Continued growth

12 June, 2011

The dogs and I had a relaxing weekend. I had time for a 50 mile bike ride yesterday. I learned I was in shape for a 30 mile ride. But I didn’t learn that until around mile 30, and I had to ride 20 miles back to the car. Oh well. It’s a process. Today was much more pleasant and I took a relaxing 20 mile ride.

A lot of what made today pleasant was beginning it with a fantastic walk with the dogs at Pony Pasture. I became aware of something as I took the photographs for this post and as I began writing. If you don’t care for rivers or dogs, this is definitely not the blog for you. I know that’s already obvious. But today it’s more evident than usual.

Probably also not a great blog if you’re uninterested in the indescribably boring (from a spectator’s p.o.v.) world of endurance athletics. The endorphins make it great for the participant, not so much for the reader. When I’m not working (I love my work) or hiking at the river with dogs or eating (I do that a lot) I spend lots of time swimming and biking and running. That may be interesting in short bursts but I do it in long bursts. I guess it’s fun if you enjoy being hypnotized but otherwise it can be bland.

Speaking of that. Yesterday morning I began my ride from the parking lot of a lovely little church in eastern Goochland (Dover Church, Manakin-Sabot, VA):

It is so pleasant here

It’s 30 relaxing miles out to a great little place in Louisa called Owens Creek Corner Store (1534 Owens Creek Road, Mineral, VA). They’ve got water and gatorade and m&m’s and peanuts and all the other great stuff I love to gobble up after I’ve been on the bike a while. Plus two great picnic tables under a big oak tree. The guy who owns the store is fantastic and so are his son and the rest of his family. The people who come in and out of that place while I sit on the picnic tables are great. Everybody stops to chat. Sometimes it’s all I can do to get back on my bike. The short route home from there is 20 more miles; I’m glad I chose that option yesterday. The long route is 38 extra miles (68 total) and I’m glad I didn’t choose it. When I’m in shape it’s just about my favorite ride in the world but I think it will be August before I’m ready for that. Here’s my bike leaning against a picnic table in front of the store:

Anyway, this morning (Sunday) I was recovering from my ride so we didn’t get up at the crack of dawn. We got a nice rain last night and it was still cool and refreshing when we arrived at the river shortly after 8:00. I overdo it with the river pictures but I just can not take my eyes off it when we get there. The river (literally and metaphorically) forms the backdrop for this blog. Plus, pictures of the river are like snowflakes – no two are the same. This morning:

Speaking of the river – and this is more in keeping with the “continued growth” theme – there were tadpoles in the shallows. I thought it was late for tadpoles but there they were. See them? I count eight in this picture. I wish I’d zoomed in a little but was unsure how they’d turn out. Plus I was standing there in the mud with three dogs 100% ready to hike:

It was really nice hiking this morning. Sleeping in a little can be rewarding. You miss that real early morning freshness, but after a good rain the river’s just as beautiful. After we’d hiked down a little while we came upon a 73 y.o. Bolivian woman named Elsa and her son and their little brown dog. I didn’t catch the son’s name or the dog’s. But all three were quite kind and engaging. Elsa’s son was taking pictures of their dog. I held out my iphone and asked if he’d take pictures of me with my canine pals. His English was quite good. He enthusiastically agreed and began adjusting us so we’d be in the best light with the best background. This is one of the shots he took:

By the river with pooches and new friends from Bolivia

My friend Mijo suggested Mackey was perhaps looking for Ivory in the river. That is entirely possible. I will always feel Ivory’s presence there. It’s nice. Even when it’s wind-whipped or muddy or stormy or icy and leafless, the river is a comforting presence. It is reliable without question. That’s the nice thing about rivers.

Below is a picture of leaves of a pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba). Pawpaws reproduce prolifically and this time of year at Pony Pasture they run amok. If you come down in late August or early September the air will reek (in the most delicious sense of that word) of ripe and over-ripe pawpaws. If you walk around down there for an hour at peak ripening time, it’s almost guaranteed one will fall on you. But it will be like being hit by an over-ripe peach the size of a baked potato. A pawpaw ripe enough to fall from a tree is by definition soft. Pick it up and brush it off and eat it right then; in about sixty seconds it will be over-ripe. They’ll be all over the ground with big chunks bitten out of them from I guess turtles and perhaps birds and I guess raccoons and I don’t know what all eats them. I once read the ripe fruit described as having a “custard-like” consistency and that’s as precise as any description I’m able to offer. The flavor is flowery and sweet and vaguely exotic but not in any way overpowering. Like tasting jasmine ice cream, everyone should do it at least once. More, if it appeals to you. If for no other reason than that it makes non-boring small talk. Small talk opening lines:

“We had a great vacation in Duck this summer”
“Hot enough for ya?”
“I just ate a pawpaw at Pony Pasture”

I’ll bet there’s one you’ve never heard before.

When I saw this leaf – before I even took the picture – I knew I wanted to put it on the blog. The problem with blogging this – the problem with looking at any photograph – is you don’t get the true sense what you’re seeing. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a beautiful picture. Or there’s beauty in the eye of this particular beholder, anyway. But there’s so much more to the experience of seeing this picture than just “seeing this picture”. Because when you’re down at the river looking at it there are sounds. There’s the river flowing past. There are birds and more birds. Dogs are around. The occasional squirrel, ubiquitous ducks and geese. The breeze does not stop rustling the trees. It is always on your cheek. And it always smells (on a morning such as this) of damp earth and of leaves and the river and growth and decay and flowers and it starts to seem that even the sounds have smells. It is so difficult to understand from just a picture. But this one (to me) says a lot:

That is more green than just green

My inability to grasp the true sense of a picture came to me in the summer of 1978 when I stepped to the south rim of the Grand Canyon for the first time. This is an abstraction, but I tend toward abstraction (if you hadn’t already noticed). On occasion. I was 17 years old and my whole life I’d seen the Grand Canyon on TV. In movies. Photographed beautifully in countless articles in National Geographic and Smithsonian. In books and magazines. But when I stepped to that rim and looked over, it was as if I’d never even seen it. Maybe it’s because I was only 17 it had such a powerful impact. But the contrast between the reality of it and the 17 years of two-dimensional representations I knew was incomprehensible.

Pictures are fantastic. I love taking them and I love looking at them. But if you have the opportunity to experience something interesting in real life, take it. That’s why we’re here.

About Jay McLaughlin

I am a rehabilitation counselor. I have many friends with autism and traumatic brain injuries. They help me learn new things constantly. I hike with dogs at the James River in Richmond - a lot. I've completed an Iron distance triathlon a year for 11 years. My most recent was in Wilmington, NC in November, 2013. I currently compete in mid-distance triathlons. And work and hike and take pictures and write and eat.
This entry was posted in Dogs, Endurance, Fun, People, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!). Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Continued growth

  1. Evelyn says:

    What a treat to have this to read in my present circumstances. Transportive! I love the river and tadpoles and trees (and saffron ice-cream!) and am no kind of athlete. This has something for everyone and the photos are beautiful. I can almost smell it. I am going to sit here and believe I can smell PP until I can (Pony Pasture, not paw-paw). Thank you, Jay! Keep on blogging.

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