Mixed emotions

13 January, 2019            Mixed emotions

I had an experience – two experiences, really – on Monday, April 16, 2007. The dogs woke me up long before dawn today and, inexplicably, I was thinking of those two experiences. Evelyn is encouraging me to write more, and I’m reading about writing, and it’s stirring stuff up. That is undoubtedly why I was thinking of those two long ago experiences.

I’m going to pop a couple of pictures up here then put the “Mixed emotions” story at the end. So first, of course, the usual stuff. A lot of nice time outdoors this week. This morning I woke up real, real agitated from thinking – dreaming, I presume – about my two experiences on April 16, 2007. It was wet and cold outside but being agitated pushes me even harder than usual to the banks of the river. It was calming, as always. I took this picture shortly after we arrived:

Our wonderful James River this cold, gray January morning:

Monday morning on Patterson Avenue I saw a Red-shouldered hawk and a Red-tailed hawk perched in trees about five hundred yards apart. I love them both, but Red-shoulders don’t seem as confident at Red-tails. In my eyes, Red-tails always look confident – they perch and fly with swagger – and Red-shoulders always look a little concerned. Both of those assessments are what is called anthropomorphism – I am projecting my human emotions onto an animal. But that’s neither here nor there. Here is the Red-tail I saw Friday, at Westhampton Memorial & Cremation Park (it’s really called that, a “Park”) at 10000 Patterson Ave, Richmond, VA 23238: 

That bird does not appear to be worried. Maybe it is, or maybe they don’t have emotions. How would I knew? Great looking bird though. 

Here’s a picture of a Red-shouldered hawk, four or five hundred yards away: 

Red-shouldered hawk, a quick glide away from the Red-tail

I captured a fifty second video of a big female Red-tailed hawk in a tree across from my house Tuesday afternoon at 3:30. She had just flown into the tree carrying a mouse or a chipmunk or a mole or a vole – something small. By the time I went inside and got my camera and came back out, she had swallowed it. She stayed perched there for some time, then started moving her head around. I started taking a little video. It starts out bumpy but gets smoother. As an amateur ornithologist, her actions at the end surprised me. Hawks are true obligate carnivores – they only get their calories from meat. But she’s perched in what the Virginia Tech Dendrology department identifies as a yellow poplar. And in this video, she clearly consumes the seeds. She really starts eating them enthusiastically at around 40 or 45 seconds, right at the end. But it’s cool to see: 

Obligate carnivore consuming a plant

Deer are settling in at Pony Pasture for the short cold days and long cold nights. I hiked with some friends and their dog at Pony Pasture yesterday. I got this picture at 11:00 yesterday morning: 

A deer’s emotions in no way resemble a hawk’s. IMO.

Deer only eat plants. They don’t kill animals. Hawks are the opposite – they ONLY kill animals. Top of the food chain.

Yesterday that deer was looking at me, two other adults, and three dogs. It was for the most part unconcerned – there was an old fence in the woods and the dogs were on leashes. This morning the deer was looking at me and two dogs. They always assess risk. It’s always about energy. They get a certain number of calories (units of energy) from the plants they eat. They burn up those calories doing other things. If they run away when there’s no threat, they’ve burned valuable calories. And edible plants are few and far between in January. So it’s a foolish animal that burns needless energy. They stay around if they feel safe enough. Here are Mackey and Turner this morning, about twenty minutes walk (at my pace) away from those deer: 

Mackey and Turner are not fair weather hikers. They are all weather hikers.

Anyway enough with the pictures etc. Here is a bit about the thoughts that were troubling me before my two furry therapists and I went hiking at the river this morning. Have a great week, I hope you’ll join me here again next Sunday, all best, 


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Mixed emotions

In April, 2007 my dog Ivory and I had been visiting a friend with brain cancer for five years. Her name was Whitney and when we first met her in 2002 she was ten years old. She was lovely and had huge eyes and an even bigger smile and heart warmer than anyone else you know. She was as bald as a bowling ball but some people look even more beautiful bald, and she was one of them. She’d had a bad relapse and Ivory and I visited her again in the hospital on April 16 of 2007. She was fifteen when we visited her in 2007, and she’d loved dolphins her whole life. At some point during her illness the Make-a-wish foundation set up a trip to Florida so she could swim with dolphins. When Ivory and I visited her on April 16 she was wearing dolphin earrings. They were an inch long, with the outline of a dolphin in silver, around a smooth blue enamel dolphin. She was in a coma and she couldn’t swallow or hold her head up straight and thick foam pads on either side of her head held it up straight while she lay in bed. There was a little vacuum tube in her mouth sucking the saliva out. There were little humming buzzing hospital noises and Ivory and I were standing on her right side. And the blue enamel tail of her dolphin earring was vibrating just above the foam pads. Vibrating a tiny bit. I’m typing this twelve years later; I can see it perfectly in my mind’s eye. Hear that vacuum tube sucking out saliva. See the tail of that dolphin earring vibrating near the foam pad. Ivory was there to comfort her, or to comfort her family, or to comfort staff, but at that time he was only comforting me, a lot. Another thing I can recall perfectly is stroking Ivory’s soft fur. Since dogs don’t talk, they pay attention to other details, and intuitive dogs always understand the lightness or gravity of situations. Ivory breathed, like I did, and like Whitney did, except a machine was doing it for her. She died six weeks later. Her family had a blog/web site when she was alive, to update her friends and family about her progress. I found this entry from a couple of months after she died: Whit’s tombstone was delivered last Thurs. and it is beautiful. I hope she loves the dolphins on her marker.” Fifteen years old. That is just wrong. 

Get an image in your mind of a young person you know well and care for very deeply. Imagine that person bald and withered and under hospital room lights, which are not like other lights. Hospital lights have only light, they don’t have warmth. Imagine knowing quite well you weren’t going to see this person alive again. Imagine that blue enamel dolphin earring tail vibrating, just perceptibly.

It’s hard to do that – it’s really, really hard. I would say I can imagine how hard it must be for her parents, but that would be a lie. I can’t imagine that. I’m sure it was hard for Ivory too, but I’m also sure he didn’t keep reliving it after we left. I dropped him off at the house and drove straight to the Y for a long, long swim, because that’s how I make myself eat and sleep when my mind and heart are in turmoil. 

So I walk into the Y and a crowd is gathered and they’re all watching TV, so many people you can hardly even get past, and I was determined to swim, but I stopped and looked up, and I was in agony and wanted to get in the pool, where nobody talks to you and you don’t talk to anybody. And on the TV, a man with a mental illness had killed himself and more than thirty other people at Virginia Tech. My brother was in Blacksburg but nothing happened to him. Every member of our Y is connected to Virginia Tech in some way, either by friendship or academics. People were hardly even breathing. It was so still and quiet, except for the person talking on the television. I still had every single molecule of my hospital visit – I hadn’t even left an hour earlier – in my system. I knew what I was seeing was awful – that was true evil on that television – but I’d just been a foot from a real human being who I knew well, and I knew she wasn’t going to breathe much longer.

I was aware how crazy my mixed emotions were, how one of these things was not worse than the other. I knew that, of all the times in our lives we talk about having “mixed emotions,” there would never be a more appropriate time than that moment. Thank goodness I was able to swim.

This story doesn’t have an ending. My friend with the dolphin earrings is not any less dead, and neither are all the people at Virginia Tech. But it’s January here in Richmond and it’s snowy and wet and cold. If Ivory was still around, he would’ve loved to take a hike at the river today – regardless of anything else. Mackey and Turner and I had a great, wet, cold, quiet, peaceful hike this morning. I don’t know if they were grateful every single second of the hike, but I sure was.  

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

8 Responses to Mixed emotions

  1. Gilpin Brown says:

    Wow! I’m with Evelyn. You should write more. You have a gift, Jay, and I hope and pray you continue sharing it. What an experience – the ‘mixed emotions day. As you say, there are a lot of things in this world that “just shouldn’t be”. I still believe there is a God watching it all and He is going to make it right in the end!
    Keep writing. Gilpin

    • Thank you Gilpin! I’m fortunate for the opportunity to meet the people I meet and to have the experiences I have. I intend to keep writing – I hope I follow through! Thank again for your kind words and have a great day,


  2. Jody Bambacus says:

    Thank you for encouraging all of us to find beauty in tragedy, comfort when there is pain, and peace when there is conflict.

    • Thank you too Jody! I am SO fortunate to be surrounded by the friends I have. They help me have a life that is rich beyond imagining. If I feel bad it usually doesn’t last – too many nice people around to lift me back up! Thank you again for the note and have a great day,


  3. Jean Yerian says:

    Beautiful entry, Jay. I will always hold you dear in my heart because you so keenly feel and articulate the joys and pathos of life. If we all had that real perspective, day upon day, I strongly believe the world would be a better place.

    • Thank you Jean! I am grateful we’ve known each other so well for so long, and how you helped so early to guide me on the path I’m currently walking. You’ve helped me gain this perspective – thank you! Have a great day,


  4. Cappy Phalen says:

    Great post Jay.

  5. Thank you Cappy! I especially enjoyed writing this one, although “enjoyed” is not precisely correct. But it did feel meaningful, a sensation I cherish. It’s unfortunate that many meaningful experiences in our lives are so closely associated with pain. But it’s better than being associated with numbness. Or with looking away.

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