Soap that floats / ”instructional bath”

23 June, 2019            Soap that floats / ”instructional bath”

All one hundred of us bathed in the lake at Camp Waredaca in the 1970’s. Not at the same time, and we bathed with our swimsuits on, but every Friday we had “instructional bath.” Did you know Ivory soap is the only soap that floats? That’s what we were told to bring to Camp Waredaca every summer, because we took baths in a lake. More at the bottom, after lots of pictures. Also, that part about the only floating soap – not #fakenews. Try a bar of Ivory – it’ll float. Then you can waste your hard earned or easily inherited $ and buy one of every other kind of soap and try it out if you don’t believe me. But take my word for it. And donate the sinking soap to some oddballs who don’t take baths in lakes. 

Apathetic Red-tailed hawk ignores livid Mockingbird:

Snake warning – nearer the bottom of this post there will be not one but two snake pictures – and each picture has five snakes! So prepare yourself if you’re a person who responds irrationally to photographs of snakes. All five snakes are non-venomous (and extremely common) Northern Water snakes (Nerodia sipedon sipedon).

The June solstice was Friday (the day before yesterday) at 11:54 AM EDT. That’s when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer, as far north as it ever appears above the equator. Every day (here in the northern hemisphere) will be shorter between now and Saturday, December 21. It’ll be a few weeks before you notice it though. One of my friends says that summer is almost over by the Fourth of July. The first time I heard her say that I was probably fifty years old or so; I’d never subscribed to that notion before and still don’t. But we’re all different.

Anyway, we are unquestionably in the time of the most sunlight which is why I’m seeing mockingbirds and hawks and bucks and snakes and flowers, flowers, flowers and more flowers.

Speaking of snakes, I’m going to insert the first of two identical snake pictures in a moment. I took the picture looking down from a footbridge in Deep Run Park this week. It has five Northern Water Snakes of various sizes on rocks. A couple big ones are obvious; if you have sharp eyes, you may be able to count all five. Farther down the blog I’ll post the same picture, but with red circles drawn around all the snakes. Look closely; I could have missed one or two. As you’ll see, they blend in well.

Yuki was out of town this morning so Mackey and Turner and I walked at Pony Pasture without him. We saw a Whitetail buck! His rack was currently not monstrous, four or perhaps six points. But he was strong and muscular and quite tall; I suspect those antlers will grow. They’re thick and still have a little velvet. Hunters call thick antlers “beamy” and by Pony Pasture standards these are beamy. And getting beamier. Maybe we’ll get to see him again:

Healthy young Whittetail buck at Pony Pasture this morning

On the same hike this morning, we were grateful to see (I was grateful to see – I can’t really speak for Mackey and Turner) the Virginia State Insect (I will never not-marvel that such a title exists) an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus):

Tiger Swallowtail, the Virginia State Insect at Pony Pasture this morning

Everything in this blog (and everyone who reads this blog) is solar powered, somehow. And this is the week in Virginia when we get the most solar energy every day. That’s why everything is blooming and growing. I’ve included Evelyn’s relatively new hibiscus here before, but it deserves a second (and probably more) appearance today. It’s a particularly garish display of photosynthesis, all this sunlight converts carbon dioxide and water into this. Who needs magic; this is science and it could not be any more eye-popping:

Hibiscus – photosynthesis in action – it practically grows while you’re watching

Daisies are never garish, but we’ve never had them in our yard before – until Evelyn planted several earlier this year. As soon as I saw it I was reminded – I’m not even making this up – of a 1972 (!) song called Daisy a Day by a man named Jud Strunk. I’d just typed the period at the end of that sentence when I googled Mr. Strunk and learned this. Which I suspect might come as a surprise to you as well. At least according to imdb.comOn the Apollo 17 lunar mission, a tape copy of his hit single “Daisy A Day” was brought along by the astronauts, making it the first recorded song ever played on the moon.” If you sought independent verification of that fact I suspect you’d come up empty-handed, but it’s an interesting assertion. And who am I to say; I haven’t sought independent verification. Here’s the inspiration for me in this blog post, courtesy of Evelyn and evolution and photosynthesis (and our backyard):

This makes me want to stop blogging for a minute and go fry an egg. 

Gardenia next, and the first snakes after that.

Our tall outdoor gardenia struggled a little bit in the early Spring, for reasons that were not apparent to me. I never saw Turner pee on it, but there’s a >0% chance he did. The plant itself still doesn’t look particularly enthusiastic (the way for instance that hibiscus does) but it’s cranking out lush, fragrant blossoms almost as fast as we can snip them and bring them indoors to perfume our home. There’s no song (to my knowledge) about a-gardenia-a-day but that’s practically what we’re getting. I present here for your inspection (too bad you can’t smell it) our GOTD (Gardenia Of The Day) for Sunday, June 23, 2019, the first Sunday of Summer:

GOTD or Gardenia Of The Day, first Sunday of Summer, 2019:

Here are five snakes on rocks ten feet below a footbridge at Deep Run Park this week. A little farther down the post I’ll put in this identical picture, with all five snakes circled in red:

There are (no less than) FIVE snakes in this picture. Scroll down for help finding them.

If you scroll down to last week, you’ll see a picture I took of a rabbit on my way to work Wednesday morning. It’s standing in a little patch of unbloomed clover, facing toward the right side of the picture. That is almost exactly due north (360º). I drove past precisely seven days later – almost to the minute – and the clover had bloomed and what I’m guessing was the same rabbit was there. Only facing the opposite direction. I suspect that is insignificant:

Same rabbit as last week I’m guessing, in bloomed clover

Here is the snake picture above, with five snakes circled (maybe you can find more; I couldn’t):

Did you find all five the first time? Did I miss any? Leave a comment!

On to a little snapshot of a story about a family summer activity from when we (and you) were a lot, lot, lot younger:

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The lake at Camp Waredaca was our swimming pool all week until Friday when it became our bathtub. On the list of recommended supplies for a stay at Camp was Ivory soap – the only soap that floats. The lake was five acres. During the week we had “instructional swim” in the morning – swim lessons – and “free swim” in the afternoon. Except on Fridays – before we went home for the weekend – when we’d have “instructional bath.” All five of us (me, my two sisters and two brothers) began as campers there in the early 1970’s. It was an overnight camp then, Sunday through Friday for eight weeks every summer. We typically went for two or four weeks. Until we were all eventually old enough to be “CIT’s” (Counselors In Training) or Counselors and stay all summer. Which we all did. Here’s a mid-1970’s picture of “instructional bath” at Camp Waredaca:

“Instructional bath” with Ivory soap, mid-1970’s, Camp Waredaca, MD

I used that picture without permission from the Camp Waredaca Memories facebook page. The consensus on the facebook page is it was taken in the mid-1970’s. I’m not sure who took the picture; let me know if you want me to a. Take it down or b. Credit you. Same for people in this picture. I’ll do either one in under twelve hours. The history of it was, Ivory was doing a commercial or a print advertisement (as I understand it) and we were sending them this picture. That may have been a 1970’s example of #fakenews but I don’t think there was such thing then. I mean, look at this picture. 1970’s, Camp Waredaca, Montgomery County, MD.

As research for this blog post (not making this up) I bought a bar of Ivory soap Monday and have been showering with it all week. I can’t tell much difference. None, really, with the soap I’ve been using (Dr. Bronner’s). Here it is floating in my sink earlier – don’t try this with Dial, Coast, Irish Spring, Dove, Dr. Bronner’s – they’ll go straight to the bottom, and you’ll have to drain all of the water out of the sink before you’re able to recover them. That wasn’t an option in the lake, so, floating soap:   

#ivorysoap #soapthatfloats #recommendedforbathinginlakes

The label (trademark) is generally unchanged from what I remember from those long ago years of Watergate, the Bicentennial, the Concorde, etc:

Largely unchanged

“Instructional swim” was swim lessons in the “crib” – a roped off section in a shallow part of the lake – if you were young and not a strong swimmer. If you were older and stronger and a better swimmer, instructional swim was out on one of the square plywood rafts tied with braided nylon ropes to algae covered cinderblocks on the muddy lake bottom eight or ten feet below. As I recall there was no true “instruction” during instructional bath. It was just time taken out of instructional swim for an end of the week bath.

See the raft out there on the lake behind everybody? Before you were able to swim out there on your own, you had to pass a “raft test” under a lifeguard’s supervision. You had to swim out to the other side of the raft, tread water for ten minutes then swim back. Then you were allowed to go out there during “free swim” and do cannonballs off the raft or race around it or around both rafts. This picture cuts it off – there was another identical raft out of the frame on the left side of this picture. Most times of the summer there was little or no “standing around” on the rafts unless you were a lifeguard – the horseflies were vicious and well named. It’s commonly thought that they’re called “horseflies” because they’re found around horses. The ones that tried to bite us when we were standing on the raft lifeguarding in that summer sun were called horseflies because they were almost as big as horses. 

In order to paddle a canoe around on the lake alone (and to go on canoe trips away from camp), you had to pass the “canoe test.” Similar to the raft test, but you had to start out on the near side of the lake and swim to the other side while a lifeguard (counselor) paddled a canoe alongside. Then you had to tread water for ten minutes again and swim back across the lake. It was a daunting prospect for some people. I’m fortunate to come from a family of strong swimmers and I have good memories of it. At least I think I do. I was a lot scrawnier than I am today. 

My two brothers and two sisters who were also campers and counselors there may recall it differently. Plus various Camp Waredaca alumni who drop in here on occasion. Please comment in the comments section on this blog or shoot me an email or a text or (this is the least effective) give me a call. I will update the scenario in a future blog post. Plus I’d just love to hear from you! I have done zero research for this except look at this picture and a handful of others on the Camp Waredaca Memories facebook page. But the memories of my summers at Camp are in every way indelible. Especially  now – late June was right in the middle of Camp season.

I would love to hear anyone’s comments about this post or about their experience at Camp Waredaca, or about any other camp. Camp Waredaca began in the 1930’s (really!) and the overnight part of it stopped I don’t recall when – someone enlighten me – maybe in the middle or late 1980’s.

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I was just about to close out this blog post when I looked online for a little more info about Camp. It’s been thirty plus years since the overnight camp closed, but the friendships I have from Camp and friendships my siblings have from Camp are lifelong. If I had any kind of self-discipline or any writing talent other than the most pedestrian kind, I could write a fascinating book about it. Because the setting was in every way magical, and I don’t even believe in magic. Rationally you’d think that people chose camp, but (irrationally) it seems like camp chose people. Of course that’s the way memory works; I’ve forgotten all the people who weren’t well-suited to it, and I know there were many. But Gus and Laurie and Katie and Susie and Mark and Jeremy and Robert and Gretchen and Susie and the other Robert and Rob and the other Katie and Kathryn a.k.a. Kelly and Beth and Steve (RIP) and Mr. and Mrs. B (RIP) and Joe and all the ones I’ve left out and so many more. If one of them is sitting next to you now or you’ll see them soon, ask them what they would have been doing if they were at Camp this time of year. They’ll smile. They might share. Plywood cabins and canvas tents and singing at Chapel and Mr. Butts and the Sliding Board Tree and horseback riding and riflery and camping trips and night hikes and a camaraderie I never experienced before or since. It was in every way priceless. And in many ways indescribable; I wish I was better at it! Where the campers slept, there was no electricity and no hot water. Ever. You’ve probably seen me in a “simplify” hat or t-shirt or sweatshirt. Life at camp was real, real simple. Once you’ve had a taste of that simplicity, at least in my own case, you learn there’s a lot of happiness there.    

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Have an excellent week,


Posted in Rivers | Leave a comment

Turner and I are creatures of habit

16 June, 2019            Turner and I are creatures of habit

I gave Turner the empty PB jar to “lick the bowl.” Ev snapped this picture:

Evelyn took that picture Wednesday and it was too great to not put in this blog post. I didn’t even know I had it when I started this post.

Turner is reliable and predictable; he’s a pure creature of habit, one the qualities that helps make good guard dogs. Though you’d never know it (the guard dog part) from meeting Turner. But the last thing he and Mackey and I do before we go to sleep at night is take a walk around the block. It’s night, typically around 10:00. When we get home, Mackey usually goes right in the house, but Turner makes a loop through our dark backyard to make sure nothing is amiss. You can practically set your watch by how long it takes him.

Last night we got back and Mackey and I went in the house and Turner made his rounds of the backyard. He usually takes two or three minutes. There’s a bird feeder back there and the fallen seed attracts visitors at all hours. Anyway, it had been more than ten minutes and Turner wasn’t in the house. He would have come in if I’d asked him to, but I knew he’d found something  interesting so I took a flashlight and went out. He was near a big spreading bush next to the woodpile, and when I shone the flashlight under it I saw this opossum “playing possum”:

That’s what “playing possum” looks like

Since I 1. feed birds and 2. walk dogs at night, that’s the second time I’ve had an opossum in my yard “playing possum.” They really, really look dead. But if you come back an hour later, they’re gone. They eat ticks! In addition, of course, to spilled bird seed.

Turner and I went back indoors; it was gone in the morning.

I was scheduled to fly twice this week, but the weather came unraveled Thursday so I only flew Tuesday. An excellent flight, though. My instructor Joel and I flew to KMFV, Accomack County Airport. We flew in N162SF, one of Hanover County Airport’s (KOFP) Tecnam P92 Eaglets. A plane I enjoy more every time I fly:

Tecnam P92 Eaglet at Hanover Airport. That is what good flying weather looks like.

It’s about ninety miles from Hanover to Accomack. The last section of the flight is over the Chesapeake Bay, and pilots of single engine planes like to cross at a high altitude in case of engine failure. You can glide farther. So we gradually climbed on our way there, and crossed the Bay at 5,500’. Accomack is on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, a moderately narrow peninsula. So when we came home, we flew circles over the airport so we could climb high enough to make it back worry-free. It takes a few minutes of circling, so Joel asked if he wanted me to let him fly the plane while I took a few pictures. Here’s a picture I took a few minutes after we took off:

Climbing out above runway 03/21 at Accomack Airport, KMFA

The runway is 03/21 (the two runway compass headings, with the zero at the end cut off) and it’s 5,000 feet long by 100 feet wide. That’s almost precisely the same as Hanover, and it’s way more than twice as much runway as you need for a tiny little plane like a Tecnam.

At home I got a poorly lit picture of a pair of red-tails on the tower. I didn’t realize it was a pair until I looked later. One stayed on the tower while the other set off in search of something tasty to eat:

One Red-tail launches from a cell phone tower while the second hawk remains behind

Years ago I took a picture of a Red-tail that had carried a rabbit up to a tower. It was July and the hawk was panting visibly. I’ve only seen that once. I also think Red-tails eat a lot of animals that have been hit by cars, and I suspect that’s what happened then. A saw this rabbit in my neighborhood Wednesday morning on my way to work. I am quite confident it didn’t get hit by a car or eaten by a hawk:

Cottontail rabbit in my neighborhood when I left for work Wednesday morning

I’ve been more disorganized than usual this week! So I’m going to bed! All best,


Posted in Birds, Dogs, Fun, kofp, love, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Tecnam | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Things with wings

9 June, 2019            Things with wings

Here’s one “thing with wings” – a Purple Martin (Progne subis) – holding another “thing with wings” – a recently deceased male Common Whitetail Skimmer (Libellula lydia). This was yesterday (Saturday, 6/8/2019) at Bryan Park at noon. I believe the Purple Martin is a female, but it could be a first year male. Purple Martins only eat flying insects – no seeds, no ants, no caterpillars, minnows, ticks, flowers, leaves, worms, snails – only flying insects. So check this out:   

Purple martin with a dragonfly in its mouth

I took this one just seven minutes later on top of the same house. For all I know she’s in this crowd. I count five purple martins in this picture. Three of them have winged insects in their mouths. I pinch myself at my good luck every time I’m fortunate enough to witness something like this:

Five purple martins, including three with dragonflies in their mouths!

These images are, from a human (mammal) perspective easy to look at. I’ve also photographed snakes eating fish which is also just (for me) curiosity inducing. I photographed a Cooper’s Hawk with a dead starling and a Red-tailed hawk with a dead rabbit. Those were harder to look at than dead dragonflies and fish, but not terribly upsetting. But last year I zoomed in for a crisp image of a Red-tail on a branch with a young chipmunk it had just killed. It was amazing how sad that was – I would never have posted it on this blog (or anywhere else). That little chipmunk looked so forlorn. But it’s no different! A purple martin killing a dragonfly is trying to feed itself and its young – same as a Redtail killing a chipmunk. Survival of the fittest. It is never pretty. 

Monday at Bryan Park at around 1:30 I photographed this fledgling Purple Martin. The light was great and it was out in the open – I like this image:

Dragonflies probably laugh at this bird. But not for long.

I regret that I was unable to get a male purple martin standing on top in good light, but this will have to suffice. Their rich, glossy adult plumage looks good in any light, even “behind bars.” Adolph White put up the martin houses at Bryan Park several years ago. Cooper’s Hawks (Accipiter cooperii) would camp out (in a manner of speaking) in the big oak trees overlooking the martin houses and pick off unsuspecting purple martins at will. That will drive a nesting site right out of business, so Adolph put up that wire to foil the hawks. The colony is thriving.

This time of year, bugs and insects are also thriving, and with its generous lakes and streams, Bryan Park provides a home for untold thousands. Or millions. The purple martins are fat and well fed and healthy, and there are plenty of insects to feed their offspring. On the same day (Monday) that I photographed the purple martin fledgling, I also saw two toads – who eat even more insects, though probably not as many of the flying variety. Here are two pictures I took. I think they’re both Fowler’s Toads (Anaxyrus fowleri) but I am not an expert at toad ID. They may also be American Toads (Anaxyrus americanus). If someone knows which is which, put a comment in the comments section at the bottom of the blog or shoot me an email. I’ll credit you!

I saw this one around 1:30 and the second one about fifteen minutes later:

Bryan Park toad, not long after the Purple Martin pictures

Second Bryan Park toad, not long after the first one

I believe they are just two different color variations of the same type of toad. But don’t take my word for it.

The raptors have been either hiding out or everywhere I turn this year. This week they were everywhere I turned. I think the young are getting really big and there’s no room in the nest, and I also think the young are learning to fly. I’m noticing details I was unaware of when I began this mildly obsessive hawk pursuit around four years ago. Now the youngsters look gangly and unsteady and carry themselves in a manner common to adolescents of (I suspect) every living animal. Adult red-tails are gracefulness and economy of movement made flesh; they don’t waste even the slightest movement. But adolescent red-tails have angles and bones protruding where angles and bones shouldn’t protrude, and they tip when they move around on a perch. I don’t think adults even move around on a perch. They just land, and sit and watch for a while, then they fly again.

I got a lot of pictures of Red-tails this week, but none were particularly memorable. Here are two from Thursday; same bird. You can see in the second picture how awkward and uncertain it is. Adults never (from what I’ve seen) contort themselves in quite this fashion). Adolescent red-tail perched:

Adolescent Red-tail perched

Same bird less than 1 minute later. See what I mean? Uncoordinated.

When a bird (or a deer, snake, turtle, chipmunk, anything) makes an impression on me like that, I make long notes. Here’s what I wrote to myself about that bird on Thursday: “I think it’s young, they don’t look strong or confident, they look skinny and uncertain, like a 13 y.o. boy, or anyway like I was when I was a 13 y.o. boy. A great deal of what is obviously wasted motion/energy – they’re inefficient. They’ll learn.” 

I get red-tailed hawks on church crosses a lot – more than any other bird by far – and from time to time a red-shouldered hawk. One day this week I saw a red-shouldered hawk on a church cross from a long way away:

Red-shouldered hawk perched on the cross at the Brandermill Church

I hiked around for ninety minutes and came back. The hawk left and this Black vulture (Coragyps atratus) landed on the same cross, other side. My first ever Black vulture on a church cross:

Black vulture – same cross, different time, different side

I was glad we hiked yesterday; today was a rainout. My grass is sure green and lush for the second week in June. Hopefully a few more pictures next week!

All best,


PS I nearly forgot – RAAM, the Race Across America begins Tuesday, 6/11/2019 in Oceanside, CA. It begins at 12:00 noon Pacific Daylight time, or 3:00 PM Eastern Daylight time. The record finish time is just under eight days, so the winner (it’ll be Christoph Strasser unless he crashes) will cross the finish line in Annapolis, MD sometime near midday on Wednesday, 6/19/2019. Teams may finish ahead of him, but no individual racer will even be in the same time zone – seriously – when he finishes. Check in on it sometime – it is a feat of human endurance unlike any I’m aware of. Have a great week!

Posted in Birds, Black vultures, Bryan Park, Fun, Insects, James River, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dog days of summer, Montana style – and more

2 June, 2019           Dog days of summer, Montana style – and more

Me, Ivory (left) and Nicky, southern Alberta Canada, June, 1999

Ivory and Nicky THIS WEEK 20 years ago, 11,000′ above sea level in Montana

I’ve mentioned in this space before some internship work I did twenty years ago. Those pictures were taken twenty years ago this month – in JUNE! – in Canada (top picture) and Montana (bottom picture). That’s what the first full week of June looks like in Montana at 11,000 feet above sea level. I didn’t have a digital camera back then – this is all film. Taken with a cheap camera by an inexperienced photographer (me). More at the bottom of this post.

Female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail in the parking lot at Pony Pasture at 11:30 this morning:

We didn’t see a whole lot at the river today. If you don’t count the river itself, and people and dogs and trees and flowers and creeks and rocks and clover and the rest of the reliably soothing background at Pony Pasture. But just as we got back in the car, that lovely female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) fluttered to the ground next to our car and posed gracefully while I gratefully caught a quick image. The background isn’t breathtaking, but with a beauty like her in the foreground I hardly notice. The blue hindwing is how you tell she’s a female. In males it’s black. I also read that “Females lay their eggs singly on the leaves of woody plants, mainly tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera)[…].” Tulip trees may be second only to sycamores as far as large hardwoods go at Pony Pasture. I learned while reading about Tiger Swallowtails – stop me if you already knew this – that they’re the Virginia State Insect! Not only did I not-know that fact – I didn’t even know we had a state insect! But they represent us well. 

I flew twice this week, both times in a Tecnam P92 Eaglet. That I love to fly. We went to Farmville, Crewe, Blackstone, Lunenburg, Petersburg – it’s been a great week for flying. Here’s the plane we flew Thursday, N162SF. I took this picture at around 4:45 in the afternoon as I was walking out to the plane, just before I untied it:

How can this not look fun? I LOVE flying. You cannot imagine how joyful it is to fly up a few thousand feet and sightsee around the state.

Along with all the other treasures Evelyn’s brought to life in our yard, this week she added this glowing hibiscus. Butterflies and hummingbirds are both attracted to these enormous beauties; we’ll see what follows them into our yard:

Hibiscus newly blooming in our yard. If I were a butterfly or hummingbird I would find this difficult to resist. It is undeniably voluptuous.

I was surprised to get a “double” red-tail on the cell phone tower within sight of our house early Friday afternoon. I didn’t get brilliant shots of the pair, unfortunately. I never got to a position where I could see all four of their eyes at the same time. That’s a requirement for a picture of two birds. Or of two people or dogs for that matter. Here’s one alone, I believe this is the male:

Baby Red-tails look cute. But adults are incapable of it.

Here’s the substandard picture of the pair together. I shouldn’t include it at all, but I’m always just so tickled to see both birds at once. It feels like a special treat, every single time:

Poor light with eyes blocked. But still.

I took a moderate picture of my current dogs at the river this morning. Turner lying down – we’d just gotten there! – Mackey facing upstream, Yuki facing me. You are looking at three wonderful boys right there: 

Turner, Mackey and Yuki at Pony Pasture at 9:30 this morning:

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


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Evelyn sent me a quote earlier this week from Rachel Carson; it was posted on “If you write what you yourself sincerely think and feel and are interested in… you will interest other people.” That may be true. But I sincerely think a lot of boring stuff. I feel happy more often than not.

Brief synopsis of my summer 1999 internship for my Masters in Montana: After my 1988 traumatic brain injury (TBI) and subsequent recovery and education, I had a lot of experience, from bedside to bureaucracy. Arguably that should make me proficient in many areas of the post-TBI continuum. My thesis adviser at MCV had finished her PhD and moved to Montana – to work with people with TBI’s. Montana has HUGE Indian reservations, with high rates of TBI. So for my internship I spent the summer of 1999 traveling that vast state and presenting at every one of the  state’s seven Indian reservations. After Alaska, Texas and California, Montana is the largest state in the US. It is simply mind boggling. We drove ALL over the state, and had to spend the night in a lot of places. Because it takes a day to drive, then you present, then take a day to drive back. My presentations were short and I knew them by heart so I had plenty of free time to explore. I did a triathlon and a couple of other races that summer in Montana too.

I kept a journal, but I also wrote long emails to my family and to my teacher in grad school, the late, great Dr. Warren Rule. My dogs then were Ivory and Nicky. They taught me everything I know about dogs. They taught me a lot about people too.

If you’ve seen this blog for more than a month, you know I like to get outdoors with my dogs on Sundays. This journal entry is about what I did outdoors with my dogs on a Sunday twenty years ago this month, 2,000 miles and two time zones away:

6/27/1999 Sun 7:00 PM

A letter I’m just about to e-mail:

Sundays in Montana

On Sunday mornings, Ivory and Nicky and I like to get outside and get as close to nature as we can given our location at the time. Three Sundays ago, we were on the banks of the James River in Richmond, enjoying the late Spring flowers and watching the ducks and blue herons calmly wading in the warm water. Three hours ago, we were at 10,940 feet in the Bear Tooth Pass where Rte. 212 straddles the Montana/Wyoming border. At one point we were driving on the lee side of an eight foot snowbank, and snow was blowing off of it so thick I almost couldn’t see the end of my hood. Quite a contrast from three weeks ago. When we were in the open, it wasn’t a blizzard, but it was pretty close to it. The wind was whipping across the ground, blowing the snow perfectly horizontal. It was the hardest snow I’ve seen in about four years. And it’s almost July. Luckily I had worn jeans and boots today instead of my customary shorts and sneakers. I was wearing a shortsleeved T-shirt, however. I also had a jean jacket on, though, which was the only thing that made it so I could get out of the car at all. We found a few good spots where I could pull off and get out for a while and go walking for a while with the dogs; there were almost no identifying features. I don’t know if this stuff met the true definition of “tundra”, but there were just lots of rocks sticking out of the snow with lots of lichen on them, and no plants larger than about eight inches tall. Anywhere. This little snow had only covered the rocks about half an inch deep, but the snow that was still left over from the winter was still several feet deep in places that were out of the wind. We came up to one big patch of snow and Ivory and Nicky went dashing across it. I stepped onto the edge of it and sank over my knees before I took one step. So I climbed back out and went around. At one point Ivory and Nicky were about a hundred yards away from me, sprinting through the wind and the snow after each other. They looked just like a pair of wolves.

It was about 25 miles back down to the National Forest campground from there, and the temperature went up a degree or two for each mile we went down, but it was still only in the fifties or sixties at the bottom. The “bottom” was at around 7,000 feet. I’d guess the temperature was in the thirties on top, but the wind was blowing so hard it felt much colder. I took them for a longer hike down at the bottom because I could stand the temperature a little bit better, and it wasn’t snowing down there. There was also a nice deep creek running along the trail down there so they could get a drink from time to time. The place seems to have about five different names if you look at maps or signs on the road. My personal favorite is the “Absaroka — Beartooth Wilderness Area.” Also, when you’re up on the pass there, at the Montana – Wyoming border, you pass from the Custer National Forest (Montana) into the Shoshone National Forest (Wyoming). This area is immediately east of northern Yellowstone.

Next time I go back there, I’m definitely going to have my good coat on and some warmer clothes so I can stay out of the car for more than about fifteen minutes before I start to freeze. I’m glad I brought my heavy coat with me. It sure would have been nice to have today. I think that next time we have a free weekend we’re going to go camping up there, although not on top. That was like being on the moon. It was really nice down around 7,000 feet, though.

We drove through some pretty heavy rain on the way back, but it’s clearing up and turning nice now. I’m about to go over and check on MV’s horses. I won’t forget the carrots this time either. We’ve got a big week coming up at work; on Tuesday morning we’re going to Helena to the Brain Injury Association of Montana headquarters so I can meet the people there. I think there are only about two or three people in the office, but a guy lives there that I know from a TBI listserv. We’re also going to visit a couple of TBI survivors and their families. After we come back next week we’re going to visit a couple of the reservations near here, probably the Crow and Blackfeet. We’re also going to meet with the family of a TBI survivor at the Indian Health Service (IHS) office here in Billings tomorrow afternoon. However, when I was talking with the mother of a young Indian man with a TBI, I asked her what kinds of services the IHS provides, she said “handing out cough syrup.” She sounded very jaded. I think her son hasn’t been getting great services, but that’s what I’m supposed to help with while I’m here. We’ll see what happens.

Anyway, wish me luck, and I’ll talk to you soon,


= = = = = = = = = = =

Posted in Rivers | 2 Comments

Some weeks I don’t know where to begin

26 May, 2019            Some weeks I don’t know where to begin

They live for one week! What a treat to see.

I saw a Luna moth (Actias luna) early this afternoon while I was riding my bike at West Creek. It’s such a treasure to see one, I screeched to a stop (in a manner of speaking) and leaned my bike against a tree and stopped for a picture.

Evelyn was putting hydrangeas in a vase; she told me it had belonged to my mom. After mom died in early 2017 we were taking stuff we wanted to keep when we cleared out her house. Evelyn thought this vase was attractive and brought it home. My brother said “sassy vase” – two words that may never have been together before now:

Sassy vase – I’ll bet you didn’t expect to read those words today (Ev made the potholder too) 

In addition to seeing a Luna moth this afternoon, I saw a Box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) at Pony Pasture this morning. Yuki and Mackey and Turner were tired; this was late in our walk. They were content to lie down and observe:

Peaceable kingdom (still image) – Yuki, Turner, Mackey, unnamed turtle

Believe it or not, there were at least two or three deer in the creekbed, seventy-five feet away at the most. The trees were leafy so it was hard to get good video. But here’s a seventeen second video showing the turtle, the dogs, and the flicking tails of the deer down in the creek:

We first saw an Eastern ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) but it was in poor light the picture is not lovely:

Eastern Rat snake crossing trail

One of my favorite pictures from this week is an Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) caterpillar on our parsley plants (leftover from last year):

Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillar gobbling fresh parsley (last year’s model)

So much going on outdoors at this time of year.  I saw a Fowler’s toad (Anaxyrus fowleri) at Pony Pasture Tuesday:

Fowler’s Toad

I’d been watching (and photographing) a female bluebird on a bird house at Deep Run Park Monday. I was sitting on a bench with my friend Ray and I’d looked away but he kept watching. He told me the male had returned and I looked up and there he was. Female first then male; same birdhouse:

Like many birds (think of mallards) the females are less brightly colored than the males

The male – very bright colors. Thanks for pointing him out Ray!

I flew twice this week – I almost named the blog post after that. I was going to call it “Letting my geek flag fly.” This is a view from the plane; we were flying north at 2,600 feet near Fredericksburg:

Near Fredericksburg, from 2,600 feet: 

This is the instruments at the same time:

From the pilot’s seat Thursday morning:

I’ve seen lots of ospreys this week and a return of Red-tailed hawks, but no pictures I adore. Perhaps next week. Enjoy your Memorial Day!  Come back next week!

Wait a second. I was flipping through some pictures from Wednesday. I finally saw a pair of Red-tails. Both at once. The babies are probably getting huge and the nest is too crowded on hot days. They were both out at the same time but I couldn’t get both at once. The male was posed in better light:

Male red-tail hawk near the Willey Bridge, full crop:

WAIT! Hold the presses! As they used to say. We got a gardenia outside this morning! I was out all day; I didn’t get this picture until right before sunset tonight:

If you get real close your nose touches the wet leaves when you smell it – it’s amazing


All best,


Posted in Birds, box turtle, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, James River, kofp, love, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Snakes, Tecnam, thoreau, Turtles, whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Famine to feast

19 May, 2019            Famine to feast

Red-shouldered hawk perched on a bird feeder (not even kidding)

I went from not having enough (IMO) to blog about last week to almost having too much this week. Which is always fun. In last week’s blog post (Friday on my mind) [I wrote that I’d “seen few raptors of any kind recently” – not even an indistinct or fleeting or blurry Red-tail or Red-shoulder or Bald eagle – I can usually count on at least a few. I published that post at 7:40 Sunday evening. I was standing in a friend’s kitchen eighteen hours later when that Red-shouldered hawk swooped in and landed on the ground five feet from their deck. I took this picture with my phone when it first landed:

Hawk on ground in ivy near center of picture – look closely

A minute or two later it hopped up and perched on that bird feeder, looking for a meal. A lot of small animals like to eat spilled bird seed. And hawks like to eat those small animals. There’s a whole bunch of food chain links happening there.

In front of our house Evelyn has our first nasturtiums of 2019 blooming. Evelyn plants a lot of orange nasturtiums since orange was my dad’s favorite color. She plants a lot of yellow ones too – my mom’s favorite color – but these were the first to catch my eye (and my lens) in 2019:

Evelyn’s “Big Mike” nasturtium – no filter, no retouching, nothing – it just looks that way. Incredible. And it just woke up! 

Speaking of orange and yellow, it’s startling to post this picture today, May 19, 2019 – the first 90º day of the year – of a fire in the woodstove! On Monday! I took that picture at 8:50 PM Monday (5/12) because our heat came on because it was so cold. Less than seven days later our air conditioning is on because it’s so warm. Dash less than a week ago:

Dash admiring “Big Mike” nasturtium colored May 13 fire

I saved up enough money to take a few more flying lessons, so I got back in the air Tuesday a few minutes before 5:00 PM. I hope to fly some new planes, but to reacquaint myself I’m getting back in a Tecnam P92 Eaglet. They’re basic, no frills, easy to fly and inexpensive. And in terms of fun for the dollar, they’re hard to beat. We flew from the same airport I’ve always flown from Hanover County Airport (KOFP). Here’s the plane I flew Tuesday:

Pixar rendering of Tecnam P92 Eaglet and breathtaking sky

My brother Shane said it looked like a Pixar plane and sky. He has a point. He also has a three year old son, so he probably sees more Pixar-scapes than I do, but I’ve seen plenty and he’s right. My instructor Joel and I flew to Tappahannock-Essex County Airport (KXSA) and I got a stamp for my Virginia Aviation Ambassador Program passport! I think (I think) there are roughly 65 airports on the passport program. I’ve “gotten” around 35 or so of them. I’ll be more precise. I’m going to keep getting new ones for the next month or six weeks. We only stopped for a minute; I regret not taking a better picture than this:

Tappahannock – Essex County Airport

Some of you may have read posts in earlier years (or not) when I’ve written about an event I’ve done to remember my dad every spring since he died in late 2012. You can read a post I wrote about him (partly about him) just after he died: Good man. One of the things that good man loved from the time he was a good boy growing up in Arlington, VA in the 1930’s and 1940’s was recreational shooting. He was on the rifle team at his high school, Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, VA. I was surprised to learn (I learn an incredible amount researching for this blog) that their rifle team is still active! I may see if there’s a way I can attend a match some time. Wow. Anyway, I digress. Dad loved to tell a story when we were growing up. He lived 1.5 miles from school (he didn’t say that, I just googled it). He would ride his bike to school for rifle team practice with his .22 bolt action rifle across the handlebars. As he told the story – though he may have concocted this to teach a safety rule – a policeman stopped him once. He said “Son, is that rifle safe?” And dad – as he tells the story – said “Yes sir, I have the bolt for it right here, I took it out of the gun.” And the policeman said “Good work young man. Be careful when you’re riding.”

A public indoor shooting range (Colonial Shooting Academy) opened just a few miles from my house right around the time dad died. So every Spring when the weather turns pleasant, I ride my bike there and shoot for half an hour or so, an event I refer to as the “Big Mike Biathlon.” Here’s a blog post I wrote about it in 2017: Big Mike Biathlon

This was my bike parked outside Colonial Shooting Academy Thursday afternoon:

My bike at the range Thursday

Inside the range:

Looking downrange. I use paper plates for targets – cheap and easy to hit

The Big Mike Biathlon got even better last year – I love it when you “can’t make this stuff up” – when I saw a nearby diner with a special new sandwich on the menu. Here’s the menu item:

Big Mike’s BLT – an actual menu item!

Here’s the sandwich I had Monday. I put keys “for scale,” a favorite teaching method of dad’s:

Half of the aforementioned 830 calories – with keys, for scale. Sorry about the tomatoes Sheila!

The best thing about the addition of a sandwich to the Big Mike Biathlon is Evelyn joins me! There was no food involved in dad’s “biathlon” but he liked to eat almost as much as I do, so I’m sure he’d approve of that addition. Especially since they named a sandwich after him!

I also got to participate again this year in the Autism Society of Central Virginia’s 17th Annual 5K and Family Fun Day. I’ve gone to a lot of them – ten or more, including the first one at Deep Bottom Park (not Deep Run Park) with my old friend Skye. This year it was held for the first time at Stony Point Fashion Park and it was a great course. And the crowds were as always enthusiastic and supportive. Here’s a picture of the three mile marker, and one of my Garmin app moments later at the finish:

Not much longer now

We were fueled with delicious Raise coffee who says that their “mission is to create opportunities for job training, employment, and full participation in community life for youth and young adults with developmental disabilities in and around Hanover County, Virginia. Raise Inc is a 501(c)(3) charitable non-profit organization.” The coffee and the service were both outstanding – I’m looking forward to another cup soon!

Raise coffee – excellent coffee and an excellent cause!

Pony Pasture had some activities from the Dominion Energy Riverrock Festival today and I wanted to stay Far From the Madding Crowd so Evelyn and I took Mackey and Turner to Bryan Park – much more peaceful. I was afraid I’d missed the Purple Martins (Progne subis) this year but there was a scrum of them chittering and fluttering around the Purple Martin houses at Bryan Park. They made a “madding crowd” of their own when seven or eight would perch on the houses at once. I didn’t get any great photos, but here’s one with a male in the foreground and a somewhat blurry female behind him. Those houses are constructed and maintained by Richmond’s inimitable Adolph White. If you’re fortunate enough cross paths with him, ask him about Purple Martins, or nearly any other bird in Virginia. It’ll take about thirty seconds for you to think “this guy has to be a teacher” because he is so intelligent and generous with the way he shares his knowledge. Only people who are truly enthusiastic and passionate about their subject convey information as clearly as he does. It will come as no surprise when you read the interview with him and come to the section that says “Occupation: Retired teacher”. Richmond in general and Bryan Park in particular is fortunate to have a guy like Adolph around. Here is the pair I saw today. The wire is to ward off marauding hawks:

Purple Martins, blue sky, Bryan Park

Martins weren’t the only purple thing I photographed at Bryan Park today. Look at this gorgeous clover blossom:

Clover – the essence (there are a lot of essences) of Spring

Anyway, that’s enough for the time being. If anyone is interested – not everyone is – my favorite summertime sporting event begins Tuesday, June 11 – three weeks from this coming Tuesday. It’s called RAAM or Race Across America and it is exactly that – a non-stop bicycle race across North America. On Tuesday morning at the edge of the Pacific Ocean in Oceanside, CA, individual and team riders will begin heading east. And they won’t stop until they reach the edge of the Atlantic Ocean in Annapolis, MD. So if you sleep, somebody else is riding. So they try not to sleep.

In 2014, a guy named Christoph Strasser – who is in this year’s race – made that trip averaging 16.4 mph. For 3,020 miles. Non stop. In my eleven ironman triathlons – I ride the bike 112 miles then stop – I’ve averaged 16.5  mph. Christoph Strasser’s win took him 7:15:56. That’s seven days, fifteen hours, 56 minutes. Mine took me just under seven hours. It’s like he’s not even a human being. But he comes across in interviews as gregarious and outgoing and approachable. I don’t recall what his winning margin was – and I haven’t been able to locate it – but last year he was ahead of the second place finisher by something like two days. Nobody rides like this person. Nobody ever has, to the best of my knowledge. If you enjoy cycling and the outer limits of human ability, it’s worth taking a peek.

Have an excellent week!

All best,


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

Friday on my mind

12 May, 2019           Friday on my mind

Alternate title: “For lack of a better title.” It’s been a fun week though – lots of reptiles and a stray amphibian here or there. I did photograph one non-domestic mammal (white squirrel again) but I haven’t seen any deer recently. I did a couple of night shots (in addition to the moon) that I’ve never done before. I got several “double” adult skinks at Deep Run Monday, but I came back Friday and got another that I like better. Who knows what it means for a reptile to “think.” Their primary drive is to pass their genes to a new generation. But before they can do that, they have to breathe and drink and eat – always. They observe. At the river I always ask Mackey and Turner if they see or hear or smell anything I’m missing. I find it much easier (so I believe) to divine a dog’s thoughts and/or emotions than I do a skink’s. Since dogs are mammals like me. With skinks, who can say:

Inscrutable skink faceoff

There is a Northern water snake  (Nerodia sipedon sipedon) picture farther down this post.

I noticed as I got farther down this post, I was writing a lot about the way I interpret the thoughts and emotions of non-human animals through my own thoughts and emotions. I do that all the time but I was doing it way more than usual in this post. For around a month I’ve been reading Eye of the Albatross: Visions of Hope and Survival by Carl Safina. Mr. Safina works hard to “get inside the mind” (my expression) of the animals he writes about, and his writing is so captivating I find myself drifting in that direction. As an aside – that book is as much about “visions of hope and survival” as it is about albatrosses. It is in every way outstanding. 

When Evelyn came home from work late Monday, she told me she’d seen the moon and it was a very small waxing crescent moon. Since our house faces mostly east, I’d never seen one! Can you believe it? They set in the west and I almost literally never see open sky in that direction in the evening. So I took my camera outside and raced up to the corner where I have a clear view to the west. I took this picture as the moon was setting almost directly over the Westbury Apothecary. This is not a pro shot (it’s barely even an amateur shot) but I like the way it looks:

Almost brand new moon setting over the Westbury Apothecary late Monday evening

That was a really new moon – only 2 days old on Monday evening, according to an app called “Sun Surveyor.” 5% full. As I type these words (Sunday 4-ish, broad daylight) that moon is 8 days old. It’s 60% full and growing. The Monday Westbury image was at 290º on the compass (a smidgen north of west) and a mere 2º above the horizon – it was about to disappear (set)! Right now it’s much too cloudy to see it, but if today was clear it would be plainly visible. It’s at 97º (a hair south of east) and 30º above the horizon and climbing. It’s fascinating (if you’re me) to learn (and continue to learn) all this stuff.

I’ve been watching a lot – I always watch a lot – and seen few raptors of any kind recently. I’ve seen more than zero, but drastically less than I’m used to in May. I’m uncertain why that is. We’ll see what turns up. My brother Kevin recently (this week) saw an active pair of ospreys near the Richmond Volleyball Club. And his wife saw – and photographed – a Sandhill crane in western Hanover County! Things will appear this week. They always do.

Speaking of things that appear. I hadn’t seen the white squirrel in a while but she reappeared this week. I’m not 100% certain but after examining a few pictures, I am ~85% certain this is a female. I got a picture of her watching me from a mossy tree root Friday. I liked the green background and how brightly her white coat stood out:

Gleaming white against green

Thin week! A few birds. Brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) on my feeder this week. They thrash (or at least I always thought) mostly with their feet and possibly their beaks. But when I see this image I suspect they use that tail some too:  

That tail appears well suited to thrashing

It’s tempting (to me, anyway) to describe animal expressions in human terms. But interpreting cardinal expressions or skink expressions through the lens of a human mind is bound to be inaccurate. But he looks quizzical:

I interpret this expression (if he has one) as quizzical. ymmv

Mockingbird from the same day; not my a/t favorite image:

Mockingbird from an unflattering vantage point

Let me get that snake in here before I forget – I know everyone will miss it if I do:

Small and probably young Water snake at Deep Run:

On a somewhat more appealing note (to nearly every human being) I snapped a quick image of a bluebird on my feeder a moment ago. Have a look:

It’s odd to see a bluebird looking pensive. Or maybe it’s not odd; maybe they always feel “blue”

I got another cricket frog yesterday. We took a Saturday walk to avoid today’s forecast rain. Cricket frogs are really hard to see and I apologize for the poor quality (light) in this image. But I’m always delighted to see one:

Cricket frog in weak light

Big clusters of tadpoles trigger me to start snooping around for frogs:

For every frog egg laid, I wonder what percentage lives to maturity. Probably ~0.000001 or less.

Our elderberries have the tiniest blooms beginning. I took this picture yesterday (5/11) morning at 9:30. That’s one small branch from one limb or trunk of one bush. I’m estimating that’s ~5,000 elderberries right there, more or less. Each bush I’m thinking has about a hundred of those clumps. So half a million – or so – elderberries per bush. Possibly as many as a million. I think we have eight bushes. So four to eight million ripe elderberries will appear as if by magic I’m thinking this week. Evelyn had these planted anticipating this magic, by the way. And then we will be mobbed with birds. It’ll be a free for all. You should plant some!:  

I predict we’ll have more elderberries than grains of sand on a large beach. Just you wait.

We walked with Yuki at Deep Run this morning but I didn’t take any pictures. I had only Mackey and Turner with me at Pony Pasture yesterday. Here they were, a few minutes before we got back to the car:

Black and brown and green

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


Posted in cardinals, Dogs, Fun, love, mockingbirds, moon, Pony Pasture, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Snakes, squirrels | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments