Casting about… 

15 September, 2019            Casting about… 

Family Easter – April 14, 1963

I was looking through my pictures for the week – I have some nice ones – working on a theme. I was “casting about” for a theme. I looked to my right on my desk and, inexplicably, that picture was lying under my right elbow. There were many others of a similar vintage but that one was on top. This is what it said on the back: 

Back of that picture: “Easter ’63” – my mom’s handwriting, back when it was smooth and graceful

My handwriting has always been illegible, similar to  my father’s. But mom wrote in that graceful, elegant hand until it started to get away from her a little in her mid-seventies. I’m not sure when she wrote that, but it was a long time ago. I’m wearing a stylish red cap, plaid shorts and suspenders, a white long-sleeved shirt and white shoes. I was just over eighteen months old. Katie’s next to me, and mom is holding Sheila, who was not yet two months old. Mom was twenty-six years old in that picture. Dad was twenty-seven. Kevin and Shane were still a couple of years in the future. Sadly missing here – a story I may share at some point – is our sister Anne Michele, who was born on a pretty September day in 1960 but lived for only a week. 

A quick break. For one of Evelyn’s breathtaking roses. These roses were well established when I moved to this house eighteen years ago (!). You know they’re tough plants because they survived my neglect – it was thorough – until Evelyn moved here in 2012. Our friend Judith tells us this is a Don Juan rose and that requires a lot of attention. I took this picture next to the garage Thursday evening near dog feeding time (5:30): 

Don Juan rose

That story about Anne Michele is a crude way to leave off that paragraph and that subject. I’ll return to it a little – flesh it out a little – at the end of this blog post. But I need to do it more justice. Mom and Dad never hid it from us, it was never a family secret. But talking about Ann Michele was not something mom and dad spent time on. I’m confident she was never far from their thoughts, but our house was always – every single day – so full and lively and active, they couldn’t dwell on it. Or much of anything else – raising us was a big job! 

I’m staring intently  at the sidewalk in the picture up there. Probably at an ant or some other insect. Mom and dad encouraged curiosity, mainly because they were both curious by nature. Dad was curious about everything – everything. He loved to know how things worked and why things happened. Cars, seasons, boats, people, birds, wind, gravity, computers, all of it. Dad’s curiosity was diverse and insatiable and never rested. But he also never learned things half way. When he found something that he was truly fascinated with – it seemed like everything – he read everything he could find. Dad was an only child and his mother was a librarian and I’m certain she encouraged him every day. The same way he encouraged the five of us. 

The white squirrel has reappeared for the first time since May at Deep Run Park in western Henrico. I’m certain this is the same one. It’s probably been up in the tree canopy all summer. But squirrels are busy gathering nuts for the coming winter, and this one was busy gathering hickory nuts this week. I’ll keep my eyes out and get a better image soon. They’re just a color variation of the gray squirrels we see 365 days a year, but they are (to me) unforgettable: 

White squirrel – Deep Run

Also at Deep Run this week – in addition to the white squirrel – I caught a quick glimpse of a handsome five-lined skink: 

Great looking five lined skink at Deep Run Park

Speaking of curiosity and encouragement – I have a new camera. I had it in the car yesterday when Evelyn and I went out for lunch at Fresca on Addison in the Fan. We saw passion flowers and gardenias growing against a warm south facing brick wall on West Cary Street. That’s where I photographed this enormous bee about to land on a passion flower: 

Giant bee in upper right, about to land on a passion flower

I’d originally planned this post to be about the recent predictability of two different Red-tails on my morning drive. Wednesday morning of the week before last (9/4) I was driving in Glen Allen and saw a big female Red-tail perched on the cross at Discovery United Methodist Church. 

9:30 AM Discovery United Methodist Church Red-tailed hawk – 9/4/2019

I headed down Lauderdale, turned left on Patterson and ten minutes later pulled into Westhampton Memorial Park and photographed this slender male Red-tail: 

9:40 AM Westhampton Cemetery Red-tailed hawk, 9/4/2019

Monday of this week, I drove the same route at the same time and photographed two more Red-tails in the same spots. The first on the same cross, the second in the same tree: 

9:30 AM Discovery United Methodist Church Red-tailed hawk – 9/9/2019

9:40 AM Westhampton cemetery Red-tailed hawk – 9/9/2019

When firetrucks pass our house, Mackey and Turner howl – every single time. This morning we were driving back from the river, headed north on Forest Avenue about to cross Patterson. Henrico County Fire Station 8 is on the northwest corner of that intersection, at 8000 Patterson Avenue. We were stopped at the light when the sirens began to wail and the trucks rolled out and Mackey and Turner chimed in. I took an eleven second video. When I showed it to Evelyn she said “That’s blog worthy.” If you have eleven seconds to spare, here are Mackey and Turner singing their enthusiastic hearts out at 10:41 this morning. I call it Greeting the firefighters

Speaking of Mackey and Turner – I usually put their picture at the beginning of the blog. Our buddy Yuki didn’t join us at the river this morning, but this picture is wonderful just the same: 

Mackey and Turner at Pony Pasture this fine September morning

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Regarding several paragraphs ago when I casually mentioned I’d return to the subject of our deceased sister “at the end of this blog post.” That mention was, as you may have surmised, easier said than done. The truth is, I don’t know a whole lot about her. I’ve seen her tombstone; she lived for seven days. I talked about her ever so briefly with my dad, years and years and years ago. As I’m typing, I keep referring to her as “it”; I’ve gone back and used a pronoun with gender so she’s a human being and not an event. If she cast a pall over our upbringing; I am unaware of it. If anything, her loss made my parents more grateful and enthusiastic and determined to raise more healthy and grateful and enthusiastic children. Five living, breathing expressions of health and gratitude and enthusiasm. More often than not, anyway. 

Do I sound as if I should have thought this through more? I should have. But rather than letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, I’ll begin with this. 

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

Jay  

PS The latest sunset of the summer was 8:35. Tonight it set at 7:18. I’m having a difficult time with the light! We’d been out and just walked in the house when Evelyn told me there were new Monarch Butterfly caterpillars on the flowers out front. One looks pretty much like another, but I don’t get tired of them. I’m sorry if you do! But I took this picture at 7:20 this evening:

Monarch butterfly caterpillar in our front yard
two (2) minutes after sunset this evening:

These are the flowers it was climbing toward. I can see why they’d be irresistible:

How could a butterfly resist this? It probably reminds them of a family member.

 

Posted in Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, Insects, James River, love, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, roses, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), squirrels | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The kindness of strangers

8 September, 2019            The kindness of strangers

A total stranger took that picture! Just to be kind!

Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I had just gotten out on the rocks this spectacular early September morning, and we saw a young family enjoying the pleasant breeze and relaxing  morning sunlight. And the sound of that water, the best of all possible background noise. There was a young man and a young woman and they had two well behaved little boys, maybe one was five years old and his brother was three. They also had an adorable little mixed breed named Zooey who was around half Turner’s size and had the friendliest, most outgoing personality you’ll ever see in a dog. Dogs always channel the personalities of their owners, so I knew this was a nice family. I said “would one of you mind taking our picture?” and offered my phone. The wife said “sure” and it took her about ten seconds and she took four images and all four were perfect. Then the five of them sauntered off down the river. They were so nice

Here’s another picture from this week. Sunset is more than an hour earlier than it was in June, so moon photography is getting easier and easier. The sun set at 8:35 on June 21; tomorrow it will set at 7:27. It’s a lot easier to get moon shots when it’s dark so early. This will be more than a little bit geeky; if you find yourself falling asleep, don’t hesitate to skip ahead to something hopefully more interesting. But Friday night I took two pictures of the moon, one at 8:30 and the following at 9:30. You can see the slight change in angle. I also have an astronomy app that gives more detailed data. So I’ll add that data beneath each image: 

Moon – Friday – 8:30 – 59.27% full, 7.58 days old

Correct data for preceding moon image

Moon – Friday – 9:30 – 59.71% full, 7.62 days old

Correct data for preceding moon image

Our next door neighbor (please pardon the abrupt change of subject) was on vacation last week and when he came home he asked me if I’d cut his grass while he was gone. I said I hadn’t – I’d seen his neighbor on the other side cutting it. She wasn’t doing him a huge favor – it’s just a little strip of grass next to her yard. But it was a generous act and since he asked me if I’d done it, it was clear she’d done it on her own. She’s not a stranger, but she certainly was kind. This stuff happens all the time! Multiple times every day! 

I spotted another Monarch butterfly on our front flowers Tuesday at lunchtime. This is the first year I’ve paid real close attention to Monarchs, so I’m not 100% clear on their migration times. I’ll tune in on it a little more so I’m more able to anticipate it in 2020. When Evelyn planted those flowers in front of my office window her intention was to make that already beautiful view even more beautiful, and she succeeded. But she also succeeded either wittingly or unwittingly in giving me another little mystery of nature to obsess on. As if I needed another one. Here’s a butterfly from this week: 

Monarch butterfly outside my office window. This one is looking old. But graceful. I mean, come on, it’s a butterfly!

I also saw another small toad crouching beside a log in Bryan Park Monday afternoon. I believe this is an American toad (Anaxyrus americanus) but if someone said it was a Fowler’s toad (Anaxyrus fowleri), I’d take their word for it. 

While researching it a bit, I read these words on the Virginia Herpetological Society web page: “This species closely resembles the southern toad and the Fowler’s toad. These species frequently hybridize making identification difficult. So without further ado, here’s a little red toad I saw in Bryan Park this week: 

Toad in center of picture

I had to zoom in a whole lot to make that little creature visible. If they don’t move, they disappear. 

Ev’s roses are enjoying the pretty weather – they’re getting prettier! I took this picture yesterday around noon: 

A little dark but so pretty!

And boy are these beautyberries living up to their name: 

Beautyberries from today on the northeast corner of our house. Their name is well-deserved! And they’re native!

There was a solid article in this week’s New York Times called The Trick to Life Is to Keep Moving by Devi Lockwood. Ms. Lockwood spent a great deal of time with a woman half a century older than she was, a poet and activist named Cora Brooks. Ms. Lockwood said that they “talked about death, often.” Ms. Brooks’ response was “I’m in the afterlife already,” […] “Each day is a bonus.” I don’t think about death often – almost never. But I still feel that “I’m in the afterlife already,” and “Each day is a bonus.” I mean, look at that river! Those dogs! Those nice people! Take my word for it – they are all angels. 

Speaking of Evelyn’s green thumb. Our hyacinth (like our beautyberries and roses and nasturtiums and all the other photosynthetic life forms in our house and yard) is happy, happy, happy. Have a look: 

Our generous hyacinth

This didn’t make great pictures, but I’ll tell you – pawpaws. I brought my trusty Swiss Army knife and a ziploc bag to the river this morning and brought home a few tasty slices of fresh pawpaw. I tried them in oatmeal and I tried them in vanilla ice cream – both are perfect. But you have to do it real, real quick, because pawpaws have effectively zero shelf life. They still taste good for a while, but they’re really only fresh while you’re down at the river. 

For you non-snake people, I saw zero snakes at Deep Run this week – that’s a first since April. There may be a few still around, but I was looking and saw zero. 

Almost forgot – I saw a cute caterpillar just before we got back to the car at Pony Pasture this morning. Have a look – and come back next week! 

All best, 

Jay 

Trailside caterpillar at Pony Pasture this morning

Posted in Birds, Bryan Park, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, hyacinths, Insects, James River, love, moon, Pony Pasture, Rivers, roses, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Playing chicken

1 September, 2019            Playing chicken

In the decades our cabin in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley was our home away from home, quirky memorable events occurred more often than it seems they should have. But our family of seven healthy, active people behaved (and behave) in quirky, memorable (IMO) ways more than chance might predict. I’ll jot down a quick story at the end of this post. After the usual. 

I would like to have had the caterpillar more in the foreground in this picture, but I have to take what I can get. This is a monarch butterfly just outside my office window, with a caterpillar inching up a branch behind it: 

Monarch butterfly in foreground, caterpillar behind

Now we have parsley caterpillars, more properly Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes

caterpillars. I took this picture in our backyard a couple hours ago.   

Parsley caterpillar (Black swallowtail) on (of course) parsley

Since I’m fascinated with this stuff (indulge me, please) I’m posting a comparison picture of a milkweed caterpillar (Monarch butterfly caterpillar) for comparison. Note the differences and similarities; they’re subtle but (IMO) unmistakable: 

Monarch butterfly caterpillar

As an aside, where the butterfly flowers are, we have bird feeders right next to them. When you feed birds you learn quickly they are in every way unconcerned about dropping a whole, whole, whole lot of uneaten seed on the ground. It doesn’t go to waste. A handful of birds pick it up off the ground, but primarily mourning doves. Squirrels help themselves regularly but from a photography standpoint, they are only moderately more attractive than starlings, and even that is questionable. But if you have bird seed and birds and mourning doves and starlings and squirrels, you’re also going to have chipmunks. And they are attractive. And this is a true story – among their survival strategies is to carry large amounts of seed in their cheeks so they can take it underground and eat it unbothered by marauding housecats or hawks or dogs. This is a small animal with a large amount of food: 

Chipmunk – evolution selected them for real, real elastic cheeks

I got a cool picture of a hornet inside a rotting pawpaw at the river yesterday. I don’t know what that cloth is underneath it. This was on a muddy secluded spot under a little bush:

Look at that thing. But pawpaws taste so good. I can see why it was in there.

Speaking of gorgeous flowers, here is our backyard hibiscus. I took this picture at 1:00 this afternoon: 

One of Evelyn’s prolific backyard hibiscus flowers, around noon today

 

Got a backlit wren on the feeder this week too: 

Chow hound

I saw an Eastern American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus) at the river this morning; I haven’t seen tons this year. This one is cute: 

Eastern American Toad at Pony Pasture this morning

That was after we’d been hiking for a while. Our old buddy Yuki’s been traveling for a while but he was back in town this morning and joined us at the river. We’d just gotten down on the rocks at 9:00 this morning and asked a kind stranger to take our picture. This is how it came out: 

It does not get better than this

Those guys look awesome, obviously. When I take pictures of them myself, I’m working on getting a little below they’re level and shooting up. Look how excellent they look: 

What’s not to love?

I was down there yesterday with another couple of dogs, my old friends Lola and Luna. Here’s the two of them (Luna on the left): 

Luna on left, Lola on right, yesterday – that river just gives, gives, gives

This is the river itself that day. I was speechless when I looked at it yesterday and I’m even speechless now looking at this picture. Because, really, what words can you use? They’re inadequate: 

Pony Pasture yesterday. Guaranteed to lower blood pressure

I saw some Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) flourishing a couple minutes walk from the river’s edge this morning. A web site called Medicinal Plants of the Northeastern United States says that “Crushed leaves in poultice form are a traditional and well-known remedy for poison ivy.” I’ve heard that for years, but never had occasion to try it. The web site opens up with this “Disclaimer: This site is for identification and information purposes only. It is not meant to be used for diagnosis of medical conditions or for prescription of treatments. The information on preparation of remedies is rudimentary and should not be attempted without further consultation. Please see a doctor if you are in any doubt.” But you’re on safe ground with that one. I suspect the worst possible outcome is your poison ivy won’t get better. But you get to see a pretty flower!: 

Jewelweed this morning at Pony Pasture – it certainly is gleaming like a jewel

Have an excellent week, come back next week – and bring friends! And read the little story at the end! All best, 

Jay 

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Playing chicken

This story doesn’t have a moral or a life lesson or a “takeaway” – it was just an oddball event. Things like this happen in big families. Small ones too. 

It was a hundred miles from our home in Silver Spring, MD to the cabin. We went west on the interstate for the first half or so, then began funneling down to smaller and smaller roads. The final four miles of pavement was a small single lane of blacktop, Virginia Route 650, a.k.a. “Grove Hill River Road.” You could take it to even smaller single lane blacktop roads with names like Comertown Road, Fleeburg Road, Dam Acres, Dovel Hollow, Lucas Hollow, Cubbage Hollow, Honeyville and more. 

A mile or two before we got to our gravel road we were all a little hypnotized and daydreaming and there was a long, straight, steep downhill that ended in a straightaway that didn’t give a ton of incentive to slow down, since why bother. 

I feel like Mom was driving, but it was our 1971 Ford Econoline van so this was decades ago and my recollection is perhaps not without fault. Dad would tell this story too, and he would tell it with relish too, but I remember mom’s telling more clearly. 

We were near the bottom and going pretty fast and that van didn’t have power steering or power brakes. No power windows, nothing. Anyway, at what turned out to be an inopportune time, a chicken decided to cross the road. Power brakes wouldn’t have made a difference; the van was heavy and it hardly bounced when the front right tire flattened the chicken. 

In that era (probably in this era as well), it wasn’t a huge deal. Except of course for the chicken. When people have free roaming chickens in wide open rural areas, they  get hit by cars on occasion.  

The tire started thud-thud-thudding each time it went around as we slowed and pulled to the side. The chicken was flattened and so was our tire. It’s funny, even as I type this I can feel the impulse to turn on my flashing lights; I know that’s what Dad did that instant. It must have been him driving. It was a nice day, like it is today in Richmond. We stopped right there by the side of the road to change the tire. The chicken’s lower leg bone – its drumstick – was protruding from the black rubber. It was a moderately good seal, but far from perfect. Or we would have made it farther. 

Mom always told that story enthusiastically; she liked the image of the chicken leg sticking out of the tire. It was macabre but macabre in an “I know this sounds crazy but it really happened” way, which were often my Mom’s favorite type of stories. During our upbringing, I suspect my siblings would endorse the notion that we had a lot of “I know this sounds crazy but it really happened” stories.  

When I was writing this piece, I was trying to recall when Mom was born so I googled her obituary. I reread some of the letters people wrote when she died in 2017, and came across one from our childhood neighbor and long-time family friend Liz. I know I’ve put this in earlier blog posts, but in Liz’s letter she writes that “In all the years I knew her (47) I never heard her say anything bad about anyone; I never saw her cranky or cross.” That’s a nice legacy. To know someone well for half a century, and have them never hear you “say anything bad about anyone” or see you “cranky or cross.” Forty-seven years. That is awesome. She was a good old girl. 

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Posted in Birds, Carolina wren, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, James River, love, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, Shenandoah Valey, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Butterflies in the ground

25 August, 2019            Butterflies in the ground

Monarch butterfly caterpillar in our front bed this morning:

Evelyn saw a bare patch of ground in front of our house and imagined a Monarch butterfly. She planted a plant. Flowers bloomed. A monarch butterfly stopped on the flowers. It drank nectar and laid eggs because it was such a great spot. The eggs hatched and this morning there were caterpillars. Which will become butterflies. As long as the world keeps turning. 

Speaking of the world turning, I had a birthday Friday. I did a triathlon the following (yesterday) morning in Quantico, VA. They tattoo (a sticker that stays on for ~a week) your age on your calf so we know one another’s age when we’re passing or being passed. Both happened to me many times. Here’s what my fellow athletes saw. I took this picture this morning at the river: 

I was still 57 on Thursday. But Friday I earned this tattoo (my age) for the race.

They draped this around my neck when I crossed the finish line two hours, ten minutes and forty one seconds after I started: 

Finisher’s medal (front)

Finisher’s medal (back)

We swam 750 meters (half a mile) in the Potomac River, then rode our bikes 20 kilometers (~12.4 miles) around the base. We finished with a wooded 5k (3.1 mile) run on the physical fitness course. 

After thirty plus years as a triathlete, I enjoyed this one as much as – probably more than – my first one. Three minutes before my wave went out (the blue wave, we wore blue swim caps, the third wave) I spoke to a young triathlete as we watched the second wave of  swimmers churn south down the muddy river. My first words were “How are you feeling?” His instant, reflexive response: “Lucky.” I loved it. I’ve asked that question countless times over the years. The response is always some variety of mild anxiety or concern. I felt lucky to hear a person express gratitude. I was glad I wasn’t the only one. 

This week instead of my normal picture of a Red-tailed hawk’s head and body, I’ll include the talons of a big female I saw at Westhampton Memorial and Cremation Park Monday morning at 9:30: 

Talons of a big, confident female Red-tailed hawk

Plus I saw a pretty female Tiger Swallowtail at Pony Pasture this morning: 

Lovely female Tiger Swallowtail at Pony Pasture this morning.

Mackey had been under the weather for a few days – lethargy and loss of appetite. In technical veterinary terminology that’s referred to as “ADR,” short for “Ain’t Doin’ Right.” It came on without warning and Mackey is not young so we were anxious to get him to the vet. But it was late Thursday night and I was leaving the next day for the race. We left a late night message for our vet – Springfield Veterinary Center – and they squeezed us in at 10:30 Friday morning. Dr. Kara Kolster, DVM saw Mackey and spent time with him and Evelyn and me and Turner (Mackey’s own personal Therapy Dog). She diagnosed (correctly) what was ailing him and fixed him right up. Here he is at Pony Pasture this morning with his buddy: 

That’s what two healthy dogs look like. Turner left, Mackey right.

Speaking of Pony Pasture, a friend recently asked how big pawpaws are. They’re the size of an Idaho baking potato. And their skin is a pale, gentle, almost translucent shade of green. I described the skin in last week’s blog post as so soft that it was possible “a falling chickadee feather would poke a hole in it.” I’ve also (because of that soft skin) often said that a pawpaw is perfectly ripe between the time it falls from a branch and the time it hits the ground. If you’re fortunate enough to be standing under a pawpaw tree with your catcher’s mitt at that precise instant, you’re in for a real treat. I would imagine. I’ve always been too late and had to pick them up off the ground and eat them. They are fantastic then. Here’s one I saw this morning, shortly after I took a bite, with car keys for scale. It was between 45 and 90 minutes overripe, so it was a tiny bit sweeter and softer than perfection, but only a tiny bit: 

Pawpaw with car keys “for scale” and a bite taken out so I can say “OMG” with complete authority

Have a great week! Come back next week! 

All best, 

Jay

Posted in Birds, Dogs, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, Insects, James River, love, People, Pony Pasture, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), triathlons | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The craziest picture I’ve ever taken

18 August, 2019            The craziest picture I’ve ever taken

I almost put the craziest picture first – but it has a snake in it. So I’m giving  Ophidiophobes a chance to bail. I’ll begin with Mackey and Turner at our lovely river this morning: 

Mackey and Turner at Pony Pasture this morning. Words are unnecessary and inadequate

This week I looked over the rail at the dark rocky creek bottom hoping to glimpse a water snake. I saw a large one that had just captured a large fish. The snake was twisting and thrashing about, working to position the fish head down for easier swallowing.  

Crayfish on left, watersnake on right, fish caught in the middle

Suddenly a crayfish – the first I’ve ever photographed – appeared on the rock. See it on the left? It immediately began moving aggressively toward the snake. The snake had to have been twenty times larger than the crayfish. But I guess the crayfish was trying to get the snake to drop the fish, perhaps by threatening the snake’s eyes. Whatever the reason – you should have seen this happen – if you’d seen the snake’s reaction, and if you were describing it in human (anthropomorphic) terms you would have said the snake had a panic attack. One instant it was concentrating on swallowing this large fish, and the next instant it clutched its fish and dove backward into a shallow pool and speed-swam across it. 

My birthday is later this month. Evelyn gave me an early birthday gift, The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New by a favorite author of mine (that Evie introduced me to years ago), Annie Dillard. A recurrent theme of Ms. Dillard’s is just how amazing the world is – everywhere, everything in it – but you have to pay attention. It can be frustrating, because if you’re e.g. paying attention to birds in the trees, which are awesome, you’ll walk right past turtles on the ground, which are also awesome. 

This week I also saw a five lined skink poking its head out of a hole in a bathroom wall:   

Skink peering out of a building

The same day I saw that whole snake – fish – crayfish incident happen, I read this by Ms. Dillard: “Many carnivorous animals, of course, devour their prey alive. The usual method seems to be to subdue the victim by downing or grasping it so it can’t flee, then eating it whole or in a series of bloody bites. Frogs eat everything whole, stuffing prey in their mouth with their thumbs. People have seen frogs with their wide jaws so full of live dragonflies they couldn’t close them. Ants don’t even have to catch their prey: In the spring they swarm over newly hatched, featherless birds in the nest and eat them, tiny bite by tiny bite. That it’s rough out there and chancy is no surprise. Every live thing is a survivor on a kind of extended emergency bivouac. But at the same time we are also created.” 

Ages ago I read this – and it’s quite possible Ms. Dillard quoted Ms. Dickinson: 

“To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else” – Emily Dickinson 

Ms. Dillard later writes that “Unless I call my attention to what passes before my eyes, I simply won’t see it. It is, as Ruskin says, “not merely unnoticed, but in the full, clear sense of the word, unseen.”

I was really, really, really moved that I had the opportunity to watch that interaction between those three animals. Who knows what I miss. Who knows what was happening behind me when I took that picture. 

These small catfish were swimming in a pool just below the snake-rocks another day this week. I guess when the snake got the opportunity to consume that giant fish, it could ignore these little hors d’oeuvres for a few days: 

Baby catfish, a.k.a. “water snake snacks”

Speaking of outdoor food, this morning I had my first bite of a pawpaw for 2019. I read a lot of things to do with pawpaws, ways to prepare them, etc. But I bit into a pawpaw for the first time twenty-five years ago at Pony Pasture, on the river bank. I ate a couple of delicious bites then dropped it on the ground for whatever else wants to eat it. And for me, that’s how you enjoy a pawpaw. It’s not something to eat some other place or some other time – it’s to eat there and then. A person on facebook asked how to eat them and what they taste like. I responded thus: “I ate my first pawpaw of 2019 this morning on my dog hike! IMO, they’re ripe when they hit the ground. And I just brush the dirt off and take a bite – right there, in the woods. The ripe consistency is of a REAL ripe peach. Super soft. The flavor, as you will discover, is indescribable. But it’s a soft flavor, banana style, not even a hint of tartness or acidity. Ultra juicy, and the skin is so soft it seems like a falling chickadee feather would poke a hole in it. Part of the beauty is, their shelf life and season is ultra short. So either you taste it or you don’t, and the world moves on. That may be what I love most. Enjoy!” 

Also, though – if you don’t like picking things up from the ground and eating them, certainly don’t do it. And don’t take them out of the park – that spoils them.

Few (close to zero) of my hawk pictures are memorable. But every time I photograph one, it gives me a moment of calm, lucid meditation – my head is entirely clear. It’s like taking a calm breath with a lot of oxygen in it. Here’s one I saw this week: 

Hopefully this isn’t an “obligatory” Red-tail. I just feel peaceful when I see them.

Here’s a cute picture of Dash from this week. He’s a bird watcher too, but not in this picture: 

King Dash

Another quote from Annie Dillard: “’I don’t do housework. Life is too short. If you want to take a year off to write a book, you have to take that year, or the year will take you by the hair and pull you toward the grave.’ – Annie Dillard” 

Evelyn and I had lunch with a friend this week. I noticed two things at his house. Outside, next to his driveway, there were a few small tree trunks with holes made by yellow-bellied sapsuckers: 

Tell-tale sign you’ve been visited by a yellow-bellied sapsucker. A while ago.

Inside I glanced down and saw the spectrum projected on a cabinet wall through a crystal hanging in his kitchen window. I realized that little rainbow was just like a pawpaw – it has a very brief “life” – and either you see it or you don’t, and the world moves on. With pawpaws and with rainbows, nothing awful happens if you miss them. They’ll be back. But don’t miss them. Your life will be better: 

Like a snowflake, only larger and warmer and more colorful

I think that’s all I have! I hope you get so see something awesome this week. There are a lot of opportunities. Have a great week!

All best,

Jay

 

 

 

Posted in Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, Insects, James River, love, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Snakes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“Hula girl” – this time, it’s personal

11 August, 2019            “Hula girl” – this time, it’s personal

I pass a little plastic solar powered hula girl on a sunny (most days) windowsill once each week. I wrote a brief essay about it and sent it to Evelyn and my four siblings. It was moderately well received. I’d been thinking of another story, but maybe next week. Ev said “You should use this on your blog. It’s more personal than what you normally use.” I liked the way it felt when I wrote it, so I’ll include it at the end of this. After the usual flurry of pictures. 

I took this picture of Mackey and Turner at the river this morning. With my phone! We were farther down the river than normal. Look at Mackey shining! He is a handsome, elegant, graceful boy. Turner is too, of course, but he arrives at the destination of handsome elegant grace by a much different path than Mackey. In a manner of speaking: 

That is unimprovable. How could you make it better? It is entirely w/o flaw.

The river this morning: 

Paradise on the James

Here’s Tiger Swallowtail from the river Tuesday: 

Pony Pasture male swallowtail

Sometimes when I go out and look at a rose in our backyard in the morning it just stops me in my tracks. Which, as I think about that sensation, is odd. Because I am not particularly young, and I have seen a lot, lot, lot of roses. And one freshly bloomed red rose doesn’t look significantly different from another. But every time I see one is like the first time: 

The bloom is on the rose

This big female Red-tailed hawk hasn’t seen as many roses as I have, but she’s seen a lot. If there was a mouse or a chipmunk crouching under it, she’d look right through the rose. Or anyway, that’s what I’m guessing. I don’t know what evolutionary advantage it would offer an alpha raptor to spend time looking at a rose. On the cross at Discovery United Methodist Church:  

She looks stunning in that light. I’ll bet she’s not daydreaming.

A hibiscus within a short branch length of the rose. There’s nothing subtle or mysterious or hesitant about a hibiscus. Very welcoming. Flowers to the best of my knowledge do not have emotions. But it’s difficult not to look at this and feel cheerful: 

This flower is not dour

I was stopped at a light on the way to the river Tuesday when I turned right and took this picture of Turner (dog is my copilot) in the passenger seat. Turner sleeps, although Evelyn is certain sometimes he sleeps with his eyes open. But Turner for the most part goes through life with this expression on his face:

Turner’s go-to expression – appropriate for any occasion:

I’ll close with a picture of Dash from Friday. I already posted this on social media so some people have seen it. I’m not even sure what is so appealing about this image, but something is. He’s not trying to hide anything (unless it’s under that box) but his gaze is (IMO) inscrutable. But it’s also welcoming and maybe even confiding. Trusting – I think that’s the adjective I’m groping for. It’s a calming (to me) look: 

Dash’s expression: inscrutable but trusting

Have a great week! And hopefully you’ll enjoy my little “hula girl” blurb. This story’s been chasing around in my mind for a long time. I’m glad I finally typed it. I hope you enjoy it! And I hope you come back next week! 

All best, 

Jay 

 

This is the way I sent the “Hula girl” musing to my family, edited slightly here: 

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Hula girl

August, 2019

See that little plastic solar powered hula girl right there? Back to the camera? Green plastic grass skirt? She’s a brunette? 

Hula girl

Hula girl

Sorry about the quality of the picture. I was taking it with one hand while pushing a friend’s wheelchair with the other. Plus I was trying to be discreet, i.e. act like I wasn’t taking a picture when I obviously was, because that’s in the glass walled pastry shop at Whole Foods on Broad Street and a bunch of the cooks were in there and they all know my friend and me and I didn’t want them to think I was more of a weirdo than they already do. But they’ve all got crazy tatts and piercings and wild dye jobs and wilder haircuts, and when they’re out on break they always talk with my friend and me and they’re open minded and welcoming. They have a solar powered hula dancer in their pastry kitchen. Just to give you an idea of what sort of folks they are. 

But that hula girl’s plastic grass skirt covered rear end and the little solar panel it’s fortunately not shading face the sun rising way down Broad Street, and the sun shining on the solar panel makes her shake her little green plastic grass covered booty.  

At Mom’s house when she died – and probably before that for a really long time – Mom had some crazy little solar powered plastic thing like that in her bedroom window, a chicken or a pig or a duck or something – one of you might remember. And when she died, I have this recollection of that thing, I always, always, always think of it. Every single Wednesday morning when I’m in there with my buddy and that little plastic person is doing her hula dance, I always think of it. 

I sat down on the floor at some point right after Mom died, and I was with Mackey and Turner. I don’t know why I sat on the floor; that’s not one of my things. They had soft carpet so it’s not like the hardwood here. And I was thinking that the night before, Mom and all of us had been alive, and now it was just Mackey and Turner and me plus that little solar thing in the window, which was obviously not alive, but was solar powered and just bobbing or swaying or craning its neck or whatever it was doing, and I also saw a stink bug crawling on the rug. It was alive too. Mom wasn’t, but we all were. 

It’s been way more than two years since that happened, closer to three, but I still think of it every Wednesday morning. It’s never sad or melancholy. It’s for the most part emotionless. It’s not painful or unwelcome but it’s always struck me as odd. But in no way unwelcome. Mom and/or Dad would appreciate it. I know I do.  

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Posted in Rivers | 4 Comments

If this isn’t nice…  

4 August, 2019            If this isn’t nice…  

…I don’t know what is.” – Kurt Vonnegut – courtesy of Andrew 

“If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” – Kurt Vonnegut – courtesy of Andrew

The quote is courtesy of Andrew. The flower is courtesy of Evelyn. The monarch butterfly is courtesy of the flower.

Evelyn’s been planting flowers and shrubs and trees around our home to attract birds and other pollinators. Wikipedia quotes the USDA saying the Monarch butterfly (above) “may be the most familiar North American butterfly, and is considered an iconic pollinator species.” Before Tuesday morning (7/30) I’d never seen a Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) in our yard. Thanks to Evelyn’s effort, that changed. And thanks to my friend Andrew sending me this quote, I noticed when I looked at the butterfly I was happy, and I exclaimed or murmured or thought (really I just thought) “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” Thank you Evelyn! And Andrew! And Kurt Vonnegut! And butterfly! 

It was a week ago today Andrew emailed me this quote. But I was caught up in the petty nonsense I sometimes allow to crowd out what’s important in my life and I didn’t take time to look at it. I finally opened it up, not long after I took the Monarch butterfly pictures off my camera and put them on the computer. The quote Andrew sent read “Please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’”  KURT VONNEGUT. I read it just as I was looking at the Monarch butterfly.  

And I smiled that daydreamy little way a person sometimes smiles when they’re alone and maybe (hypothetically) thinks “that certainly was timely.”  

I had more opportunities to exclaim or murmur or think that phrase as the week progressed. One came the following morning when I saw this gangly young mockingbird: 

Slender young mockingbird

I saw a goldfinch drinking from a puddle at Deep Run park this week. I’d hoped for a better picture but I wasn’t close enough and it was too shady. But look closely. See a faint blur above the goldfinch to its left? It was a large dragonfly darting in and out and hovering around and (it appeared from my human POV) to be making the goldfinch anxious. Or agitated or distracted or irritated; something. The goldfinch twitched every time the dragonfly whirred close. A dragonfly must be huge to a goldfinch. And that buzzing noise – I can’t imagine what that sounded like at that distance. The goldfinch was drinking; I have a picture of it taking a drink. But as long as that dragonfly was buzzing around it was clear the goldfinch couldn’t relax. I see such odd, unpredictable, peculiar things when I observe closely (sometimes): 

Goldfinch in foreground, big blurry dragonfly in the upper left

Of course more often I see ordinary, predictable, everyday scenes. Red-tails are the most reliable local raptor. And they hunt from highly visible perches, and I get used to seeing them in certain spots. If you’re in western Henrico County, VA and you drive either north or south on Parham Road at the corner of Ridge Road in daylight, you can look up and see this cross on the top of the Grove Avenue Baptist Church. There’s not a Red-tail up there every minute of every day, but it’s a real high percentage spot. If it’s your lucky day you might even see two at once. This male was up there Wednesday morning around 11:00 when I was on my way home from swimming. He looks real scruffy because he’s molting: 

Molting male red-tail

Red-tails live in Richmond fifty-two weeks a year. But the ospreys – or at least the Stony Point ospreys – will head south soon. South as in (I think) to Venezuela. They’ll leave this month or next. They return in March. I’ve written this before, but ospreys eat fish – and nothing else. They’ll starve quick if the water ices over. So they’ll head out before long. 

I’m not sure how many are on this nest. Evelyn says she’s seen three, which is not out of the question. During the time I was there, I only saw two (on the nest) but there may have been more. There was a parent sitting on the edge of the tower. More than likely the other parent was fishing. You can see the parent perched out to the right. You can also see what was clearly the dominant offspring with its back to the camera. You can see the white head of a more timid (which in this case means weaker) offspring toward the right edge of the nest. The behavior of these birds seemed out of balance to me. That big one on the nest was super-agitated and the small one never moved. Neither did the bird I think was a parent. I read a gruesome eyewitness story a year or two ago where the oldest osprey nestlings ganged up and killed one that had been born small and late, and it’s an image I’ve been unable to banish from my mind. Survival of the fittest is almost inevitably a gruesome business. Hopefully this is just their normal day-to-day behavior: 

Two offspring on the nest, one adult on the right

Here’s another picture of the dominant bird on the nest: 

This osprey was not peaceful or placid. You can see the white head of the other one on the lower right. 

So anyway, that’s what the top of the food chain looks like. Mackey and Turner and I had a little hike at Bryan Park yesterday and I pointed my camera into the creek for the other end of the food chain: 

Bottom of the food chain.

Flowers are in the food chain too. It would be difficult (for me) to draw a clear line from a dry land flower to an osprey but I’m sure they’re linked together somehow. This is another lovely Rose of Sharon from our backyard: 

Backyard Rose of Sharon. If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is. 

And this is one of Ev’s hibiscuses from the backyard. I waited a little too late to get this picture; it’s already wilting a little. They are so fast! I should set up my iphone out there and have it do a time-lapse sequence of a hibiscus blooming. I’ll bet start to finish it doesn’t take eight hours. There is nothing subtle about a hibiscus: 

Hibiscus in our backyard 3:50 this afternoon. At noon the petals weren’t curling up.

Almost left this off – Ev was in the Fan yesterday afternoon and saw this: 

 

Have a great week! 

All best, 

Jay 

Posted in Birds, Bryan Park, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, hyacinths, Insects, James River, mockingbirds, ospreys, People, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Spiders | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments