Above ground swimming pools

22 June, 2014       Above ground swimming pools

I watched a finish line interview with a Race Across America (RAAM) finisher from 2010. Among the first things he mentioned after riding his bicycle across America for eleven days was seeing “kids playing in above ground swimming pools.” I was really moved that that was something that stuck out after all that time – something so inarguably middle America, I found it very touching. That passage comes in at around 1:30 on this 2.5 minute video if you’re interested.

The 2014 Race Across America “officially” ended at 3:00 PM EDT today. As I write this (at around 4:00), about half of the solo entrants have “DNF’d” or “Did Not Finish” for a variety of reasons. The man in that interview is Dex Tooke and he DNF’d in 2010 but came back in 2011 and made it. He wrote an engaging book about his experience called Unfinished Business.

Summer “officially” began yesterday here on the northern half of this planet. Today was the first full day and it’s been cool and pleasant. Turner and Mackey and I had a nice walk at the river this morning to greet the new season. Ev got back late yesterday from a long trip so she stayed home. I didn’t get many great pictures today and the results from this week have been slender. But a few came in well. After over ten years without seeing a single Red-winged Blackbird at Pony Pasture, I’ve now seen them twice this month. The first time I was so surprised I never even got my lens cap off. The second time was Tuesday and I did manage to get the lens cap off, but my picture was rushed. I promise better in the future, but here’s a start:

A little blurry but you can see his whole head

A little blurry but you can see his whole head

Clearer but he's looking away

Clearer but he’s looking away

Growing up in Maryland we saw Red-winged Blackbirds every summer. It turns out they’re very, very common. And my whole life – until I began researching this blog post earlier this week – I thought male and female Red-winged Blackbirds looked the same. But I always want to learn about the birds I’m photographing so I looked them up on Birds of North America (BNA.com). And this is an adult female!:

Adult female Red-winged Blackbird - BNA.com

Adult female Red-winged Blackbird – BNA.com

How many have I seen in my life and had no idea? Amazing. I’ll have to start looking now.

Not to run damselflies into the ground (in a manner of speaking) but I got a better image of a female this week. Here she is:

White spots on her wing tips - so feminine

White spots on her wing tips – so unmistakably  feminine

I’m seeing more and more dragonflies and having more success photographing them. This week I photographed a big green dragonfly called an Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis). Take a look:

Eastern Pondhawk - magnificent

Eastern Pondhawk – magnificent

I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but I’ve now found an accurate way to identify bugs. I’ve mentioned BugGuide.net before. I ended up becoming a registered user of the site – the process is simple. Once registered, you can upload pictures and ask for identification. And within just a couple of hours, someone more knowledgeable – often from somewhere far away – supplies the correct answer. Which is how I learned about Pondhawks. The learning is as fun as taking the picture which is as fun as taking the walk. A very enjoyable experience.

I haven’t yet identified any waterbugs (maybe next week, but don’t count on it). But they’re fun to photograph:

Waterbugs are so much fun to photograph

Waterbugs are so much fun to photograph

Actual living bugs on the surface of the water. This is just too much fun.

Actual living bugs on the surface of the water. This is just too much fun.

In answer to a “how hot was it?” question last week, I could have said “it was so hot the cliff swallows were panting.” That’s precisely what they were doing. Nobody could make this stuff up:

Or perhaps it's a baby waiting for food. But my goodness that was a hot day.

Or perhaps it’s a baby waiting for food. But my goodness that was a hot day.

I’ve also continued to learn a great deal about the weather, often from the books of the late Eric Sloane. He’s written Look at the Sky and tell the Weather, Eric Sloane’s Weather Book, Folklore of American Weather and several more. I look at the sky a lot and the clouds are spectacular this time of year. Here are a couple of pictures of cumulus I’ve taken this week:

Always different, always perfect

Always different, always perfect

As I said on the last one - always different, always perfect

As I said about the last one – always different, always perfect

Ethan and I have been watching a few catalpa trees around town. When I was younger we called them “Indian Cigar trees.” They get long green seed pods on them. There were several at Camp, including a huge one we all referred to as “The Sliding Board Tree.” There’s a big one in front of Epiphany Lutheran Church at 1400 Horsepen Road – you can see it any time. There’s another near the Northside Family YMCA where we ride our bikes. We’ve been watching them carefully but no “Indian Cigars” (those are the seed pods) yet. Then coming home from work Friday I turned left off Parham Road onto Gwinnett and there’s one right there on the southwest corner. With Indian Cigars on it! You can even see the tree on Google Earth but the picture was taken in the fall and  you can’t see the Indian Cigars. Right now they’re new and tiny but here they are:

Catalpa tree with brand new seed pods

Catalpa tree with brand new seed pods

Until next week,



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I’ve mentioned in an earlier post (So startling, 1 June, 2014) John Irving’s assertion that “…before you could write anything, you had to notice something.” I’ve noticed (forgive the confusion here) that: the more I notice something, the more I notice it. I was pretty certain I’d never seen an Ebony Jewelwing in my life and now I see them every trip. It’s just a matter of becoming aware of what’s around. Red-winged Blackbirds too.  


So – does that go for other things? As in, if I notice a nice day or a pretty tree or a pleasant smell, will I begin to notice it more often? And maybe if I pay more attention, that stuff takes up more space in my mind? And maybe if my back hurts but then it goes away, and instead of taking a pain-free back for granted, I begin to say “wow, my back feels good today.” Then if I begin to do that more often, I feel more grateful on a regular basis.


The inverse of that is, of course, if I focus on the things that I don’t enjoy. It’s safe to say that no one enjoys 97º humid days. If cliff swallows are panting, that is just plain uncomfortable. Focusing on it just feels worse. I can’t ignore it. But I could be a roofer. Or spreading asphalt. Oy. I’ll take Ebony Jewelwings and Eastern Pondhawks and Red-wing blackbirds any day.


I’m starting to pay more attention to the fact that my back feels great today and my Red Maple looks spectacular and less attention to the fact that it’s so hot that cliff swallows are panting. I’m feeling better already!  

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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 Birds, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, Rivers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Above ground swimming pools

  1. evzakyoga says:

    Exciting haven’t read it yet on my way home now.


    Evelyn Zak http://www.evelynzak.com


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