We’ll floss that bridge when we come to it 

19 January, 2020            We’ll floss that bridge when we come to it 

For the eighth consecutive week I was able to photograph these owls. I wish I’d gotten a better image but this is what’s there. I will never not photograph an owl. It is never not a treat. It is always a deeply peaceful moment: 

I’m transfixed, every time I see this. I lose awareness of everything else:

But – we got a bit further down the trail and met a volunteer crew busy cleaning debris and leaf litter out of the spaces between the boards on the big footbridge across the creek. I was showing them the owl picture because 100% of people are interested (or fake like they’re interested) in a picture of a pair of owls. And after they looked at the pictures – they loved them – they said “we’re flossing the bridge!”: 

Volunteers “flossing” a footbridge on a sunny Sunday morning at Pony Pasture

All that crud that gets caught between the boards stops the water from draining and causes the boards to rot. So these awesome folks volunteered to come out to the park on a cold and windy Sunday morning and floss bridges. Of all the things these folks could have done  on a beautiful Sunday morning, they chose to get down on their hands and knees and do genuine dirty work to keep our park in good shape. See why the James River Park System is so awesome? My hat is totally off to those hard working people. 

I took a lot, lot, lot of pictures out on the rocks today, even though the river was moderately high at around six feet. But we took a trailside break after hiking for more than ninety minutes and I like the way Mackey looks in the sunlight. Turner too of course, but black dogs are harder to photograph:  

Mackey and Turner resting near the river’s edge this morning

This is the most miserable light imaginable (close to it, anyway) but it’s an important (IMO) picture so I’m including it. While I’m not in love with the quality, I’m thrilled with the content, because this is clearly a mated pair of adult Red-tailed hawks. They were sitting on the power line just one block south of Freeman High School in Henrico County. I’m sure I’ll see more of these two, and in better light, as the winter and spring progress, and hopefully their young in a couple of months. Always exciting: 

Technically yucky, but it is huge luck (IMO) to locate a Red-tail pair together in January

I don’t get a million pictures of Tufted Titmice (Baeolophus bicolor) but this one perched obligingly for long enough to click yesterday afternoon:  

I wonder what an angry Tufted titmouse looks like? Hard to imagine.

There were other birds on the feeder when I took this; I cropped out a ton. But this was the first Brown-headed Nuthatch I’d seen in some time and they always make me smile: 

Brown-headed nuthatch – a bird I never knew existed before last year

I liked this odd angle of a male (relatively certain I have the gender ID correct) Red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus): 

Red-bellied woodpecker hunkered down on the feeder

I’ve seen a lot of Hooded Mergansers this year, but never gotten a good look in good light. I caught up with this pair earlier in the week. The male came out okay but I never got a solid look (with my camera) at the female. Hopefully next time: 

Hooded merganser pair this week

One of my many talented nieces was in the 16th annual Monument City Classic Volleyball Tournament at the Greater Richmond Convention Center downtown near the Coliseum this weekend. Yesterday was the first day and it’s going today and tomorrow as well. 3,600 players! I got to spend a little time down there yesterday: 

3,600 players, 3 days, countless games, incredible organization

There are raptors everywhere this week; I see multiple birds every day. Wednesday morning I saw one in Glen Allen, then another a few minutes later in the swamp off Patterson Avenue then a third on the spire of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 5600 Monument Avenue. I never got images I like; I was grateful the owls cooperated this morning. But here’s Red-tail from the swamp Wednesday morning: 

Red-tailed hawk in the swamp off Patterson Avenue

Come back next week! Please! And have a great week! Please! 

All best, 

Jay

Posted in Birds, Dogs, Fun, James River, love, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-bellied woodpeckers, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Symmetry

12 January, 2020            Symmetry

If these 2 were perched there 365 days/year, I would never get tired of it

Mackey and Turner this morning. Another view I’d be grateful to see 365 days/year

It’s possible “symmetry” is not what my niece was implying – but that’s the way I interpreted it. Last week I sent her a picture of Mackey and Turner on a rock on the river, then a few minutes later a pair of owls on a branch. She wrote “These photos go really well together.” Possibly I should have titled this blog post “Pair of deuces.” Last week I took the dog picture at 10:20 and the owl picture at 10:40. This week I took the dog picture at 9:15 and the owl picture at 9:35. So precisely twenty minutes from dogs on the river to owls on the branch both weeks. 

Incidentally, I photographed the owls again an hour after the first pictures this morning (at 10:35). And last week I took the first owl pictures at 10:40 and the second pictures at 12:00. Slower hike. It will surprise no reader that I wander off in this minutiae from time to time. Evelyn corrects my grammar and spelling but doesn’t rein in my meandering writing. 

So what better way to rein in my own meandering writing than with a bluebird. So I “finished” the first set of owl pictures at 9:40 this morning. I took this bluebird picture 45 minutes later at 10:25. There is never a bad time to see a bluebird: 

Not only is there never a bad time to see a bluebird, I smile every time – every time. That is a treasure by itself.

Speaking of birds there’s never a bad time to see, I caught a glimpse of a Red-shouldered hawk Monday. You can’t make a blue sky look better – every blue sky is perfect. But I’ve taken a lot of variations of this picture, and for some reason the sky looks a little bluer when there’s a Red-shouldered hawk in the foreground: 

Red-shouldered hawk at Bryan Park this week:

That’s it! Short one this week! But a tiny bit more geeky info here – I photographed an owl on that branch for the first time this season on November 30. I don’t hike at the park every single day, but I’m there two or three times a week. And since November 30, there has been either one or two owls on that branch every single time I’ve walked past. Each time I see them it’s a gift. 

Have a great week, 

Jay 

Posted in Birds, Bryan Park, Dogs, Fun, James River, love, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

People are so warm-hearted

5 January, 2020            People are so warm-hearted

I had an unusually moving experience this week at Five Guys (who even knew?). I described it in a little blurb about it at the bottom of this blog post. 

I’ve worked for decades with people who can’t hike alongside any river, ever, so I’m grateful just to be at the James on Sunday mornings. And even more grateful to have wonderful dogs to accompany me. I took my first “dogs at river” picture this morning at 10:20. We hiked for twenty more minutes before we were standing under this pair of Barred Owls (Strix varia):  

Two Barred Owls near the river earlier today:

I’m grateful for any hike at the river – but I love to get owl pictures. 

I was also fortunate to get this as my first photograph of 2020, at 9:14 AM on New Year’s Day: 

First Red-shouldered hawk of 2020 on New Year’s morning

I chose that owl picture to open this blog post because it is always such a treat. I’ll close out (after a few more pictures) with Mackey and Turner when we first got on the river today  (the 10:20 pictures). 

I don’t love bird feeder pictures because of the “shooting fish in a barrel” sense I get – it’s just too easy. But I see them a lot (feeder birds) and sometimes get images I like. I’ve seen many, many Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) and they photograph well, especially in good light. This isn’t the sort of image you could use in a field guide, but I liked the non-typical quality: 

I’ve never looked at a grackle from that angle. I like this image.

I saw a wasp on a leaf this week. It seems like real, real cold weather for insects to still be around, but then it was warmer earlier in the week. This was kind of fun: 

Late December wasp. Not long for this world I suspect.

This blog is old – I began it in March of 2011. This is the first picture I ever posted, on March 3, 2011, on a blog post unimaginatively titled Mackey and Roux at the river this morning

Mackey and Roux, Pony Pasture, March, 2011:

Roux belonged to my old friend Alex but neither of them live here now. That picture up there was in March. I took this in the same spot at 12:20 today: 

Same river, same rocks, one of the same dogs, nine years later:

This was the first picture I took this morning, about ten or fifteen minutes hike upstream from the previous picture: 

Mackey and Turner when we first got to the river today (10:20):

Enjoy this story! Have a great week! Come back next week! 

All best, 

Jay 

= = = = = = = = = = =

People are so warm-hearted

Six years ago this month I wrote a blog post about a guy I’ve worked with for over twenty years. His name is KD, and you can see that 2014 blog post here if you’ve never seen it: smile  This is a picture of him at Starbucks Friday afternoon: 

KD at Starbucks Friday. Note the hoodie zipper and coat zipper then read this story:

He is all about Five Guys (so am I), and we’ve eaten lunch there for years. People know us at Five Guys – we’re greeted warmly every time we arrive. We know lots of the other customers too. He has to take a pill before he eats, and Friday he accidentally dropped it. It’s barely larger than a grain of rice, and I couldn’t see it anywhere. The guy I work with started looking too, but not enthusiastically. I was looking here and I was looking there but without success. A man and his wife and two young daughters were sitting next to us and saw what happened. They asked us to describe it, then they got up from their seats and started looking too. 

Five Guys at lunchtime is a busy place and it’s a random sample. I know a highly regarded neurosurgeon who eats there with his young son, and construction workers are there at the same time. There are men and women and boys and girls and always a handful of people of indeterminate gender. There are many people who speak Spanish and appear to be from Central or South America, people from India, Pakistan, China, Vietnam, it’s as broad a spectrum of people as you’re likely to see anywhere in central Virginia. 

People at other tables came over to help, asking for a description of the pill, moving tables, looking under drink machines, it was like a busy hive of ants. I am not exaggerating – half the people in Five Guys at lunch hour got up from their tables to help us. All strangers, all working together to help out other strangers, just because it was a nice thing to do. I finally threw up my hands and said “don’t worry, we’ll get another one when we get back to the house.” Someone said “I wonder if it fell inside his coat?” He had a zip up hoodie under his regular zip up jacket (see above). I unzipped the outer jacket and had no luck. Then I unzipped his hoodie and the prodigal pill dropped into his lap. 

KD didn’t care – he just took his pill. Things are always all good with him. But that was a perfect representative sample of America in 2020 right there. The same America that, at least according to some respected sources has “stopped being great.” 

There was an article on BBC News a year ago called “The time when America stopped being great.” I’ve heard others imply America is less great than it once was. You know what happens in great countries? Strangers drop what they’re doing to help  other strangers, just because people are nice. America may be as great as it’s ever been. To my mind it’s greater than it’s ever been. If history is any guide, next week it’ll be even better. 

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Posted in Birds, disability, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, James River, love, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

I love my family

29 December, 2019            I love my family

My family 24 hours ago. The most joyful gathering imaginable

The names of the people in that picture – I’ll let you try to match up faces – are Katie, Sheila, Kevin, Shane, Jay, Jenny, Kristin, Evelyn, Jim, Aileen, Cappy, Clare, Phoebe, Wren, Wesson, Teagan, Dylan, Noah and Finn. We missed Greg! 

My two sisters and two brothers and I are warm, caring, close, and geographically scattered. Our brother Kevin hosted us yesterday evening at his home a few miles from Kings Dominion – and that picture shows the five of us. Plus spouses, partners, offspring, partners of offspring, a lot of permutations. Sheila’s husband Greg was unfortunately unable to join us; hopefully next year. It was fun! Nineteen people total, I was close to the oldest. Here’s a picture of the youngest, waiting for more people to arrive. Kevin took this picture: 

“Waiting for folks to arrive” – Kevin’s picture, his caption

Here’s a throwback picture from March of 2008 – almost twelve years ago. All four of these people are in the top picture. One is third year at UVA, one has a semester behind her at Virginia Tech and one is in high school. And one has black hair in that picture but it’s less black today: 

March, 2008 – Highland Maple Festival – Monterey, Virginia

Evelyn had to work yesterday late morning and early afternoon, so I took Mackey and Turner to the river. It’s good to take them for a hike before we go out for a long time. That way they sleep the whole time we’re gone. This was when we first got to the river: 

What a great, great way to start any day. Mackey & Turner, Saturday morning at Pony Pasture

We hiked for a really short time and got to see an owl perched on a branch. I suspect this owl grabs a bite to eat early in the morning then snoozes the midday away while it digests: 

Barred Owl while Evelyn and the dogs and I hiked on Christmas morning

The woods are thick back there; this owl – even with superior vision – couldn’t have seen this deer. Mackey and Turner and I saw the same owl (or an identical owl in the same spot) yesterday morning when we hiked. But it wasn’t even five minutes walk from taking the owl picture to taking this one. Her mouth is a little open because she was chewing her cud and her jaw moves constantly. There was another deer lying down about twenty feet behind her but I couldn’t get a satisfactory picture of the two together: 

She’s ruminating

Here’s a geeky and/or nerdy fact that I may have included in earlier posts. Deer, like cattle and horses (and many other hoofed animals) are called “ruminants” because they have a stomach with four parts. The first part is called the “rumen.” In the wikipedia entry about ruminants it says “The process of rechewing the cud to further break down plant matter and stimulate digestion is called rumination.[1][2] The word “ruminant” comes from the Latin ruminare, which means “to chew over again”.” If you look up the definition of “ruminate” you see the first definition is “think deeply about something.” So there you go.

I’ve taken a million hikes at Pony Pasture and seen zero except the river and the trees – all hikes are great hikes. But yesterday we loaded up in the car and pulled out of the parking lot (of Pony Pasture), turned right, looked up in a tree and saw this, our first of the season: 

Bald Eagle in a sycamore hanging over the James River. Taken out of my car window while I was pulled over with my flashers on. What’s not to love?

My bald eagle data is not organized enough to be certain, but it seems December and January are the two months I see them most often. I’ll keep my eye out. 

One more thing – a little different – not a lot. Just down from where we see the owls there’s a fallen log with puffballs helping it decompose. Here’s a picture I took yesterday. You can see a few spent puffballs, and the greenish haze on the wood where their spores have coated it: 

Puffballs and puffball spores on a rotting log

A week ago today (I just noticed), I was in that spot when the puffballs were filled with spores, ready to spread. I tapped them and the spores puffed out. I posted a nine second video on youtube. You can see it here:

 

This is true – I did it again – only in slo – mo. Here’s that one, should you be so inclined:

 

Also from Friday – what a great day – Evelyn and I had a late lunch/early dinner at our favorite restaurant, Fresca on Addison. If you’re driving or walking on Cary street, look for this color wall and walk in and and eat and drink and enjoy and you’ll be a customer for life like we are: 

Fresca wall. If you’re on Cary Street, you can’t miss it!

There are great plants growing along Cary street; it seems such an unlikely place. But in warm weather there is a wildly prolific gardenia bush growing practically out of the sidewalk; it is the oddest thing. I’ll post pictures the first time I get a whiff in 2020. Meanwhile, currently there are trees. Look at this gorgeous bark: 

It seems like I should be able to identify this gorgeous tree but so far I haven’t. I’ll let you know.

I got wool socks for Christmas from Evelyn’s mom. She gives me the best socks – you should feel how comfortable these are. They’re smartwool brand and it’s like walking on a warm, soft cushion. Evelyn was our able photographer: 

Showing off my smartwool socks Christmas present on Christmas morning – dogs too! Socks from Evie’s mom, photo by Evie:

Enough already! I hope your Christmas (or however you spent December 25) was wonderful, and I hope 2019’s been a great year. And I hope 2020 is even better! See you in January, 

Much love, 

Jay and all the people and dogs and cats who help me be Jay 

Posted in Bald eagles, Birds, Dogs, Fun, fungus, highland maple festival, James River, love, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Hamentashen – they’re not just for breakfast anymore 

22 December, 2019            Hamentashen – they’re not just for breakfast anymore 

A few birds and animals first, as I especially enjoy spending time outdoors looking for them. I’ll get to the hamentashen and all that goes with it a little ways down. 

I took this owl picture yesterday at 12:45:

If you’re more alert than I was, perhaps you already noticed something besides the owl 

I was real happy to photograph that bird. It was 12:45. The dogs and I went for a great hike, and roughly half an hour later we ran into a slightly older couple who are much more alert than I am. We talked owls for a moment, and they said “Did you see both of them?” I said “Both? I just saw one.” They said “take a closer look. See if there are two.” So Lola and Luna and I looped back around to that precise spot, and exactly 60 minutes later I took this picture:

See them both? Now look back at the 1st picture – you can see the tail of the 2nd owl. Wild.

Isn’t that just incredible? You can get a look at them like that – and not even know that two are there. We just see (or I just see) what we expect to see sometimes. Fortunately my friends enlightened me!

The same two owls were there again today, to my great satisfaction. I also saw a medium large herd of deer but was only able to photograph one:

Good sized doe near Charlie’s Bridge this morning

A pair of squirrels on the edge of the lake at Deep Run this week:

Squirrel bookends on the edge of the lake at Deep Run

I got a medium quality image of a Red-shouldered hawk this week:

Red-shouldered hawk against a blue winter sky earlier this week

When I posted last week’s blog post about this time last week, the word “hamentashen” (plural form of the singular “hamentash”) was not in my vocabulary. But Evelyn’s mom’s birthday was this week, and there was some talk of bringing her hamentash. It’s a fun word to say – obviously. Try to imagine my joy – you’ll fall short, but try anyway – when the UPS driver pulled up with a box of these Friday evening: 

The hamantashen magic begins

Hamantash – it’s not just for breakfast anymore

The bakers obviously did not know me well, and mistook me for someone who delays gratification. This is what it said on the box:

As if I needed encouragement. I am so sure.

I noshed then, and several other times over the course of the weekend. I noshed for the final time (on that particular box) before I left this evening for the “19th Annual Chanukah on Ice Community Event!” Spoiler alert: I don’t ice skate. But I went anyway and it was so much fun. Next year will be the 20th annual event; I may even lace up a pair of rental skates for that one – there’s a really good chance. 

My upbringing was in a large Irish family and we were nominally Catholic in our youth. So I’m used to the whole “tacky Christmas sweater” phenomenon. Imagine my surprise and delight when I learned – less than one week after I heard of “hamentashen” for the first time – there’s a coexisting “tacky Chanukah sweater” phenomenon. Not to say they’re tacky, of course – that’s in the eyes of the beholder. Here’s one I particularly enjoyed: 

Tacky Christmas sweaters, step aside.

The first one I saw: 

The first one I saw. This guy was an awesome skater.

I may even get one of these; I love hoodies. And I love more light!: 

More light = better

I am not awesome at photographing actual human beings, so I don’t do it often. But when there’s a rabbi on ice skates lighting a menorah and I’m having so much fun I just can’t stop smiling, I had to get a picture:

First day of Chanukah, 2019.

Chanukah’s a great holiday, especially since it’s about (at least in my limited understanding) more light. Here’s how it was described on a calendar there:

Chanukah: “The best way to combat darkness? Ignite a flame.”

Well, I’ll close with dogs at the river. Since I took Lola and Luna yesterday and Mackey and Turner today. Yesterday: 

Lola (left) and Luna accompanied me to the river yesterday:

Today:

Sundays are for Mackey and Turner

Wow! I just realized – I dug up an old blog from Christmas 2005. This is me with Nicky (jumping up; he’s so happy) and Ivory (lying down, and equally or  more happy) in front of my parents house in Bridgewater, VA. That’s the same Subaru I drove to Pony Pasture yesterday and today with Lola and Luna and Mackey and Turner: 

Christmas 2005 and my mom and dad’s house in Bridgwater, VA with Nicky (black) and Ivory:

Have a great week! Happy Chanukah! Merry Christmas! Come back next week! All best, 

Jay 

Posted in Rivers | 6 Comments

When all else fails…

8 December, 2019            When all else fails… 

…open up with a lucky catch on a bluebird: 

Great example of an image I can only get by accident

I could probably set up my camera somehow to make that happen. But I don’t know how to do it. This was pure luck.

I’m not sure if this was the same bird. But it was the same minute, and we were mobbed (if bluebirds can really do that) with bluebirds that day. There’s never a bad day to see a bluebird:

In the same minute, just below that feeder

I’ve been out and about plenty this week but haven’t gotten a million great images. So I’ll slip a few things in this post then close it up and see if more pops up next week. This was Mackey and Turner at Pony Pasture this morning:

Mackey and Turner near shore – the river was “5 feet high and rising”

I also found an old blog with old pictures of Mackey on it. It also has pictures of Pony Pasture from about twelve years ago. I’m going to see if I can blend some into this blog in the non-distant future. But in the somewhat distant past, this is a picture of Mackey when he and Ivory and I were hiking on the Appalachian Trail near I-64 about twelve years ago this Christmas:

Mackey, Appalachian Trail, Christmas, 2007

That’s awesome he was hiking that way twelve years ago and he was still hiking like that today. He LOVES to be outdoors!

This blog post opened with a picture that resulted from the pure luck of my shutter opening at the right time. My shutter opens a lot, so there are a lot more correct times. 10:26 this morning at Pony Pasture. Ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis):

Looks pretty against that river

Okay – I’m going to wrap this up. These will provide some contrast with the fast moving bluebirds and gulls. I took all four of these this week – in front of our woodstove. I titled this email “no rush”:

“No rush #1”

“No rush #2”

“No rush #3”

 

“No rush #4”

am in kind of a rush – to put up this blog post! Have an excellent week! All best,

Jay (& Evie & Mackey & Turner & Dash)

 

 

 

Posted in Birds, Dogs, Fun, James River, love, Pony Pasture, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“What else is there?” – there is SO much more! 

8 December, 2019             “What else is there?” – there is SO much more! 

I always like photographing herons in trees. They look like they’re not sure how they got up there.

A couple around my age saw me take some pictures at Pony Pasture this morning. We chatted a few moments and I gave them my blog card. I told them my blog didn’t have any  politics or advertising or religion. The guy laughed a little and said only half-jokingly “what else is there?” I laughed too; those are three subjects I often feel overwhelmed with. Our chat took place moments after Mackey and Turner and I climbed off the rocks and began our hike. We saw (not necessarily in this order) an owl, a flock of seagulls, multiple bluebirds, lots of dogs, a gorgeous blue river, a deer I’m certain was pregnant, beautiful trees, a dozen or more good-natured hikers – we hiked for an hour and a half. No politics! No advertising! No religion! I found a Barred owl (Strix varia) in the same tree I’d seen it a week ago: 

Not everything makes my heart beat faster when I photograph it. But owls always do.

The heron in the top picture was perched up high in a tree. That’s one of my favorite places to photograph Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias). Herons (IMO) don’t look like they belong in trees. All herons (again, IMO) around water appear similar. They all stalk the same way, look around the same way, they wade, etc. But when they sit on a branch twenty or thirty or forty feet off the ground, they look slightly out of their element. I think they look a little bored when they’re standing in the water. But when they’re up in trees they’re paying more attention. I think. 

This deer was 100% aware Mackey and Turner and I were only a few short yards away in the woods. But this deer has seen us in the woods time and time again for years and years and she knows she’s not risking anything by staying where she is. She was chewing her cud with what appeared to be a relaxed and content look on her face. I believe there’s close to a 100% chance she’s pregnant: 

Her appearance is in every way elegant

There were Ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis) and Buffleheads (Bucephala albeola) on the river from the moment we arrived. Those two are constant winter residents here on the falls at Pony Pasture. They arrive in the vicinity of the first frost and will leave in March or April around the last frost. Gulls you can see around in the summer from time to time, but when those Buffleheads leave in the Spring, they are 100% truly gone. There is 0% chance you’ll see one here in the summer. So get a look now! Ring-billed gulls first: 

Ring-billed gulls on a mid-river rock

This picture is not technically proficient, but it captured something I’ve never seen in all the thousands of buffleheads I’ve photographed over the years. The female is on a rock – and I have never, ever seen that. And the male was staying with her – constantly. I’m not sure what was happening here, but I suspect she was not healthy:

Female bufflehead on rock, male bufflehead clearly being attentive toward her. I never saw either of them leave, or any other ducks come over.

Mackey and Turner and I are still getting used to hiking without Yuki. He’s real big and real white and has a strong presence, but he’s so easygoing he doesn’t really change the essential nature of the hike. He’s interested in the same things we are. We’re looking forward to seeing him again! Here’s Mackey and Turner at the river this morning: 

Mackey and Turner before the sun got on them

I was at Pony Pasture yesterday with Lola and Luna: 

Luna (left) and Lola on the riverbank yesterday morning

I almost left his out! Maybe because it’s not Christmas yet. But look at Evie’s Christmas Cactus! I took this yesterday afternoon at 3:00. I’ll get her to photograph it for next week – she’s a much better plant photographer than I am: 

Christmas cactus glowing

Plus – on the subject of “what else is there?” after politics, advertising and religion – I went flying for over six hours Thursday in a Cessna 172RG. The “RG” means “Retractable Gear.” Most Cessna 172’s have fixed landing gear; it’s always in position to take off or land. But it creates a lot of drag and slows the plane down and burns more fuel. We were going on a long trip – 284 miles each way – and the 172RG goes about 30 mph faster than a conventional 172. We flew to Lee County Airport (0VG) deep in the southwestern tip of Virginia. Here is the plane we flew. This was at Virginia Highlands Airport (KVJI): 

Our plane Thursday at Virginia Highlands Airport

Here’s the sign at Lee County airport, our incredibly far destination: 

My goal achieved!

Virginia has around thirty or forty relatively small airports, similar in size to Lee County. All of them have two runways, which really means you can take off going either direction on the same strip of runway. This airport’s runway numbers are “7/25”, which means one runway (#7) faces 70º on the compass, or just a little bit north of east. Runway 25 is the opposite of that, 180º around, facing 250º on the compass – almost directly west, but slightly south. You take off and land with the wind blowing toward you – you get more lift that way and gain altitude quicker. In this picture, we’d taken off on runway 25, starting at the far end of the runway. We lifted off and flew and climbed for a couple miles past the end of the runway. We gradually turned 180º as we continued to climb. I took this picture out of the left side as we flew back past. We were slightly over 3,000 feet when I took this picture (I took a picture of the instruments too) and climbing at about 700 feet per minute: 

Departing from Lee County Aiport

We flew over miles and miles and miles of woods. I mentioned to my instructor that there wasn’t much down there. He said “there’s coal.” I hadn’t thought of that. Presumably there’s coal under here. 6,500′ above Tazewell: 

This is what you see. No politics, no religion, no advertising

From time to time you see small communities or schools or factories or farms. We were flying between 6,000 and 8,000 feet high, usually going a little over a hundred miles per hour. Everything has a distinct look; you can tell right away what you’re seeing. I did not expect to see this, but the moment it came into view I knew it was a prison. Here’s a picture I took Thursday at 2:05 PM as we flew over USP Lee in Pennington Gap, VA: 

USP Lee from 7,500 feet

The first two sentences of the wikipedia entry about USP Lee say “The United States Penitentiary, Lee (USP Lee) is a high-security United States federal prison for male inmates in Virginia. It is operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the United States Department of Justice.” No shoplifters at USP Lee. That’s a great place to not be inside. 

If you’re reading this from inside USP Lee, I hope they’re letting you out soon. If you’re not reading this from inside USP Lee – I hope you’re not – have a great week! And come back next week! 

All best, 

Jay

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