Westbury Apothecary Redtail

My friend Sam and I were hiking at Brandermill Monday and Sam took this picture of what I think is a Great-black backed gull:

Great Black backed gull – photo by Sam

 

Mackey and Turner and I went out on the dock a few minutes later. Sam still had the camera and (unbeknownst to Mackey and Turner and me) snapped this picture: 

Windy day! Thanks for the candid shot Sam!

I took an imperfect picture of a bluebird at Pony Pasture Tuesday, but (In My Opinion) even an imperfect picture of a bluebird is better than no picture of a bluebird:

One bird that always make me smile

I have a triathlon in a couple of weeks and I did my last long training ride Saturday. My tradition on the last long ride is to stop out in Goochland to fuel up:

That is only fun

Fits easily in my bike bag so I can have it on oatmeal when I get home:

Yum! The original energy gel!

I’m up way too late – come back next week! All best,

Jay 

 

Posted in Birds, Blue Jays, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, James River, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The opposite of complaining

15 April, 2018        The opposite of complaining

“I’m not complaining

Just the opposite, my friend”Paul Simon, The Werewolf, 2016

Evelyn and I got up at 5:00 Friday morning, her for an early train and me for work. The windows were open and I was standing at the stove stirring oatmeal, listening to the neighborhood birds singing together, louder and more beautiful as dawn lightened the sky behind the trees. It is a magnificent, magnificent symphony – nothing man-made comes close. Birders call it “the dawn chorus.” I call it breathtaking and beautiful. So I’m stirring and thinking of Paul Simon and “I’m not complaining – just the opposite my friend” – and Evelyn walked into the kitchen. I said “What is the opposite of complaining?”

The swift, certain tone of her reply suggested she’d been waiting for me to ask that precise question. “That,” she said, gesturing to the exuberant riot of predawn birdsong swelling in our yard and in our neighborhood and filling our kitchen. I could only smile. I’d been pondering “the opposite of complaining” since I first heard that song two years ago. Evelyn and our yard full of birds answered my question in an instant.

I almost forgot! I got a so-so picture of a snake at Pony Pasture yesterday. Snake-o-phobes, be warned – I’ll put it last. There are two “black snakes” that are equally common at Pony Pasture, and I didn’t get a good enough look at this one to tell which it was. If someone ID’s it, let me know and I’ll credit you. The two “black snakes” we have at Pony Pasture are the Northern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor) and the Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis). If you see a black snake at Pony Pasture, it’s one of those. They are harmless, non poisonous constrictors, and they’re not especially large. They help keep the rodent population at a manageable level.

This cardinal wasn’t from my yard – this was from Pony Pasture at 11:30 this morning – but there are many like this (and females) on my feeders every day. And I guarantee this guy provides a strong thread of the sound tapestry that is “the opposite of complaining”:

Pony Pasture Cardinal, Sunday morning:

The most exciting news of all – more exciting even than the opposite of complaining – is I have a brand new niece! Teagan Ann was born early Friday afternoon in Blacksburg and she’s healthy and gorgeous and I’m told is calm and easygoing. She certainly looks healthy and peaceful and she actually looks kind. She’s not even 72 hours old as I type these words but she has a benign, accepting gaze that is already making the world – my world, anyway – a better place. I haven’t seen pictures of her when she’s hungry or needs a diaper change, but the pictures I’ve seen of her so far could go in the dictionary as “the opposite of complaining.”

Another bird from the river this morning that has a lovely song but is not in my yard – or at least I’ve never seen one. This is a Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus):

Hermit Thrush Saturday morning at Pony Pasture

This bird was probably part of the Dawn Chorus. This is a fraction of what “the opposite of complaining” looks like:

Eastern Towhee – a loud and melodious chorister

This guy too:

Chipping Sparrow chipping away at fallen bird seed

 Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)

When I say this “guy,” I’m putting photographs of males. The Dawn Chorus is close to 100% males. It’s advertising mating and nesting and food and availability and territory – when you hear all those birds singing on a Spring morning, you’re hearing males.

Our front dogwood is about a fifteen foot flight from our bird feeders. I’m sure they perch out here while they serenade us in the morning:

Dogwood in our front yard, and staging area for feeder-bound birds

Evelyn has almost as many varieties of daffodils in our yard as we do songbirds. Look at these little white beauties:

Who knew daffodils could be this spectacular?

There were conventional purple lilacs in this yard when I moved here, but they’ve struggled. Perhaps these white lilacs have taken all the good energy; they get bigger (and smell better) with each passing year:

Can a flower be the opposite of complaining? If so, it looks and smells like this

I also went flying Tuesday! Only for a little over an hour, but it was a great flight – I’m glad to be back in the sky. The opposite of complaining! I’m learning in a Cessna 172, the most-produced airplane in history, and I love every minute of it. Just before I began my preflight on Tuesday afternoon:

Just before my one hour flight Tuesday afternoon. It was spectacular.

Can’t let a week go by without a picture of one of Pony Pasture’s graceful deer. This was Thursday morning at 11:30:

I don’t think deer are able to look clumsy. They only ever look like this.

Can’t leave out my only raptor for this week – another osprey. I am astounded how few Red-tails and Red-shoulders I’m seeing. Osprey from Tuesday afternoon:

Fulton Bank osprey

I got a “new” (to me) flower at the river this morning. I’d seen it before but misidentified it. Through the magic of the internet I emailed the picture to Ev and she’d identified it before I even got home. This is a Summer Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum):

Summer Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum)

I also got a decent picture of a mockingbird when I was at Hollywood Cemetery this week. I hope it’s not irreverent to note that the granite tombstones blend well with the mockingbird’s muted colors. Their song is anything but muted; I’m sure they’re a huge contributor to the opposite of complaining:

They sing – they don’t complain. But I don’t know why they tilt their heads.

I watched that bird for several minutes and it cocked its head like that a number of times. I’ve never seen that before and I’m not sure what was going on. Raptors “snake” their heads from side to side to help gauge distance. But I don’t know why this passerine was doing it. Maybe the same reason. 

Anyway, if you want to hear the opposite of complaining, wake up an hour before sunrise tomorrow and open your windows. Better yet, go outdoors. And feast your ears on the opposite of complaining. I cannot think of a better way to begin a week. I hope yours is outstanding! And you come back next week! All best, 

Jay

PS Almost left out my Black Snake picture – here it is, sticking its head out of a tree: 

[[This just in, as of Sunday evening, Monday morning, from my herpetologist friend Kim and from another person on Facebook named King Sandy – they both say it’s an Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)]]

Black snake getting above it all at Pony Pasture Saturday morning

 

Posted in Birds, cardinals, Cessna 172, daffodils, Flowers, Fun, James River, mockingbirds, ospreys, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Snakes, whitetail deer | 2 Comments

Flying over the hoods of cars 

8 April, 2018            Flying over the hoods of cars 

30th anniversary – 5 April, 2018 – thanks for the picture, John! 

I spoke with many friends who urged me to take up flying again, even though I can’t get a license. On 5 April, 1988 I went “flying over the hood of a car” when I was hit while riding my bicycle. Thirty years later – to the day – I began flying lessons again at Hanover County Airport- KOFP- Richmond Virginia (Ashland). So, on 5 April, 2018 I “flew over the hood of a car” (several) again, but this time it was by choice – and I was about 2,000 feet over the hoods. If you want to fly over the hoods of cars, I heartily endorse the 2018 version. Vastly superior. My instructor, John Doyon, took that picture just after we landed. Thank you for the excellent lesson and for taking the picture! 

There’s a picture of me from thirty years earlier on this blog but it’s not pretty. You can click on the More about me link at the top of this page if you want to see it and read a tiny bit. I don’t have to look at the 4/5/1988 picture of me to feel grateful, but it’s always a great reminder.

There was a timely post on the instagram page for l’arche USA this week. It’s a picture with a quotation:

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” – Henri Nouwen

On Wednesday, 4 April, Ev treated me to dinner at L’opossum to celebrate the anniversary of my accident – and I didn’t get a picture! I “only” got the pleasure of Evelyn’s company and a stomach full of delicious food! Oops.

This just in – Ev got a picture!: 

L’opossum, accident anniversary eve, 2018

In less touching news, I only got one reasonable picture of a raptor this week, and it was an osprey. This is across from the West End Assembly of God on Parham Road Wednesday afternoon:

Osprey across from West End Assembly of God on Parham Rd

I’m just putting these crummy osprey pictures because they’re the only raptors I’m getting! I was sure I’d be able to get a Red-tail or Red-shouldered hawk each week but they’re MIA, or at least photographically (for me) right now. I glimpse them flying from time to time or hear them but no pics. Yet. 

The day of the thirtieth anniversary of my accident (Thursday, 4/5/2018) was spectacular. The first thing I did to celebrate (of course) was go to the river with Mackey and Turner. I’m grateful every time I see this view:

Any day I can see this is a good day – no exceptions.

This one too:

The park is a Riot of Redbuds

A pawpaw the same day:

Pawpaws are so unassuming. Until the fruit ripen at the end of the summer. Then they take over.

A book I read in my early teens made a tremendous impression on me that lasts even today. It’s a tame adolescent age outdoor adventure involving dogs and hunting and rivers and I read it over and over and over and over. It’s called Where the Red Fern Grows and was written by Wilson Rawls in 1961. Mr. Rawls sets the stage at the start of the book with the words, “…In the spring the aromatic scent of wild flowers, redbuds, pawpaws, and dogwoods, drifting on the wind currents, spread over the valley and around our home.” The book finishes with, “I’d like to walk again on trails I walked in my boyhood days. Once again I’d like to face a mountain breeze and smell the wonderful scent of the redbuds, and pawpaws, and the dogwoods. With my hands I’d like to caress the cool white bark of a sycamore.” When I first read it, we were living inside the Beltway in Maryland and we’d just bought the cabin. I knew what a dogwood was but I’d never even heard of a redbud or a pawpaw. Now they’re an integral part of my daily life. And dogwoods were our Dad’s favorite tree. I remember at the cabin when we were young, Dad having us pull honeysuckle off of dogwoods. This was around 1975 and I suspect the phrase “invasive species removal” had never been uttered. Dad was forty at that time – forty – and we were all out there doing invasive species removal at the cabin. Anyway. I’m daydreaming.

Mackey and Turner’s first green salad of 2018:

Mackey and Turner enjoying the first greens of 2018. Who knew dogs were grazers?

For my flying lesson Thursday we flew toward King’s Dominion then turned west toward my brother Kevin’s house. My instructor took the controls for a few minutes while I snapped a couple of pictures. Here’s an image of north central Hanover County from around 2,000 feet on Thursday, April 5, 2018:

Hanover County from 2,000 feet:

I had snow on the hood of my car this morning – it’s April 8 – I’m not even kidding – it looked like this:

Snow on my car this morning. It’s April!

So it’s reassuring to see the riot of daffodils Evie has bursting the seams of our yard. And in our house. I could do an entire blog post of just daffodil pictures. Here’s just one from outside:

This is just one – I should do a pano – they’re everywhere in our yard. Multiple varieties.

And a little arrangement Ev made indoors:

Brightening our yard and our house!

Plus I can’t leave out our white lilac buds – they’ll be in full bloom by next week:

About to be full, fragrant, delightful white lilac blossoms

It all comes at once this time of year. Our dogwood peeking out:

Dogwood blossoms – same thing every year, brand new every year – sort of like the river in slow motion.

There are deer at the river every time I visit now. Here are a couple I saw this morning – though there were four in the vicinity:

Delicate deer in the April woods at Pony Pasture

If you’re hiking with dogs, it’s easy to see deer. Just trust that’s what your dog’s gaze is riveted on. I’m standing behind Yuki in this picture, looking where he’s looking. Just trust they’re in this picture, and look closely. Draw an imaginary line vertically from each of Yuki’s ears. See the two deer? There’s one on each side at the top of the image, indistinct in the shadows. They’re masters of disguise!: 

Yuki’s ears are pointed directly at 2 deer – they’re at the top of the image – look closely:

I got a cute Chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina) on my feeder this week – this may be the first time I’ve photographed one. I had to look it up!:

Chipping sparrow drops in

Enough for this week – hopefully not too much! All best, come back next week, have a great day, 

Jay 

 

Posted in Birds, Cessna 172, daffodils, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, James River, l'opossum, ospreys, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments