Dog days of summer, Montana style – and more

2 June, 2019           Dog days of summer, Montana style – and more

Me, Ivory (left) and Nicky, southern Alberta Canada, June, 1999

Ivory and Nicky THIS WEEK 20 years ago, 11,000′ above sea level in Montana

I’ve mentioned in this space before some internship work I did twenty years ago. Those pictures were taken twenty years ago this month – in JUNE! – in Canada (top picture) and Montana (bottom picture). That’s what the first full week of June looks like in Montana at 11,000 feet above sea level. I didn’t have a digital camera back then – this is all film. Taken with a cheap camera by an inexperienced photographer (me). More at the bottom of this post.

Female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail in the parking lot at Pony Pasture at 11:30 this morning:

We didn’t see a whole lot at the river today. If you don’t count the river itself, and people and dogs and trees and flowers and creeks and rocks and clover and the rest of the reliably soothing background at Pony Pasture. But just as we got back in the car, that lovely female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) fluttered to the ground next to our car and posed gracefully while I gratefully caught a quick image. The background isn’t breathtaking, but with a beauty like her in the foreground I hardly notice. The blue hindwing is how you tell she’s a female. In males it’s black. I also read that “Females lay their eggs singly on the leaves of woody plants, mainly tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera)[…].” Tulip trees may be second only to sycamores as far as large hardwoods go at Pony Pasture. I learned while reading about Tiger Swallowtails – stop me if you already knew this – that they’re the Virginia State Insect! Not only did I not-know that fact – I didn’t even know we had a state insect! But they represent us well. 

I flew twice this week, both times in a Tecnam P92 Eaglet. That I love to fly. We went to Farmville, Crewe, Blackstone, Lunenburg, Petersburg – it’s been a great week for flying. Here’s the plane we flew Thursday, N162SF. I took this picture at around 4:45 in the afternoon as I was walking out to the plane, just before I untied it:

How can this not look fun? I LOVE flying. You cannot imagine how joyful it is to fly up a few thousand feet and sightsee around the state.

Along with all the other treasures Evelyn’s brought to life in our yard, this week she added this glowing hibiscus. Butterflies and hummingbirds are both attracted to these enormous beauties; we’ll see what follows them into our yard:

Hibiscus newly blooming in our yard. If I were a butterfly or hummingbird I would find this difficult to resist. It is undeniably voluptuous.

I was surprised to get a “double” red-tail on the cell phone tower within sight of our house early Friday afternoon. I didn’t get brilliant shots of the pair, unfortunately. I never got to a position where I could see all four of their eyes at the same time. That’s a requirement for a picture of two birds. Or of two people or dogs for that matter. Here’s one alone, I believe this is the male:

Baby Red-tails look cute. But adults are incapable of it.

Here’s the substandard picture of the pair together. I shouldn’t include it at all, but I’m always just so tickled to see both birds at once. It feels like a special treat, every single time:

Poor light with eyes blocked. But still.

I took a moderate picture of my current dogs at the river this morning. Turner lying down – we’d just gotten there! – Mackey facing upstream, Yuki facing me. You are looking at three wonderful boys right there: 

Turner, Mackey and Yuki at Pony Pasture at 9:30 this morning:

Have a great week! All best! Come back next week! Have a great day,


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Evelyn sent me a quote earlier this week from Rachel Carson; it was posted on “If you write what you yourself sincerely think and feel and are interested in… you will interest other people.” That may be true. But I sincerely think a lot of boring stuff. I feel happy more often than not.

Brief synopsis of my summer 1999 internship for my Masters in Montana: After my 1988 traumatic brain injury (TBI) and subsequent recovery and education, I had a lot of experience, from bedside to bureaucracy. Arguably that should make me proficient in many areas of the post-TBI continuum. My thesis adviser at MCV had finished her PhD and moved to Montana – to work with people with TBI’s. Montana has HUGE Indian reservations, with high rates of TBI. So for my internship I spent the summer of 1999 traveling that vast state and presenting at every one of the  state’s seven Indian reservations. After Alaska, Texas and California, Montana is the largest state in the US. It is simply mind boggling. We drove ALL over the state, and had to spend the night in a lot of places. Because it takes a day to drive, then you present, then take a day to drive back. My presentations were short and I knew them by heart so I had plenty of free time to explore. I did a triathlon and a couple of other races that summer in Montana too.

I kept a journal, but I also wrote long emails to my family and to my teacher in grad school, the late, great Dr. Warren Rule. My dogs then were Ivory and Nicky. They taught me everything I know about dogs. They taught me a lot about people too.

If you’ve seen this blog for more than a month, you know I like to get outdoors with my dogs on Sundays. This journal entry is about what I did outdoors with my dogs on a Sunday twenty years ago this month, 2,000 miles and two time zones away:

6/27/1999 Sun 7:00 PM

A letter I’m just about to e-mail:

Sundays in Montana

On Sunday mornings, Ivory and Nicky and I like to get outside and get as close to nature as we can given our location at the time. Three Sundays ago, we were on the banks of the James River in Richmond, enjoying the late Spring flowers and watching the ducks and blue herons calmly wading in the warm water. Three hours ago, we were at 10,940 feet in the Bear Tooth Pass where Rte. 212 straddles the Montana/Wyoming border. At one point we were driving on the lee side of an eight foot snowbank, and snow was blowing off of it so thick I almost couldn’t see the end of my hood. Quite a contrast from three weeks ago. When we were in the open, it wasn’t a blizzard, but it was pretty close to it. The wind was whipping across the ground, blowing the snow perfectly horizontal. It was the hardest snow I’ve seen in about four years. And it’s almost July. Luckily I had worn jeans and boots today instead of my customary shorts and sneakers. I was wearing a shortsleeved T-shirt, however. I also had a jean jacket on, though, which was the only thing that made it so I could get out of the car at all. We found a few good spots where I could pull off and get out for a while and go walking for a while with the dogs; there were almost no identifying features. I don’t know if this stuff met the true definition of “tundra”, but there were just lots of rocks sticking out of the snow with lots of lichen on them, and no plants larger than about eight inches tall. Anywhere. This little snow had only covered the rocks about half an inch deep, but the snow that was still left over from the winter was still several feet deep in places that were out of the wind. We came up to one big patch of snow and Ivory and Nicky went dashing across it. I stepped onto the edge of it and sank over my knees before I took one step. So I climbed back out and went around. At one point Ivory and Nicky were about a hundred yards away from me, sprinting through the wind and the snow after each other. They looked just like a pair of wolves.

It was about 25 miles back down to the National Forest campground from there, and the temperature went up a degree or two for each mile we went down, but it was still only in the fifties or sixties at the bottom. The “bottom” was at around 7,000 feet. I’d guess the temperature was in the thirties on top, but the wind was blowing so hard it felt much colder. I took them for a longer hike down at the bottom because I could stand the temperature a little bit better, and it wasn’t snowing down there. There was also a nice deep creek running along the trail down there so they could get a drink from time to time. The place seems to have about five different names if you look at maps or signs on the road. My personal favorite is the “Absaroka — Beartooth Wilderness Area.” Also, when you’re up on the pass there, at the Montana – Wyoming border, you pass from the Custer National Forest (Montana) into the Shoshone National Forest (Wyoming). This area is immediately east of northern Yellowstone.

Next time I go back there, I’m definitely going to have my good coat on and some warmer clothes so I can stay out of the car for more than about fifteen minutes before I start to freeze. I’m glad I brought my heavy coat with me. It sure would have been nice to have today. I think that next time we have a free weekend we’re going to go camping up there, although not on top. That was like being on the moon. It was really nice down around 7,000 feet, though.

We drove through some pretty heavy rain on the way back, but it’s clearing up and turning nice now. I’m about to go over and check on MV’s horses. I won’t forget the carrots this time either. We’ve got a big week coming up at work; on Tuesday morning we’re going to Helena to the Brain Injury Association of Montana headquarters so I can meet the people there. I think there are only about two or three people in the office, but a guy lives there that I know from a TBI listserv. We’re also going to visit a couple of TBI survivors and their families. After we come back next week we’re going to visit a couple of the reservations near here, probably the Crow and Blackfeet. We’re also going to meet with the family of a TBI survivor at the Indian Health Service (IHS) office here in Billings tomorrow afternoon. However, when I was talking with the mother of a young Indian man with a TBI, I asked her what kinds of services the IHS provides, she said “handing out cough syrup.” She sounded very jaded. I think her son hasn’t been getting great services, but that’s what I’m supposed to help with while I’m here. We’ll see what happens.

Anyway, wish me luck, and I’ll talk to you soon,


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Posted in Rivers | 2 Comments

Some weeks I don’t know where to begin

26 May, 2019            Some weeks I don’t know where to begin

They live for one week! What a treat to see.

I saw a Luna moth (Actias luna) early this afternoon while I was riding my bike at West Creek. It’s such a treasure to see one, I screeched to a stop (in a manner of speaking) and leaned my bike against a tree and stopped for a picture.

Evelyn was putting hydrangeas in a vase; she told me it had belonged to my mom. After mom died in early 2017 we were taking stuff we wanted to keep when we cleared out her house. Evelyn thought this vase was attractive and brought it home. My brother said “sassy vase” – two words that may never have been together before now:

Sassy vase – I’ll bet you didn’t expect to read those words today (Ev made the potholder too) 

In addition to seeing a Luna moth this afternoon, I saw a Box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) at Pony Pasture this morning. Yuki and Mackey and Turner were tired; this was late in our walk. They were content to lie down and observe:

Peaceable kingdom (still image) – Yuki, Turner, Mackey, unnamed turtle

Believe it or not, there were at least two or three deer in the creekbed, seventy-five feet away at the most. The trees were leafy so it was hard to get good video. But here’s a seventeen second video showing the turtle, the dogs, and the flicking tails of the deer down in the creek:

We first saw an Eastern ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) but it was in poor light the picture is not lovely:

Eastern Rat snake crossing trail

One of my favorite pictures from this week is an Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) caterpillar on our parsley plants (leftover from last year):

Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillar gobbling fresh parsley (last year’s model)

So much going on outdoors at this time of year.  I saw a Fowler’s toad (Anaxyrus fowleri) at Pony Pasture Tuesday:

Fowler’s Toad

I’d been watching (and photographing) a female bluebird on a bird house at Deep Run Park Monday. I was sitting on a bench with my friend Ray and I’d looked away but he kept watching. He told me the male had returned and I looked up and there he was. Female first then male; same birdhouse:

Like many birds (think of mallards) the females are less brightly colored than the males

The male – very bright colors. Thanks for pointing him out Ray!

I flew twice this week – I almost named the blog post after that. I was going to call it “Letting my geek flag fly.” This is a view from the plane; we were flying north at 2,600 feet near Fredericksburg:

Near Fredericksburg, from 2,600 feet: 

This is the instruments at the same time:

From the pilot’s seat Thursday morning:

I’ve seen lots of ospreys this week and a return of Red-tailed hawks, but no pictures I adore. Perhaps next week. Enjoy your Memorial Day!  Come back next week!

Wait a second. I was flipping through some pictures from Wednesday. I finally saw a pair of Red-tails. Both at once. The babies are probably getting huge and the nest is too crowded on hot days. They were both out at the same time but I couldn’t get both at once. The male was posed in better light:

Male red-tail hawk near the Willey Bridge, full crop:

WAIT! Hold the presses! As they used to say. We got a gardenia outside this morning! I was out all day; I didn’t get this picture until right before sunset tonight:

If you get real close your nose touches the wet leaves when you smell it – it’s amazing


All best,


Posted in Birds, box turtle, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, James River, kofp, love, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Snakes, Tecnam, thoreau, Turtles, whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Famine to feast

19 May, 2019            Famine to feast

Red-shouldered hawk perched on a bird feeder (not even kidding)

I went from not having enough (IMO) to blog about last week to almost having too much this week. Which is always fun. In last week’s blog post (Friday on my mind) [I wrote that I’d “seen few raptors of any kind recently” – not even an indistinct or fleeting or blurry Red-tail or Red-shoulder or Bald eagle – I can usually count on at least a few. I published that post at 7:40 Sunday evening. I was standing in a friend’s kitchen eighteen hours later when that Red-shouldered hawk swooped in and landed on the ground five feet from their deck. I took this picture with my phone when it first landed:

Hawk on ground in ivy near center of picture – look closely

A minute or two later it hopped up and perched on that bird feeder, looking for a meal. A lot of small animals like to eat spilled bird seed. And hawks like to eat those small animals. There’s a whole bunch of food chain links happening there.

In front of our house Evelyn has our first nasturtiums of 2019 blooming. Evelyn plants a lot of orange nasturtiums since orange was my dad’s favorite color. She plants a lot of yellow ones too – my mom’s favorite color – but these were the first to catch my eye (and my lens) in 2019:

Evelyn’s “Big Mike” nasturtium – no filter, no retouching, nothing – it just looks that way. Incredible. And it just woke up! 

Speaking of orange and yellow, it’s startling to post this picture today, May 19, 2019 – the first 90º day of the year – of a fire in the woodstove! On Monday! I took that picture at 8:50 PM Monday (5/12) because our heat came on because it was so cold. Less than seven days later our air conditioning is on because it’s so warm. Dash less than a week ago:

Dash admiring “Big Mike” nasturtium colored May 13 fire

I saved up enough money to take a few more flying lessons, so I got back in the air Tuesday a few minutes before 5:00 PM. I hope to fly some new planes, but to reacquaint myself I’m getting back in a Tecnam P92 Eaglet. They’re basic, no frills, easy to fly and inexpensive. And in terms of fun for the dollar, they’re hard to beat. We flew from the same airport I’ve always flown from Hanover County Airport (KOFP). Here’s the plane I flew Tuesday:

Pixar rendering of Tecnam P92 Eaglet and breathtaking sky

My brother Shane said it looked like a Pixar plane and sky. He has a point. He also has a three year old son, so he probably sees more Pixar-scapes than I do, but I’ve seen plenty and he’s right. My instructor Joel and I flew to Tappahannock-Essex County Airport (KXSA) and I got a stamp for my Virginia Aviation Ambassador Program passport! I think (I think) there are roughly 65 airports on the passport program. I’ve “gotten” around 35 or so of them. I’ll be more precise. I’m going to keep getting new ones for the next month or six weeks. We only stopped for a minute; I regret not taking a better picture than this:

Tappahannock – Essex County Airport

Some of you may have read posts in earlier years (or not) when I’ve written about an event I’ve done to remember my dad every spring since he died in late 2012. You can read a post I wrote about him (partly about him) just after he died: Good man. One of the things that good man loved from the time he was a good boy growing up in Arlington, VA in the 1930’s and 1940’s was recreational shooting. He was on the rifle team at his high school, Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, VA. I was surprised to learn (I learn an incredible amount researching for this blog) that their rifle team is still active! I may see if there’s a way I can attend a match some time. Wow. Anyway, I digress. Dad loved to tell a story when we were growing up. He lived 1.5 miles from school (he didn’t say that, I just googled it). He would ride his bike to school for rifle team practice with his .22 bolt action rifle across the handlebars. As he told the story – though he may have concocted this to teach a safety rule – a policeman stopped him once. He said “Son, is that rifle safe?” And dad – as he tells the story – said “Yes sir, I have the bolt for it right here, I took it out of the gun.” And the policeman said “Good work young man. Be careful when you’re riding.”

A public indoor shooting range (Colonial Shooting Academy) opened just a few miles from my house right around the time dad died. So every Spring when the weather turns pleasant, I ride my bike there and shoot for half an hour or so, an event I refer to as the “Big Mike Biathlon.” Here’s a blog post I wrote about it in 2017: Big Mike Biathlon

This was my bike parked outside Colonial Shooting Academy Thursday afternoon:

My bike at the range Thursday

Inside the range:

Looking downrange. I use paper plates for targets – cheap and easy to hit

The Big Mike Biathlon got even better last year – I love it when you “can’t make this stuff up” – when I saw a nearby diner with a special new sandwich on the menu. Here’s the menu item:

Big Mike’s BLT – an actual menu item!

Here’s the sandwich I had Monday. I put keys “for scale,” a favorite teaching method of dad’s:

Half of the aforementioned 830 calories – with keys, for scale. Sorry about the tomatoes Sheila!

The best thing about the addition of a sandwich to the Big Mike Biathlon is Evelyn joins me! There was no food involved in dad’s “biathlon” but he liked to eat almost as much as I do, so I’m sure he’d approve of that addition. Especially since they named a sandwich after him!

I also got to participate again this year in the Autism Society of Central Virginia’s 17th Annual 5K and Family Fun Day. I’ve gone to a lot of them – ten or more, including the first one at Deep Bottom Park (not Deep Run Park) with my old friend Skye. This year it was held for the first time at Stony Point Fashion Park and it was a great course. And the crowds were as always enthusiastic and supportive. Here’s a picture of the three mile marker, and one of my Garmin app moments later at the finish:

Not much longer now

We were fueled with delicious Raise coffee who says that their “mission is to create opportunities for job training, employment, and full participation in community life for youth and young adults with developmental disabilities in and around Hanover County, Virginia. Raise Inc is a 501(c)(3) charitable non-profit organization.” The coffee and the service were both outstanding – I’m looking forward to another cup soon!

Raise coffee – excellent coffee and an excellent cause!

Pony Pasture had some activities from the Dominion Energy Riverrock Festival today and I wanted to stay Far From the Madding Crowd so Evelyn and I took Mackey and Turner to Bryan Park – much more peaceful. I was afraid I’d missed the Purple Martins (Progne subis) this year but there was a scrum of them chittering and fluttering around the Purple Martin houses at Bryan Park. They made a “madding crowd” of their own when seven or eight would perch on the houses at once. I didn’t get any great photos, but here’s one with a male in the foreground and a somewhat blurry female behind him. Those houses are constructed and maintained by Richmond’s inimitable Adolph White. If you’re fortunate enough cross paths with him, ask him about Purple Martins, or nearly any other bird in Virginia. It’ll take about thirty seconds for you to think “this guy has to be a teacher” because he is so intelligent and generous with the way he shares his knowledge. Only people who are truly enthusiastic and passionate about their subject convey information as clearly as he does. It will come as no surprise when you read the interview with him and come to the section that says “Occupation: Retired teacher”. Richmond in general and Bryan Park in particular is fortunate to have a guy like Adolph around. Here is the pair I saw today. The wire is to ward off marauding hawks:

Purple Martins, blue sky, Bryan Park

Martins weren’t the only purple thing I photographed at Bryan Park today. Look at this gorgeous clover blossom:

Clover – the essence (there are a lot of essences) of Spring

Anyway, that’s enough for the time being. If anyone is interested – not everyone is – my favorite summertime sporting event begins Tuesday, June 11 – three weeks from this coming Tuesday. It’s called RAAM or Race Across America and it is exactly that – a non-stop bicycle race across North America. On Tuesday morning at the edge of the Pacific Ocean in Oceanside, CA, individual and team riders will begin heading east. And they won’t stop until they reach the edge of the Atlantic Ocean in Annapolis, MD. So if you sleep, somebody else is riding. So they try not to sleep.

In 2014, a guy named Christoph Strasser – who is in this year’s race – made that trip averaging 16.4 mph. For 3,020 miles. Non stop. In my eleven ironman triathlons – I ride the bike 112 miles then stop – I’ve averaged 16.5  mph. Christoph Strasser’s win took him 7:15:56. That’s seven days, fifteen hours, 56 minutes. Mine took me just under seven hours. It’s like he’s not even a human being. But he comes across in interviews as gregarious and outgoing and approachable. I don’t recall what his winning margin was – and I haven’t been able to locate it – but last year he was ahead of the second place finisher by something like two days. Nobody rides like this person. Nobody ever has, to the best of my knowledge. If you enjoy cycling and the outer limits of human ability, it’s worth taking a peek.

Have an excellent week!

All best,


Posted in Birds, Bryan Park, coffee, disability, Dogs, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, James River, kofp, love, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Tecnam | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Friday on my mind

12 May, 2019           Friday on my mind

Alternate title: “For lack of a better title.” It’s been a fun week though – lots of reptiles and a stray amphibian here or there. I did photograph one non-domestic mammal (white squirrel again) but I haven’t seen any deer recently. I did a couple of night shots (in addition to the moon) that I’ve never done before. I got several “double” adult skinks at Deep Run Monday, but I came back Friday and got another that I like better. Who knows what it means for a reptile to “think.” Their primary drive is to pass their genes to a new generation. But before they can do that, they have to breathe and drink and eat – always. They observe. At the river I always ask Mackey and Turner if they see or hear or smell anything I’m missing. I find it much easier (so I believe) to divine a dog’s thoughts and/or emotions than I do a skink’s. Since dogs are mammals like me. With skinks, who can say:

Inscrutable skink faceoff

There is a Northern water snake  (Nerodia sipedon sipedon) picture farther down this post.

I noticed as I got farther down this post, I was writing a lot about the way I interpret the thoughts and emotions of non-human animals through my own thoughts and emotions. I do that all the time but I was doing it way more than usual in this post. For around a month I’ve been reading Eye of the Albatross: Visions of Hope and Survival by Carl Safina. Mr. Safina works hard to “get inside the mind” (my expression) of the animals he writes about, and his writing is so captivating I find myself drifting in that direction. As an aside – that book is as much about “visions of hope and survival” as it is about albatrosses. It is in every way outstanding. 

When Evelyn came home from work late Monday, she told me she’d seen the moon and it was a very small waxing crescent moon. Since our house faces mostly east, I’d never seen one! Can you believe it? They set in the west and I almost literally never see open sky in that direction in the evening. So I took my camera outside and raced up to the corner where I have a clear view to the west. I took this picture as the moon was setting almost directly over the Westbury Apothecary. This is not a pro shot (it’s barely even an amateur shot) but I like the way it looks:

Almost brand new moon setting over the Westbury Apothecary late Monday evening

That was a really new moon – only 2 days old on Monday evening, according to an app called “Sun Surveyor.” 5% full. As I type these words (Sunday 4-ish, broad daylight) that moon is 8 days old. It’s 60% full and growing. The Monday Westbury image was at 290º on the compass (a smidgen north of west) and a mere 2º above the horizon – it was about to disappear (set)! Right now it’s much too cloudy to see it, but if today was clear it would be plainly visible. It’s at 97º (a hair south of east) and 30º above the horizon and climbing. It’s fascinating (if you’re me) to learn (and continue to learn) all this stuff.

I’ve been watching a lot – I always watch a lot – and seen few raptors of any kind recently. I’ve seen more than zero, but drastically less than I’m used to in May. I’m uncertain why that is. We’ll see what turns up. My brother Kevin recently (this week) saw an active pair of ospreys near the Richmond Volleyball Club. And his wife saw – and photographed – a Sandhill crane in western Hanover County! Things will appear this week. They always do.

Speaking of things that appear. I hadn’t seen the white squirrel in a while but she reappeared this week. I’m not 100% certain but after examining a few pictures, I am ~85% certain this is a female. I got a picture of her watching me from a mossy tree root Friday. I liked the green background and how brightly her white coat stood out:

Gleaming white against green

Thin week! A few birds. Brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) on my feeder this week. They thrash (or at least I always thought) mostly with their feet and possibly their beaks. But when I see this image I suspect they use that tail some too:  

That tail appears well suited to thrashing

It’s tempting (to me, anyway) to describe animal expressions in human terms. But interpreting cardinal expressions or skink expressions through the lens of a human mind is bound to be inaccurate. But he looks quizzical:

I interpret this expression (if he has one) as quizzical. ymmv

Mockingbird from the same day; not my a/t favorite image:

Mockingbird from an unflattering vantage point

Let me get that snake in here before I forget – I know everyone will miss it if I do:

Small and probably young Water snake at Deep Run:

On a somewhat more appealing note (to nearly every human being) I snapped a quick image of a bluebird on my feeder a moment ago. Have a look:

It’s odd to see a bluebird looking pensive. Or maybe it’s not odd; maybe they always feel “blue”

I got another cricket frog yesterday. We took a Saturday walk to avoid today’s forecast rain. Cricket frogs are really hard to see and I apologize for the poor quality (light) in this image. But I’m always delighted to see one:

Cricket frog in weak light

Big clusters of tadpoles trigger me to start snooping around for frogs:

For every frog egg laid, I wonder what percentage lives to maturity. Probably ~0.000001 or less.

Our elderberries have the tiniest blooms beginning. I took this picture yesterday (5/11) morning at 9:30. That’s one small branch from one limb or trunk of one bush. I’m estimating that’s ~5,000 elderberries right there, more or less. Each bush I’m thinking has about a hundred of those clumps. So half a million – or so – elderberries per bush. Possibly as many as a million. I think we have eight bushes. So four to eight million ripe elderberries will appear as if by magic I’m thinking this week. Evelyn had these planted anticipating this magic, by the way. And then we will be mobbed with birds. It’ll be a free for all. You should plant some!:  

I predict we’ll have more elderberries than grains of sand on a large beach. Just you wait.

We walked with Yuki at Deep Run this morning but I didn’t take any pictures. I had only Mackey and Turner with me at Pony Pasture yesterday. Here they were, a few minutes before we got back to the car:

Black and brown and green

Have a great week! Come back next week! All best,


Posted in cardinals, Dogs, Fun, love, mockingbirds, moon, Pony Pasture, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Snakes, squirrels | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Race day

5 May, 2019           Race day

Today I celebrated my thirty-second year (!) of being a triathlete! This was my bike at Lake Anna this morning just before noon, maybe forty-five minutes after I’d finished the race:

My bike shortly after the race

This was me about half an hour earlier. A group of athletes asked if I’d do a group photo of them; I asked them to return the favor, though I was only racing in a group of one:

Me today after the race – 32 years of triathlons! My gratitude knows no bounds

I carried my phone on the run; I took this picture at 11:12, a moment before crossing the finish line:

The finish line awaits

All this was today – these irises were ~30 seconds walk from the finish line:

Also at the finish line. Beauty everywhere I looked.

My brother Kevin had been at Davidson college recently at a volleyball tournament with his daughters. He photographed this and sent it to me. Late in the race I was having a problem running; the quote was perfectly timed:

Late in the race I had a problem with running. Voila.

I got a cricket frog at the river Thursday – check this out:

Cricket frog at Pony Pasture

Tadpoles ~1 / 4 of a hop away from that frog:

Cricket frogs to be, a.k.a. tadpoles:

Ev’s roses are still stunning (and will continue to be, if history is any guide):

Another stunning rose from your yard:

I got up at 4:45 this AM to do that race, drove to Lake Anna, raced and came home – and I am way too tired to blog much more. But a couple other things at Pony Pasture caught my eye Thursday. One was I was lamenting that I’d missed the locust blossoms in 2019. They are as ephemeral as any trout lily but they smell 1,000x better – or more – since trout lilies don’t smell. Locust blossoms smell stunning – possibly better than a gardenia or honeysuckle. I wanted to write this week about what you miss when you read a blog – you miss smells. Flowers are blooming like mad at Pony Pasture (and everywhere else) now, and they’re pleasing to the eye buy you have to smell them! Here are the locust blossoms:

These locust flowers are simply beyond compare

And while I was drinking them in, their scent attracted the first hummingbird I’ve seen in 2019. This is a female ruby throat. Although they’re called “ruby” throated, only the males have “ruby” throats. Her throat is white. She just stopped at the locust flowers for an instant then flew across the trail to some other tree. Here she is. You have to look carefully – she’s to the left in the center. You can see her eye and her slender bill and white throat:

Female hummingbird, center-left:

I still have to walk Mackey and Turner before they – or I – go to sleep. So have a great week! Come back next week!

All best,


Posted in Endurance, Flowers, Fun, love, People, Pony Pasture, Rivers, roses, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), triathlons | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Eavesdropping and “money problems” – a true story

28 April, 2019           Eavesdropping and “money problems” – a true story

I woke up for work before dawn Wednesday, thinking I had “money problems.” I fixed my oatmeal and read an article in the New York Times called Letter of Recommendation: Eavesdropping by a woman named Jeanie Riess. I’ll return to that at the bottom of this post.  

I’d seen a white squirrel or two when I was younger, and we used to see lots of black squirrels too. This is a white squirrel. But it’s not an albino. Much more common is a “white morph” of a gray squirrel. The “morph” in the name is the same morph as in “metamorphosis.” Here’s the one I’ve seen twice this week at Deep Run Park in western Henrico County, VA:

White morph gray squirrel (not an albino)

While I’m posting spectacular images, check out the first rose Evelyn coaxed into bloom in 2019. I took this picture with my phone (!) Thursday (4/24) morning. All I can say is I’m speechless:  

Blaze rose blooming beside our garage this week:

I got pictures of snakes again this week, but it’s the same old northern water snakes on the same old pieces of granite at Deep Run. They’re cool – they’re always cool – but I got a different reptile in better light, and it doesn’t make people cringe as much as snakes do. Check out this five-lined skink I saw Friday:

Mature five-lined skink:

That one is an adult. There were juvenile skinks running around – I am not making that up – and hanging out in the sun. Check out these two:

Two juvenile five-lined skinks, identifiable as juvenile by their blue tails

The Virginia Herpetological Society says this about the youngsters:

The blue tail of juveniles is an antipredator adaptation that serves to attract the predator away from the vulnerable part of the lizard, its body. Juveniles escape potential predators by disappearing into the leaf litter, lashing their tails back and forth above the leaves. The blue tail, contrasting with the brown background, attracts predators (birds and small, lizard-eating snakes) to the less vulnerable appendage. Once broken off, the tail twitches for a period of time, distracting the potential predator further. This increases the probability that a juvenile will survive to maturity. At onset of sexual maturity the tail color changes from blue to a cryptic gray-brown. This change occurs at a time when energy requirements for tail regeneration are also important to the growth and reproductive output of the adult (Vitt and Cooper, 1986c). Tail loss at this time decreases a female’s ability to produce and brood eggs and a male’s ability to win aggressive bouts with other males (and presumably to reproduce with the females in his area).

Always something new to learn.

Speaking of flowers – like the rose posted above – which I still have trouble looking away from. Evelyn guessed and our rose aficionado friend Marion confirmed (btw) that was a “Blaze” rose. Speaking of learning something new. So I googled it – while I was typing this blog post – and learned a Blaze rose is a “Rambler Rose.” According to Wikipedia. The same source goes on to say – again, I’m learning this as I type it – that “’Rambler Roses’, although technically a separate class, are often included in Climbing Roses.” There is, as I’m certain you can imagine, much more to it, but Sundays only last twenty-four hours, so I’ll let it go at that.

I digressed. I’m sure that comes as a shock. Evelyn also had a new dogwood planted in our backyard last year – right next to our redbud – and it’s blooming enthusiastically. In fact I’m a few days past “peak bloom” but I stepped away from my computer after the last paragraph and went out in the  backyard and took this picture of our new dogwood:

Graceful new dogwood in our backyard:

I photographed this azalea without even going outdoors. I opened the window and the screen and leaned out and took this picture:

I just opened the window and leaned out and took this picture:

This one is in the backyard – I actually had to open the door and walk outside to take this picture:

Outdoor azalea – got a little more exercise:

Anyway, I enjoyed writing the story I wrote for the end of the blog post this week. It helped me maintain my equilibrium. Have a great week, come back next week, all best,


Oops – late to this blog post – I had Mackey and Turner and Yuki at the river this morning. This northeastern tip of the park is ~1/2 way on our hike and we like to take a short break there:

Taking a break at the halfway mark

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Eavesdropping and “money problems” – a true story

I’d just gotten an estimate for a car repair that was four times higher than I’d budgeted. I was walking through the Y toward the pool whining – in my head, to myself – about my money problems when I walked past two members having a conversation. In the random second in eternity that I was walking past these two strangers, one was telling the other “she was putting flowers on her son’s grave.” Like an eighth of a second later I turned left into the locker room.

“If you have a problem and you can solve it with money, you don’t really have a problem.” That’s an expression I heard decades ago and after doing pet therapy  with children who died, I know it’s not trite – it is as legitimate an expression as any I’ll ever hear. But I’m human and although I don’t need to be reminded, sometimes I  forget how true it is.

The article I’d read over breakfast that morning – Eavesdropping – mentioned overhearing things not intended for your ears. But when we speak aloud in public, we are – by definition – not private. In her article, Ms. Riess wrote “Being too much in your own body can make you obsessive about your own problems, causing you to lose the ability to understand the scale of your own life compared with the lives of others.” I wasn’t “eavesdropping” – but I overheard a conversation not intended for me. And it made me remember the scale of my own life was the cost of repairing my car. Against the cost of a person putting flowers on their child’s grave.  

This week, I hope your worst problems are the kind you can solve with money.

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Posted in Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, James River, love, People, Pony Pasture, Rivers, roses, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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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Posted in Birds, Bryan Park, Flowers, Fun, James River, ospreys, Pony Pasture, Raccoons, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Snakes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments