Change your evil ways

14 February, 2016            Change your evil ways

I was kicked out of the dorms at VCU for starting a fire then out of VCU itself for my poor academic performance. Late 1979 or early 1980, I’m not sure which. I was eighteen years old and deeply immature even when compared to other eighteen year old males – and that’s saying something. My ways weren’t “evil” – I just like the song Evil Ways by Santana – but I needed to change them. Baby. More at the bottom.

I don’t take enough good pictures to have a “Photo of the Week” but I got a beauty this week – this Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) eating a frog at the eastern edge of  Huguenot Flatwater in Richmond:

Red-shouldered Hawk eating a frog on the banks of the mighty James River

Red-shouldered Hawk eating a frog on the banks of the mighty James River

How that bird located a living amphibian in the frozen wasteland of Richmond this week is beyond me, but I suppose it helps if you have eyes like a hawk.

Alert readers may notice the pictures I normally post are of Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis). The bird pictured above is not quite as common as a Red-tail but is by no means rare. You’ll notice his (possibly her) breast and shoulders are more buff and orange than a Red-tail. I have photographs of the local Red-tails below. Their breasts are mostly white with chocolate speckles. Here’s this week’s Red-tail. I didn’t get beautiful pictures of Red-tails this week, especially not compared with that Red-shoulder. But there was a pair on the tower (it’s a great time of year) and just as I clicked the shutter on yet another marginal image, one began to fly. So here is (I believe) the male still sitting on the tower, an instant after the female took flight. Her wings are on the down-stroke, in the center of the picture, just below the top of the tower:

One Red-tail watching another Red-tail flying off

One Red-tail watching another Red-tail flying off

Birds taking off was the theme for that day. After the hawk flew, I took flight myself and headed home. I rounded a corner and parked again; there was a bluebird gleaming on the branch of a February-bare dogwood. I rolled down my window again and flicked the lens cap off; when the shutter clicked, this is what I came away with: 

Bluebird flying off. Pretty certain I was the only one watching. I like the lichen.

Bluebird flying off. Pretty certain I was the only one watching. I like the lichen.

It’s getting late (a little bit) and I’m going to be cleaning snow off my car in the cold and dark way before sunrise tomorrow morning. And I want to sit in front of this fire for a few minutes before I go to bed. So enjoy (hopefully) these few pictures and this next brief foray into memoir writing. It may come as a surprise unless you’ve known me really well for a really long time. It’s remarkable how life changes. In my own case, fortunately, they’ve all been positive changes – so far! Have a great week,




An empty glass beer pitcher stood on the window sill of my seventh floor VCU dorm  across from Monroe Park. At the time I owned a calcium carbide lamp and a bag of calcium carbide. If you mix calcium carbide with water – say, in an open pitcher – it gives off acetylene gas. It makes a bright, visible torch. In this case, a broad yellow flame about a foot tall. It can be seen from far enough away, as luck would have it, to get you kicked out of the dorms for good. When you grow up enough to be that person’s father (or grandfather – I’m somewhere between those ages now) you realize how fortunate it was that nothing worse happened. To yourself or to anyone else.

They let me hang around VCU for a few more semesters after that, but I was too immature to be an effective college student. So no housing and no school, I chased odd housing and odd jobs around The Fan and around Richmond for a few years before I finally got some traction. It’s been a twisty, twisty path that got me to this desk in front of this computer, editing these photographs and typing. And once in a  while taking a break to put a log in the woodstove and bounce ideas off of Evelyn.

Fortunately I’ve never been in jail and I’ve never hurt anyone badly or hurt myself badly. Except for being hit by a car, which is in a separate, weird category. The more I think about this the more cliched it sounds, but my family and upbringing is what’s gotten me through all this stuff. I got married, I got divorced, I bought a house, I sold a house, I did a lot of stupid stuff but none of it so stupid that I was unable to finally land on my feet. More or less.

I’ve had some twists and turns. More in future blog posts.


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, James River, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Change your evil ways

  1. Gilpin Brown says:

    I absolutely LOVE the red-shouldered!


    • Thanks Gilpin! I was in the right place at the right time with my lens cap off. But I learned that red-shouldered hawks are MUCH more tolerant of photographers than red-tails are. That red-shouldered just stood around and let me keep moving and clicking, moving and clicking, until I was only ~15′ away. And it still didn’t fly! What a great day that was. I took >100 pictures of that bird alone! I may post another image from that “session” next week. Have a great day,


  2. Jean Yerian says:

    I well remember your come-back, when I happened to be fortunate enough to be teaching the adult-student version of VCU 101. Glad our paths crossed then, Jay. You’re a remarkable guy yourself and also a member of a remarkable family. Bravo for that recovery, but also for the work you’ve dedicated yourself to and the learner’s curiosity about every living thing that you’ve never lost.

    • Hi Jean! _I_ was the fortunate one to come into contact with you and VCU101. That REALLY helped me get the traction I needed to have success in my undergraduate experience and to follow through with graduate school. It was another instance of my being in the right place at the right time! And whether my curiosity is a result of my upbringing or my DNA, it flows directly from my remarkable family. Thank goodness! Thank you for your wonderful teaching and for your kind words and have a great day,


  3. Franklin Maphis says:

    I was a late bloomer myself and didn’t even make it to college until I was 30. In some ways, I got behind but in others I came out ahead. I learned the most from my mistakes and when I finally did make it to college, it was with a well thought out idea of what I really wanted to do. It’s hard for me to envision or comprehend the immaturity you speak about. I really have no idea how old you were when I knew you as a camp counselor. You could tell me 17 or 35 and I’d believe you, I was at an age where anyone who could drive a car was a grown ass person. I will say you always seemed mature to me. Very capable and skilled in many areas and very knowledgable on many subjects. Not that one would have needed to be a genius to impress me at the time…..but your description of yourself surprises me, and I appreciate your honesty and great writing.

    • Hi Franklin,
      And thanks for the note. Camp, as you’re aware, was such a different place. I was so in my element at Camp, I never lacked confidence. Plus I always had my family around me, plus Camp was like a family itself. All of this crazy stuff I’ve been writing about happened in my “first round” of college, straight out of high school; I was woefully ill-equipped. Intellectually I could do it but I had zero self-discipline. When I went back ten or so years later, after my accident, in my late twenties, I was in a much better position. It’s odd, now that I’m 54, to look back and understand how nothing could have happened without all the other stuff happening first. But no one would have chosen any of it. Except for going to Camp! I hope my writing evolves some – I’m enjoying it so far.

      Thanks again for the note and for your kind words and have a great day,


      PS I don’t want anyone to misread my phrase “nothing could have happened without all the other stuff happening first” and think I meant “everything happens for a reason.” I do NOT believe that everything happens for a reason. Things just happen. Life goes on.

  4. Pingback: Some weeks are better than others | NEWFAZE

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