What a present!

28 December, 2014 What a present!  

Ev went to spend Christmas week with her family in NJ so I was here by myself! My friend Pat and his family invited me to have dinner with them here in Richmond and I gladly accepted. And was well-rewarded – it was remarkable. The company was the best part but the food was out of this world. Including but not limited to a childhood favorite called Yorkshire Pudding. I think the last time I ate it was around 1974 or so and it was as great as I remembered it.

But Christmas Day I had to myself and it was gorgeous and Turner and Mackey and I drove up to the Appalachian Trail just west of Charlottesville, VA. From here specifically we drove west on Interstate 64 and got off at Exit 99, where Skyline Drive ends and the Blue Ridge Parkway begins. If you’re driving west on 64 from Richmond, VA, when you get to Exit 99, the Shenandoah National Park is on your right and the George Washington National Forest is on your left. 

We headed south on the Blue Ridge Parkway about six miles to the Humpback Rocks parking area. A high pressure system was blowing in and clearing the clouds away. Humpback Rocks is in a notch on the ridge and the wind was blowing a gale through there. I asked a woman to take our picture before we set out on our hike. Here are a few in quick succession (keep your eye on my hat):





As soon as we hiked over the ridge the wind disappeared – and so did all the people. For the entire hike. I let Mackey and Turner run the entire time. We hiked out of the parking lot around 10:30 and got back up there around 2:30. If I live to be a hundred and hike every day I will never get tired of being in the Blue Ridge Mountains. In any season. Christmas Day was clear and crisp and blue and every moment was a treat. Best Christmas “present” I ever had. 

Since I’ve spent so much time on myEvery living thingproject, I haven’t paid as much attention to what’s inorganic. At this time of year on the Blue Ridge, there is granite in view in every direction. I’ve loved looking at it since we first bought the cabin in 1974. Here’s Mackey and Turner taking a breather in front of a large formation:

Great dogs, great day, great big piece of granite.

Great dogs, great day, great big piece of granite.

Mackey even found this naturally formed and naturally filled granite water bowl. Ivory and Nicky used to drink out of the same bowl every time we took this hike. Which was twenty times or more:

Terrific water bowl. Unless you need to carry it with you.

Terrific water bowl. Unless you need to carry it with you. 

In a couple of spots I found streaks of quartz in the granite:

Granite with a streak of quartz.

Granite with a streak of quartz.

Wait – a fact I just learned. I love facts. You can never know too many. Until I began researching the last picture – on 28 December, 2014 – I thought quartz was a rock. But quartz is a mineral. Fifty three years old and until today I thought granite and quartz were both rocks. Now I know granite is a rock and quartz is a mineral. I wonder what else I don’t know? I’ll find out in 2015 and get back to you.

I know this is some lovely green moss – although I don’t (yet) know what kind:

Moss on granite

Moss on granite

Here is another moss. There is so much to know: 

More moss - so much to see

More moss – so much to see. And learn. 

Look how much different stuff is in the next picture. It looks boring (to me) at first glance. But there’s moss and lichen and granite and trees and leaves and sunlight and sky and dirt and even Turner’s in the background there, just above the rock, to the right. At least in my own case, I have to spend a couple of hours outdoors alone before this stuff begins to drift into my awareness:

Nice mix.

Nice mix.

 I got lucky and walked around a bend in the trail just as the sun was shining on the back of this fern:

I took 230 (!) pictures on that hike. Some came out lucky like this one.

I took 230 (!) pictures on that hike. Some came out lucky like this one.

Of all the places I enjoyed seeing granite, my favorite (perhaps unsurprisingly) was in the creek:

The water is wearing the granite away. VERY slowly.

The water is wearing the granite away. VERY slowly.

 Ivory and Nicky and I camped in and around that area for years and years and years. When you’re hiking with dogs (or when you’re not), it is a huge plus to have reliable year round running water. You still have to filter it. But if you’ve ever gone on a long hike, see how much a filter weighs compared to water.

There’s another significant benefit at that creek – the Paul C. Wolfe Shelter:

The Paul C. Wolfe Shelter

The Paul C. Wolfe Shelter 

If you’re just day hiking like we were, it’s a great stop. There’s a picnic table inside (you can just see it in the picture) and plenty of room to sit down. If it’s pouring rain it’s the perfect stop. Just up the hill is an outhouse with the most scenic view I’ve ever seen from an outhouse – now that I think about it, it’s the only time I’ve been in an outhouse with a view.

 This is another benefit of being there – notice the two beautiful words in the upper left hand corner: 

"No Service" - music to my ears, in a manner of speaking.

“No Service” – music to my ears, in a manner of speaking.

You can turn your phone off while you’re there or better yet not bring it with you. But I use it so much to take pictures and take notes, I like to bring it. But I love for no one to be able to call. And to not be able to call anyone.

We saw lots of attractive shelf fungus on our hike:

Nice piece of shelf fungus. I don't know much about it. Yet.

Nice piece of shelf fungus. I don’t know much about it. Yet. 

And no shortage of graceful mountain laurel. Which I am also learning about: 

Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifolia

Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifolia

The more I learn about all this, the more I learn how much there still is to learn. But it doesn’t get boring.

I’ll close with a picture (another picture, I know) of Mackey and Turner. They are very fond of one another. And I of them. Have a great week,


They are good, good buddies. To each other and to me.

They are good, good buddies. To each other and to me.


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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10 Responses to What a present!

  1. Jacqueline Zaklasnik says:

    Looks like a Beautiful Day!

    • Thanks Jackie! It WAS a beautiful day – the only thing missing was your sister! Mackey and Turner and Dash and I are happy she’s home. Happy New Year! And say Happy New Year to Michael and your mother!

  2. Clare T says:

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! this post actually made me cry a little. Humpback Rocks is where i would always go with my young children, and later with my dogs……i remember being at some of those photo’d spots…..such wonderful, memorable times and as you said, something always to learn. thank you for sharing your Christmas hike…….looking forward to more adventures in 2015.


    • Hi Clare!
      Nice to hear from you, as always. And Merry Christmas (belated) and Happy New Year to you too! I am also looking forward to more adventures sin 2015. You should go back up to Humpback Rocks – it’s a short drive and a beautiful hike. LOTS of dogs up there! Have a great day and a Happy New Year,


  3. Pat and Megan says:

    So glad we could help make your day – thanks for joining us for dinner Jay!

  4. Katie Phalen says:

    You know the ferns in those pics are…wait for it…Christmas ferns, right?

    • Christmas ferns – what are the odds? High I suspect. But a very fun fact! I actually photographed a few different ferns but I loved the glow from that back light. Thanks for the tipoff! And Happy New Year!

  5. Nadia Khoury says:

    Love your blog! I’m the girl who took a picture for you with your dogs at Pony Pasture a couple days ago, and I’m so happy you told me about your blog! You’re such an inspiration ❤ namaste

  6. Pingback: Happy New Year! | NEWFAZE

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