Bridge Over Troubled Water

20 May, 2018            Bridge Over Troubled Water

My friend Hank had been hearing voices for a month. His doctor recommended he wear headphones and listen to music to drown them out. This is normal for people when they’re hearing voices. He and I walked and walked and walked. He’d sing and sing and sing. He hardly knew I was present.

The rest of that story is at the bottom of this blog post, following my normal assortment of photo observations around Richmond this week.

Speaking of observations around Richmond this week, I got a few more raptor pictures – two separate Red-tails and a Red-shoulder, but nothing spectacular. I’ll put one in at some point on this post. Today is last day of the twentieth week of 2018. Here’s a Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius) I saw at Pony Pasture Tuesday:

Spotted Sandpiper at Pony Pasture Tuesday

On the same walk about an hour later, I saw a five-lined skink basking in the sunshine on the side of an enormous cottonwood at the edge of Pleasant’s Creek. The light was gorgeous and the skink was relaxed so I got a bunch of images. Then I noticed another skink on the same tree! Two at once! Skinks move fast and it’s difficult enough to get one at a time in a picture; I was thrilled to get two at once.

This was the first one I saw. I “worked” on it for quite some time before I realized there were two. Here is the first one:

Five-lined skink – a nice looking animal

You can see the first one clearly in the next picture. You can see the second one clearly too – but it’s not  obvious. The first one is horizontal in the lower right corner of the picture. If the second skink doesn’t jump right out at you (in a manner of speaking), look diagonally up to the left corner of the picture. See it up there? Vertical on the bark? They are so invisible. That invisibility is the first line of defense for almost every animal in the woods. For deer, for squirrels, Barred owls, snakes, toads, most of this stuff just blends into the background. We walk past all of this stuff constantly:  

Horizontal skink lower right, vertical skink upper left – look closely

Thursday I was startled to see another whitetail buck near Charlie’s Bridge! So startled I fumbled with my camera – and it was a difficult shot anyway – and didn’t get the image I’d hoped for. But this image, although miserable quality, reveals unmistakably this is a buck. You can see his eye quite clearly, and on the other side his ear and his growing left antler. I am certain this is the “button” buck I spotted in mid-April and posted in Rare as an udder on a bull. It was precisely the same spot. There may be two bucks there but I’d be surprised.

What surprised me most about this guy was his size – he was enormous. I regularly see large does with herds of smaller deer. This guy was lying down when we first saw him and he was so large I thought he was a patch of dirt – until he stood up. See if you can see him next time you’re down there:

It’s easy to see his right eye. Look closely; his left antler is obvious too.

I’m not overjoyed with any of the raptor images  I took this week, but I am overjoyed I saw some raptors, especially non-osprey raptors. Not that I have anything against ospreys. They’re just no challenge. Here’s a Red-tail in the first image and a Red-shoulder in the second:

Red-tail at Henrico Fire Station 13


Red-shoulder at Stapes Mill Rd. Baptist Church

I suspect a lot of people missed getting to smell the locust blossoms last week. They are such a treasure, but they’re gone so quickly. My “love-hate” flower is (either fortunately or unfortunately) much easier to find – honeysuckle. The “love” part is the breathtaking individual and collective beauty of the flowers, and the absolutely heavenly smell. The “love” part is also that it’s abundant – and that’s the “hate” part too. This is a seriously destructive invasive species. But it sure is nice while it’s here. And I’ll bet a lot of little birds and creatures find cover in its thickets:

Consolation prize if you missed the locust blossoms

Speaking of beautiful flowers that are extravagantly delightful to look at and even more pleasing to smell, Evelyn has our roses putting out blossoms as fast as we can make arrangements on our dining room table. I could put in ten pictures every week this time of year, but I have to settle for my favorite. This one is pleasingly demure:

This rose is confident in its beauty:

This last by the way is an iphone picture; I should have pulled my camera out. According to my rain gauge we got more than 4” of rain Friday, on top of a significant amount the day before. Richmond was saturated. This squirrel was perched on a branch where its feet were out of the water:

Squirrel staying above it all Friday morning

Anyway, I’m going to sign off this part of the blog and leave the story at the end. Read it; it’s a good one. And come back next week! All best,



Bridge Over Troubled Water

My friend Hank had been hearing voices for a month. His doctor recommended he wear headphones and listen to music to drown them out. This is normal for people when they’re hearing voices. He and I walked and walked and walked. He’d sing and sing and sing. He hardly knew I was present. That was twenty years ago. His problems vanished a bit later. He was back to his genial self. Until last summer when they reappeared as suddenly and inexplicably as they’d vanished. I started to spend time with him again, mostly just reassuring his family he was safe.

I mention names in this story, but I made them all up. The people are real though, and so is everything that happened, as precisely as I can recall it.

Hank is a big, genial guy around my age, and he personifies the expression “never met a stranger.” He’d gotten low oxygen at birth and had no physical problems from it. But he was, as his father told me when we first met in 1990, “just a little slow.” He’s not “slow” in bowling; he doubles my score. He’s not “slow” in being an usher at church; he is flawless. He’s not “slow” to make friends – he does it quicker and with less effort than anyone you know. He’s not “slow” with sports facts – he’s up to the minute and precise. He can only read a few words, and his writing is a struggle. He swam at Special Olympics when I used to coach at the Y in the 1990’s.

Hank is also unable to explain his feelings clearly and in the month after he began hearing voices he went steadily downhill until he ended up in the hospital with a psychiatric admission. He has a brother named Joe who is a successful bussinessman and another who is an airline pilot. His older sister is a grandmother three times over. His parents have been my friends for decades, and have helped me through significant challenges in my own life. They’ve welcomed me into their own life as if I was one of the family. They came to my college graduation and they knew my parents well.

Hank’s family and I gathered around his hospital bed in a worried vigil. He had headphones on and was listening to a playlist Joe had put together for him. I wish I still had it. When we went walking together, he always had those headphones on, and he  always sang along. I’d hear him softly singing The Beatles, CCR, The Eagles, Chicago, America, Neil Young, Elton John, I knew and loved every song myself.

His behavior gradually became so erratic – and he was so big – that his parents took him to the ER. The doctors gave him mild tranquilizers on admission. Now he was lying on his hospital bed in the room in the dark, headphones on, staring vacantly at pre-season football on the television. He continued to sing softly. His family stood next to the bed and I watched from behind. I spoke with Joe and said “All the time he was walking around singing those songs, I was wishing he had Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel.” His brother said “let me get that song right now.” He gently took his brother’s phone away and downloaded that song – this is all happening while we’re standing there in the hospital room – and plugged his brother’s headphones back in and started playing it.

I leaned back against the windows and looked out at the street below. It was raining out and the window was wet and the car headlights were shining on the pavement. The street lamps made everything look yellow. Then I heard his voice, softly, sing “When you’re weary, and feeling small… “. I slowly turned back toward him. Joe chimed in – so soft I could barely hear him, just see his lips moving – “When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all…”. Hank continued to sing; I am certain he didn’t know Joe was in the room. Or even in the state. His other brother was wearing his pilot’s uniform; he told me later it’s faster getting through the airport when you’re in uniform. He began to sing too – but I didn’t sense he was aware either of his brothers were singing. “I’m on your side… when times get rough…”. A female voice softly chimed in as his sister Mary joined her siblings. “And friends just can’t be found.” This was two summers ago, and the hair began to stand up on the back of my neck then, and it’s happening again as I type these words. Hank’s mother is elderly – she has many great-grandchildren – and I could hear a painful mix of age and anxiety in her voice as she sang – nearly at a whisper “Like a bridge over troubled water…”. Six of them were singing – barely – together when his father’s exhausted voice added “I will lay me down…”.  

There was no strength in anyone’s voice, no choir-like harmony, no resonance or joy. I am certain no one was aware that anyone else was singing. They were off pitch and off-key and so, so tired – and I don’t care what you’ve listened to in your life or where you have listened to it, you have never heard a choir that sacred.



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, Flowers, Fun, honeysuckle, James River, koans, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, roses, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), squirrels, whitetail deer and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Bridge Over Troubled Water

  1. Gilpin says:

    What a touching, meaningful, and, as you said “sacred” story and so well written! Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you Gilpin – I was fortunate to be there when all this happen. I’m happy to report that as I type these words, Hank is doing great – he’s back at work and if you met him today, you would never know he’d had a problem. Thank goodness! Thank you for the note and have a great day,


  2. Katie says:

    I’m so glad to hear he’s back to himself.

    Every time I hear that song I have a fleeting flashback to the Folk Mass at St. John the Baptist. Same with “Let It Be’ by the Beatles and “Lean On Me”; can’t remember the original artist(s) on that one.

    • I don’t know how I missed all these comments on here. They’re 1.5 years old! I’m happy to report I spent about three hours with him yesterday (9/9/2019) afternoon and he’s as amiable and down to earth as he’s ever been – a kindhearted and outgoing person. I’m fortunate to have known him for all these years!

  3. Anne Hill Snyder says:

    Jay, you are an extraordinary man and the words you write fill my heart. What a story. …

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  6. Rob Martin says:

    Love personified! 💚🙏🏼

    • Thank you for the comment Rob! I mentioned to you that Paul W got me started with my first client – that’s the person in this story! I first worked with him in 1990 and we’ve been in contact ever since. Including yesterday afternoon!

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