22 January, 2017            Downstream

Me, my brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews. And one dog! Thanks for the photograph Bill.

Me, my brothers, sisters, nieces, nephew. And one dog! Thanks for the photograph Bill.

Thank you to our former neighbor and lifelong friend Bill for taking this picture at mom’s memorial service on Thursday (January 19) at the Bridgewater Volunteer Rescue Squad, where mom and dad were both life members. We all wore yellow and smiled that way at mom’s eightieth birthday party less than three months ago. I’m certain mom never thought about this, but it’s easy to imagine her thinking “I hope they all wear yellow and smile that way at my memorial service.” That’s me with my two brothers and two sisters and six nieces and one nephew. Only one of our dogs is in that picture. If all of the dogs owned by all of the people in that picture were there, we were gonna’ need a bigger rescue squad. 

Bill and his wife Liz moved in next door to our house in Maryland in the Fall of 1969 when I was eight years old and Shane was around seventeen months. The boy Shane is holding in this picture is around seventeen months. That only occurred to me as I was typing the second draft of this blog post. I will never stop being flabbergasted by what happens in life. That’s forty-seven years ago, close to half a century, and our families have stayed in intermittent regular contact the entire time. Liz was one of many people who shared her memories with the crowd at mom’s memorial service. I was so moved by both her manner and the content I asked Liz for a transcript of her talk. This caption is excerpted from that transcript:

“I never heard her say anything bad about anyone; I never saw her cranky or cross.” - Liz A., 19 January, 2017

“I never heard her say anything bad about anyone; I never saw her cranky or cross.” – Liz A., 19 January, 2017

Mom had flaws, possibly almost as many as I do. But if you spend half a century with a person and at your memorial service that person can say “I never heard her say anything bad about anyone; I never saw her cranky or cross” – you were a good human being, and that’s all there is to it. You can fake it a lot, but nobody can fake it for fifty years. 

The river of time doesn’t stop flowing, not even when your mother dies, a fact that continues to simultaneously startle and reassure me. The word “maudlin” was not part of my mother’s extensive vocabulary. Mom’s was a life in motion, but “sulk” was a verb you would never use when thinking about mom. Everything that’s occurred downstream of mom’s death has been, I believe, as she would approve. She would have loved that memorial service.

I’ve gotten a few more pictures this week; the usual stuff. I’ll put them up and sign off. I haven’t felt maudlin or sulked, but I’ve been out of my routine and uncharacteristically distractible. I can feel myself feeling better, then I slide back, then I begin feeling better again. Slide back again. It’s a process. A Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) came to eat earlier this week:

Flicker on the feeder, propping himself up with his tail

Flicker on the feeder, propping himself up with his tail

I love taking pictures of chickadees – they’re my favorite songbird. But watch a chickadee sometime and imagine what it’s like to photograph that and see how relaxed you feel. I’ll save you the effort of imagining: it’s not relaxing at all. Raptors, on the other hand, give the impression of being more “peaceful.” It’s an illusion, really – they kill to eat. But they sit still for long stretches of time, and they’re easy to locate once you get a sense of how they operate. Photographing them the way I do is relaxing. I drove over Friday to see if there were any eagles on the powerline by the river. It’s a long shot and the pictures don’t come out great but I took one anyway just to increase my understanding. This one was perched alone at 3:02 PM:  

Eagle on the tower, north bank of the river

Eagle on the tower, north bank of the river

I started driving back down Riverside Drive and saw a familiar shape in a sycamore tree dangling over the water. I took this picture on the south bank of the river about ¾ of a mile downstream from the preceding picture. You could walk to this tree in less than ten minutes from the gate at Huguenot Flatwater:

Bald eagle in a Sycamore, south bank of the river, just upstream from Huguenot Flatwater

Bald eagle in a Sycamore, south bank of the river, just upstream from Huguenot Flatwater

I’ve had a million birds on my feeders this week – it continues to astound me. Most of the pictures I take out the window are junk; I just like sitting here picking up my camera from time to time. It’s been raining all day (today) and this Northern Flicker (male, yellow shafted) stopped outside my office window to grab a bite:

The wethead is not dead

The wet head is not dead

This is where they get the name (it’s a subspecies) “yellow-shafted” (as opposed to “red-shafted):


I’ll write more next week and with any luck get a decent photo or two. All best, 



It’s deeply ingrained in me to anticipate mom’s response to these posts. That anticipation will fade; that’s “part of the process” too. After I’ve gone over the post and Evelyn’s finished her thorough editing I click a button on the right side of the browser that says “Publish.” I knew mom would like it just because she had unconditional positive regard for me, but I also knew which parts she’d enjoy most. If I was putting the post up at a reasonable hour, I always looked forward to hearing back from her. I know she would have enjoyed this one.  


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 Bald eagles, Birds, Fun, James River, Northern flicker, raptors, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Downstream

  1. Kathy says:

    I am so sorry to hear of your mother’s passing and know that it has to deeply affect you. Don’t apologize to us. Your “normal” photographs of the flicker at the feeder are great as always and thank you for posting them. Hopefully the coming sun will help but you need to take it easy and heal your heart.

  2. Ruth Adams says:

    Lovely post. So glad my parents were there with you all for the memorial. Your mother’s passing will leave a large hole in their hearts!
    Much love to you and the whole clan,
    Ruth (Adams)

    • Hi Ruth! And thank you for the note! I’m glad you enjoyed my post. We were all very, very grateful your parents were there with us at the memorial. My mother was an intelligent, strong-willed, hard working woman, and she had a kindred spirit in your mother. My mother’s passing is leaving a large hole in the heart of anyone who was close to her. I speak with authority on that subject. Thank you again for your kind words, much love,


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