Blogging for blogging’s sake 

12 July, 2020            Blogging for blogging’s sake 

It’s more than that really – I have a handful of pictures – but I just want to get a quick post up to get in my routine. And thank you to everyone who has encouraged me to blog more. 

A person we just met this morning took a picture of Mackey and Turner and Yuki and me at the river:  

Our favorite way to spend a Sunday morning:

In addition to our lush gardenias, Evelyn has a patch of mixed flowers thriving along our back fence. Daisies and more: 

Simple and spectacular

Thanks to Evie’s hard work we have a cheerful backyard

That’s the other thing about Evie’s hard work – it makes photography easy!

I was visiting a buddy near River Road Monday afternoon – and look what I saw while I was driving down his driveway!: 

When I was driving down the driveway, this young Red-shouldered hawk was perched on the fence:

I rolled to a stop and put my car window down. I’m sure this is a male; he was petite. Cars are perfect “urban blinds”; most animals don’t see them as a threat and ignore them. He obligingly hopped down off the fence and perched on a rock at the top of a small creekbed. At this point he was below me – I was pointing my camera down at a raptor. As a long time raptor photographer, that experience is so disorienting it practically gives you vertigo. Hawks don’t live down low – they fly high or perch high. To point your camera below the horizon is a strange sensation.

It hopped up on a rock by a creekbed:

I like more air conditioning, Evelyn and Dash like less. Here’s Dash lying with his head in the sun: 

Gobbling up the sunlight

Here’s a pair of purple martins from Bryan Park Thursday. The male is on top talking loud, or loud by purple martin standards. Notice the female below him? Still in the house? Is she acting demure? I’m not sure how to interpret emotions in songbirds: 

Male purple martin up on the wire, female still in the house:

Since I opened with dogs at the river I think I’ll close with that too. The one at the top is from 11:09 this morning. 

Quick break with water nearby

Have a great week! I hope to have another post up a week from today. All best, 

Jay 

Posted in Rivers | 1 Comment

Not your father’s lawnmower

5 July, 2020            Not your father’s lawnmower

I got a new lawnmower yesterday. It was shocking, although not because it’s an electric lawnmower. I’ll write a little more at the bottom. 

I took a little break from blogging; we’ll see how it goes. My last blog post was on May 17 – seven weeks ago! I haven’t gotten a million pictures I love, but I’ll post a handful. As I type these words on Sunday afternoon there’s a Brown thrasher on my suet feeder – not their normal eating mode. And there are a couple of catbirds out there too. Goldfinches, bluebirds, starlings (of course), house sparrows, woodpeckers, house finches, cardinals, a lot of happy birds. I don’t really know if they’re happy but I do know they’re well fed, one of my personal prerequisites for happiness. The chubby-cheeked-chipmunk sprinting back and forth from the ground under my feeders to its hole under my front walk looks happy too by that measure. It may have a partner and/or babies under there that it’s trying to keep happy. Hopefully a hawk won’t swoop down and satisfy its hunger with a plump chipmunk. Nature is red in tooth and claw even when there are no cardinals in the neighborhood. 

Here’s a Northern Flicker from my feeder two days after my last blog post: 

Flicker on my feeder

And a male Red-bellied woodpecker the same day: 

Red-bellied woodpecker – same feeder, same day.

And here (predictably) are Mackey and Turner at the river this morning. Yuki went to the beach for the Fourth of July (not even kidding): 

I’m happy a lot, but I’m happiest right in that exact spot

It wouldn’t be a blog post from me if it didn’t have a hawk in it. Here’s a male red-tail from West End Assembly of God Friday:

Male Red-tailed hawk at West End Assembly of God

With most raptors (Red-tailed hawks are a textbook example), the males are approximately a third smaller than the females. They’re identical in every way except size. If you see a pair together, it’s obvious. After a while you can just look and tell. But – interestingly, IMO – since the males are a third smaller, they’re called “tercels.” In this wikipedia entry under the word “falcon,” under “etymology” it says “The traditional term for a male falcon is tercel…” Our mom’s last car was a Toyota Tercel and for a long time I thought that was just a made up word. But it’s a male hawk – excellent choice.

I was driving on Three Chopt Road near University of Richmond a couple weeks ago and there was a deer in someone’s front yard – I pulled over for a picture:

Whitetail deer thoughtfully pruning shrubs near U of R

Back in May – again, just after I took a blogging break – I was reading a book called What It’s Like to Be a Bird by a brilliant author and illustrator named David Allen Sibley. I was reading a chapter about Cardinals – my feeders always have two or three or more pair around – and read this page:

Illustration and explanation of Cardinal courtship behavior

And if I’d been reading that book in, for example, December or January, there would have been cardinals but no courtship. But since it was May and there were cardinals and courtship, I looked out my window and took this picture –

To quote David Sibley, “A male Northern Cardinal offering food to a female.”

This Brown Thrasher was thrashing in my front lawn (they like the back and side lawn as well) in mid-June. I like the brown and green together. And that yellow eye:

Brown thrasher / Green grass

Robins are such everyday birds, but sometimes they give you a good look. This is from Bryan Park a couple weeks ago:

Robin at Bryan Park

Also – sorry this is out of chronological order – here’s a picture I took of a molting cardinal this morning. Every summer, cardinals “molt” – their old feathers gradually fall out and are slowly replaced by new ones. I photographed this molting female cardinal on my feeder just before noon today:

Molting female Cardinal

I’ve taken a lot of pictures of Purple Martins this summer but not posted any. I haven’t seen my friend Adolph White this year. He is a natural teacher and knows more about those birds than anyone you’ll ever meet. He also put up and maintains these purple martin houses at Bryan Park. I hope I see him soon! I took this picture earlier  this week. I think they’ll be heading south soon. Along with the ospreys:

Just a handful of the dozens of purple martins at Bryan Park.

As a nod to my dad, since I’m referencing him in this blog post, here’s a picture of his favorite bird. I took this a couple days after my last blog post. They’re brighter in early Spring – their colors are fading a bit now:

My dad’s favorite bird:

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Also – a word of thanks to Evelyn and to my brother Kevin and my friends Pat and Nate and Gilpin – and all the other people who encourage me to write and photograph. And even more thanks to my late mother and father, who always encouraged me to write. When I take pictures of birds or even just watch them out there on the feeder or in the park or flying around the rafters in the mall – it happens – I feel what I’m sure my dad felt. No matter what they’re doing (possibly except for when a hawk is eating a chipmunk), it’s calming to watch.

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This is not your father’s lawnmower

My gas lawnmower died (in a  manner of speaking) yesterday when I was about a third of the way finished cutting my front lawn. It wasn’t ancient and it was (is) fixable but now I have a brand new (only been used once, by me, yesterday) battery operated electric lawnmower. I was shocked (I keep using that word) how different it was. It’s not self-propelled but it’s so light you can push it with one finger. And compared to a gas mower it is totally quiet. It’s noise is comparable to a vacuum cleaner, except you’re outside, so it’s not noisy at all. 

But what stuck out most for me – what really made it not like my father’s lawnmower – is there was no smell. The smell of gasoline and exhaust has never bothered me – even as a little kid I associated it with fun stuff, like my dad cutting the grass, or when we first started going to self-serve gas stations in the 1970’s and filling up the car ourselves. We were going somewhere, we were doing something, we were active and engaged. The first lawnmower I remember our dad having was a Lawnboy, and all Lawnboys had their own special shade of green, in much the same manner all John Deere equipment has its special shade of green. Except Lawnboy green tended toward the lime green side of the spectrum where John Deere green tends toward the forest green side of the spectrum.  

Dad’s Lawnboy had a two cycle engine, so you had to mix oil and gas together in the correct ratio. So the gas smelled different and the exhaust smelled different. And your gloves smelled different when it soaked in, because it always soaks in, and as a little kid you can’t resist seeing what your gloves smell like, because you’re pretty sure you’re more like a grownup if your gloves smell like that.  

On dad’s mower you had to prime the engine before you started, you had to push a little blue plastic button three or four times before the engine would start. Dad never cursed when the engine wouldn’t start; I have no idea where I picked up that bad habit. The button was blue plastic – it really stood out against the green mower – and dad would let me push the button to prime it. You could really smell that two cycle gas. 

So anyway – this is the most unlikely segue you’ll encounter today, or perhaps ever – I was thinking of dad the same way Red Rooster coffee roaster in Floyd, VA was thinking about their customers during COVID – “wish you were here.” Bear with  me – I haven’t written this well. So Red Rooster Coffee is in Floyd, VA and that’s the main coffee I drink at home. So because of COVID all their customers are staying away (fortunately for me they have a good online store) and they came up with a blend called “Drink Floyd”:

Drink Floyd – Wish You Were Here

So it’s a song about loss – it’s complex – and of course I was thinking about dad and cutting the grass. I don’t really miss my dad more than is appropriate – they raised us to experience healthy grieving and move on with our lives, which is what adults do, and what I and my siblings have done. I think when I miss dad now – when I wish he was here – is when I hear the tone of the current “debate” – though it’s really an argument – about COVID, masks, pandemics, leadership, elections, there’s a drumbeat that’s not soothing. But dad always considered both sides. He would have worn a mask everywhere he went – 100% chance – but he wouldn’t have judged people who didn’t. When I’m thinking about my father’s lawnmower, and my father, I don’t think it’s really him I’m wishing was here – I’m wishing his attitude was here. His level- headedness and sanity. You could be agitated when you began a conversation with my dad, but never when you ended one. That’s what I wish was here. In a word, it’s civility. But civility’s not gone for good. It’ll return soon. Civility is an efficient emotion. 

I think it’s already returning! 

Have a great week, all best, 

Jay 

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Posted in Birds, Bryan Park, cardinals, coffee, Dogs, Emerson, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, James River, koans, love, newfaze, Northern flicker, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-bellied woodpeckers, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, robin, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), thoreau | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

(Nothing But) Flowers

17 May, 2020            (Nothing But) Flowers

So nice to be on the actual river again

That’s Turner (front) then Mackey (black) and Yuki bringing up the rear at the river at Pony Pasture at 9:30 this morning. The river’s been so high for so long, that rock’s been under water every time we’ve been down. We were grateful to get on the water today. 

Also – before I get much farther – I’m going to include my first snake picture of 2020 in this post. In case you don’t care for snakes.  

This blog post title is the name of a song by the Talking Heads from 1988. I was looking for owls and butterflies and deer and snakes and dragonflies and turtles and frogs and more this morning at Pony Pasture but it kept going through my head that there was “nothing but flowers.” Here’s one I saw by the path: 

Dianthus at the river today. Notice the handsome furry white foot? Photographer’s assistant

Guess whose foot that is in the background? White goes with everything. 

On a slightly more cultivated note, here’s one of Ev’s roses from our backyard. I photographed that dianthus near the river at 10:17. I dropped off handsome white-footed dog at his house on the way home then walked into our backyard and photographed one of Ev’s roses an hour and twenty minutes later: 

Like the river, they’re always perfect, always different

To prepare anti snake people I’ll start with a less fear inducing reptile from nearby, a few days earlier. This is a five lined skink. I’m sure one exists somewhere, but I’ve never read a list of the most commonly occurring reptiles in Virginia. Five lined skinks have to be at or near the top of the list. Very few people have an irrational fear of skinks, and you can see why: 

Five-lined skink at Deep Run

I’ve been seeing snakes – plenty – for some time at Deep Run. So far only Northern Water Snakes though. Usually when I see them they’re on rocks and the light is not great. But one crawled across the asphalt path at Deep Run this week and I got this reasonable image: 

Water snake out of the water

If you want to see something really, really, really fascinating occurring in real time – this is live, 24/7 – I suggest you log on to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) Falcon Cam. You can click on that link this very minute – or any time you want – and see an active Peregrine Falcon nest “on a ledge of the West Tower of the Riverfront Plaza building in downtown Richmond, Virginia.” That’s on around 9th and Byrd Street in downtown Richmond, overlooking the falls of the James River. Here’s a screenshot I took Thursday: 

Adult peregrine falcon with hungry baby Thursday:6-falcon 

That baby with its mouth open is (it appears to me) in excellent health. I’m going to  post a picture of an adult (I believe the female) feeding it this morning. The adult is holding a bloody piece of meat so some viewers may not care for the image. But although the baby is looking away from it in this picture, it was gobbling pieces of meat like it was the last food on earth. Here’s the baby being fed: 

Earlier today. The baby is not hungry anymore, at least for a little while

I’m going to sign off – definitely check out that falcon cam. Like a lot of stuff in nature, a ton of it is boring. But some is fascinating – like when they’re feeding the baby. I don’t know if any more eggs will hatch. We’ll see. 

Also, before I sign off, I learned an odd fact this week. I’m reading a tremendous book called What’s it’s Like to be a Bird by David Allen Sibley. He talks about farmers who grow the bird seed that I use to fill my feeders. He writes about how the farmers protect the seed – from being eaten by birds. Crazy world. Have a great week. 

All best, 

Jay 

PS My editor is sound asleep. So if you notice more mistakes than usual this week, that’s why.

Posted in Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, James River, love, newfaze, People, peregrine falcons, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, roses, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Snakes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy Mother’s Day!

10 May, 2020            Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy Mother’s Day! Nice work Evie!

Like Evelyn, my friend Marion is a talented gardener, and Marion once told me roses were meant to put out their best blooms in time for Mother’s Day. Evelyn’s been tending the roses in our yard for many years, and look what bloomed mid week this week. All I can say is OMG. 

My brother’s wife Jenny is mother to three of my nieces, and today she posted pictures of her own mother – who is very much vibrant and alive and joyful – and of our mother, who is still that way only in our memories. Jenny posted some old pictures of our mom today and I did a few screenshots. Thank you Jenny! Here’s one of mom and dad, I think before they got married – or close to it – in 1958: 

My mom and dad in their mid-twenties. That is astounding. I’m so fortunate!

The following picture is mom at her eightieth birthday with all five of her children and several spouses and about ⅔ of the grandchildren she had by that time. She has more now! 

Mom more than half a century later. Wow.

I was reviewing old blog entries for this post and I found one from mom’s memorial service in early 2017. In that post I quoted something our old family friend Liz Adams said at that time. It’s possible this ship has already sailed, but I’d like people to be able to say this about me, hopefully when I’m ninety or older, but you just never know. Here’s what Liz said about mom: “I never heard her say anything bad about anyone; I never saw her cranky or cross.” – Liz A., 19 January, 2017

You may recall from an earlier blog post that I wrote how enthusiastically dad would say “sweet iced tea!” Mom and Dad both had little stock phrases they used in different contexts; we heard them often. Mom used to say with similar enthusiasm “Toby Chipmunk Soup!” I’m somewhat certain she couldn’t produce an actual recipe for something called “Toby Chipmunk Soup.” It was one of those ingredients-on-hand winter recipes. Each iteration of “Toby Chipmunk Soup” was different-from-but-similar-to all the batches that preceded it. I thought of “Toby Chipmunk” (mom would have too) when I snapped this picture out of my office window Wednesday morning: 

 

Mom noticed lots of birds and animals, and often made humorous remarks about them. Dad was more scientific. But he noticed just as much. 

My Y has been closed since early in the COVID-19 era, and I haven’t been able to swim. So I’ve been riding my bicycle during my normal swim times just to maintain (hopefully) an adequate level of fitness. Today I took my thirtieth bike ride since April 1; I’ll be glad when the pool opens again! But I’m also grateful the weather’s been so lovely, and there isn’t much traffic, so it’s been nice riding. As of today I’ve ridden 495 miles since April 1. I’ll be glad when I can get back to swimming! 

There was an article in the NYT this week about swimming pools reopening in the post-COVID era. The article quoted a swimming coach named Mark Schubert and the message he’d posted to greet his returning swimmers: “May the new normal teach us to be grateful for the things the old normal taught us to take for granted.” That is a good, good, good idea. 

Before I rode today, of course, I took the dogs to the river for a relaxing hike. Our old friend Luna joined Mackey and Turner and Yuki and me at Pony Pasture this morning. Here is the four of them near the edge of the river at 9:15 this morning. The upper lot is still closed so we’re not going out on the rocks yet. Soon we hope! This morning was pretty though: 

L-R: Yuki, Mackey, Turner, Lola – back row: James River

Evelyn got strawberries from our farmshare (Agriberry) this week. I’m not kidding – they taste better than they look – and they look awesome. And man you should taste them with ice cream: 

They taste better than they look – and look how awesome they look!

Here’s another picture from our yard this week. I called it “Get offa my lawn!”: 

“Get offa’ my lawn!” – scolding a nest parasite cowbird

I photographed honeysuckle today; I don’t love the image but I love honeysuckle. I searched old blog posts; I found the first honeysuckle picture was nine years ago this month in a post called “Flora – and some fauna.” A sentence in that post says “In the unlikely event I end up in Heaven, and in the still less likely event Heaven has only one flower, I hope it’s Honeysuckle (Lonicera).” With apologies to gardenias, I still hope that. I’m not super confident in my ability to keep a gardenia alive, but honeysuckle (it’s invasive, of course) is much more forgiving. And it smells so good. Here’s some from today at Pony Pasture: 

If heaven doesn’t smell this good, they need to have a word with the Management

I almost forgot! I did see a Barred Owl at Pony Pasture Tuesday, but it was being harassed by a crow and the pictures were suboptimal. But I did get a twenty-five second video of the crow being irritating (or anyway it appeared that was its intent). Have a look – it’s worth a few seconds to watch: 

Owl and crow at Pony Pasture, May 5, 2020 

Wait! One more! Dash snoozing in the sun Friday morning: 

Find a sunny spot and take a nap this week

Have a great week, all best,

Jay

Posted in Barred Owls, Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, honeysuckle, James River, love, newfaze, People, Pony Pasture, Rivers, roses, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thanking a one year old for putting the “social” in “social distance”

3 May, 2020            Thanking a one year old for putting the “social” in “social distance”

Our neighbor Austin turned one yesterday. Austin single-handedly brought together more smiling people than I’ve seen since the first time I heard that peculiar word “coronavirus” back in February. This is what I saw when I walked out the door yesterday morning – Austin’s birthday parade coming up the street: 

Could there be a more beautiful day for a birthday party?

So I didn’t get a ton of great pics this week, really only a couple, so I’ll scatter them in here – among the party pictures. 

Here’s a picture of a Rose Breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) that came to my feeder Monday morning: 

Rose-breasted grosbeak comes to our feeder

Before Austin brought all the people together yesterday, when I thought of “social distance,” I focused on DISTANCE. Thanks to Austin, now when I think of “social distance” I think of SOCIAL. Thank you Austin! 

I’ve been around a long time and I know a lot of people. I have had a ton of birthdays. Guess how many of them had something like this? If you guessed “zero,” I admire your precise and correct response: 

Austin’s birthday was REALLY social!

Black locust trees are common in Virginia, but they hide in the background and don’t draw lots of attention. But they’re flowering right now (today) and I did manage to get one picture this morning at Pony Pasture. Unfortunately these were too high off the ground to smell. I have never smelled a tree flower as fragrant as a black locust. I’ve hardly smelled any flower as fragrant as a black locust. 

I was fortunate to see a handsome male Bluebird perched on a wire while Mackey and Turner and I were headed out to pick up Yuki for our hike at Pony Pasture. He was very accommodating! I’m always grateful to get a picture like this: 

A handsome male bluebird posed on our way to the river this morning

This was the table that greeted all of Austin’s guests yesterday. VERY social, though of course we all kept our distance. Note the bottle of Purell doing double duty as a paperweight. When people look at pictures from this birthday in the distant future they’ll reliably say “oh, Purell, right, coronavirus, that must have been the Spring of 2020.” But – there were doughnuts! Thank you Austin! That’s how you put the “social” back in “social distance.” Happy Birthday Austin! 

What a way to celebrate your first birthday! Thank you Austin!

FYI, I had a picture published in a magazine! If you click here you can see the cover picture on the current (May/June 2020) issue of Virginia Wildlife Magazine. The cover of this month’s issue has a picture of an osprey holding a large bluefish. If you have the actual magazine and  open up to page 46 you’ll see the picture I took in the “Pics from the field” section. I took a picture of the picture – it looks a lot better in the magazine: 

A picture of the picture I took – you can see my name! – in Virginia Wildlife magazine

Back to Austin’s party! Here was another family being social: 

I’m fortunate to have such a popular neighbor – what a party he had!

Mackey and  Turner and I took at little hike at Pony Pasture Tuesday. We were happy to see these three officers patrolling on horseback. Beautiful horses and friendly police officers – Richmond is such a wonderful place to live: 

Richmond’s finest on horseback Tuesday at Pony Pasture:

I’ll close with a couple more of Evelyn’s spectacular flowers. We have so many gardenias it takes me a long time to sort through the pictures! So here’s one I took at 7:45 this evening: 

Gardenia from this evening:

Can’t leave Dash out. Here he’s about to start playing soccer with a tennis ball: 

Game, set, match

And I’ll close with a rose (I like the way that sounds). I took this one Wednesday morning at 7:30: 

It is simply impossible to tire of this:

Have a great week! Happy Birthday Austin! Thanks for putting the SOCIAL in social distance! 

All best, 

Jay 

Posted in Birds, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, James River, love, newfaze, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, roses, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Signs of progress – the system is functioning: 

26 April, 2020            Signs of progress – the system is functioning: 

I saw my first deer in a long time this week. So far, everyone always loves deer pictures on this blog. When it comes to blog views, deer are the opposite of snakes. So here’s the opposite of a snake at Pony Pasture Tuesday morning at around 9:30: 

The peace of wild things

I took this picture of Evelyn’s roses in the backyard at 8:30 Monday morning. I photographed the same bush around 7:30 this (Sunday, 4/26/2020) evening. I’ll put that picture at the bottom of the post. Spoiler alert: the roses are doing what roses have always done: 

Evelyn’s roses 8:30 Monday morning

Anyway, when I got that deer Tuesday, Mackey and Turner and I were looking for Barred Owls. We were unsuccessful, if you count seeing a deer as unsuccessful, which it obviously is not. Speaking of items in the “unsuccessful when looking for an owl” category, we also saw more lovely spiderwort Tuesday: 

Spiderwort – same day – and just a few minutes walk from the deer – Tuesday

AND – the “unsuccessful when looking for an owl” category is mighty fun – we saw late season bluebells!: 

Still bluebells left in the woods this week:

Evelyn hit the jackpot with this most recent gardenia. More likely the gardenia hit the jackpot with Evelyn; she brings out the best in them. When I say “hit the jackpot” I mean I could take great pictures of this plant any time. But I like the “missed an owl” theme from Tuesday, so here’s a gardenia picture I took that day (on our back porch). No I didn’t – I apologize. I took one Tuesday, but I took this “triple” Thursday; I couldn’t resist: 

A triple gardenia. When you eat pizza near it, the pizza tastes like gardenias. I’m not even kidding.

Tuesday (4/22/2020) was the Fiftieth Anniversary of Earth Day! My friend Jody gave me this globe for my birthday many years ago and it looks great for Earth Day. Thanks Jody!: 

Earth Day

Earth day too

Big planet

Evelyn has many friends at Project Yoga Richmond. She showed me a poem they’d posted on their Instagram page on Earth Day morning. You may be aware of it. It was written in 1968 by Wendell Berry. The poem is The Peace of Wild Things

“The Peace of Wild Things”  Wendell Berry – 1968 

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. 

Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I went to Pony Pasture this morning to be in the peace of wild things. Like the deer on Tuesday, I suspect these owls don’t “tax their lives with forethought of grief.” I was so moved to see them this morning. Trust me – you can have an enormous amount of despair for the world growing in you, and when you come into the peace of these wild things, for a time you will rest in the grace of the world, and be free: 

The amount of peace in these wild things is inestimable. There is no room for anything else.

You should try it! There’s no shortage of social distance either, especially when it’s muddy like it is now. 

I have wild things outside my window all day, although birds on a bird feeder are not quite as wild as those owls or that deer. But the first (for me) catbirds of 2020 descended on our yard this week; I’m always grateful. This is not what I’d call a “peaceful” image but they’re attractive birds. In the height of nesting/mating season: 

Pair of catbirds energized by suet

A handsome (though I’m uncertain of the gender) bluejay this week: 

Bluejays dominate the feeder. But crows run them off.

Finally – look at the roses at the top of this post, then compare them to this picture, the same roses, six days and twelve hours later. The world is doing what it always does. Coronavirus is around now, but it won’t be here forever. Enjoy these roses! And go into the peace of wild things. 

Same roses at the top of the post. plus 6.5 days of sun and rain and love:

Come back next week! 

All best, 

Jay

Posted in Barred Owls, Birds, Dogs, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, James River, love, newfaze, People, Pony Pasture, Rivers, roses, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Poor photography backs me into a corner

19 April, 2020            Poor photography backs me into a corner

I didn’t get great pictures this week (IMO), so I backed myself into a corner and actually had to write something to make this a good blog post! It is so much easier to just photograph an  owl or a deer or a hummingbird! Roses! Goldfinches! Ospreys! There are so many things to photograph – writing takes work

But I’m not working a ton due to COVID and the pool (the Y) is also closed due to COVID. So in the last eighteen days I’ve gone for fifteen bike rides and it’s given me lots of time to think. I wrote a little at the bottom of this post. 

Virginia Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana) is blooming at Pony Pasture right now. Mostly out of the mud at the moment; the river reached almost fifteen feet deep earlier this week. It was only about eight feet deep this morning but the park is real, real muddy. I took this picture Tuesday at 10:17: 

Virginia Spiderwort at Pony Pasture this week

We looped around and came back up the trail. This was a little over an hour later, not real far from where the spiderwort was. See the bench? The river was ~13.7’ deep at that time, rising toward its crest at 14.7’ that evening: 

Pony Pasture Tuesday. See the bench on the right?

Ev’s gardenias are still (even as I type this paragraph) blooming and perfuming our home.  I took this picture Monday at lunch time: 

In my notes this says “flawless gardenia” but all gardenias are flawless

Dash is enviably unconcerned about it all. Gardenias, COVID-19, flooding rivers, electoral politics, it’s all the same to him. Does every picture of Dash look the same? Sort of: 

Wave your paws in the air like you don’t care

Squirrel from Deep Run this week: 

Deep Run squirrel

Maybe next week I’ll get better pictures. You never know! This week you’re stuck with a memory that’s stayed with me for twenty-five years. Have a great week! Come back next week! 

All best, 

Jay 

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A bilingual Spanish professor with a port wine birthmark – RIP Dr. S 

I struggled intermittently for years after my accident. Never physically. I accepted my physical limitations (such as they were) early. But emotionally the changes were difficult to accept, so I saw a therapist. This story is not about therapy though. It’s about a bilingual professor with a port wine birthmark on his face. 

I’ve kept Dr. S anonymous in this blog post. But obviously if you had a Spanish professor in the 1990’s with a port wine birthmark on his face, you know who I’m talking about. 

I learned long ago he died. I didn’t learn until I began researching this blog post that he was only 56 years old. Two years younger than I am as I type these words. And he had a ten month old granddaughter! And he died nearly twenty years ago, which also came as a shock, since he taught me during my second (my post-accident) undergrad career. Amazing that amount of time has passed. 

Here is the cover of the journal where I wrote about him: 

Journal cover from 1994

“PD” was my therapist. I “graded” each of our sessions as soon as I went out to the car afterward. 

Here’s the first mention of Dr. S in my journal: 

1994 Journal entry

Here’s where I typed it into my online journal: [[7/18/94 1359 Thu PD’s B 

I guess a B. we began talking about my excellent swim this weekend plus SPA and thus two subjects occupied most of the time except when she brought up late a little about the fee increase and about vacation. I also talked some about Dr. S  and his port-wine birthmark and how it may have affected him developmentally and she thought it was interesting that I thought that much about it.]]

His name is searchable; I found it in my online journal right away. Here is the second mention of Dr. S. Including why it moved me so much, and still moves me over a quarter of a century (!) later: 

Bottom of first page

Continued

Here’s where I typed that into my online journal: [[7/27/94 Wed 1557 PD’s A?

It could have been, but maybe not, maybe I’m just in a good mood because […] I had all real coffee on my break, but today was good. We talked about my competitiveness or non competitiveness, about reading about her, about UVA and W&M and Gonzaga, about I don’t know what all. Today at PD’s we also talked about another little situation. It came to me sometime that Dr. S appears totally Anglo, yet speaks [Spanish] like a native. [Dr S was born in Cuba to American parents who worked at the State Department].  And plus he has that port wine mark. What an incredible combination, what a person to have met. So I said to him, you must overhear a lot because you look like such an Anglo and you speak so well. He said yes, I do, and I’ve found out that people aren’t usually talking bad about you behind your back like you think they are. What a cool little thing to stumble on. A totally bilingual professor with a port wine stain. Unbelievable.

“All comparisons are invidious.” – Dr. S

“Language doesn’t completely make sense.” – IBID]]

If people talked bad behind his back, Dr. S would know. And I’m quoting him directly when he said “I’ve found out that people aren’t usually talking bad about you behind your back like you think they are.”

I hear – I know my readers hear – about unkind people every day. But my life experience simply does not bear that out. I hear of (and/or interact with) kind people every day. They’re in the clear majority. 

Think about how often you’re kind. I’m certain it’s not every waking moment. But I’m sure you are most of the time. It’s just too difficult to go through life if you’re not! 

= = = = = = = = = = =

 

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Peace like a river

12 April, 2020            Peace like a river

Today is Easter and several friends said and wrote “peace” to me earlier. As Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I got out on the rocks at Pony Pasture this morning I thought of Paul Simon’s 1972 song Peace Like a River. If you click that link and listen to the whole song, that’s three minutes and forty-two seconds of your life you’ll never get back. But you’ll be real, real, real relaxed. It’s calming. Like the river. Just ask Yuki and Turner and Mackey: 

There is no stress there. None. Peace like a river.

The first line of the song is “Peace like a river ran through the city.” I don’t know a ton about the song – I’ll read more about it. But the second verse – written in 1971, close to half a century ago – says “I remember Misinformation followed us like a plague.” If you look up enough stuff you always stumble across odd coincidences like that. “Misinformation followed us like a plague” in 1971 and in 2020 we have competing “experts” with misinformation about COVID-19. Who could make this stuff up? Not me. Crazy. 

Much less of a coincidence was my dogged return to the branch these owls love so much, and this morning – April makes sixth consecutive months – I photographed a Barred Owl: 

Barred owl at Pony Pasture! Again!

Evelyn took this picture of one small azalea bush in our backyard. I was looking at pictures of different flowers on an instagram nature page. It had a quote by a philosopher named Iris Murdoch. I’ll use it as the caption for this picture; it’s made for this picture: 

Photo by Evelyn “People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.” – Iris Murdoch

This one (somehow) almost didn’t make it into this blog post. Thank goodness I found it at the last moment! Every time I see a flower now I think about that quote by Iris Murdoch:

This flower is wildly uninhibited

If you didn’t read the caption on the earlier picture, it’s “People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.” I’ll remove and replace a single noun and use it as the caption for this picture I took at Deep Run this week. My Dad would have been mad with joy: 

“People from a planet without birds would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.”

Since the Y’s been closed and I’ve been unable to swim I began riding at West Creek for an hour every single day. Today was my eleventh consecutive day. That’ll end the streak; tomorrow’s going to be a rainout. But I saw this Red-tailed hawk in a tree in the swamp off Patterson Avenue Monday morning at 8:00: 

Well named Red-tailed hawk Monday morning

When Mackey and Turner and I came home from our walk Friday evening I noticed Ev’s daffodils in the backyard. They’re growing everywhere in our yard, in all sizes and shapes and patterns and colors and smells – who even knew there were so many? The back lights were on but I didn’t even use a flash. Pretty picture, taken with my phone, at 9:51 PM: 

“Mad with joy.” It’s just everywhere you look, isn’t it?

This post is “peace like a river” but it’s not a stretch (IMO) to use the river as a proxy for the natural world. I’m aware the coronavirus is also from the natural world but the twenty-four hour news cycle is not. The river and the owls and the bluebirds and the hawks, even the starlings are more peaceful than anything from any news outlet I’ve noticed. The same is true for the azaleas and the daffodils and even the dandelions; they have no agenda. Evelyn and the dogs and I took a relaxing hike at Bryan Park yesterday; here’s a Purple Martin we saw: 

Purple Martin at Bryan Park yesterday. “Mad with joy.” (Me, not the necessarily the bird)

I photographed another Mayapple flower at Pony Pasture this morning. They’re ephemeral (like we all are) and soon will change to a different form. But here’s a flower from this morning: 

Late season May apple flower from this morning at Pony Pasture:

And last – not least – we saw a snail this morning! I see gastropods from time to time (snails are gastropods) but I know very, very little about them. They’re fascinating though – I may learn more. I’lll share it here when I do. Meanwhile, I’ll close with the one we saw this morning. And come back next week! All best, 

Jay 

Gastropod (snail) at Pony Pasture this morning

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“The weird turn pro” – Hunter S Thompson, 1971 

5 April, 2020            “The weird turn pro” – Hunter S Thompson, 1971 

“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” – Hunter S Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 1971. That quote doesn’t relate to anything in particular, other than each time I encounter another coronavirus related inconvenience – all of mine have been minor – I think “this is weird.” If someone you care about has died from it, you have my deepest sympathy. But since I first heard the word “coronavirus” in February or March, it’s mostly just been… weird. 

Today is the thirty-second anniversary of my accident. What a way to celebrate – Yuki came home from his winter travels and joined Mackey and Turner and me at the river this morning! Dogs standing on warm granite under a blue sky on a 400 million year old river – this is the opposite of weird: 

Turner, Yuki, Mackey, the James River – the opposite of weird

We hiked a little deeper in the park and paused a moment for this one: 

Yuki, Turner, Mackey – a few minutes later, still not weird

I experience and think and read about gratitude regularly, mainly since I lived through this day 1988. Gabby Giffords in early 2011 survived being shot through her brain. I mean, think about that – for a moment – if you can. In an assassination attempt a man shot her in the forehead with a nine millimeter pistol. He kept shooting and shooting and killed six people, including a nine year old girl. But that’s not what this blog post is about. 

Neither is it about coronavirus, though that’s why the going is getting weird. But she wrote an article in Friday’s (4/3/2020) USA Today called [[What I learned fighting for my life. And why it can help America now.]]. She talked about being kind to one another, which of course is more important now while we all – everybody on this planet – go through this. She wrote “Each gesture, however small, is a stitch in the quilt that keeps our communities connected.“ More on that later. I have a few pictures this week. 

April has begun and central Virginia is bursting at the seams. Here’s a mayapple flower from our hike this morning: 

Mayapple flower from Pony Pasture this morning

And here are gardenias Evelyn brought home. Have you ever smelled a gardenia? If not, smell one. Your life will get better and it will remain better, even after you stop smelling gardenias. That’s just the way they are. Don’t take my word for it – find one and smell it. If you have smelled one before, it might not have been in 2020 – they’re just starting out. Find one and smell it! Here’s one of our beauties: 

Gardenia from our home (not from our yard – yet)

The dogwoods will be done flowering very soon. I took this one in our front yard today:

Dogwood in our front yard – that flower is almost finished

I have a handful more pictures. But first, I read an article in Friday’s NYT called I Never Used My Computer on the Sabbath — Until the Coronavirus. It was written by a man named Avi S. Olitzky, a rabbi in Minnesota. It’s a great article – it comes with my strongest recommendation. But my favorite part – by far – was the final sentence: “Meeting people where they are, bringing light into their dark corners — that is how you change and build a world.“ That sentence was perfectly true a thousand years ago, before there was a computer to use, or ten thousand years ago, before there was such a word as “sabbath.” When we’re looking back on the Spring of 2020, when the going got really weird, if we can recall the importance of “Meeting people where they are, bringing light into their dark corners,“ we’ll be making the world a better place. 

Wow – I’ve “talked” (written) way too much. Here is one of my favorite pictures from this week. A purple martin from Bryan Park: 

My first Purple Martin of 2020 (at Bryan Park)

This is half a mile down the street from our house, near Patterson Avenue: 

The caption is included in the photograph

The NYT must be printing old articles. I had a quote in my notes for this week and when I looked it up just now, I found it was from a Times article from September of last year! No matter. The article was called “The Trick to Life is to Keep Moving – What my friendship with a woman 51 years my senior taught me about growing up” by a woman named Devi Lockwood. I think just the title caught me – “the trick to life is to keep moving.” 

I’m going to need to move to my bed soon – I’m running out of gas! I’m working less so I’m exercising more and it’s catching up with me! Wow (again) I haven’t put up a picture of a pawpaw flower! They have to be the homeliest flowers ever. Or anyway after looking at gardenias and mayapples and redbuds and so forth. The fruit is the opposite of homely – think of eating a gardenia. It tastes so good you practically never want to taste another flavor. But for now, there’s a homely flower: 

Pawpaw bud. That’s really kind of pretty, in an understated way

I almost forgot – there are ospreys everywhere – except where I can get a reasonable picture. But I got a handful of adequate ones so I’ll close with a couple – and come back next week! All best, 

Jay 

This is zoomed in too far, but it’s always amazing (IMO) to see one actually holding a fish:

Osprey on a tower with the last bit of a fish

And this one’s zoomed out too far, but the light and the scenery are pleasing. I took this one this morning:

Osprey against a blue April sky

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“ephemeral” (noun): plant – or – (adjective): lasts a short time 

29 March, 2020            ephemeral (noun): plant ephemeral (adjective): lasts a short time 

My non ephemeral friend Gus and me at Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota in 1991. This picture was taken sixteen years after we met in homeroom in Freshman year at Gonzaga High School in Washington, DC: 

Gus, me, Mt. Rushmore, almost thirty years ago

We took this selfie yesterday at Pony Pasture with his son Joey: 

Amigos

This is Gus with my mom at my brother Kevin’s house for my fortieth birthday in 2001. Smiling always came easily for mom, but Gus was (by a very wide margin) her favorite of all my friends: 

Mom didn’t like all my friends but she adored Gus

We don’t live close together but we’ve stayed close throughout the forty-five years (what?!) we’ve known each other. Gus was one of the first people to visit me at the hospital after my accident – I was still in a coma – and he stayed close through the entire episode. Over the years, Gus and his family have had experiences that were in many ways worse than what I did – but he remains strong, healthy, energetic, caring and warm-hearted. He could be in the picture dictionary (sorry to overwork that metaphor) next to “resilient.” 

When we were hiking yesterday I saw my first Yellow Trout Lilies (Erythronium americanum) of 2020: 

Trout lily

I know not everyone will click on that link and learn more about Trout Lilies, but I’m going to excerpt the critical (IMO) phrase here. According to the Virginia Native Plant Society : “Across the state, spring would not be spring in Virginia without the entrancing drifts of trout-lilies, trilliums, and other lily kin in April’s sunlit woods.” 

I first hiked at Pony Pasture in my early forties and I’d never heard the words “Trout Lily.” What’s more, the only way I’d ever used the word “ephemeral” was as an adjective. I knew things could be described as ephemeral – lasting a short time – but I didn’t know it as a noun. As in “this Trout Lily is an ephemeral.” 

This is another thing blogging has done for me – I’ve learned things I would otherwise never have known, because they showed up on this blog. And this blog is nine years old and I’m still learning. “Slowly” is the way I always learn though – I am truly a slow learner. But I’m having fun! 

Readers whose plant knowledge is greater than mine (that’s a very low bar), feel free to correct me if I have misidentified any of these plants. 

Bluebells are ephemerals, but they’re already (last week) well represented on this blog. I need to research this more  before I blog about it too – I also need to work on my plant photography. But speaking of plants. I’ve mentioned in years past Evelyn’s planted elderberries in the beds beside our driveway. This year they had terrible looking black bugs on them. I learned they’re aphids – I can’t (today) be more specific. I took this picture this afternoon: 

Aphids on our elderberries. They are not welcome guests.

Evelyn was researching how to make them go away. I don’t know – as of today – how this happens. But – somehow – those aphids are attracted to elderberries. That’s not super mysterious to me; I’m attracted to elderberries myself. What is mysterious to me – I’ll learn this week – is how ladybugs are attracted. Because  – this is what’s weird – when we went out there, ladybugs were already laying eggs on the elderberries! Ev took this picture today: 

Ladybug eggs. How awesome is that? Photo by Evelyn

“You couldn’t make this stuff up” happens on this blog a lot, and if I live to be a hundred that sensation will always delight me. So in the “you couldn’t make this stuff up” category, my continued search of the elderberry plants yielded this. The fight against aphids requires unity:

Ladybugs defend elderberries with the opposite of the ultimate sacrifice (make love not war) I got up about 8:00 this morning; I’ll admit I didn’t anticipate that. Earlier this week I did hope I’d see – I’m not convinced they’re gone – was an owl. And I saw one! This was Tuesday, on the same branch (vine) I’ve photographed them on since Thanksgiving: 

Beginning another sixteen weeks?

Ospreys on the way home today. Their nest is looking more like it could hold some eggs. And while I was there, the ospreys were doing a fair imitation of those ladybugs making the opposite of the ultimate sacrifice. So perhaps there will be baby ospreys. We’ll see: 

These ospreys are looking more confident

Brown-headed cowbirds reappeared in my yard this morning when we got back from the river. Wikipedia describes them as obligate brood parasitic bird. They lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. It seems really unusual to me but I guess is business as usual to them. Some humans find this behavior repellent, in the manner that some people find the behavior of vultures repellent. Brown-headed cowbirds don’t have another way to survive – evolution has selected them to act this way. They’re cool looking too: 

Brown-headed cowbird – an obligate brood parasite

I tried to squeeze too much into this weekend (long bike ride this afternoon too) so I’m up too late so I’ll sign off until next week. It’ll be April! Enjoy! 

All best, 

Jay

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