The color of our planet

19 November, 2017        The color of our planet 

“Blue, the color of our planet from far, far away” – Regina Spektor, “Blue Lips”

The preceding picture is Pony Pasture rocks at a very civilized hour this morning. 

Another “primary color” at Pony Pasture this morning

There are three “primary colors” – blue, yellow and red. This completes the set

Every year as the leaves drop away and the sky turns its brightest blue I think of the words “Blue, the color of our planet from far, far away.” (Blue Lips, Regina Spektor, 2009). I don’t think of the rest of the song – just that line. From now through about mid-February, on clear days, the river reflects the sky back even more dazzling than its actual color. It may be my ignorance – never discount that possibility – but I have no idea how that happens. The reflection is brighter and bluer than the original. To me it’s like alchemy. 

I understand a bit more about how yellow leaves become yellow leaves and red leaves become red leaves. Knowing how it works doesn’t make the leaves any less stunning. The science doesn’t make the reality less miraculous.

The light didn’t cooperate as much for this Red-tailed hawk near Freeman High School Tuesday. But they’re among my favorites and I smile more when they’re around:

Neighborhood Red-tailed hawk

I smile when Red-shouldered hawks are around too. This one found nicer light. And a more pleasing backdrop:

Different bird, different day, different light – Red-shouldered hawk

Despite the miserable light in the first picture, those two images clearly show the difference between Red-tails and Red-shoulders in a frontal view. See how the background of the breast in the Red-tail (top picture) is mostly white? And the background of the breast in the Red-shoulder (bottom picture) is mostly orange? No matter what light they’re in, if you get a good view of the front, it’s easy to tell them apart.  

Blue is the color of our planet, and of Bluebirds and Bluejays and of course Great Blue Herons. This one was way out on the river – not looking extremely blue – but the turtles are looking up to it. See them in the lower right?:

Great blue heron mid-river. Turtles in the lower right – see them? – making sure nobody sneaks up from behind. They’ve got his back. 

I’m always – every year, there are no exceptions – grateful when buffleheads return to Pony Pasture. They’re not easy for a person of my middling talents to photograph well, so I’m always happy to get a non-typical image. I snapped this picture just as a little flock splashed into the air in front of us. It’s funny. In all the years I’ve watched buffleheads, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen them fly downstream. I think they fly upstream a moderate distance, call it a quarter of a mile or maybe half a mile. Then they drift and eat, drift and eat, drift and eat while they go back downstream. Then fly up and do it again. All winter:

Buffleheads splash-flying upstream this morning

This was later the same morning (today). Yuki on the left, Mackey front and center, Turner uncharacteristically seated on the right:  

Yuki left, Mackey center, Turner right. All three handsome, all three happy. I am too.

I rode my bike at West Creek this afternoon. I do loops through there, crossing this lake twice on each loop. I stopped on the way out to take this picture. I took it with my camera. I’m not a big fan of “man made” lakes, and that’s what this is, but there is no denying this beauty:

Man made lake at West Creek this afternoon. I don’t think of “man-made” and “beautiful” at the same time. But there you go. Shows how much I know! 

Enough! For now, anyway. Have a terrific week, come back next week, all best,


Posted in Birds, buffleheads, Dogs, Fun, James River, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Turtles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Either a janitor or a thief, apprehended by dogs

12 November, 2017            Either a janitor or a thief, apprehended by dogs

Friday night when I walked Mackey and Turner they bolted off the front porch and stampeded the bushes on the north side of the house. They instantly located the object of their interest. It may have been a janitor cleaning up spilled bird seed, or it may have been a thief. Either way, after it sprinted for a few minutes, it keeled over like it was dead. This is a fully alive and healthy:

A healthy, fully alive, untouched opossum, busted stealing (or cleaning up) bird seed, now “playing possum”

That is a “common opossum” or “Virginia opossum,” Didelphis virginiana. Mackey and Turner and I took a fifteen minute walk around the neighborhood and when we got home, no more opossum. Vanished without a trace. Probably grabbed another mouthful of bird seed before it disappeared.

Gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) compete with the chipmunks to eat a lot of spilled bird seed during the day. But they don’t photograph well on the ground. This one was munching a snack on a lichen encrusted branch at Deep Run Park in Henrico earlier this week:    

Eastern gray squirrel on a branch at Deep Run Park

Thursday I was at the river with the boys (stop me if you’ve heard that before) and we went  to the water near the main parking lot. There was a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) ten or twelve feet away. Nothing in the wild wastes energy, and this bird judged we weren’t a threat, so it looked at us then resumed its normal heron activity:

Great Blue Heron at Pony Pasture. They never look cheerful.

I took a fifteen second video. The heron is wading from left to right, at one point almost floating in the water. I would love to have a video of it spearing a fish, but no such luck. You can hear the river and the breeze and bit of camera noise and that’s all. For me it would be a mistake to wear earphones at the river – there is too much to hear:

The first hard freeze of the season arrived in our area early Saturday morning. I am astounded how predictably Buffleheads arrive on the first freeze. I was certain I’d see some today, and was looking forward to it. I didn’t predict seeing my first perched Bald Eagle of the season. But there was a dark shape in a tree on the southeastern tip of Williams Island, overlooking the rapids and stretch of flatwater. I put my window down as I rolled to a stop and put my flashers on. Look up next time you’re in that area; we’ll see them regularly in the coming months. Hopefully I’ll get better images soon:

Mid-river Bald Eagle at Pony Pasture, watching the November sun creep up

The Buffleheads appeared as expected. I took a sub-stellar picture, as expected. But I’m always happy and grateful when they appear. I watch everything down there, all year long. I watch the trees, the leaves, the birds, the insects, sun, sky, water, everything. All of the changes appear gradually, around the edges, making themselves known bit by bit. Buffleheads are the exception. There are zero Buffleheads – not so much as a feather – from early Spring to early Autumn. Then one day – the day of the first frost – they all just appear. And they will be on the river 100% of days between now and early Spring. It’s fitting that they’re black and white. Here’s a flock of roughly twenty. Males have black heads with a huge white segment – around a third of the head. The heads on females are almost entirely black except for a white stripe that I am positive was the inspiration for the Nike “swoosh”. Here’s a picture  of that trademark: Now see if you can identify the females in this flock:  

First flock of Buffleheads I’ve seen on the James since April:

I’ll get a better picture of a female next week. I also took a fifteen second video of the flock. It might make you a little seasick, but you get an idea of the size of the flock. It has a lot more than twenty ducks:  

I got a picture of the dogs out in the light for a change today. I called it “Don’t try this at home” because walking those five at one time is a challenging juggling act. They were easier than usual today – I think they all liked the weather. Left to right this is Yuki, Mackey, Lola, Luna and Turner:

Don’t try this at home. Unless you have a Mackey and a Yuki to keep everybody organized and calm.

When we got to the parking lot a Red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) was wheeling low over the parking lot, screaming. I looked up and saw a dark shape in a tree in the middle of the parking lot. I thought it was the hawk’s mate, or another intruding Red-shoulder. When I focused my camera on it, I was surprised to see not a Red-shouldered hawk but a Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). I’d never seen that much antagonism between the two. I’ll watch more closely in the future:

Red-tailed hawk perched in a tree directly in the center of the parking lot at Pony Pasture

When I came up the front steps after we got home, there was a male Downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) on the suet feeder. I still had my camera around my neck and the light was good, so have a look:

Male Downy woodpecker eating suet in front of my house this afternoon

Brief video too – closer and brighter and steadier than my river videos:

To reiterate – I am not a photographer. I spend a lot of time outdoors and normally have an inexpensive camera within easy reach. When I see stuff I think is interesting, I photograph it, if possible. And I put my favorites on this blog. Anybody who takes as many pictures as I do will get as many or more interesting ones.

Meanwhile – thank you for stopping in – and come back next week – and have an outstanding week. All best, 


Posted in Bald eagles, Birds, buffleheads, Dogs, Downy woodpecker, Fun, James River, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), squirrels | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Placeholder, yet again

5 November, 2017            Placeholder, yet again

Some weeks, blog posts just write themselves. Then, in sharp contrast, there’s weeks like this. I just looked and this is my 312th blog post since I began this blog on March 2, 2011 – with a blog post with no picture! The only one I’ve ever done, I’m pretty sure. This blog post has almost no pictures, and even less text. So a few pictures I’ve enjoyed – a little bit – and I’ll let it go for seven days.

I did a post this week last year called The worst form of government. It’s not a brilliant post either, but the content is appropriate for today. This is how it opens: 6 November, 2016            The worst form of government

“…democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms…” – Winston S Churchill, 11 November 1947

So anyway, vote on Tuesday.

And this is how it closes: The worst form of government

I understand that we’re seeing the worst of “the worst form of government,” at least in my lifetime. But it’s better than any other form. America will do great. Just vote. May the best candidate win.

So anyway, just vote.

I trust the process. Things will work out. Make sure you vote.

An apolitical image – the mighty James River, around 11:00 this morning:

The mighty James River this morning, not in cheerful light, but no less beautiful:

I took this picture of lichen on granite about ten yards from where I took the preceding picture, five minutes later. Lichen is fascinating stuff – part algae, part fungus. I understand very little about it. It’s gorgeous, though.

Lichen (and maybe moss) on granite within a few feet of the James River this gray and lovely morning

This week I finished a book called The Living Forest: A Visual Journey into the Heart of the Woods by Joan Maloof and Robert Llewellyn. Every hike at Pony Pasture is “a visual journey into the heart of the woods” and Ms. Maloof and Mr. Llewellyn piqued my curiosity about lichen (and about a lot of other features that tend to fade into the background if I look at them too often). Ms. Maloof’s text and Mr. Llewellyn’s photographs encouraged me to revisit some fascinating sights on our hike.

Ms. Maloof wrote about how different bark is on so many different trees, and I’ve always been calmed by the steady texture. It only occurred to me as I typed the last sentence how ironwood resembles granite. 

That’s just bark on wood. Isn’t it spectacular?

This post is thin on color and texture (and content and interest, possibly) so I’ll wind up with a couple of flashes of color.

Moss gleaming on the forest floor

And finally, brightest picture of the week, our nasturtiums continue to thrive – even today (though I took this picture Wednesday):

Evelyn’s nasturtiums are not meek or weak

I’ll close with a quote from Albert Einstein that Ms. Maloof used in the book: “What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.” I’m drawn to the concept of “…a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.”

Have a great week,


Posted in Flowers, Fun, fungus, James River, Pony Pasture, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Let somebody else do the heavy lifting!

29 October, 2017            Let somebody else do the heavy lifting! 

Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) stretching its wings on the cross on top of Discovery United Methodist Church

That’s the one good picture I’ve taken this week. Regarding the title of this post, some readers (assuming I have more than one) may recall a blog post I did in 2014 called “Guest photographer!” I did another in the Spring of this year called “Return of the guest photographer.” Both of those posts had excellent pictures taken by my buddy Ethan. He did the “heavy lifting” for those posts. I hiked with my friend Sam at Pony Pasture one day this week and he spotted and helped photograph the biggest crowd of deer I’ve seen there. So Sam did the heavy lifting (photographically) one day this week. I’ll put it in here in a moment. Then another day this week my friend David photographed a Red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) so he did the heavy lifting! I’ve had a light load. 

David and I were walking around in western Henrico this week when a Red-shouldered hawk swooped over our heads and landed in a tall loblolly pine at the edge of the parking lot. I pulled out my phone and snapped a picture so we’d recall it was there. I’ll insert that in a moment. But when the hawk stopped – these birds hunt by sitting still for several minutes – I said “do you want to get my real camera and see if we can get a good picture?” We were right next to my car, so I grabbed the camera and we moved for a better angle. Here’s when we first saw it. 

Red-shouldered hawk, dead center, left side of the trunk ~1/3 of the way down (it’s difficult to see but it’s there). It’s brown:

We went up around the other side and took advantage of the raptor’s calm nature for this image. I gave David this camera and he took this picture: 

Magnificent Red-shouldered hawk photographed by my friend David.

David may be holding out on me, but I think not. To my knowledge, that is the first time in his life he’s ever pointed a camera at a raptor. I’d been photographing hawks for two years and I’d taken a couple of thousand pictures before I could do that. He definitely was in the right place at the right time.

David is a lifelong cat lover. The Wildlife Center of Virginia posted an article today called The Case for Indoor Cats. They also wrote (around lunchtime today) “Happy National Cat Day! Keeping cats indoors keeps a variety of wild animals safe — and indoor cats live much longer too, and who doesn’t want that? Share a photo of your #HappyIndoorCat here!” In addition the hashtag  “#HappyIndoorCat” I tagged it “#songbirdsRsafe”. This is Dash, our #HappyIndoorCat: 

#HappyIndoorCat                    #songbirdsRsafe

It was earlier in the week when I was hiking with Sam at Pony Pasture. Sam did the “heavy lifting” (photographically) in the park. This wasn’t quite the full herd – they were scattered around the edges, and behind – but look at this group. I count eight deer:

I count eight whitetail deer in this image

They were grazing calmly in that picture. That’s how healthy herd animals spend much of their daylight hours. We’d watched them and photographed them, and they watched us, and continued to graze. Sam took a bunch of the pictures and a couple of videos. But I was holding the camera at 5:27 – after we’d been photographing them for fifteen minutes – when someone came up on the other side and they burst into flight and disappeared in the woods. Watch this eighteen second video. For the first ten seconds they just stand around. At the ten second mark it’s like flipping a switch. All eight of them – or more – bolt and leap and sprint out of the right side of the image. It was a treat to see it. Have a look – this one’s worth watching: 

Buffleheads are not in Richmond yet – and neither is the first frost. The trade-off for no buffleheads is continued gardenias. I’ll keep inhaling and photographing gardenias as long as they’re open. The buffleheads will get here when they get here. I took this picture at 8:30 this morning. On October 29th!:

Gardenia opening up on the morning of October 29, 2017. Incredible.

Here’s a picture from two hours later at Pony Pasture. Turner is by no means an adventure-avoidant animal. The opposite, as a matter of fact. But swimming is one form of adventure that’s never interested him. For Mackey (top, the black dog) and Yuki (center the white dog), more water is better. For Turner (bottom, the brown dog) the closest he likes to get to water is a drink from his bowl:

Two hours after the gardenia picture. Mackey (top) Yuki (middle) Turner (bottom)

Turner plays super-hard when he’s in the park. He pulls so steadily and so enthusiastically, my leash arm is slightly longer than my non-leash arm. But when we get home, he likes to pile up his toys and watch the world go by:

A boy and his toys

The gardenias are still beyond compare. That one near the top of this blog post is about two fork lengths away from the screen doors on our back porch – you can smell them all the time. But the days (especially today) are getting shorter and wetter and colder, and Ev cuts some flowers and brings them indoors where we can enjoy them even more:

A treat for my eyes (beautiful), nose (gardenia, obviously) and ears (they’re quiet, my favorite sound)

I’m going to close with (hopefully you’re not exhausted with all of these) a familiar “local” Red-tail. I got my first decent image of a Red-tail in May of 2015. Since then, through reading and photography, I’ve become more familiar than average with Red-tails. As you’ve no doubt noticed. A great deal of their charm for me lies in their predictability. They don’t do things you don’t expect. When I think they’ll show up somewhere, I’m usually correct. And when I’m there with my camera, it’s calm. When I’m pointing, when I’m focusing, when I’m framing, when I’m moving around for the best angle and for the best light – I always feel peaceful. Even when they fly off just when I’m hoping for an image, or when they haven’t been around in a long time, it’s all relaxing. They have an agenda, but it’s simple – pass their DNA on to a new generation. They don’t know that’s their agenda – at least I’m relatively certain they don’t – but it is. They do it by keeping themselves healthy and producing healthy offspring. Perfect for humans too! I hadn’t seen a “Westbury Red-tail” (on the cell phone tower in the Westbury Apothecary parking lot) in a while and I was happy when this one showed up Saturday afternoon. I apologize for the faint blurring; I zoomed in a bit too much. But I like the image:

Westbury redtail

It didn’t occur to me until I put this up, but this is a perfect post to see the difference between a Red-tailed hawk and a Red-shouldered hawk. David took a great shot of a Red-shoulder; look near the top of this post (third picture down). See how the breast of the Red-shoulder has a faint orange wash with scattered white stripes? Compare that with this Red-tail. The Red-tail’s breast is mostly whitish with a couple of brown spots. Coloring in both species is identical for males and females. From the front it’s pretty easy to distinguish the two.   

Have an excellent week! All best,


Posted in Birds, buffleheads, cats, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, James River, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, roses, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), whitetail deer, Wildlife Center of Virginia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Shenandoah Gap

22 October, 2017 Shenandoah Gap

Shenandoah River, S Fork, Page Co., VA Saturday, 10/21/2017, 12:45 PM

A year ago this month, I was at a property owners meeting here with my Mom. This is the South Fork of the Shenandoah River in Page County, Virginia. It’s the western border or Shenandoah Gap, a small mountain community where she owned a couple of wooded acres. When she died suddenly in January, this is part of what she left to my brothers and sisters and me. It was a bit unsettling to flash back to a year ago but, as you can see, the view – and the sounds and smells that accompany it – goes a long way toward calming unsettled nerves. Plus I had Mackey and Turner with me (last year too) so it was a positive experience.

The land itself has cash value in the marketplace. But the experiences she and Dad gave us growing up near there – they have infinite value. The feeling I get when I look at that river – and at other rivers – comes straight from the way we were brought up.

Likewise for my experience here:

I can assure you they are honorable animals

Aren’t people great?

I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts we heated our cabin up there with a woodstove. I had my first fire of the season Tuesday evening. Our handsome orange cat Dash appreciates many things, but I suspect fires in the woodstove are at or near the top of his list:

This is a cat who desires nothing

When Mackey and Turner and I were up in the mountains yesterday we went hiking after the meeting. We hiked up to where our property is. Along the way we came to a place where a spring fed creek crosses the trail. Mackey and Turner stopped for a cold drink:

Stopping for a cool drink

Mom wasn’t a true forager, but she’d pick and eat any blueberries or blackberries she saw. This patch of creek was filled with watercress forty years ago, and it still is. You could eat it any time you walked past. I pulled some up and ate it yesterday afternoon. It was cool and spicy and crisp and tasted like fresh outdoor air:

Watercress growing in spring water

We had old, old friends up there, now long gone, named Doug and Doris. Mackey and Turner and I walked up to visit their old property. This was the barn where they kept their cow Mary Jane. Doug would sit on a stool and milk her into a galvanized bucket. I remember watching him do that in the winter, hearing the jets of milk rattle as they hit the metal, watching the steam rise from the cow temperature milk in the brittle winter air: 

Doug and Doris’s barn – home of their cow and LOTS of hay:

Doris had a butter churn that was a one gallon glass jar with a screw on top and a handle going down to a two-bladed wooden paddle. She’d fill the jar with cream that had separated from Mary Jane’s milk. When you pushed down the paddles would spin one direction and when you pulled up they’d spin the opposite direction. Butter would appear quickly. I will never forget – because this is the kind of weird thing you never forget – a time when a lot of onion grass sprouted and Mary Jane ate it. The flavor of onions in the butter was not overpowering, but it was far too strong to ignore.

Here is a picture of a couple of their sheds. The barn in the last picture is out of sight just to the left. Their house is just to the right. The pig sty was in the right foreground, right behind that little yellow “posted” sign.

Doug and Doris’s sheds; their house is out of sight on the right side

When Doris died I was surprised to learn she wanted my Dad and me to be pallbearers at her funeral. Doris was irreverent, my Dad was irreverent, there was infinite respect but the irreverence was unbroken with both of them. At her funeral there was an open casket viewing and the mourners dutifully walked past the casket to pay their last respects. She died in June of 1999, so it’s been eighteen years. But if I live to be a hundred I’ll never forget. We were in suits, of course, it was silent except for soft murmurs and the occasional sniffle. Maybe a hundred people in there, more or less. Dad’s behind me as we file past the casket and he mutters in my ear “I think that’s the longest I’ve ever seen her with her mouth shut.” I took Mackey and Turner to visit the cemetery where she’s buried on the way home. I couldn’t find her tombstone, but it’s one of these – as good a  place as any other to spend eternity:

If you had to spend eternity here, you could do a lot worse

My love of dogs and cats and of the outdoors comes in equal parts from both Mom and Dad. Mom loved bluebirds too, but Dad was a little obsessed. Bluebirds were purely “his” thing. In the basement of our old house he’d screw together twelve foot long 1 x 6’s and make a long square wooden pipe. Then at regular distances he’d make a diagonal cut, then a straight cut. Yielding two pieces of the square wooden pipe, each with a flat bottom and a sloping top, ready to have a roof screwed on. Mass production of bluebirds houses. Here are a couple of pictures I took at Deep Run Park (of copperhead fame) this week:

Bluebird with a mouthful of stuff on the roof of a picnic shelter at Deep Run

Same bird, same roof, different pose

Today is October 22 and I took these pictures this morning. Feast your eyes, because we’ll get a frost soon and this will be all over until 2018. Not to worry though – Buffleheads appear on the river at first frost. You’ll be seeing bufflehead pictures on this blog either next week (10/29) or the week after (11/5). Maybe we’ll still have flowers next week. But it’s amazing already. Gardenia and rose from today:

This gardenia bloomed in our backyard this morning. It smells even prettier than it looks if you can imagine

Same time as the gardenia, maybe 10 feet away. Can you even believe that?

Almost forgot – I took my five dog pack to Pony Pasture last week and this week. I can’t tell you how difficult it is to get all five in the frame at once. Took this picture today:

Yuki white on the left, Lola brown on the right, Mackey black in the foreground, Turner brown on the left, Luna black and white

Have a great week,






Posted in Birds, buffleheads, cats, Dogs, firewood, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, James River, People, Pony Pasture, pumpkins, Rivers, roses, Shenandoah River, Shenandoah Valey, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A story I never knew

15 October, 2017            A story I never knew

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes

I was hiking in Deep Run Park Friday – the same place I’ve twice photographed copperhead snakes – when a more appealing sight caught my eye. It was 1,000 origami cranes. This is just a few of them – I didn’t know what I was seeing or I would have gotten a better image. I’ll finish this story at the bottom of this post.

I didn’t anticipate this happening, but this has been a taxing post to write. So I’m going to put in a few images from this week and take these no-good dogs for a walk then go to sleep. Here are a couple gardenias Evelyn cut from the backyard and put on our kitchen windowsill. The window was open and I got to smell these while I was doing dishes. Everybody should try it!

Gardenias in front of an open window – the perfect spot

Meanwhile, out in nature – although I took this picture on the side of the road in West Creek – this honeysuckle still smells divine – in mid-October:

Sweet smelling flower blooming outdoors on October 14:

I’m on the Shenandoah National Park (SNP) Facebook page and on October 13 they wrote an entry about Fall colors. Sassafras was a tree I learned about when I was young and I’ve always been fascinated with them. So my ears pricked up when I read this on the SNP Facebook page: “The scene-stealer this week, though, is sassafras. Sassafras trees, like sumacs, are the mood rings of the Appalachian woods. In the Park this week you can see the whole gamut of sassafras shades – single trees glittering jewel-tones of both crimson and green, startling as mangoes in every stage of ripeness, or dressing themselves in classic monotones like auburn, paprika, and Velveeta orange. A sassafras near Calf Mountain Overlook seven miles from Skyline Drive’s southern end glowed a luminous light red, like a glass of Pinot Noir on the Thanksgiving table.”  

So when I was at Deep Run on Friday – both before and after I saw the origami cranes – I was photographing sassafras trees. I thought this one illustrated the SNP entry best. Two sassafras trees side by side, one still mostly green, the other, to borrow a phrase from the SNP’s description, ‘…a luminous light red, like a glass of Pinot Noir on the Thanksgiving table.” Have a look:

Mostly green sassafras on the left, mostly red sassafras on the right

There are hawks still – although nothing brilliant. But I’m always grateful to get a “double” even when the quality is lacking. These two were on the tower near Freeman HS on Wednesday morning around 11:00:

Gloomy sky but a great looking pair of Red-tails

I flew for nearly an hour on Tuesday, but my Thursday lesson and my lesson this morning were cancelled due to low cloud cover. This is the plane I flew Tuesday:

2003 Cessna 172S

Have a great week! All best,



Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes

I saw those cranes and knew they meant something but didn’t know what. I googled “origami swans” and came to the story of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. I found it on Amazon and bought it (Kindle) and read it; it didn’t take an hour. This is the brief summary on goodreads: “Hiroshima-born Sadako is lively and athletic–the star of her school’s running team. And then the dizzy spells start. Soon gravely ill with leukemia, the “atom bomb disease,” Sadako faces her future with spirit and bravery. Recalling a Japanese legend, Sadako sets to work folding paper cranes. For the legend holds that if a sick person folds one thousand cranes, the gods will grant her wish and make her healthy again. Based on a true story, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes celebrates the extraordinary courage that made one young woman a heroine in Japan.”

As some of you are aware, my dog Ivory and I did Animal Assisted Therapy in pediatrics at VCU-MCV for more than a decade. The first person we spent time with was named Whitney. We first met her in 2002. She had a tumor in her brain but fortunately for all of us it went into remission. She relapsed in 2007 and didn’t make it the second time. I remember a lot of people and a lot of events from my years working at MCV, but none stands out the way Whitney does. She was fifteen when she died in June of 2007.

I regret not writing more clearly about this post. I didn’t know the significance of the origami cranes until just before I began typing. So all the memories about Whitney didn’t come flooding back until just now. So I’m going to cut-and-paste a blurb I wrote about Whitney on this blog back in April. And I’ll close with that. Here’s what I wrote:


I did animal assisted therapy for eleven years at MCV. While doing that work, I became very close friends with a twelve year old girl and her parents and her brother. I met her on her first admission for a neuroblastoma; she was young and healthy and it went into remission quickly. Ivory and I were still doing pet therapy when she was readmitted five years later with a relapse. We continued to visit as the disease ran its course. She loved dolphins. The last time we visited her she was in the Pediatric ICU; her head was propped up and a tube was vacuuming the saliva she couldn’t swallow out of her mouth. She had dolphin earrings on and Ivory was being present for her; I’m still trying to master that. I couldn’t take my eyes off those dolphin earrings as the jiggled slightly from the vibration of her breathing tube.

Later I took Ivory home. I went up to the Y to swim, so I’d be able to sleep that night. Everyone was gathered around the television. A Virginia Tech senior had just shot and killed thirty-two people then killed himself. That was ten years ago this week. I am still appalled to think about the way I felt standing in that Y. All these people had just been murdered. I could not get the image of those dolphin earrings out of my head. Looking at the people who had been murdered was horrible, watching my friend slowly die was horrible, the fact that I could only direct my full attention to one of those things – and it had to be one of those things – was horrible. That was on April 16 of 2007. We visited the hospital once a month. I don’t recall our May visit. She died on June 10.

Ivory and I did pet therapy for eleven years. So many people changed my life, constantly. The people who are the most unforgettable – like her – are the  ones who have taught you the most.



Posted in Birds, Cessna 172, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, honeysuckle, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

 All in a day’s hike

8 October, 2017            All in a day’s hike

The river does not always have a cheerful countenance

I took that picture today at 12:30. It’s not even in black and white – that’s a color picture! The most notable thing about the weather at Pony Pasture today was the still air. The air was just stopped. You don’t notice the constant gentle breeze up the riverbank until it vanishes without a trace. Pony Pasture was like walking around in a big green closet. You could smell everything perfectly because the wind wasn’t blowing the smell away. You could smell the brown leaves and the green, the dirt, the water, the air, branches, sand, wood, there were pockets of smell everywhere we hiked. We saw zero deer. They may have seen us but we never saw them. I can’t imagine they like this weather – they learn a lot by smelling.

We had almost the opposite conditions Wednesday when Mackey and Turner and another buddy did the same hike. As I was coming down Riverside Drive, I saw a lone male Belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon ) hunting from a low branch:

Male kingfisher on a fishing expedition

Notice the blue sky and green trees reflecting off the water? A few minutes later the dogs and I got to the river and met our buddy and started hiking. We heard a helicopter traveling west up the river and I clicked the shutter just as it was passing over our heads:

There is no end to the variety of birds you can see at Pony Pasture

We hiked along down to the golf course; the water’s been low all week and there’s a sand spit reaching out into the river. We walked out on it and found this odd little frog looking for dampness. Please correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think that green stripe is pigment – I think it’s algae. But I don’t know – it was small:

My guess that green color comes from algae. But correct me if I’m wrong.

We hiked up beside the golf course and came out into the field that’s the “Pasture” in Pony Pasture, and it appeared they’d just cut it that day. There was a tractor parked in the corner. On the far side of the field a large doe was sauntering along the edge. Fifty yards behind her, following at a leisurely pace, were three large youngsters. I don’t know if they were all hers but it’s not out of the question. They were dawdling along behind the adult, nibbling at the greenery that tractor had recently revealed. They were acting like we didn’t exist, even though Mackey and Turner were pulling on their leashes. Until my buddy stifled a sneeze and all three heads popped up like they were marionettes:

An instant before I took this picture, all three snouts were deep in the greenery

I am undeniably a person who sees more hawks than average. But Monday I believe I saw more hawks in one day than I’ve ever seen in my life. At my house, at my work, on the way to the Y, on the way home, commuting, it was non stop. I was taking pictures of one in my backyard when a second one flew three feet over my head. I was driving home from work in the morning when one crossed Patterson Avenue not six feet above the hood of my car.

Here are two pictures of the same Red-shouldered hawk, both taken in my backyard Monday, October 2. First it was perched in a tree watching me:

Male red-shouldered hawk gazing at me in our backyard

Then it hopped into a pine tree in our next-door-neighbor’s yard and faced away from me a moment. Just as I clicked it flew off:

The hawk’s in the lower left, just dropped away from the branch and headed out

I got a shaky video of it while it was on the first tree. The video isn’t much to look at but it has a good solid Red-shouldered hawk call:

Red-shouldered hawk short scream  

I glimpsed a shaded mockingbird on our bird bath yesterday:

Mockingbird slakes its thirst in our backyard yesterday

Flying is progressing slowly – I’m grasping the basics. Soon I hope to take a picture from the air. But this is one of the Cessna 172’s I fly regularly; I took this picture late Tuesday morning just before my lesson began:

N9525V – 1998 Cessna 172R – Hanover airport

Enough for this week – I got off to a late start. Have an excellent week! All best,


Posted in Birds, Cessna 172, Dogs, Fun, James River, mockingbirds, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments