At a loss for words

17 June, 2018            At a loss for words

Primarily because I’m at a loss for pictures. I almost called this one “It’s easy to distinguish between genders” but you’ll have to admit that doesn’t roll right off the tongue. Some animals – think mallards – have vastly different appearances between the two genders. Other animals – think Canada Geese – it’s impossible. They can tell – obviously – but us (or at least me) not so much. Enough (too much) drivel.

I got a Red-tail Monday morning at Freeman High School on the floodlights overlooking the baseball field. But its back is to the camera so I didn’t use it. Almost precisely twenty-four hours later, the same bird or its mate was closer to my house (75 yards away) in better light:

Red-tail glaring in the glaring sunlight

Before I took that picture I’d stopped at the Tuckahoe YMCA to tell my friends why I hadn’t been there since before Memorial Day. I’d broken my hand Memorial Day Sunday (May 27) and I hadn’t visited the Y in over two weeks. That just never happens. Anyway, I stopped by and two male Red-winged blackbirds were carrying on in front of the Y. My pictures of the males were marginal, but I got my first ever decent image of a female. Boy it’s easy to distinguish between genders of Red-winged blackbirds. Here’s a female I saw Wednesday:

Female Red-winged Blackbird on a cat tail:

Again this picture of a male is marginal, but if you’ve never seen the two, what a difference. It’s iconic to see Red-winged blackbirds on cat tails. It seems like whenever one is around, you can find the other. In the summer, anyway: 

Male Red-winged Blackbird. Again with the iconic cat tail:

I hope I’m not overdoing the gardenia pictures. To call the smell “intoxicating” is not a stretch, so maybe that’s why I keep putting up pictures. The first step is admitting I have a problem: 

It looks like whipped cream, like real whipped cream if you make it yourself. My amazement (and gratitude) never fades:

I know (as previously mentioned) that I return to the same themes too often. I apologize to those who are fed up with pictures of our cat Dash:

Take it from an experienced slacker – this is what we do:

I did get a few Red-tailed hawks this week, as noted above, but I got even more Red-shouldered hawks. Here is one from Thursday, Flag Day, my late parents’ 60th wedding anniversary, perched above my sunroof over a friend’s driveway:

Red-shouldered hawk. It flew beside me then landed on this branch.

Here is another Red-shouldered hawk the following morning, but ten miles away – it’s not the same bird or its mate or offspring:

Red-shoulder on a roof:

I am not so talented a photographer I can make a tadpole in poor light look good. But I got a few images at Cheswick Park that I believe are worth including here. Here’s one with I think a snail behind it. I also think this is a bullfrog tadpole.

But I’m no expert:   

Tadpole on its way to becoming a frog:

Evelyn is my editor so normally I can let myself off the hook with errors. But she’s traveling this weekend so I have to accept responsibility this week. She’ll be home tomorrow, thank goodness. Her nasturtiums are in enthusiastic bloom as they (and we) await her return:

Happy, happy nasturtiums. We’ll ALL be even happier when she gets home tomorrow!

Summer officially begins Thursday (6/21) morning at 6:07 EDT. We’ll continue to get flowers as the days simultaneously heat up and shorten, but they’ll flower with less and less enthusiasm. Here’s a magnolia from Saturday:

Magnolia not fifty feet from where I took the picture of the Red-shoulder on a branch:

Have a great week! Come back next week for the first blog post of Summer, 2018! And Happy Father’s Day!

All best,


PS I almost missed this. Today’s Father’s Day and on Friday I got a middling image of my Dad’s favorite bird, an Eastern Bluebird. I hesitate to speak for my late Dad, especially when all my brothers and sisters (I’m pretty sure) will read this. I love to take pictures, but I’m not a perfectionist. I believe you could apply that exact description to my Dad and photography. To my Dad (and me) about a lot of things – love to do it, but not a perfectionist. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”: 

Eastern Bluebird Friday at Deep Run Park:



Posted in Birds, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


10 June, 2018            largesse

This one is called “Right place/Right time” because that’s how I took it. More luck than skill. 

largesse also lar·gess  : noun

1 : generous giving

2 : a generous gift – Merriam Webster Word Central

It’s the rain. Richmond’s CBS affiliate WTVR Channel 6 television said “May 2018 set new weather records” and “Richmond International Airport received 10.35″ of rainfall, making it the wettest May in Richmond weather history, which goes back to 1872.” There are birds and flowers and lush growth everywhere I look. As I type these words (Sunday evening) it’s pouring again. Here’s a gardenia Ev’s growing in the backyard. I took this picture at 7:45 this morning (it rained more than an inch last night). Talk about “largesse”:

If this was food I’d never eat anything else

I’m reading a beautiful book called Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers, and Other Wildlife by John Marzluff. Mr. Marzluff is (in my opinion) a pragmatic optimist, a worldview I share. He doesn’t discount the effects of climate change and is keenly aware of problems with the environment and possible future impacts. But in this book he primarily focuses on things we’re doing well, that we may not be aware of. Many American suburbs are helping bird populations, both in number and variety. Here is a quote he used from Aldo Leopold. This is the opening phrase in Chapter 9, “Good Neighbors”: “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”A Sand County Almanac (1949).    

This is a fragrant magnolia blossom hanging over our driveway:

“Sugar Magnolia blossom’s blooming” – Grateful Dead, 1970

I’ve had some busy “hawk weeks” so far in 2018 – today is the last day of the 23rd week – but this has to be the busiest. The pair of Red-tails I photographed at the top I took on Friday morning in western Henrico at 9:10. This Red-shoulder I photographed 45 minutes earlier, precisely one mile (on the road) away. Flying distance is probably 1,200 yards:

Red-shoulder Friday morning

After seeing Shane’s bird feeders in Blacksburg last weekend, I decided I needed to add something to mine. My intention is to get a good photograph of an Eastern Towhee but it hasn’t happened yet. A bluejay posed one afternoon though:

Good looking bird

I took this one at 5:00 PM today. It is generally a miserable image but there were four male goldfinches on my feeders at the same time. You may see that a lot but it’s a first for me. More largesse from the rain:

Look at that – four male goldfinches! At one time! Talk about “largesse”

Speaking of largesse from the rain, whatever eats mosquitoes must be fat and happy. We could barely stop on the path at the river (in certain spots) this morning. But I snapped a quick image of the boys:

They never complain – but they didn’t want to stop

Friday was an absolute binge day for raptors. The opening picture on this post wasn’t the only one I took of that pair. Here’s a bluejay buzzing them (at a respectful distance):

Bluejay respectfully inspecting raptors:

And this was the same minute – it looks like they’re planning something. Perhaps this is meant to keep that bluejay guessing about their intentions:

Sure looks like a consultation

As an aside, look at the colors of the tails on the squirrels in our yard. Not sure what’s driving this – maybe they’re eating too much bird seed: 

Odd squirrel tail colors in our yard

One more picture. Ev was telling a friend about the elderberry bushes beside our driveway. We had someone plant them for us in the Spring of last year. When they went in they were just below my waist. So this is roughly twelve months later:

Maybe the squirrels are eating elderberries!

Have a great week! All best,


PS RAAM or Race Across America begins Tuesday, 6/12 at 3:00 PM EDT in Oceanside, CA. If you have any interest in endurance athletics, check it out. I believe it is among the most difficult endurance events anywhere. I’ve never done either one but I’ll bet it would be easier to climb Mt. Everest without oxygen. Check it out – it is astounding.   

Posted in Birds, Blue Jays, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, grateful dead, James River, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), squirrels | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Road trip!

3 June, 2018            Road trip!


It’s after 10:00 on Sunday and I just got my two favorite pictures from the weekend. And the blog post was done! My phone “dinged” and I got two pictures that belonged at the top of the post. I’ll put them here, then the regular post begins. Evelyn and I went to Blacksburg this weekend and met our newest niece for the first time. I am strictly minor league when it comes to making Evelyn smile. Our brand new niece Teagan really knows how to do it: 

Two of the three prettiest girls in the house this weekend. The third
 one took the picture. Thanks Kristin!

Yay! My newest niece! I will never get tired of being an uncle!


Evelyn and Mackey and Turner and I drove to Blacksburg yesterday and spent the night with my brother Shane and his wonderful family. And visited with friends! Not long after we arrived we went hiking! With dogs! Here’s the whole crew. There is one very small head just visible on his mom’s back in the center picture and his brand new sister is invisible (from this angle) in the stroller in the center. Family, friends, dogs and hiking – I hope your weekend was this much fun. Kristin, thanks for making this image happen:

Hiking with friends and dogs in Blacksburg – it’s fun wherever you do it!

The small head on his mom’s back in the preceding picture? Here is him today with his dad flying a Guillow Jetstream balsa airplane:

My brother and my nephew launching the Jetstream:

After a couple of low altitude practice launches they moved to the second floor:

Future pilot?

Evelyn and I drove a pretty long round trip and although our car has a full tank of gas, I personally am running on fumes. So I’m going to pop in a few more images than catch up on my sleep. Speaking of “running on fumes,” I have to look at Mackey and Turner from time to time to make sure they’re breathing. They’re out like lights!

The most fun I had in Blacksburg was with my family and friends, but I’m an obsessive photographer and I got this goldfinch picture about a hundred yards from where the plane was flying:

Blacksburg goldfinches are beautiful too:

Okay – tables turned. My nephew was carrying my camera and I was walking the dogs. He took this picture. I don’t know what kind of photographer you were before your third birthday but I don’t think I’d ever even held a camera. Check this out: 

Me, Mackey, Turner and Tara this morning in Blacksburg. Thanks for the picture Wesson!

Okay – sorry to break the spell – back to the usual boring photographer on this blog – yours truly. I took this picture on the same hike:

Green fly, green leaf, Blacksburg:

This one was from Blacksburg too – I took this picture less than twelve hours ago!:

Mackey and Turner this morning in Blacksburg. Turner falls asleep with a ball in his mouth – not even kidding.

I’ll close with a shot that will be boring to many, but I’m thrilled with it. There were two Red-tails at one time on a cell phone tower – only seventy-five yards from my house! I walked and took this shot! One on the left and one on the right. Fifteen years at this house, Tuesday was the first time I’ve ever seen this:

Red-tail double about 75 yards from my house (1 on left, 1 on right):

Oops! One week ago today I was walking five dogs at the river. I hardly ever feel more alive. But the river was going down from a flood and the bank was slick. My feet went out from under me and I caught myself with my left hand and got spiral fractures in a couple of bones. But the fractures are well placed and I’ll just wear this cool cast for  a few weeks and I’ll be good as new:

How could I not love a cast like that?

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


Wait! I almost forgot! Thanks to Evelyn’s ongoing efforts we are still surrounded by gorgeous, fragrant gardenias. It’s an embarrassment of riches – I can never narrow it down to one image. But I’ll leave you with this beauty: 

Gardenia of the week

Nasturtium of the week:

Rose of the week





Posted in Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, People, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, roses, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Reflection of hope

27 May, 2018            Reflection of hope

“May your choices reflect your hopes and not your fears.” – Nelson Mandela

I didn’t have a theme for this post – I still don’t – but I saw that on a friend’s instagram page and it resonated for me. She was using it for a post about graduation. It is a perfect graduation post. It’s also a perfect suggestion for those of us who have graduated a time or three already. Make your choices reflect your hopes.

This is the company who posted the “choices” quote from Nelson Mandela. They’re old friends of Evelyn’s from when she lived on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The company (who posted the Nelson Mandela quote) is called Pure Mana Hawaii. They slipped past my advertising censor with that well chosen and timely quotation. The same folks run an excellent coffee operation (I had a cup this morning) called Kona Rose Coffee

I regret not being clear at the end of last week’s post. Some folks may have read the title story at the end of the post Bridge Over Troubled Water. Hank – my friend who had been hospitalized at such a difficult time – recovered. Fully, completely, 100%. It didn’t happen instantaneously, it was a slow and difficult process and he got lots of help. But if you spoke with him today, you would not know anything had ever been amiss. I don’t think anyone really knows why it started in the first place, and its disappearance is equally mysterious. There is a lot we don’t know about how our minds work.

A few images this week. Also I went to the 16th annual Autism Society Central Virginia 5K Run/Walk yesterday at Innsbrook; it was wonderful as it is every year. It is a reliably excellent event; I recommend putting it on your calendar for Memorial Day weekend, 2019.

There were wonderful people everywhere I turned, and I took a picture of one of the many signs lining the course:

“…each individual is unique, talented and wonderful in their own way.”


I was particularly drawn to that one because I immediately thought “you could leave out ‘autism is a spectrum disorder, and.’” The sign would then read “each individual is unique, talented, and wonderful in their own way.” I thought that most when I looked at the dozens and dozens of huge, bearded, tattooed, leather wearing, Harley driving motorcyclists helping us out wherever we turned. Here’s just a handful of them. I think there were fifty or more in total:

They were all so nice! What a day

Unique, talented and wonderful in their own way – every one I met. They were so different from the stereotype of a “biker.” To a person they were warm, outgoing, helpful, genuine, kind, thoughtful, considerate – it was like they were Boy Scouts in leather uniforms with tattoos. Look at the people playing in this little band on the side of the course:

They were (you guessed it) unique, talented and wonderful in their own way.

They were 100% unique, talented and wonderful in their own way. David (the guy I was doing the race with) and I also met lots of great police officers helping out on the course – unique, talented, etc.

I met a friend from grad school just after David and I crossed the finish line. She’s operating a non-profit in Hanover, VA called Raise Coffee Co. Here is their mission statement: Our 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. All the people selling coffee were (you guessed it) “unique, talented and wonderful in their own way.” David and I were grateful for the outstanding coffee and even more grateful to meet yet another group of fascinating people.

Anyway, a few more miscellaneous pictures from this week. I’m starting to get more raptor pictures (in addition to ospreys) and it’s reassuring. But I still feel like the numbers are low. Monday mornings I can often check off a raptor picture by “getting” a red-tail at Henrico County Firehouse 13. Here’s the bird I got there this week – Wednesday morning:

Red tail up high on Firehouse 13

This is the fire station. See that tower behind the station? If you’re looking at this blog post on a device that allows you to zoom in, look really closely at the top of that tower. The red-tail is sitting up there. That gives you an idea of the way this camera zooms. I took both pictures from the same place with the same camera:

Henrico Firehouse 13. See the hawk on top of the tower? Smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. 

True storyWorld Turtle Day this year was on Wednesday, May 23. On Monday morning – possibly in anticipation – this nice looking animal was sauntering around in western Henrico:

Having a hard time controlling its excitement about the imminent World Turtle Day

I tried to go flying Tuesday but a storm blew in and we did ground instruction about flying near the airport “in the pattern.” When you’re flying near an airport, there are certain rules you need to follow. Proper speed, proper altitude, choosing the correct runway, radio calls you have to make, throttle settings, flap settings – it has to become automatic. The best way to do it is with an instructor while you’re actually flying, but there is sufficient theory to learn that “ground school” is essential to prepare. I also have to “pre-flight” the plane before every flight. I have a detailed checklist for whatever plane I’m flying that day. We were able to fly on Thursday, and this is what the plane looked like when I went out. One of the first things on the checklist is untie the three ropes:

Walking out for pre-flight:

An essential checklist item is a visual check of the fuel in the tanks. Even if the fuel gauges read “full,” it’s essential to verify. Don’t run out of gas in a plane – a bad idea for obvious reasons. I climb up on top of each wing to take off the gas caps and look inside to see if they agree with the fuel gauges. I took this picture when I was on top of the plane Thursday:

I’m on the wing, looking forward:

A bit of flying info for any who are interested. A lot of days we take off and fly up to around 3,000 feet. Then we practice “power on stalls” which are meant to simulate a stall when you’re taking off – under full power. When you’re at 3,000 feet you have lots of room to recover. You can do it over and over again for practice – it needs to be automatic. At a similar altitude we practice “power off stalls” which simulate a stall on landing. You do it until it becomes automatic, because when a real stall is happening, you can’t be thinking about what to do next. You just have to act and you’d better get it right the first time. 

Friday I was hiking with my buddy at Deep Run Park and I saw my first Ebony Jewelwing of 2018:

My first ebony jewelwing of 2018. What a beautiful animal. Beautiful name too.

Evelyn has our gardenias and our roses producing at full capacity. An example of each. Oh this smell:

Hopefully scratch-n-sniff internet is coming soon to a blog post near you

See preceding caption

Have an excellent week! Come back next Sunday! That will be the first Sunday in June! And enjoy Memorial Day! All best,


Posted in Birds, box turtle, Cessna 172, disability, Dogs, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, honeysuckle, Insects, James River, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, roses, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Turtles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bridge Over Troubled Water

20 May, 2018            Bridge Over Troubled Water

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

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

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

Spotted Sandpiper at Pony Pasture Tuesday

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

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

Five-lined skink – a nice looking animal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red-tail at Henrico Fire Station 13


Red-shoulder at Stapes Mill Rd. Baptist Church

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

Consolation prize if you missed the locust blossoms

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

This rose is confident in its beauty:

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

Squirrel staying above it all Friday morning

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



Bridge Over Troubled Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Posted in Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, honeysuckle, James River, koans, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, roses, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), squirrels, whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Oh no! Another SNAKE!

13 May, 2018            Oh no! Another SNAKE!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

That is a lot of food storage

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

Cross section of a nutmeg

This is the bottle it came in:

This is where it came from:

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

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

Repeat preceding caption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big carp moving up the creek at Pony Pasture

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

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

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

Have a great week,


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

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

Every single person was nice

6 May, 2018            Every single person was nice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perfect day for a bike ride

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

The menu

Prized item inside:

They named a sandwich after my Dad!

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

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

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

Pano of the beach at Lake Anna this morning:

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

Random dog wearing finisher’s medal:

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

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

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


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