Attics Of My Life

27 January, 2013    Attics Of My Life

Apologies to Robert Hunter and Grateful Dead fans. This post is inspired by the title and concept of the song Attics of My Life, but follows it only in spirit. I think Robert Hunter wouldn’t mind. The video (if you click that link) is from a Berkeley Benefit show on 24 September, 1994.

I haven’t taken any pictures I love lately, but I’ve lucked out more than once. If you take enough pictures you get lucky occasionally. I was at Pony Pasture when the river flooded a little bit a few weeks ago. I took probably a dozen pictures of this heron; one came out relatively well:

Heron in a tree

Heron in a tree

Some of the flooding was from melted snow. The high water messed up some  regular game trails and grazing areas. I saw two big does sprinting around near Charlie’s Bridge. They were really far away when I snapped this quick picture. I had to crop it way down to get this, which is why it’s so blurry. It’s still a neat picture:

Deer dashing through the park

Deer dashing through the park

When the weather is like this, I keep a fire going most of the time. Thanks to my friend Tim! This isn’t my current woodpile, but one I had a year or two ago. My current pile is about ⅔ the size of this:


I had the good fortune of finally meeting Evie’s mother and sister. Evie’s dad used to cut a lot of wood too. Unfortunately he passed away around ten years ago. Evelyn’s mother was kind enough to give me this superb poster:

"Every man looks at his woodpile with a kind of affection" - Henry David Thoreau

“Every man looks at his woodpile with a kind of affection” – Henry David Thoreau

Speaking of lucky photographs I’ve taken. This morning (Sunday, 27 January, 2013) Turner and Mackey and I were hiking at Pony Pasture. There was a little bunch of ducks and geese way across the river paddling around feeding off the bottom. I took a few images because I hoped to get one I enjoyed. Sometimes I’m zoomed way in like this – this picture was taken at 140x zoom – and the image on the camera isn’t clear. It’s not until I get home and look on my computer that I see things I was unaware of. In this case, the little brown duck on the right. The big giant one is of course a Canada goose and the other one is an unmistakable male mallard. Certainly the two most common waterfowl in Virginia. After a closer  look  I saw that pretty little girl in the lower right. She’s a female Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus). They’re not particularly rare, but I don’t often see them at Pony Pasture. And the males I’m sure if I see one I assume it’s a bufflehead. This time of year we have zillions of buffleheads and they’re not  dissimilar. Here she is:

Female Hooded Merganser at lower right

Female Hooded Merganser at lower right

Anyway. Speaking of Thoreau. And speaking of heating with wood. I was hiking at Pony Pasture a year or two ago and saw this written on a rock. Many of us associate this word (and this concept) with Thoreau:

A caption would only complicate things.

A caption would only complicate things.

= = = = = = = = = =
Attics of My Life

I thought of “Attics of my Life” a while back as more odd fragments of my upbringing continued to drift up in my memory. I’ve been in my attic here (on Westbury Drive) (and in attics of other places I’ve lived) and always find neat old things. Things that stir up interesting old memories. My relationship with my father is still stirring up lots of memories in the figurative attics of my life. Some will disappear forever, like the stuff you left in the attic of that house you moved out of all those years ago. That stuff’s gone forever. It wasn’t real important anyway. But some will always be with me. Like that hooded merganser. The first thing that came to mind when I saw that picture this morning, inexplicably, was “hooded merganser.” Hooded mergansers haven’t been in the conversation of my life in decades. So I started looking them up and they looked nothing like the bird in the picture and I said oh well, I was wrong. But I was looking at pictures of males – which look like buffleheads. Nothing like that odd little brown duck. Several dead-ends later, I found a picture of a female hooded merganser – and there it was. Dad always knew a lot about birds, and in my most impressionable years, he collected hand carved duck decoys. And I guess somewhere in there I picked up that name. I like the way “hooded merganser” sounds – the way those five syllables unfold – and it just stuck there in my head for all these years. In the attic, you may say.

In the future I’ll write more about where I came from and where I am now, though I have zero idea where I’m headed. I have a lot of old attics. My mother and father and two brothers and two sisters are the foundation my life is built on. People who know me well have heard my say that the “big three” influences of my upbringing were “Camp, the cabin and Gonzaga.” On April 5 of 1988 I had my accident and spent five days in a coma and was given a second chance. With my family, Camp, the cabin and Gonzaga formed the foundation for what followed.  Working for two years at Green Top. Finishing (finally) my BS in Psychology, then my MS in Rehabilitation Counseling. Ten years doing Animal Assisted Therapy at MCV, ten Ironman finishes. In 2006 a solo winter driving adventure with my dogs to the Yukon Territory in far northwestern Canada. To volunteer at a 1,000 mile sled dog race, the Yukon Quest.  Starting my own business spending time with people with disabilities. Which has taught me as much as most of the other stuff combined.

The trajectory of my life is far steadier now than it’s ever been. I know from my own life history how much of an illusion that steadiness can be. But – the present feels great. A calm place to continue…

= = = = = = = = = =

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.
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8 Responses to Attics Of My Life

  1. Andrew M says:

    Excellent post, Jay! Even though I was much younger when my dad died, I still, to this day, have things that show up in my “attic”.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Andrew! I never knew your dad, just heard stories about you when you were going into the Corp. Climbing up on the top balcony of some hotel, a long time ago. Eating MRE hamburgers without cooking them or adding water. I remember having brunch at your mom’s house with all of you something like ten years ago. Those attics just keep filling up! Take it easy,


      PS I also ride my bike past a vet’s office at the corner of Fairground Road and Maidens Road in Goochland and I think some of your dad’s old equipment is there. Wild.

  2. Clare T says:

    reading your posts give such brilliance and hope for earthlings. thank you

    • Wow! Thank YOU for the kind response! I get whatever brilliance and hope I may have from, as I know you’re aware, the river. I hope to see you there soon! Take it easy,


  3. Evie says:

    Another great post! We find often find treasures in attics. And what a lucky duck – getting that shot of a hooded merganser

    • Thank you! Most of the treasures in my current literal attic are books but of course they’re all treasures. And I was very fortunate to get the picture of the merganser – I didn’t even know she was there when I took the picture! Thanks again for the reply and I’ll talk with you soon,


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