“Lit up like a Chinese pig shop”

3 January, 2021 “Lit up like a Chinese pig shop”

The original title for this blog post was “Bright start to 2021.” Go to the bottom of the post to read the story if you’re so inclined. It’s a really old one. 

Happy New Year Bluebird from Pony Pasture

I took that photograph Tuesday (12/29/2020) so it’s not an official 2021 picture. But I took it this week, and chose it for the first photograph on my blog in 2021. Bluebirds are just wild animals – they’re no different than rats or ticks or fleas or snakes – but that is an undeniably cheerful picture. 

My friend Marion joined me for a quick hike Tuesday – she was there when I took that picture. I’ve been absentee dog-sitting my friend’s dog Luna this week so Marion and I took her along for that walk. I “got” a double owl that day. I don’t love the image, but I’m keeping a record of when I see pairs of owls (plus I’m obsessed, in case you hadn’t noticed). Here is the owl pair: 

Still owl pairs sunning themselves in the final days of December.

I’ll include a picture of Luna hiking with my boys later in this post. But here’s a picture of her on a walk we took in our neighborhood this week: 

“Santa Luna” – sounds like the name of a city in southern California

Another old friend and I went to Three Lakes Park near the intersection of 95 and 295 Thursday. I hadn’t been in decades – I was happy to visit again. Pony Pasture has lots of cormorants, but they’re always out on rocks. This one was on a fake rock (I’m pretty sure that’s a fake rock) but it spread its wings and looked nice in the sun:  

Cormorant drying its wings in the pale December sun

When Marion and I were at Pony Pasture Tuesday, the sky was blue and infinite, but a wheeling, screeching, high flying flock of gulls wheeled over the parking lot to lend perspective. This looks almost wall-paperish, but the blue is peaceful and the flecks of gulls are graceful: 

I’ve flown enough to know they must be enjoying themselves

Marion and I saw a grebe during our hike as well. I used Merlin Bird ID to identify it, though I’ve had them in this blog before. This is a Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps):

Pied-billed grebe at Pony Pasture

I took Mackey and Turner and Luna to Pony Pasture yesterday, to avoid today’s rain and mud. Here they are a few minutes before noon: 

1 pretty girl, 2 handsome boys, 1 well maintained park, 1 incomparable river

I’ll close (before the story) with a quick “Happy New Year” picture from Luna. Have a great day, week, year and more. And come back next week! All best, 



I almost forgot – for those of you who may be heartbroken otherwise – to include my first Barred Owl of 2021. I went solo on New Year’s Day specifically to see if one would be there. I first photographed Barred Owls on this vine just after Thanksgiving in 2019. So this marks the third consecutive calendar year I’ve photographed one (or more) in this precise spot:

First owl of 2021 – I can tell it’s going to be a great year

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“Lit up like a Chinese pig shop”

Our mother’s parents were a bit younger and we spent lots of time with them when we were growing up. They were from Nebraska and they were quite midwestern and very Catholic. One of my siblings once described our parents as “Kennedy Democrats” and they raised us (as another sibling says) “on a long leash.” Mom’s parents weren’t 100% on board with that parenting style. Mom’s dad was the more Catholic (and the more Christian) of the two , but he was a kind and quiet and warm hearted and loving man, and I suspect he delighted inwardly. But his lovely wife said mom and dad were raising us “like wild Indians.” Mom had a sister (who went on to become a Catholic nun) and no other siblings. So I’m sure their house was generally quiet. And dad was an only child. 

We had three boys and two girls and our house was only rarely quiet. Our cabin was quiet a lot – because we were so rarely indoors. Kevin and Shane and I had two buddies our age who had a cabin near ours. They lived in Harrisonburg, only a half hour from the cabin. They were Michigan natives and theirs was a true blue collar family. Their names were Bob and Jeff. Their parents loved us and took great care of us, and cooked great popcorn, and their chimney didn’t draw well, so it always smelled like popcorn and sweat and mildew and woodsmoke in their tiny red cabin. Their father laughed easily and had, unforgettably, one blue eye and one brown. 

In the summer we swam in the river a little bit and fished a little bit. We ran around outside at night all year long. It’s now the Norfolk Southern railroad, but when we were young it was the Norfolk and Western railroad, and the tracks ran on a high, steep embankment behind their cabin. 

Those tracks were on a relatively steep grade. You couldn’t see the elevation change with your eyes; train track “hills” are not like road hills. But locomotives were underpowered back then, and they were hauling long, heavy coal trains. It wasn’t unusual for a train to have five locomotives on the front pulling up the hill, and another five on the back pushing. We’d hear them coming at night long before they arrived, and we’d race up the steep embankment to watch (and listen to and feel) them rumble past. 

Bob was the older of the two, and while you would never describe him as “staid,” he was significantly calmer than his younger brother. You wouldn’t call Jeff (not in the clinical sense anyway) “hyper,” but compared to Bob he always was. Compared to almost anyone I knew, come to think of it. 

So one night we were crouched in the shadows next to the railroad tracks and the front locomotive’s headlight swept over us as the train rumbled past and Jeff blurted out that we were “lit up like a Chinese pig shop.” I don’t think Jeff even knew what he was saying. He definitely didn’t attach any meaning to it. It was the non-sequitur to end all non-sequiturs. I was probably fifteen, so this was the mid-1970’s, and I guess Jeff was eleven. Or so. It was sort of a manic outburst. I don’t think he knew why he was saying it – any more than I know why it still comes to mind many decades later. 

Mom and dad always – 24/7/365 – encouraged us to be open-minded and accepting. You can’t “curate” a childhood to include experiences like that. Have an excellent week. I hope 2021 is your best year ever.  

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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 Barred Owls, Birds, Dogs, Fun, James River, love, newfaze, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, Shenandoah Valey, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Trains and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to “Lit up like a Chinese pig shop”

  1. adamseliz says:

    loved the description of your grandparents and your upbringing. got a notice from the funeral home that tomorrow is the ‘anniversary’ of your mom’s death. ( not sure that’s the right word). miss her still and think of her often.  today is my mom’s 124th birthday!Sent from my T-Mobile 4G LTE Device

  2. Jackie says:

    Chinese pig shop, interesting
    Owls awesome
    Happy New Year 🎊

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