The second most memorable thing

21 April, 2019           The second most memorable thing

The 15 year old girl in the ICU had the largest pores I’d ever seen. They were the second most memorable thing about her. I saw her once, twenty years ago, and I’ll write more about the most memorable thing at the end of this blog post. She and my dog Ivory were in a book chapter in 2009; I put that chapter in this blog last September. I wrote a bit more thoroughly about her and Ivory this week.

There were a number of (IMO) memorable things outdoors in central Virginia this week, although some ophidiophobe (people who have an irrational fear of snakes) followers may find them forgettable. Or wish they hadn’t seen them at all. There’s a snake or two in this post, but I’ll give fair warning. One is an Eastern Ratsnake and one is a Northern Watersnake. Neither are poisonous. I suspect they’re the two most numerous snakes in Virginia, though I don’t travel all over the state.

I’m going to open with an image I don’t often open with. In fact I don’t recall ever getting an image like this before. This is what I call the “business end” (the talons) of a Red-shouldered hawk. It was perched on a neighbor’s fence not far from me in western Henrico:  

“Business end” of a Red-shouldered hawk in western Henrico County, VA

Here’s the upper half of the bird just moments earlier, perched on a bird feeder. A bird on a bird feeder waiting to feed on birds. Or more likely on chipmunks coming to pick up scattered bird seed:

The owner of the inarguably fierce looking talons in the preceding picture:

Also if you’re living in central Virginia right now (or any place that has a lot of  pollen) this image will come as no surprise. The dogs and I were hiking at the river Tuesday and we saw this raccoon footprint in the pollen:

How we know it’s April in Virginia. I wonder of raccoons sneeze?

Hmm. Not a ton of pictures this week that are not snake or raptor pictures. So let me put in a Mayflower I saw at Pony Pasture – they’re not often in great light and they’re so fleeting. Like everything, in its way. I’m always so happy to be in the woods at the same time these plants are. Here’s a Mayflower – even though it’s still April:

Mayflower in April – isn’t that graceful and elegant and delicate? And gorgeous?

I’m also still seeing ospreys on both nests (south near Stony Point and north near West End Assembly of God). Here’s one (I think this is the male) coming onto the nest at Stony Point Wednesday:

Osprey landing at Stony Point nest Wednesday

I saw a beautiful catbird on my feeder for the first time this year. I never knew they existed before starting this blog:

Catbird on my feeder Friday:

And a bird I did know about before this blog – long before this blog – an Eastern Bluebird:

Bluebird in the same spot about two seconds later:

I have a million birds on the feeder this week, and I don’t love feeder images – they don’t take any skill – you just sit there. But a grackle came in this week and it was striking (IMO) so here’s a grackle too. I always like the way their eyes look:

Grackle on the feeder this week

Okay – I’m going to get into the snakes. Here is an Eastern Ratsnake from Bryan Park:

Eastern Ratsnake at Bryan Park

Deep Run Park in western Henrico continues to be loaded with snakes, although this week I’ve only seen water snakes. But I’ve seen many. If you don’t know where to look, you probably won’t even know they’re in the park. Here’s a pair on a rock:

Two obvious Northern water snakes. Next picture is this one zoomed out

Here’s the identical picture zoomed out a bit. You can see them in the center to the left:

See them? Near the center? On the left?

This third image is with the camera pointed in the identical spot. The snakes are in this picture – I promise you – in the identical spot as in the first two pictures. I took all three pictures in quick succession. Look in the lower left quadrant of the picture:

Same snakes, same time, REALLY hard to see – lower left 1/4 of the image. Look hard.

Anyway, enough snakes this week. Read this story – it has a great deal of meaning for me. I hope it’ll resonate for you too. And have an excellent week, and come back next week. Please! And if you celebrate Easter I hope it’s been fantastic, and if you don’t celebrate Easter, I hope your Sunday, April 21, 2019 was fantastic.

All best,


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The second most memorable thing

Besides having enormous pores, she had six fingers on her right hand. You may or may not remember a person’s pores; everybody has them. But if you look at a person’s hand and see six fingers, you’ll remember. The person’s pores will be the second most memorable thing about them.

My dog Ivory (ancient when he died years ago) and I did animal-assisted therapy at VCU’s Medical College of Virginia (MCV) for ten years. Ivory and I were included in a book called To the Rescue: Found Dogs with a Mission by Elise Lufkin and photographer Diana Walker. If you’ve read it, you’ve heard this. Or if you’ve known me for a while. I just dug through an old journal, it happened on the morning of Tuesday, March 9, 1999 – twenty years ago. If you haven’t heard it, it’s a good story. One of the more meaningful in my life, and I’ve had many.

We’d done Pet Therapy for two years when we met this person. Ivory and I spent part of each visit in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). We were never given special instructions unless there was a person there who needed a special visit or a person with a dog phobia or allergy or who we needed to avoid for some reason. Some people with Cystic Fibrosis or sickle cell anemia visit often and were “frequent flyers” and we knew them well. But that Tuesday in March we met a new person and we’d never seen her before. She had the unmistakable appearance and aura of neglect – I could tell in an instant she’d never been well cared for. But I’d worked in human services for a decade at that point, and met lots of people who were uncared for. It is inevitable and it is inevitably sad. I don’t know her name. So, for the purposes of this, “Mary.”

She was around fifteen years old and had the look of neglect. She was bloated and pale and her hair was matted and mouse colored and her bangs were straight and oily. Her pores were enormous. But if people are awake and can see I always look at their eyes, because that’s how we all communicate. Hers were downcast – always downcast – as though she didn’t want to look at the world, or for the world to look at her. But I’m a counselor, and everybody is the same. And she reached out to pet Ivory, and her hand had six fingers. I don’t care about physical appearance – if she’s not hurting herself or Ivory or anyone else, it’s meaningless. And I have a “patter” when I’m doing Pet Therapy, and I can keep it up in any circumstance, and I did. But the voice in my head was saying “six fingers! SIX fingers! Human beings have FIVE fingers! What is this!” Meanwhile, Ivory’s gorgeous fluffy half curled tail is doing its slow, metronomic, back and forth swish while she petted him. His eyes are just sort of half shut, he’s relaxed, he’s peaceful, he is entirely and one hundred percent in the moment. He wasn’t suspending judgment – he didn’t judge in the first place.

I’m a professional, and we both stayed there for some time and I hope were therapeutic. We made our way around to visit the rest of the people in the PICU, and completed our rounds. I remember getting back in the car that day in the dark parking deck at MCV and thinking about the way Ivory reacted versus the way I  reacted – as a well educated supposedly open-minded counselor. Ivory was doing it right – he was connecting with a human being on what appeared to be a perfect level. I don’t know if dogs “love” – but I suspect they don’t judge. And I do know I was focusing on how that person was different from me. And Ivory couldn’t have cared less.

As I pondered it, I realized – correctly – that a dog had shown more empathy and compassion and acceptance and grace than I had. And – I’ve always talked to myself this way – I said to myself “do you realize you have to raise your level of humanity to equal a dog? Not to equal Gandhi or Mandela but to equal a dog?” I’m not a particularly humble person by nature.

Looking back on this and my career working with people with disabilities, I think about that day twenty years ago. And I realized that Ivory’s lesson in kindness and warmth and caring and connection was the most memorable thing that day. The girl’s sixth finger was the second most memorable thing.

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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, Bryan Park, Flowers, Fun, James River, ospreys, Pony Pasture, Raccoons, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Snakes and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The second most memorable thing

  1. Jackie says:

    Dogs have unconditional love hence mans best! ❤️

  2. Jody Bambacus says:

    Brilliant… not you, Ivory.

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