Accident anniversary / Singular encounter(s) / and more

9 April, 2017            Accident anniversary / Singular encounter(s) / and more 

Some of the pictures of dead squirrels in this post may be offensive. That’s just a heads up. You can skip it if you’re inclined. 

An impressive looking red-tailed hawk holding a fresh killed squirrel on a lamppost.

I was locked – locked – in the psychiatric unit at MCV because I was, in the crisp  language of my neuropsychiatric evaluation, “suicidal without specific ideation.” Late 1988 or early 1989. More on that later. Wednesday (April 5) was the 29th anniversary of my accident. Clinical depression often follows traumatic brain injury as self-awareness returns. I was in there for three weeks on that psychiatric admission.  

I took this picture in the parking lot of the Discovery United Methodist Church on Wednesday, April 5, at 9:28 AM. If you’re uninformed about my accident and want to learn a bit more, I’ll put a link. But be forewarned, it opens with a graphic picture of me in the emergency room at MCV. Then a picture of me at the end of my first 140.6 mile triathlon about fifteen years later. Maybe I need to invert the two. Two pictures and a couple of hundred word description from my blog: More about me.

Anyway, I was on my way home from my morning job Wednesday when I passed the church. I see red-tails hunting from a perch on the cross at that church regularly, so I always look up. I saw this one Wednesday morning. This picture was at 9:26: 

Red-tail on the cross, scanning for breakfast. 9:26 

I took another picture – it was still 9:26 according to my camera – and the bird turned around to face the opposite direction. I clicked the shutter another time – it still says 9:26 on the camera – and the bird dove off. See its talons underneath?:

See its talons at the bottom of the picture? Its headed for that squirrel. 9:26

In that picture, the bird was diving off toward the opposite side of the church from where I was parked. I drove to the other side of the church so I could see where the bird was. That’s when I took this picture; 9:28:  

Hawk on the lamp-post – holding a dead squirrel. 9:28

He (possibly she) was fully exposed on top of that lamp and defenseless against the descending mob of crows. He flew again almost immediately, across the parking lot to a mature sweet gum tree towering at the edge. I took the next picture at 9:29. He’s in the tree, beginning to eat the squirrel. See the sunlight shining through his right eye? You can see the squirrel’s body hanging over the front edge of the branch:

Red-tail makes it to the safety of a tree with its freshly killed squirrel. 9:32

The redtail was still in a moderately exposed position, but safer. I took pictures of him in that tree for five minutes until he took what remained of the squirrel and flew across the street to another, better protected tree. The first picture I took in the new tree was at 9:37. He stayed there for a long time, slowly devouring the squirrel:

Red-tail in the second tree with its dead squirrel. 9:37

I took the last picture on that tree twenty minutes later. A few pictures of a bloody lump that was the last of the squirrel. Eventually the hawk flew back to the cross. I took the first picture back on the cross at 9:59:

Hawk back up on the cross – this time with a crop (stomach) full of fresh squirrel

So, 9:26, dove off cross. Killed a squirrel, ate it, flew back up to the cross to hunt again, 9:59. Thirty three minutes.


It was so remarkable. So efficient. This had obviously happened often – the bird knew what it was doing. My mind wandered to the possibility that perhaps that was a mother squirrel who stumbled out of her nest after feeding babies all night, to fill up on acorns so she could feed them again. But the hawk killed her, and now baby squirrels are at the nest, waiting for their mother to come back, but they starve to death.

But when there are hungry baby squirrels in nests, there are hungry baby hawks in nests. And if the hawk doesn’t catch a squirrel, its babies starve. There’s no right or wrong in that scenario. It’s just evolution at work.



I have so, so, so much to write. You simply cannot imagine the journey I’ve been traveling this 29 years. Whenever I’m moved to write, I don’t know where to begin. I still don’t. But when the accident happened – when I was in a coma – I was twenty-six years old and I was a college dropout with a high school diploma. The longest triathlon I’d completed was a total of less than 16 miles long, and took not much over an hour. I’d been married ten months before the accident. I’d moved from an apartment into a new house four days earlier. Since the accident I’ve gotten a BS in Psychology and an MS in Rehabilitation Counseling. I’ve completed eleven triathlons that are over 140 miles long and take fifteen hours to complete. I’ve gotten divorced. I’ve lost that home. I’ve been in a healthy relationship for over five years. I’ve bought a new home and I’ll pay it off this year. I’m becoming more able to share. Starting this week. Hopefully continuing in future blog posts. 

I’ve done a lot – a lot – in the last twenty-nine years. But I’ve lived in Richmond the whole time. I’ve done short triathlons in New Zealand, Montana, Florida and more. I’ve done eleven long ones, in Maryland and North Carolina. I did animal assisted therapy for eleven years at MCV. While doing that work, I became very close friends with a twelve year old girl and her parents and her brother. I met her on her first admission for a neuroblastoma; she was young and healthy and it went into remission quickly. Ivory and I were still doing pet therapy when she was readmitted five years later with a relapse. We continued to visit as the disease ran its course. She loved dolphins. The last time we visited her she was in the Pediatric ICU; her head was propped up and a tube was vacuuming the saliva she couldn’t swallow out of her mouth. She had dolphin earrings on and Ivory was being present for her; I’m still trying to master that. I couldn’t take my eyes off those dolphin earrings as the jiggled slightly from the vibration of her breathing tube.

Later I took Ivory home. I went up to the Y to swim, so I’d be able to sleep that night. Everyone was gathered around the television. A Virginia Tech senior had just shot and killed thirty-two people then killed himself. That was ten years ago this week. I am still appalled to think about the way I felt standing in that Y. All these people had just been murdered. I could not get the image of those dolphin earrings out of my head. Looking at the people who had been murdered was horrible, watching my friend slowly die was horrible, the fact that I could only direct my full attention to one of those things – and it had to be one of those things – was horrible. That was on April 16 of 2007. We visited the hospital once a month. I don’t recall our May visit. She died on June 10.

Ivory and I did pet therapy for eleven years. So many people changed my life, constantly. The people who are the most unforgettable – like her – are the  ones who have taught you the most.

There were more. There were great stories too, especially doing pet therapy. And there have been great stories with my family and with Evelyn and with my countless friends and of course with dogs, dogs, and did I mention dogs? And I’ve had some great adventures. I’ll get more organized. And write more. I’m looking forward to it! 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, People, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, squirrels and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Accident anniversary / Singular encounter(s) / and more

  1. auntbsite says:

    I am looking forward to reading more as well! All the best, Becky

  2. Gilpin Brown says:

    Wow! thanks for that short history. Jay, you have come SO far especially in maturity. From that floundering college dropout to the caring, achieving, sensitive person you are today. And you know where I come from I would say God had a great part in the growth and the journey. AND…look at the unknown journey and adventure that still lies ahead. I’m glad to be counted among your friends! Keep writing – it’s encouraging for the rest of us.

    • Thanks Gilpin! I’m glad to be counted among your friends too! I’m becoming more able to write – it’s a process. Hopefully there will be more in the near future. Meanwhile, I’ll stay out there and try to get pictures as good as the ones you take! Have a great day,


  3. anne hill snyder says:

    You, my dear friend, are amazing and I’m so very happy to know you! We go back to 1982-83, some where around then. You’re a keeper in my book. I love you deeply💞

  4. Hi Anne! I am SO very happy to know you! I’m thinking – I’m uncertain – we go back to more like 1992-93 or a bit earlier. We met in a Human Sexuality class at VCU! It was in the post-accident era which began April 5, 1988. I am overjoyed to be a keeper in your book – as you are in mine. I love you deeply as well. Have a wonderful day,


  5. Pingback: Quiet week | NEWFAZE

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