The craziest picture I’ve ever taken

18 August, 2019            The craziest picture I’ve ever taken

I almost put the craziest picture first – but it has a snake in it. So I’m giving  Ophidiophobes a chance to bail. I’ll begin with Mackey and Turner at our lovely river this morning: 

Mackey and Turner at Pony Pasture this morning. Words are unnecessary and inadequate

This week I looked over the rail at the dark rocky creek bottom hoping to glimpse a water snake. I saw a large one that had just captured a large fish. The snake was twisting and thrashing about, working to position the fish head down for easier swallowing.  

Crayfish on left, watersnake on right, fish caught in the middle

Suddenly a crayfish – the first I’ve ever photographed – appeared on the rock. See it on the left? It immediately began moving aggressively toward the snake. The snake had to have been twenty times larger than the crayfish. But I guess the crayfish was trying to get the snake to drop the fish, perhaps by threatening the snake’s eyes. Whatever the reason – you should have seen this happen – if you’d seen the snake’s reaction, and if you were describing it in human (anthropomorphic) terms you would have said the snake had a panic attack. One instant it was concentrating on swallowing this large fish, and the next instant it clutched its fish and dove backward into a shallow pool and speed-swam across it. 

My birthday is later this month. Evelyn gave me an early birthday gift, The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New by a favorite author of mine (that Evie introduced me to years ago), Annie Dillard. A recurrent theme of Ms. Dillard’s is just how amazing the world is – everywhere, everything in it – but you have to pay attention. It can be frustrating, because if you’re e.g. paying attention to birds in the trees, which are awesome, you’ll walk right past turtles on the ground, which are also awesome. 

This week I also saw a five lined skink poking its head out of a hole in a bathroom wall:   

Skink peering out of a building

The same day I saw that whole snake – fish – crayfish incident happen, I read this by Ms. Dillard: “Many carnivorous animals, of course, devour their prey alive. The usual method seems to be to subdue the victim by downing or grasping it so it can’t flee, then eating it whole or in a series of bloody bites. Frogs eat everything whole, stuffing prey in their mouth with their thumbs. People have seen frogs with their wide jaws so full of live dragonflies they couldn’t close them. Ants don’t even have to catch their prey: In the spring they swarm over newly hatched, featherless birds in the nest and eat them, tiny bite by tiny bite. That it’s rough out there and chancy is no surprise. Every live thing is a survivor on a kind of extended emergency bivouac. But at the same time we are also created.” 

Ages ago I read this – and it’s quite possible Ms. Dillard quoted Ms. Dickinson: 

“To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else” – Emily Dickinson 

Ms. Dillard later writes that “Unless I call my attention to what passes before my eyes, I simply won’t see it. It is, as Ruskin says, “not merely unnoticed, but in the full, clear sense of the word, unseen.”

I was really, really, really moved that I had the opportunity to watch that interaction between those three animals. Who knows what I miss. Who knows what was happening behind me when I took that picture. 

These small catfish were swimming in a pool just below the snake-rocks another day this week. I guess when the snake got the opportunity to consume that giant fish, it could ignore these little hors d’oeuvres for a few days: 

Baby catfish, a.k.a. “water snake snacks”

Speaking of outdoor food, this morning I had my first bite of a pawpaw for 2019. I read a lot of things to do with pawpaws, ways to prepare them, etc. But I bit into a pawpaw for the first time twenty-five years ago at Pony Pasture, on the river bank. I ate a couple of delicious bites then dropped it on the ground for whatever else wants to eat it. And for me, that’s how you enjoy a pawpaw. It’s not something to eat some other place or some other time – it’s to eat there and then. A person on facebook asked how to eat them and what they taste like. I responded thus: “I ate my first pawpaw of 2019 this morning on my dog hike! IMO, they’re ripe when they hit the ground. And I just brush the dirt off and take a bite – right there, in the woods. The ripe consistency is of a REAL ripe peach. Super soft. The flavor, as you will discover, is indescribable. But it’s a soft flavor, banana style, not even a hint of tartness or acidity. Ultra juicy, and the skin is so soft it seems like a falling chickadee feather would poke a hole in it. Part of the beauty is, their shelf life and season is ultra short. So either you taste it or you don’t, and the world moves on. That may be what I love most. Enjoy!” 

Also, though – if you don’t like picking things up from the ground and eating them, certainly don’t do it. And don’t take them out of the park – that spoils them.

Few (close to zero) of my hawk pictures are memorable. But every time I photograph one, it gives me a moment of calm, lucid meditation – my head is entirely clear. It’s like taking a calm breath with a lot of oxygen in it. Here’s one I saw this week: 

Hopefully this isn’t an “obligatory” Red-tail. I just feel peaceful when I see them.

Here’s a cute picture of Dash from this week. He’s a bird watcher too, but not in this picture: 

King Dash

Another quote from Annie Dillard: “’I don’t do housework. Life is too short. If you want to take a year off to write a book, you have to take that year, or the year will take you by the hair and pull you toward the grave.’ – Annie Dillard” 

Evelyn and I had lunch with a friend this week. I noticed two things at his house. Outside, next to his driveway, there were a few small tree trunks with holes made by yellow-bellied sapsuckers: 

Tell-tale sign you’ve been visited by a yellow-bellied sapsucker. A while ago.

Inside I glanced down and saw the spectrum projected on a cabinet wall through a crystal hanging in his kitchen window. I realized that little rainbow was just like a pawpaw – it has a very brief “life” – and either you see it or you don’t, and the world moves on. With pawpaws and with rainbows, nothing awful happens if you miss them. They’ll be back. But don’t miss them. Your life will be better: 

Like a snowflake, only larger and warmer and more colorful

I think that’s all I have! I hope you get so see something awesome this week. There are a lot of opportunities. Have a great week!

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

6 Responses to The craziest picture I’ve ever taken

  1. liz adams says:

    what does a paw paw look like? I don’t think i”ve ever seen one.

    • Hi Liz! They’re pale green and about the size and shape of an Idaho baking potato. Their leaves are approximately the same size except pointed on the ends. The trunk of the hugest pawpaw tree ever can’t be >5” in diameter. They only grow in real moist places, like river or creek bottoms. Pony Pasture (where I hike on the banks of the James River here in Richmond) is ~400 acres. I’ll bet we have 1,000 or more mature, fruiting pawpaw trees in that park. As I type these words (Tuesday, 8/20/2019 ~10:00 AM) I’ll bet the ground is covered with them at the park. And the smell is so sweet you can’t smell a single other thing. It’s an odd, unique occurrence. I’m looking forward to heading down there soon! Have a great day,


    • PS Liz I’ll make a note and hopefully Sunday morning photograph a few (with possibly car keys for scale) and post them on this blog that evening. Today and probably through ~mid-September is high pawpaw season here on the banks of the James. I suspect they’re on the banks of the Potomac as well, and probably of the Shenandoah or of the North River. They’re a very opportunistic and almost weedy tree; they reseed like crazy.

  2. Jackie says:

    That was a crazy picture, can’t believe you got such a great shot (even though I hate snakes) .

    • Thanks Jackie! I know snake haters don’t like snake pictures, but that one was such an amazing luck shot, it’s worth a look. Glad you got to see it! Thanks again and have a great day,


  3. Pingback: Butterflies in the ground | NEWFAZE

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