Terrific whistlers

13 January, 2013    Terrific whistlers

My Dad was a terrific whistler. Much more important, he always knew that you were a terrific whistler too. Even if he’d never met you – even if you didn’t think you were a terrific whistler – my Dad just knew you were. Back to that after the pictures.

As I enjoy doing, I’ll post some pictures I’ve taken since my last post. Which was before Christmas – yikes! I’ll write some about Dad’s whistling at the end of this. To give you a heads up, whistling is a metaphor. First, enjoy (I hope) these pictures:

I’m hoping I can insert this video. I sent it to my mother and my siblings the night after Dad died. There was no text, just this video with the subject line “Another direct influence of Dad’s”

Dad got us started with woodstoves at our cabin when we grew up. And we all went on to have woodstoves in our homes. Kevin wrote back “That is a cool metaphor – lively, animated, brings warmth, pulls people to it.” Which Dad definitely did. I wrote back to what I’d been thinking that evening, the night after Dad died. I wrote “I’d gone out to turn the fire down for the night and, in the way of fires, I couldn’t look away for a long time. I thought about how much that came from Dad.”

My brothers and sisters and my Mom wrote Dad’s obituary and this was the final sentence: “Mike’s kindness, sense of humor, curiosity, love of reading, and love of animals lives on in his children and grandchildren, but we will still miss him dearly.”

Since a lot of this is a Dad-themed post, I’m re-posting a picture from two posts ago [Mostly pictures]. There’s a turtle picture in there my Dad would have loved. Dad was always fond of a poet named Ogden Nash. One poem Dad recited often went like this:

The Turtle
The turtle lives twixt plated decks
Which practically conceal its sex.
I think it clever of the turtle
In such a fix to be so fertile.

Dad would have loved this picture:

Twixt plated decks...

Twixt plated decks…

Anyway. My obligatory river picture – although it’s not an obligation. I just love to go to the river, and it’s impossible to take a bad picture. I took this one when Evelyn and I were there on Christmas Day:


We saw a squirrel up a tree as we were leaving a few days later. I never got a picture I really loved but I like the blue sky background and the bright sun. And the squirrel’s expression. Which I encourage the viewer to interpret:

Interpret this squirrel's expression.

Interpret this squirrel’s expression.

We had a nice New Year’s Day hike too. I didn’t get a ton of beautiful pictures but there was one colorful piece of fungus:

Colorful fungus

Colorful fungus

I don’t always know what’s popular in my posts (unless I get pictures of an eagle eating a catfish) but sometimes people just walk up to me and tell me things out of the blue. A couple of friends recently told me they like trains. Guy friends, of course. Some of us never grow out of this. I’m fortunate that my occupation allows me to look at lots of trains. And my natural curiosity (see the final sentence in my Dad’s obituary) pushes me to learn a little bit more about them. Of course there’s this cool thing called google that helps a lot if you’re the curious sort. This is a CSX ES44AH near Brown’s Island on January 2. Another ES44 right behind it, and 100 (more or less) loaded coal cars at 100 (approximately) tons apiece behind that:

GE ES44 locomotive

GE ES44AH locomotive

My friend Ethan showed me a new spot at the river on Monday; I’d never seen it from here. It was interesting to look from this different angle at a different time of day. A little bit darker than I’m accustomed to:

Dark and pretty river

Dark and pretty river

We hiked down a little and came to a sunnier area. Seagulls were enjoying (I presume) the sun. This one was looking quizzically – again, I presume – as we looked at him. Or her:

A quizzical seagull expression. Like the squirrel, difficult to interpret.

A quizzical seagull expression. Like the squirrel, difficult to interpret. An inscrutable seagull.

This is an unfavorite train picture. I like to take pictures “cab forward” and this is “hood forward.” But about ¾ (roughly) of CSX coal trains are pulled by GE locomotives and this is a GM locomotive, so why not. The locomotive is dirty and the light isn’t great but it’s out of the ordinary for what we see down there:

GEM EMD60 locomotive

GE EMD60 locomotive

Anyway, I wanted to get a few pictures up to begin 2013. It’s hard to keep up the quality after getting those eagle pictures on my last post! But there’s always something rewarding at the river. And I hope you enjoy my little “terrific whistlers” blurb here; it’s been fun. I hope to put up another post soon! Until then, all best,


= = = = = = = = =

Terrific whistlers

In J.D. Salinger’s 1951 book Catcher in the Rye, the main character was Holden Caulfield. He spoke about a former roommate named Harris Macklin. Caulfield spent lots of time describing how boring Harris Macklin was and all his bad habits. “He was one of the biggest bores I ever met” and “he had one of those very raspy voices” and “he never said anything you wanted to hear in the first place.” But Caulfield went on to say add “The sonuvabitch could whistle better than anybody I ever heard.” “He could take something very jazzy, like ‘Tin Roof Blues,’ and whistle it so nice and easy”. The paragraph ends with Caulfield (Salinger) saying “So I don’t know about bores. … They don’t hurt anybody, most of them, and maybe they’re secretly all terrific whistlers or something. Who the hell knows? Not me.”

Salinger was saying, and my father lived by this, that you can’t judge us by the face we show the world. That we all have some sterling quality that most people are unaware of. In Harris Macklin’s case, he appeared to be a boring person, and perhaps he was, but he was also a terrific whistler.

And on his surface, my dad was the most average guy ever. But he had hidden talents like no one you’ve ever met. He’d rent a houseboat and take the whole family – all seven of us – out on the Chesapeake Bay or Smith Mountain Lake for days at a time. He’d take all of us camping. He built from scratch a fort in our backyard in Maryland when we were kids. It had two stories and swinging windows. He knew all about birds. Photography. Computers. He had a collection of like two hundred toy ambulances. Dogs. Trains. He knew a little bit about a whole lot of things, and a lot about many others. All these great qualities that no one who met him knew about. That’s what I think of when I think of terrific whistling. You can know a person really well, or think you do, but there’s so much more that you don’t know. Dad just automatically assumed – because it’s true – that everyone has hidden gifts. And when he met you, he’d love to hear about yours. Because that was how he learned. You might not even think about your hidden gifts, but if you spoke with my Dad a while, you’d start talking about them. What a gift that was – Dad’s eagerness and ability to learn from everyone he met.

= = = = = = = = =

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

11 Responses to Terrific whistlers

  1. Cathy says:

    Love your pics and the meaningful words surrounding. It’s good to be reminded that everyone is a whistler if you listen, a message I’ll take with me to work tomorrow. Thanks for writing, Jay.

    • Hi Cathy,
      And thanks for writing back! I’m glad you enjoyed my pics and writing. Often when I write this it’s because I need to be reminded myself! Glad you were able to take that message to work. Thanks again for writing and have a great day,


  2. Neal Short says:

    Jay ,thanks for the great pics and maybe we will run into each other at the river until then I will keep on whistling my way through this crazy maze we call Life even if it is in the post morbid state of mind my fellow Survivor . . .

    • Hey Neal! How’s it going, and great to see you at the river a while back! I’m looking forward to seeing you again. Always great to see my fellow Survivors also whistling their way through LIfe! Have a great day and I hope to see you again soon,


  3. Evie says:

    As an unacknowledged female train-lover, I must say that ALL of your train photos are fun to see – even the ones you don’t quite like. The seagull looks quizzical, though (s)he may also be flirting with you!

    • Hi Evie!
      Thanks for your response – always great to hear from a female train-lover! I agree the seagull did look quizzical. Although I’ll admit to not being a connoisseur of seagull facial expressions. Or gender, for that matter! It’s possible that he (or she) looked a. quizzical, b. flirtatious, c. both, d. neither or e. something entirely different (see “inscrutable”). Have a great day, and I hope to put more train (and other pictures) up here soon. Thanks again for your response and have a great day,


  4. Barbara Mann says:

    Jay– After reading this blog and seeing your photos— I know now what I have not quite formulated over these years: You really should publish a book! Your blogs, with their reflections and photos, are so full of life, becoming, love, thought, wonder and excitment on ‘the journey’! Just so vital — and the river is your metaphor for your life.

  5. Great to hear from you Barbara! And thank you for your kind words! The thought of publishing a book is crossing my mind more often. In about 6 weeks this blog will be two years old, and gives me a large base to draw on. I have to consider the next step. Or, to be more assertive, TAKE the next step. We’ll have to talk about it! I am open to suggestions. I hope we’ll talk soon. Also, we had mentioned going to visit a friend together – we need to talk about that too! Have a great day and I’ll talk with you soon,


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