Life goes on

21 February, 2016            Life goes on

My mom recalls me living in a box. One of my siblings wrote “Didn’t you once spend a night in jail for punching someone?” Reactions to my last blog post were varied. We all have different memories. Thirty years is a long time. Life goes on. More at the end of this thin blog post.

I drafted this post with the title “Slim pickings” because I have had yet another un-brilliant week photographically. Things were so bleak today that when I went in the grocery store, these daffodils were the brightest things I’d seen since I woke up. I could not resist:

Brightest thing I've seen today. Beautiful!

Brightest thing I’ve seen today. Beautiful!

But our first hyacinths are nudging their way out of the ground. Hopefully next week they’ll be showier. Here’s what they looked like today when we got home from the river:  

Let the hyacinths begin:

Let the hyacinths begin:

It was warm and breezy and overcast this morning when Evelyn and Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I hiked at Pony Pasture. There are lots of Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) calling now. This is how they sounded in the field at Pony Pasture this morning. Spoiler alert – there are no actual pictures of Spring Peepers visible in this video. Only their inimitable sound, quite possibly the signature first sound of Spring in this area. The birds won’t go into full song for a couple more weeks:

This was about five minutes walk later in the woods. Same sound, different background:

Although they’re amphibians, Spring Peepers can stand temperatures down to around 20º Fahrenheit for five days. Which is a good thing since it will probably turn cold again!

I don’t think the third week in February qualifies as Spring in anyone’s definition. But if you’re paying close attention, it’s approaching steadily. We could get another harsh cold snap or even more snow, but the weather’s improving. In late December, the sun was only up for about nine and a half hours. Tomorrow it will be up for over eleven hours.

Northern Flickers (Colaptes auratus) aren’t migratory in this area, but you don’t see them every day. So it still surprised me to see one flicking through a lawn near DS Freeman High School Friday morning when I was on my way to work. Flickers are woodpeckers, but my main bird guide (Cornell Lab of Ornithology Birds of North America Online) refers to it as a “primarily ground-foraging woodpecker.” Which explains its placement in this image:

northern flicker 01

Male Northern Flicker. You can tell it’s a male by the black spot below its eye. 

Thursday as my friend Ethan and I were driving past Freeman HS, four Red-tails flew over! That’s the second time in 2016 I’ve looked up in that area and seen four Red-tails. Two landed on the tower and we took a couple of pictures but they were in shadow and the  light wasn’t great. They stayed up there, and we drove around to the opposite side, where they were in full sun. Suddenly – I’ve never seen one do this before – one of the Red-tails swooped down and landed in a tree next to the street where we were parked! It was on Ethan’s side and the window was open. So I handed him the camera and he took this excellent shot:

Terrific Red-tail picture by Ethan - excellent job!

Terrific Red-tail picture by Ethan – excellent job!

Way to go Ethan!

The story at the end of last week’s blog post prompted a few memories from some of my family members. It was a long time ago and our memories have diverged a bit – but just a bit. Too bad my dad is not here to weigh in. Here’s a brief addition to last week’s story.

Until next week (hopefully with better photography),



Life goes on

My mom recalled me living in a cardboard box following my untimely exit from the cushy dormitory life at VCU. My sister recalled that I spent “a night in jail for punching someone,” though she did question her own memory. I recalled living in a very, very run down section of Richmond at that time – my options, in hindsight, were narrowed a great deal by the bad choices I’d made. The house, or the room, where I lived on West Main Street in the Fan, had no closet. Which seems strange, as I recall. But I have a very crisp recollection of using a large box for my closet. I think that’s where mom got the memory of me living in a cardboard box. But who is to say these many years later. No high definition cell phone photography way back then.

I was still working in the VCU Cafeteria when I left the dorms. I was a “student manager” and I had to wear a shirt and tie to work. So my shirts had to hang on hangers in a closet. Next door to my new apartment was a florist. And they’d leave empty flower boxes out in the alley at night, boxes that I assume once held long-stemmed roses. Because they were tall, sturdy cardboard boxes, lined with sprayed in styrofoam. Evelyn wondered if they’d smelled like roses. They didn’t, but they did smell like a cold greenhouse. Fresh, for lack of a more precise adjective, and very plant-like and alive. Not flowery, not precisely, but like the smell of photosynthesis, if there is such a thing. Like a freshly cut lawn, only not as grassy.

Memory is imprecise – so imprecise – but I recall the boxes being maybe 36” long by 18” by 18”. Open on one of the long sides; that’s where the people in the store took the roses out. Or so I imagined. I stood the box on its end and cut a hole in each side of the box and put a stick through it and voilà – a place to put my shirts on hangers.

I was not by any means living large in that era – I’m happy I made it through unscathed. Between Camp and the cabin, I’d learned that it didn’t take much to get by. Since I worked at the cafeteria I had all the food I wanted. Although my apartment was run down – I had to use a box for a closet – I had a safe place to sleep at night, and at that time, that was plenty. It’s funny that a few decades later I’d take the dogs hiking on the Appalachian Trail and spend the night out – with about the same level of surplus stuff. 

I’ve got more surplus stuff now (this computer, for instance) but I like living on a slender budget. But – true story – my closets now are excellent, I don’t use boxes any more. And I have cedar hangers – they’re just fantastic.

Have a great week!  



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, daffodils, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, hyacinths, James River, Northern flicker, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Life goes on

  1. Jackie says:

    You’ve come along way from the box! LOL love your home ! It’s great and
    welcoming, XO

    • Hi Jackie! You should have seen my home BEFORE your sister worked her magic on it – SHE’S the one who’s made it great and welcoming! I agree, our home is excellent and welcoming – I love to be here. Come visit soon!

  2. tdolson says:

    Thanks for posting the Peepers : )

    • I’m glad you enjoyed those videos (audios, really). Those Peepers are w/o a doubt the signature first sound of Spring. Soon it will be birds, birds, bird, and flowers, it’s all going to be rolling out. But the sound of Spring Peepers are when it’s all kicking off. Enjoy – and thanks for the note!

      Have a great day,


  3. Barbara says:

    No surprise about the lack of closets in a Fan house! People used Armoires for closets at the time the Fan houses were built. Even today in un-renovated homes of that period, you will usually find no closets! I had a beautiful large Flicker at my bird feeders over the weekend – along with Chickadees, Slate Juncos, about 10 Cardinals, Bluejays, titmice, Brown Thrashers, Mourning Doves, Eastern Towhees, Blackbirds, and loads of assorted LBJs (Little Brown Jobs – Sparrows). From time to time, the Hawk makes a swoop to find a meal – of squirrel, usually. I had a Barred Owl on my deck one night recently too! I have even had deer at my bird feeders!

  4. Hi Barbara! I never knew about lack of closets in the Fan! I thought I was mis-recollecting and I’d lived in a dining room or something. Exciting that you had a Flicker at your feeders. I am mobbed with Chickadees and Titmice and sometimes I have Juncos on the ground. My yard fills with robins but they’re not feeder birds. I also get Nuthatches pretty often, they’re fun to watch. Wrens come and go on my feeders. And we all get LBJ’s, which are Sparrows but also Finches. Female House Finches mostly. I get hawks on this side of Three Chopt occasionally, but they’re normally after mice and squirrels and they leave the birds alone. That’s the Red-tails and Red-shoulders. A Cooper’s Hawk or a Sparrow Hawk may pass through here, they’re more likely to go after birds than Red-tails are. But I haven’t seen any recently. I’ve got my eyes open! I had an opossum try to get in my bird feeder last year but I cut the bush down. I would LOVE to see a Barred Owl around here – there are plenty at Pony Pasture. But I don’t hear them up this way. Yet.

    Thanks for the note and have a great day,


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