Chop wood, carry water

21 June, 2012    Chop wood, carry water

I am not Buddhist. Despite an earlier blog post “Namaste” and this one, “Chop wood, carry water.” But there is a Zen expression that says “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” More on that at the end of this post. Meanwhile, the usual river and dogs and trains and so forth.

If you’ve only recently joined this blog – or if you haven’t looked back in a long time – it’s worth a look back. At some of the old posts. Just click on a link on the side under “Archives” and look at this month a year ago. Or at your birthday month or at some month that looks interesting. A season you enjoy. And click on a link inside that month and see what was going on. What’s changed. Look at some pictures from a year ago or whenever. The diesel locomotives look generally the same. But the river always changes, the dogs come and go, the plants are different, it’s fun to take a look back if you have a moment.

I see my last blog post was way back on June 2 – that was a Saturday. Of course Evelyn and the dogs and I were down at the river the next morning; it’s still bright and Springy-looking. Spring presents itself non-stop in a million ways. One is baby anything, and it’s hard to go wrong with baby mallards. I saw a nice looking family of ten swimming around with a female who I presume was their mother. Here’s  one watching the river go by while his brother (or sister) snoozes behind him. I think male and female babies maybe indistinguishable. Maybe the males don’t get their distinctive green heads for a while:

A couple of baby mallard heads

It was a pleasant day but later they climbed up on a warm rock. A nice day to take a break and get a little sun:

Some took the opportunity to do some grooming and scratch the occasional itch:

Scratching an itch.
Alternate title: “You’ll have to speak up a little!”

If you’re not a train person you’ve probably long ago abandoned this blog. A coal train was down there waiting when we visited last week; this engineer had his arms hanging out of the cab of the locomotive. Locomotive #519 and the one behind it, #212, are both GE AC44CW locomotives. Although it is clearly written  “CW44AC” on the side. Hmm. The “AC” means “Alternating Current” power. “44” means 4,400 HP. I am uncertain what “CW” means. If you know, please enlighten me.

If you zoom in you can see the watch on the engineer’s left wrist and the cigarette held between his right index finger and middle finger. If you’re into that level of detail. :

Workin’ on the railroad. All the livelong day.

Here’s the “headlight” from the “hood” end (really the back) of locomotive #466, another AC44CW we saw another week:

AC44CW from the “hood” end

I see neat looking bugs at the river. They look a lot better when I’m there; I’m often frustrated with the way my pictures turn out. But they’re adequate. Here’s a moth:

Nice looking moth

This dragonfly was quite far away – as you can see – but it’s a neat picture:

Dragonfly on a wire

Sunday the 17th was another nice morning at the river. I was goofing around a little and here are a few snips of larger pictures. One of clouds reflecting off the water:

Clouds reflecting off the river

One of another obliging spiderweb:

Nice symmetry

And another – did I ever mention I have dogs? – of Mackey’s fur:

Mackey’s sleek fur

Speaking of spiderwebs, look at these, draped across yet-to-ripen blackberries:

Beautiful berries

I never like finishing posts – I just want to keep playing with pictures and writing. But there will be more posts. Since I put a picture of Mackey’s handsome fur, I’ll add one of his smiling face:

Mackey’s smiling face. And kind eyes. I described him to a friend as “not impulsive”; he’s certainly not. Always thinks before he acts. I should take a lesson from him.

And I can’t leave Turner out:

No “off switch”

The pictures of Mackey and Turner were taken in my yard; I still have some tough and thorny but beautiful roses blooming alongside my driveway:

Thorny but beautiful roses

Have a great day,


= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
So, “chop wood, carry water.” More to the point, before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood carry water. In other words – this is, of course, just my interpretation – day-to-day life doesn’t change when we become enlightened. Not a lot of us chop wood these days – although thank goodness my friend Tim still does! – and our water comes from the sink. But we need to keep doing the 21st century equivalent of chopping wood and carrying water, i.e. providing for ourselves and our families.

And at least in my own case, enlightenment itself changes after we become enlightened. I thought that enlightenment was something that, once attained, was here to stay. Because I have moments of what I’m certain are enlightenment, when I’m my best self, when I’m considerate and thoughtful and helpful. Then – whoosh – they vanish. Back to being unenlightened, inconsiderate, thoughtless, unhelpful. That’s why they call it “practice.” Because you have to keep getting back to it.

So – this is so not-black-and-white – enlightenment becomes something we have to keep getting back to all the time. And we have to forgive ourselves – and others – when we’re unenlightened, when they’re inconsiderate, when we’re thoughtless, when they’re unhelpful. And of course it’s practice, practice, practice. And regarding that forgiveness is a quote I may have included in previous posts, from the late Henri Nouwen, a man described in wikipedia as “a Dutch-born Catholic priest and writer who authored 40 books about spirituality.” What Mr. Nouwen said: “Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly.  The hard truth is that all of us love poorly.  We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour – unceasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.” See? We need to forgive and be forgiven. By ourselves as much as by anyone else.

Anyway, pontificating again, I should show more self-discipline. I hope to do another vignette about one of my old pals soon.

Until then, enjoy this first week of summer.

All best,


= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

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, Flowers, Fun, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Trains. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Chop wood, carry water

  1. Mackey looks just like my childhood dog, Toby! He was a pound puppy but we thought he was probably a Belgian sheepdog.

  2. Hi Emily,
    And thanks for the note. Mackey’s a pound puppy too so it’s possible he’s a Belgian sheepdog, but my money’s on a Flat-Coated Retriever. Look at them here:

    I used to have another pound puppy named Nicky; I definitely thought he was a Belgian sheepdog. He looked like Mackey only with pointed ears. Plus he herded everything he laid eyes on; Mackey herds zero. Here’s a picture of Nicky when we were in the Yukon in 2006; it was -26º F:

    Here’s the wikipedia link about Belgians; they have pointy ears, like Nicky, not floppy, like Mackey:

    But it’s anybody’s guess with pound puppies.

    Thanks again for the note and take it easy,


  3. Barbara Mann says:

    Jay– Such a beautiful and calming and happy blog entry!!!!!! Thanks!


    • Hi Barbara –
      And thank you for your kind words! Since I’m constantly working to make myself calm and happy, I suppose it’s only natural it would come through in a blog entry! And I’m rarely calmer or happier than I am at the river with my dogs. We’re so fortunate to have such a superb resource at the heart of our city.

      Thanks again for the note and have a great day,


  4. Anne Adams says:

    Jay I always love your blogs. I always learn something.

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