A Starbucks™ koan

30 August, 2015                 A Starbucks™ koan

Barista at Starbucks Huguenot and River Road: “Can I get a drink started for you?”

My companion – he often speaks in koans: “Cold hot chocolate!” 

The best known koan is “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Dictionary definition: “a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment.”

I just read about koans. An excerpt: “The student of Zen is supposed to meditate on this riddle until some degree of insight or enlightenment occurs. The tricky part is that there is no right answer.” See that? Asking for a “cold hot chocolate” isn’t like asking for a grande latte – there’s a right answer for that. The listener has to interpret “cold hot chocolate.”

This Starbucks is highly evolved. The meaning of “cold hot chocolate” was opaque to me. What does that even mean? Quite paradoxical. But in addition to being enlightened, the people who work at this location are highly trained professionals. So of course when they served this, it was precisely what my friend had asked for:

A Starbucks koan - a.k.a. "cold hot chocolate"

A Starbucks koan – a.k.a. “cold hot chocolate”

I mean, seriously, look at that – how could it not be the right thing? That’s the right answer to any question. Caveat emptor: if you go there and ask for a cold hot chocolate (or a Starbucks koan), I can’t guarantee that’s what they’ll serve. Recall above, “there is no right answer.” They may even give you the sound of one hand clapping. But they’ll hook you up – that location is terrific beyond description. Just give them an idea and they’ll figure something out. And you’ll enjoy it – try it and see if I’m not right. I’ve been coming there since the doors first opened in 2001 and I’ve had enough coffee to float an entire fleet of aircraft carriers. Every cup served with a smile. And consumed with an even bigger smile. 

True story about the service at Starbucks Huguenot and River Road: the response when my buddy asked for a refill for his “cold hot chocolate”: “I’m on it like a bonnet.” How could I not love that place?

Today’s the last Sunday in August and although I can hardly grasp this fact, Tuesday is the first day of September! Oy. But this is the last Sunday of my birthday month so here are a couple other pictures. My late father’s birthday was August 17, six days before mine. His favorite color was orange. We had an orange-themed memorial service for him not long after he died in late 2012 and my brothers and sisters and I each spoke about him. One of my brothers opined that the reason my dad liked hunting was because he was required by law to wear orange, a color you don’t get many other opportunities to wear. Especially not at the Pentagon, where dad worked. It’s funny the little things that tweak your memory even now almost three years later. I was taking pictures in the garden at Portico Restaurant a week ago today after my own birthday celebration. Here are a few favorites: 

One lovely orange flower

One lovely orange flower

Another lovely orange flower

Another lovely orange flower

Well orange you special!

Well orange you special!

Also, another friend of mine had a birthday this week – she turned thirty-five. Her name is Marcia and she is wise beyond her years. She and a few other friends and I had lunch Thursday. One friend made a cake that makes the above photographed cold hot chocolate seem low-cal. She uses lots of butter and even more chocolate and yikes. It is better than anything. I generally have good self-control. Until it comes to that cake.

I digress. My friend Marcia gave me this card:

What a perfect card

What a perfect card

Inside is equally or more perfect.

Inside is equally or more perfect.

A helmet. How do people even find these things? I suspect they just “attract” them. Things happen that way. It’s peculiar.

More predictable in every way is the fact that I’m going to put a couple of our local raptors in here – as long as they’re in town. And there were both Red-tailed hawks and ospreys visible in zip code 23229 this week. Here’s a Red-tail. Look at those feet. I’ve never seen one perched in this position:

Isn't that a crazy angle? I'm getting better at anticipating where they'll show up. Look at those feet.

Isn’t that a crazy angle? I’m learning to anticipate where they’ll show up. Look closely at those feet. This never (for me) gets boring. 

And here’s an osprey. Not my best photographic work, but I’m recording. Taking data. I am not an artist. The ospreys and the sun don’t always cooperate to make lovely pictures. Also I think this is a female due to the band on her chest – but not positive. Also I think she is hungry – because her “crop” looks empty. Like a balloon with no air:   

Osprey on nest in bad light. Hungry osprey too I'm thinking.

Osprey on nest in bad light. Hungry osprey too I’m thinking.

 My zen friend and I take our cold hot chocolates and go to Brown’s Island and watch trains. We don’t “get” a train every week, but this week we did. You can tell this CSX coal train is parked because the headlight is off. These are both 4,400 HP General Electric CW44AC  locomotives:

Parked coal train.

Parked coal train.

I’ve hung around train tracks since I was a little kid. Mostly the old Norfolk and Western (now Norfolk Southern) tracks near our cabin in Page County, Virginia. My knowledge of nature was both fostered and fed hiking up and down the train tracks. Last Fall at the CSX tracks near Brown’s Island I noticed for the first time the Osage oranges growing on the edge. I thought they were a late-season fruit but I took this picture on August 26. These are softball sized, to give you a reference: 

Osage orange. Very, very beautiful

Osage orange. Very, very beautiful. If it fell off and hit you in the head you would wince mightily. They’re big and heavy and hard.

This week the river has been low and warm. This afternoon it was at 3.5’ at the Westham Gauge, just upstream from the Huguenot Bridge, on the north bank of the river. My friend Ethan and I waded across the river on Monday afternoon. It was 3.9’ deep then. This is where we crossed. We waded in just to the right of that green bush on the riverbank. While we were “wading,” at one point it was up to my neck! But we made it all the way across. We climbed out and stood on those big flat rocks on the far shore. It was an experience unlike any I can readily recall. This is at the Riverside Meadows Greenspace:   

Our gorgeous James River - what a gift

Our gorgeous James River – what a gift

Speaking of the river – another predictable theme in my blog posts – Evelyn and Mackey and Turner and I had a nice hike this morning at Pony Pasture. I was watching the dogs and she was watching the wildlife – and alertly noticed this Southern Leopard Frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus) crouched in the leaf litter on the river’s edge: 

Well camouflaged Leopard Frog - good eye Evie!

Well camouflaged Leopard Frog – good eye Evie!

I have a nice (in my opinion) batch of pictures this week. But I’ve used a bunch of them so I’ll close with this pretty damselfly from this morning. I suspect this damselfly would make a tasty meal for that Leopard Frog: 

They're such great subjects for photography

They’re such great subjects to photograph. Cooperative and photogenic. Supermodels of the insect world. Never seen a fat one or one with bad skin. And look at those big eyes! 

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 Birds, Dogs, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, Insects, James River, koans, ospreys, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Starbucks, Trains and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Starbucks™ koan

  1. Jackie says:

    Sorry it took so long to reply! Loved it!
    Wish I was there ! XO

  2. Hi Jackie! Great to hear from you, as always. We wish you were here too! Come visit again soon! It doesn’t even have to be a surprise! Have a great day, thanks for the note, talk with you soon, XO,


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