Pimento cheese picnic – and more! 

30 June, 2019            Pimento cheese picnic – and more! 

Me, Marvin, Laura, Ethan, Sam – Natural Bridge, VA

My old friend Ethan, world renowned snake photographer and his family were in Roanoke this week visiting their family. They invited me for a picnic and hike at Natural Bridge State Park in Natural Bridge, VA. I’ve driven past it on Interstate 81 since my sister started at Virginia Tech in 1981 (thirty-eight years ago!) and never visited! I still drive down there to visit my brother in Blacksburg so I’m glad Ethan and has family invited me to spend some time there. And they brought pimento cheese sandwiches! And fresh vegetables (the tomatoes were my favorite) from the farm share Ethan’s grandparents use. Those tomatoes were A+. But they also had those excellent little cucumbers. We ate outdoors on picnic tables with tablecloths – it was so nice – in the shade and even had lemonade and iced tea! It fueled us up for a great hike down to see the Natural Bridge and the Monacan Indian Living History Exhibit a few minutes further down the trail. 

The picture above by the way is less than half of the family members who were at the picnic. The rest were scattered ahead of us and behind us on the trail. Ethan’s grandparents and his aunt and uncle and sister and another cousin were hiking too. 

I am untalented at photographing on this large scale. But here’s one I took with my phone: 

Same Natural Bridge – other side

This was a sign talking about the particulars: 

The bridge’s impressive dimensions – but you don’t entirely grasp the scale until you’re standing under it.

It is way bigger than you think, or than the words on that sign imply. When I looked up at it from below I didn’t gasp or do a double-take, but I was unprepared for the true size. I felt the identical sensation – it was a true little flashback – of going to the Grand Canyon with high school friends around 1978. If you’ve been educated in the US – or probably most other places in the world – you’ve seen pictures of the Grand Canyon. You know it’s vast, you know it’s colorful, imposing, awe-inspiring, superlative exhausting, etc. But that moment when you actually walk up to the edge and look in it and across it, you realize (or I realized) I had no idea of the scale. There’s no comparison between the two, except that in my life, the reality dwarfed what I imagined from the photographs. You should check it out! Especially if you travel that stretch of 81 with any regularity. 

There’s a song – true story – by They Might Be Giants called She’s Actual Size. The first line of the chorus is “She’s actual size, but she seems much bigger to me.” That’s as precise a description as any other about the way I felt when I saw the Natural Bridge – “it’s actual size, but it seems much bigger to me.”

FYI there’s a snake or two (possibly three but I haven’t committed yet) this week. Also on the snake front I saw two new snakes this week. I only managed to photograph one, a Northern Brownsnake (Storeria dekayi), more precisely knowns as “Dekay’s” Brownsnake. But since the proper noun “Dekay” is a homonym with the noun (or verb) “decay,” it’s unwieldy in conversation. It’s a smallish, unintimidating reptile. 

In that conversation (smallish, unintimidating reptiles), this morning at Pony Pasture I saw my first ever (there) Northern Ring-Necked snake (Diadophis punctatus edwardsii). But a. They’re tiny and b. It’s hot and they’re moving real quick so c. I didn’t get a picture! But now that I know they’re there, I’ll probably start seeing them. They’re sweet looking little snakes. 

I’ve seen plenty of Ebony Jewelings (Calopteryx maculata) this year, but not in good light or close. They’re gorgeous insects, and they have (IMO) one of the great names of all insects. This week I managed a reasonable image: 

Ebony Jewelwing on granite at Deep Run

Here’s the Northern Brownsnake. They’re not brightly colored, but they’re also not as bold as watersnakes. I’ve seen them on two different occasions now. Both times they were less than ten feet from water snakes. In people (or in dogs) the difference in demeanor between the two would have been a difference in confidence. This is shameless anthropomorphism, the projection of a human trait onto an animal, but the water snakes seemed bold and insolent and more than a little bit thuggish. Between the two snakes, the water snakes had way more “swagger.” The Brownsnake looked worried. I had the sense it didn’t want anyone (any predator) to know where it was. Water snakes simply do not care. That made it real hard for me to get a good picture of the Brownsnake (that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it) but here’s what I came away with: 

See it hiding out in there? See the way those water snakes look in old pictures – lying out in the open? Much different.

As summer sets in, our Rose of Sharon is blooming vigorously in a corner of our backyard. There were dozens and dozens of buds on the ground. Plus I couldn’t really get a good angle, but there is a purple Rose of Sharon this prolific or more. I just couldn’t get into a good spot. But check out this beauty: 

One of zillions of Rose of Sharon flowers in our backyard. And a zillion more are on the ground.

Still plenty of Red-tails around, although none close to the house recently. But this is one I’ve seen for a few years, I took this picture (you’ve seen a million of these) on the cross at Discovery United Methodist Church in the west end near the intersection of Gayton and Lauderdale: 

I hope people don’t tire of these images. For me it’s like a breath of fresh air every time I see one.

Speaking of “stock” locations where I photograph a lot of raptors, I often pass that swamp on Patterson Avenue just east of Lauderdale. I stop at another church on Patterson to photograph raptors in that swamp. I’ve photographed innumerable Red-tails, a handful of Red-shoulders, one memorable Bald Eagle, and on Tuesday I got a reasonable image of an osprey. I think it’s holding a fish but I can’t say for sure: 

Osprey about ten feet from Patterson Avenue

Our gardenia continues to perfume our home. I’m not sure if this is the one Ev put on the kitchen  windowsill this week or that was another one; they’re really rolling: 

Gardenia before coming indoors

I was just about to close off this blog post when I glanced back at my pictures from today – and almost neglected one I snapped when I let the dogs back in the yard after the river. Here’s something to kick off the second half of 2019 on a lovely, timeless note: 

That is about as perfect as a living organism can look

Have an excellent week! 

All best, 


Shoot! I almost “put this to bed” without one of the purple martins I got Thursday. This was Thursday afternoon around 1:00 and it was hot and the birds were all panting. I first saw a bird panting a few years ago and I couldn’t figure it out. Now I see it all the time. Check this out:

Panting Purple Martin at Bryan Park

Also (I can’t seem to finish this blog post) Evelyn was leaving for work Thursday evening and she stopped on the edge of the front stoop and found someone grazing on our lush and fragrant clover!:

If our front door fell off its hinges it would have landed on this rabbit:





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, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, Insects, James River, love, ospreys, People, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, roses, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Snakes and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Pimento cheese picnic – and more! 

  1. Kevin says:

    Every time I read ‘Rose of Sharon’ I think of Rosasharn from Grapes of Wrath. Also it seems like that Ebony Jewelwing should be called a Jewel Ebonywing, because its body looks like a jewel and its wings are ebony. Either way it is a great picture and a stunning insect.

    PS I still use Ivory soap every day, but not in a lake anymore.

    • Every year when those crazy flowers bloom I think of that book. I always open to the final pages and reread the passage where she saves the starving guy’s life. It’s one of the most moving things I’ve ever read.
      Oddly also at the horticulture/literature axis, every April when I smell lilacs I think of Lincoln being assassinated. Because of Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” that he wrote after Lincoln’s assassination in April of 1865, and he heard the news and walked out of his back door and smelled the lilacs – his first post-assassination recollection.
      On the Camp/bathing axis, I use Dr. Bronner’s every day. Almond, though – the mint is way, way too strong.

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