In touch with my inner hermit

3 February, 2019            In touch with my inner hermit

Delicate (appearing) and beautiful Hermit Thrush at Deep Run Friday:

I saw this Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) Friday at Deep Run Park in western Henrico. I am an outgoing person but the avalanche of sports (today is Super Bowl Sunday) and politics (needs no explanation) have left me looking for a quiet place to hide. To get in touch with my inner hermit. I don’t see a million hermit thrushes but it’s always a treat when I do.  

I like to stay in touch with my inner bluebird too; this beauty posed genially in the late morning sunshine at Pony Pasture earlier today:  

Bluebird enjoying some winter sun at Pony Pasture this morning

No one would mistake a Red-tailed hawk for a hermit. They are outdoors and in plain view practically 365 days a year if you keep your eyes open. But as birds go, at least from my perspective, they are highly antisocial. Not 100% antisocial – when they’re with their mates, both appear (from what I’ve observed) so comfortable it’s almost like they’re ignoring one another. My interpretation of this (I may be incorrect) is they’re not ignoring one another. The truth is, they’re so focused on potential prey, that’s all they’re thinking about. Of course, it’s late Winter/early Spring, so they’re also thinking about (or anyway devoting their energy to) making new Red-tailed hawks. I did get a “pair” of Red-tails together yesterday afternoon, but they were perched on two separate cell phone towers so I couldn’t get both in the same image. Here’s the one that was closest to my house:

The Red-tail and the sun are both welcome sights

Oops – I did get a “true” “double” red-tail. This was around 9:30 Friday morning. They’re pairing up all over the place. This is on the cell phone tower behind Henrico County Fire Station 13 on the southeast corner of Church Road and Lauderdale Drive. It’s a predictable spot, but I also pass it regularly and I’m always looking for hawks, so maybe that’s why. Not wonderful light like it was yesterday, but double red-tails always make me smile. This is a great time of year:

Double Red-tail Friday. Hard to believe this is the same day I got the Hermit Thrush picture (at the top of this blog post)

Speaking of things that make me smile – Mackey and Turner went and I went hiking at Richmond’s Bryan Park Tuesday. Yuki didn’t join us for this hike. Possibly you saw this if you see me on facebook or instagram. But not everyone (fortunately) spends time on either of those platforms. Here’s the picture I posted:

Mackey & Turner at Bryan Park. See Turner standing on that big stump?

And, of course, since it’s Sunday, Yuki did join us today. Again we were in a city park, only this time, of course, again, it was Pony Pasture. Our home away from home: 

Mackey, Yuki and Turner pause on the trail this morning – they enjoy the nice weather too!

I’m going to a friend’s house to watch the first half of the Super Bowl. I have to get up for work at 5:00 tomorrow and I need sleep so I’m not going to stay for the finish. Have an excellent week! See you here again (I hope) on Sunday, 2/11. All best,


Posted in Birds, Dogs, Fun, James River, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Slim Pickens or “trust the process”

27 January, 2019            Slim Pickens or “trust the process”

I haven’t gotten a million great images this month. Not even by my standards of “great images,” which are normally not real great. It’s been “slim pickings,” although I used the late actor’s name (Slim Pickens). It’s also “or ‘trust the process'” because some Sundays I’ll sit in front of this computer with a blank space between my ears. Where a blog post is supposed to already be. So I have to go back over the pictures I’ve taken this week and “trust the process.” 

There’s nothing to be proud of about this one, except it’s always fun to see a Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) at close range standing still. At least for a moment. In the partially frozen bird bath outside my office window yesterday:

Northern Flicker in a frozen bird bath

And of course I can’t go a week without a raptor. This Red-tail was perched in the swamp on the edge of Patterson Avenue Wednesday morning:

I love Red-tails on church crosses and cell phone towers. But natural settings are gorgeous

Mackey and Turner and I paid our first visit ever to Larus Park off Huguenot Road in Richmond Thursday. It’s a small, out of the way park but worth a visit – we’ll be back soon. Probably this week. Here’s Mackey and Turner in the park. Big rocks! Fun hiking:

Mackey (left), Turner (right) in front of big rocks at Larus Park Thursday

Here’s Mackey and Turner this morning, along with Yuki, at Pony Pasture:

Mackey, Yuki and Turner this morning in their “natural habitat” at Pony Pasture

We’ve already got bulbs coming up – and it’s still January. I photographed these three yesterday (January 26). I’ll keep following them here. Possibly it’s wishful thinking on my part, but I sense spring is more imminent than it normally is in late January. A week from today will be the first Sunday in February! It feels like the frogs will be singing any second at Pony Pasture. We’ll see. Maybe one more hard freeze first. But here are three bulbs from our yard:

Bulb 1 – week 1

Bulb 2 – week 1

Bulb 3 – week 1

Not gorgeous photography. But I think they’ll become more beautiful in the coming weeks. Begin to show some color. 

Lest I forget this is still January. I scratched this in the ice on the inside of our garage window Tuesday morning. She planted those bulbs:

The frost on this window will be LONG gone when her bulbs bloom. Hopefully very soon!

Have a great week! See you in February! All best,


Posted in Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, hyacinths, ice, Northern flicker, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


20 January, 2019            dredge

I dredged up a few stories I’d appended to blog posts in years past. Some of them are interesting if you’ve never read them before. I’ll put them near the bottom. After some pics from this past week.

I often wear t-shirts and hats and sweatshirts (the first one a gift from my brother Kevin and his wonderful family) with a logo that says “simplify”. They bought me the first one many years ago when they were visiting our sister Sheila in Concord, MA. They took a side trip to Thoreau’s home at Walden Pond and picked up that first great t-shirt. I focus on having less “stuff,” although I still have way, way, way too much. But part of the reason I spend so much time at the river is this could be in The Picture Dictionary as the definition for the word “simplify”:


I took that picture near the beginning of the hike (we started out late) 3:15 this afternoon. We (just Mackey and Turner and me) saw our friend Peter and his dog Henry at the beginning of our hike but they were just leaving as we were arriving. Peter said they’d seen a bunch of deer in the woods. After I took that river picture, Mackey and Turner and I headed down the river bank then turned up the creek and crossed Charlie’s Bridge. Sure enough, the woods were full of deer. I counted five, but there are always more that are “invisible.” I know this because so many times I’ve been looking at (say) “five” deer, and someone comes along with a barking dog and next thing you know, nine deer jump up and run into the woods. It is astonishing how “invisible” they make themselves. This youngster  was (at that instant) in no way invisible:

simplify too

The river says “simplify” and those deer say “simplify” and every raptor (IMO) says “simplify.” It’s early in the season but pairs are beginning to form, and everything is becoming more active. But “activity” for these raptors means a lot of sitting still, which this big female was doing Friday morning at Westhampton Memorial and Cremation Park on Patterson Avenue:  

I find many antidotes to being overwhelmed

The sky was clear earlier this week and I got a few “moon shots.” On Tuesday, 1/15 at 3:30 PM I took this picture directly in front of my house:

The moon Tuesday afternoon at 3:30:

This is how my “world clock” app described it:

About seven hours later, around 10:30 PM the same day, I photographed the same moon, this time from the side of my house:

Same moon, seven hours later

This is my “world clock” app description of the same moon, seven hours later:

Same moon, seven hours “older”

This is fascinating information. In seven hours, the moon has grown from 66.1% full to 68.8% full. It started out (when I saw it) 32º above the horizon and moved up to 46º above the horizon. I first saw it at a heading of 102º, just south of east. My house faces about 120º. Seven hours later it had gone all the way around to 245º, or almost west. I was looking at it from my driveway, continuing its rise over my next-door-neighbor’s house 

For people of a certain sensibility, that may not sound simple, but it is. It’s just numbers. It is entirely predictable, and it will not change in any of our lifetimes. Instead of this predictability being boring, I find it fascinating. But I know lots of people – many readers of this blog, I’m certain – don’t share that opinion. But here we all are. 

Yikes! I almost finished this blog post and neglected my marginal photograph of a rare (in my experience) “accipiter” – either a Cooper’s hawk or a Sharp-shinned hawk. They are not truly rare, I just don’t see them very often. This one was perched in my next-door neighbor’s sweet gum tree, scoping out bird feeders:

Red-tails (earlier in this blog) hunt mammals. This is an accipiter, and they hunt other birds. With no apparent remorse.

Yesterday Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I hiked at Bryan Park to avoid Pony Pasture mud. I didn’t get any brilliant pictures, but we took a moment’s break to get a photograph near this partially cut up fallen tree:

Yuki, Turner and Mackey at Bryan Park yesterday

That’ll be enough (for me) for today. But I’m going to append some links to a few early (-ish) blog posts with stories on the end. All five of them are from early 2012. At that point I didn’t have much blogging experience and was disorganized. But I was enthusiastic. Take a look at them – they’re worthwhile. IMO. And come back next week! All best,


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My first blog entry was on March 2, 2011 but it wasn’t like it is today. Much more random.

The first post when I appended a story was 13 January, 2012    A lot of life. At the very bottom is a story called Bird by bird that briefly describes the genesis or early years of the person I’ve become today.

My blog posts were still intermittent and less organized (if you can imagine) at that relatively early point. My next post was nine days later when I wrote on 22 January, 2012    A Perfect day for a lot of things. I described the first person I ever worked with, beginning around 1990. I just talked with him last week! Twenty-nine years later, remarkable. Always to see the “story” on a blog post, scroll down to the bottom – that’s where I put them, after the pictures.

It was only four days until my next “story” in the series, in a blog post on 26 January, 2012 called Day tripper. It’s the early story of a young man I began working with in late 1994 when he was fifteen years old. He lives in Charlotte now and we don’t catch up as often but I’m still in touch with his family. He’ll be forty next month!

On Groundhog Day that year I put up a post called We didn’t see our shadows and introduced that guy in a little more detail. He couldn’t really talk – at all – but he was and is an expert communicator. He was a great teacher for me, exactly the person I needed to spend time with early in my career. The most valuable lesson he taught me was (and is) “pay attention.” I am so grateful.

The blog post after that just had a link to a ride, then on February 11 I photographed and wrote a post called Don’t fence me in, which also had some riding in it. But I closed it (at the bottom) with another story that fits in with the series. They’re all a bit different. Currently I’ve found twenty-three blog posts with stories on the end. I’ll add a few more next week.

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Posted in accipiters, Birds, Bryan Park, Cooper's Hawk, Dogs, Fun, James River, moon, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), thoreau, walden, whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mixed emotions

13 January, 2019            Mixed emotions

I had an experience – two experiences, really – on Monday, April 16, 2007. The dogs woke me up long before dawn today and, inexplicably, I was thinking of those two experiences. Evelyn is encouraging me to write more, and I’m reading about writing, and it’s stirring stuff up. That is undoubtedly why I was thinking of those two long ago experiences.

I’m going to pop a couple of pictures up here then put the “Mixed emotions” story at the end. So first, of course, the usual stuff. A lot of nice time outdoors this week. This morning I woke up real, real agitated from thinking – dreaming, I presume – about my two experiences on April 16, 2007. It was wet and cold outside but being agitated pushes me even harder than usual to the banks of the river. It was calming, as always. I took this picture shortly after we arrived:

Our wonderful James River this cold, gray January morning:

Monday morning on Patterson Avenue I saw a Red-shouldered hawk and a Red-tailed hawk perched in trees about five hundred yards apart. I love them both, but Red-shoulders don’t seem as confident at Red-tails. In my eyes, Red-tails always look confident – they perch and fly with swagger – and Red-shoulders always look a little concerned. Both of those assessments are what is called anthropomorphism – I am projecting my human emotions onto an animal. But that’s neither here nor there. Here is the Red-tail I saw Friday, at Westhampton Memorial & Cremation Park (it’s really called that, a “Park”) at 10000 Patterson Ave, Richmond, VA 23238: 

That bird does not appear to be worried. Maybe it is, or maybe they don’t have emotions. How would I knew? Great looking bird though. 

Here’s a picture of a Red-shouldered hawk, four or five hundred yards away: 

Red-shouldered hawk, a quick glide away from the Red-tail

I captured a fifty second video of a big female Red-tailed hawk in a tree across from my house Tuesday afternoon at 3:30. She had just flown into the tree carrying a mouse or a chipmunk or a mole or a vole – something small. By the time I went inside and got my camera and came back out, she had swallowed it. She stayed perched there for some time, then started moving her head around. I started taking a little video. It starts out bumpy but gets smoother. As an amateur ornithologist, her actions at the end surprised me. Hawks are true obligate carnivores – they only get their calories from meat. But she’s perched in what the Virginia Tech Dendrology department identifies as a yellow poplar. And in this video, she clearly consumes the seeds. She really starts eating them enthusiastically at around 40 or 45 seconds, right at the end. But it’s cool to see: 

Obligate carnivore consuming a plant

Deer are settling in at Pony Pasture for the short cold days and long cold nights. I hiked with some friends and their dog at Pony Pasture yesterday. I got this picture at 11:00 yesterday morning: 

A deer’s emotions in no way resemble a hawk’s. IMO.

Deer only eat plants. They don’t kill animals. Hawks are the opposite – they ONLY kill animals. Top of the food chain.

Yesterday that deer was looking at me, two other adults, and three dogs. It was for the most part unconcerned – there was an old fence in the woods and the dogs were on leashes. This morning the deer was looking at me and two dogs. They always assess risk. It’s always about energy. They get a certain number of calories (units of energy) from the plants they eat. They burn up those calories doing other things. If they run away when there’s no threat, they’ve burned valuable calories. And edible plants are few and far between in January. So it’s a foolish animal that burns needless energy. They stay around if they feel safe enough. Here are Mackey and Turner this morning, about twenty minutes walk (at my pace) away from those deer: 

Mackey and Turner are not fair weather hikers. They are all weather hikers.

Anyway enough with the pictures etc. Here is a bit about the thoughts that were troubling me before my two furry therapists and I went hiking at the river this morning. Have a great week, I hope you’ll join me here again next Sunday, all best, 


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Mixed emotions

In April, 2007 my dog Ivory and I had been visiting a friend with brain cancer for five years. Her name was Whitney and when we first met her in 2002 she was ten years old. She was lovely and had huge eyes and an even bigger smile and heart warmer than anyone else you know. She was as bald as a bowling ball but some people look even more beautiful bald, and she was one of them. She’d had a bad relapse and Ivory and I visited her again in the hospital on April 16 of 2007. She was fifteen when we visited her in 2007, and she’d loved dolphins her whole life. At some point during her illness the Make-a-wish foundation set up a trip to Florida so she could swim with dolphins. When Ivory and I visited her on April 16 she was wearing dolphin earrings. They were an inch long, with the outline of a dolphin in silver, around a smooth blue enamel dolphin. She was in a coma and she couldn’t swallow or hold her head up straight and thick foam pads on either side of her head held it up straight while she lay in bed. There was a little vacuum tube in her mouth sucking the saliva out. There were little humming buzzing hospital noises and Ivory and I were standing on her right side. And the blue enamel tail of her dolphin earring was vibrating just above the foam pads. Vibrating a tiny bit. I’m typing this twelve years later; I can see it perfectly in my mind’s eye. Hear that vacuum tube sucking out saliva. See the tail of that dolphin earring vibrating near the foam pad. Ivory was there to comfort her, or to comfort her family, or to comfort staff, but at that time he was only comforting me, a lot. Another thing I can recall perfectly is stroking Ivory’s soft fur. Since dogs don’t talk, they pay attention to other details, and intuitive dogs always understand the lightness or gravity of situations. Ivory breathed, like I did, and like Whitney did, except a machine was doing it for her. She died six weeks later. Her family had a blog/web site when she was alive, to update her friends and family about her progress. I found this entry from a couple of months after she died: Whit’s tombstone was delivered last Thurs. and it is beautiful. I hope she loves the dolphins on her marker.” Fifteen years old. That is just wrong. 

Get an image in your mind of a young person you know well and care for very deeply. Imagine that person bald and withered and under hospital room lights, which are not like other lights. Hospital lights have only light, they don’t have warmth. Imagine knowing quite well you weren’t going to see this person alive again. Imagine that blue enamel dolphin earring tail vibrating, just perceptibly.

It’s hard to do that – it’s really, really hard. I would say I can imagine how hard it must be for her parents, but that would be a lie. I can’t imagine that. I’m sure it was hard for Ivory too, but I’m also sure he didn’t keep reliving it after we left. I dropped him off at the house and drove straight to the Y for a long, long swim, because that’s how I make myself eat and sleep when my mind and heart are in turmoil. 

So I walk into the Y and a crowd is gathered and they’re all watching TV, so many people you can hardly even get past, and I was determined to swim, but I stopped and looked up, and I was in agony and wanted to get in the pool, where nobody talks to you and you don’t talk to anybody. And on the TV, a man with a mental illness had killed himself and more than thirty other people at Virginia Tech. My brother was in Blacksburg but nothing happened to him. Every member of our Y is connected to Virginia Tech in some way, either by friendship or academics. People were hardly even breathing. It was so still and quiet, except for the person talking on the television. I still had every single molecule of my hospital visit – I hadn’t even left an hour earlier – in my system. I knew what I was seeing was awful – that was true evil on that television – but I’d just been a foot from a real human being who I knew well, and I knew she wasn’t going to breathe much longer.

I was aware how crazy my mixed emotions were, how one of these things was not worse than the other. I knew that, of all the times in our lives we talk about having “mixed emotions,” there would never be a more appropriate time than that moment. Thank goodness I was able to swim.

This story doesn’t have an ending. My friend with the dolphin earrings is not any less dead, and neither are all the people at Virginia Tech. But it’s January here in Richmond and it’s snowy and wet and cold. If Ivory was still around, he would’ve loved to take a hike at the river today – regardless of anything else. Mackey and Turner and I had a great, wet, cold, quiet, peaceful hike this morning. I don’t know if they were grateful every single second of the hike, but I sure was.  

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Posted in Birds, Dogs, Fun, ice, James River, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Nobody yawns…

6 January, 2019            Nobody yawns…

Nobody yawns when they’re surprised by a free roaming eagle

I am embarrassed. I am acutely and painfully aware of the poor quality of this image. I took it. What stunned me about it – what is remarkable about it, IMO – is this magnificent animal was perched in a dead tree five hundred feet from a CVS pharmacy to the west, a Domino’s pizza to the east, an Episcopal church to the south. A couple of wingbeats and it could have landed on the roof of any of them. A Bald Eagle! The national bird and national animal of the United States. I was born in the early 1960’s inside the Beltway in the Washington DC area, and the idea of ever seeing a Bald Eagle was far-fetched. It simply (I believed) would never happen. Now here’s one perched practically in a strip mall. It’s a crummy image but what a bird to see in what an incredible spot. The black lines above it and below it are power lines strung beside Patterson Avenue 

I read up on them a bit afterward – I’d heard something about Benjamin Franklin being unimpressed with their character. I found this on a Smithsonian Magazine web site. The article says Franklin wrote: 

“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly.” 

[Read more:

Maybe they don’t make their living honestly – honestly I can’t say. I’m skeptical that birds have “moral Character” either way – they behave according to natural selection. They are at the top of the food chain. But they are spectacular to look at; you practically can’t turn your eyes away. You’d better believe you won’t yawn.  

Anyway, I’m still amazed. Hopefully the next time I photograph an eagle near a Domino’s, a 7/11, a CVS and a church I’ll get a better image.


From a more pedestrian point of view (in a manner of speaking) I was with my friend Clark at Hollywood Cemetery watching a trainload of covered hoppers moving east. These are probably full of grain or corn or something of that nature. I’ve been hearing and glimpsing mid-train locomotives for a couple of months, but Wednesday was the first time I’ve gotten a good look. It’s not exciting or award-winning photography but – like the strip mall Bald Eagle – it was unexpected and the first one I’ve ever seen: 

A mid-train locomotive

Thursday Mackey and Turner and I made it down to the river; it was muddy but not impassable. I believe the does that are going to get pregnant are pregnant, and they’re spending their mid-days bedded down in the woods. Chewing their cuds or “ruminating.” No great pictures, but here’s one: 

A white tail deer, a “ruminant,” ruminating at Pony Pasture Thursday morning

Just a few feet down the path I saw six gray squirrels at one time! If you’d drawn a 50′ x 50′ square in the air, a big frame, they would have all fit inside it. Plus there were probably more on the backs of the trees. I don’t know why or how that happened. Forget about photographing it – I don’t think it’s possible. Here is one of them; again a marginal image: 

Gray squirrel in view of deer at Pony Pasture. Part of a squirrel convention, IMO

I did have one image that came out well this week. It’s pretty tame, but it’s a Carolina Wren from Deep Run Park in western Henrico. My friend Kendall and I were hiking there Friday: 

Carolina Wren at Deep Run Friday

In quick succession from Pony Pasture this morning – because I’m tired and, not coincidentally, disorganized – three pictures then I’m done. 

A bluebird this morning, wearing drab winter colors: 

Bluebird sunning itself at Pony Pasture this morning

Second, a female turtle sunning herself on a log, while being ogled by two males – see their heads poking out of the water?: 

Two male turtles in the water, courting this female on the log

Finally, the river – I’m going to bed! Have an excellent first full week of 2019! 

Just look how beautiful our river looked this morning. It makes everything okay.

Have a great week! All best, 





Posted in Bald eagles, Birds, Carolina wren, Fun, James River, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, squirrels, Trains, whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Used w/o permission” or “Happiest flies”

30 December, 2018            “Used w/o permission” or “Happiest flies”

“Used w/o permission” or “Happiest flies”






30 December, 2018 “Used w/o permission” or “Happiest flies”

We took that photo last night at our family holiday gathering at my brother Kevin’s house in Doswell.


This picture and blog post are called “Used w/o permission” because I didn’t ask any of those wonderful people if I could post their picture here. But they know how I roll. Seeing it on this blog will come as no surprise.

The subtitle is “Happiest flies” because if our Mom and Dad had been flies on the wall last night, they’d have been the happiest flies since the dawn of fly history. I’ll write a little more at the end of this post. Meanwhile, the stuff I usually put in blog posts, except I’m not flying.

Monday was Christmas Eve – it startles me to even type those four words – and Evelyn gave me excellent books for an early Christmas present. I worked early in the morning. Then came home and we sat in front of the fire and read all day! 

I saw lots of raptors this week – including pairs of Red-tails it seemed almost everywhere I turned. This pair was almost across the street from the house when we were coming home from dropping off Yuki after our hike at Bryan Park:

Pair of Red-tails on the cross at Grove Avenue Baptist Church


Speaking of raptors and our hike at Bryan Park, practically the moment we started hiking a Red-shouldered hawk flew from left to right across the lake and landed obligingly in a tree on the other side:

They watch, watch, watch. Red-shouldered hawk at Bryan Park today


This was Mackey and Turner and Yuki around that time:

My boys at Bryan Park today. I was standing on their leashes when I photographed that hawk.


Tuesday evening when the dogs and I went for a walk we saw a squirrel in the street that had gotten hit by a car. Wednesday when I was coming home a turkey vulture was cleaning it up. It must have gotten full and it hopped up on my neighbor’s roof and yawned. I’ll put a picture of that first. After that I’ll put a picture of the vulture cleaning the squirrel. Some people may be un-fond of that image so I’m giving you advance notice. But it’s not particularly gory. Oak leaves take energy from the sun and make acorns. Squirrels eat that energy and become a different form of energy. Then if the squirrel gets hit by a car, a vulture comes down and turns the squirrel into yet another form of energy. Sunlight > oak leaves > acorns > squirrel > vulture. Who knows where it will go next. “The first law of thermodynamics, also known as Law of Conservation of Energy, states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; energy can only be transferred or changed from one form to another.

Vulture getting sleepy with a belly full of squirrel


Vulture filling its belly with the aforementioned squirrel. Energy is neither created or destroyed. Remember that. You’re energy too. 

Anyway, the holiday schedule has me less organized than normal, which may imply there’s such thing as negative organization but anyway I’m signing off. For 2018! But I’ll be back the first Sunday in 2019! I hope you will be too! Happy New Year!

Meanwhile, enjoy this little blurb about the world’s happiest flies. And have an excellent week!

All best,


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“Used w/o permission” or “Happiest flies”

All five of mom and dad’s surviving children, 80% of the spouses, six of their seven grandchildren, many, many dogs, plus cats and horses not in the picture but nearby. Mom and dad met in the mid-1950’s (possibly even the 1940’s) and married on June 14, 1958. Dad was an only child and mom had one sister who was a Catholic nun. Their plan when they married – they were twenty-two years old, think about that for a minute – their plan was to have twelve children. I can assure you, and my siblings would say the same, they were entirely serious. But they decided the five of us were the right number, and IMO they were correct.

On June 14, 1958, if someone had said “Mike and Jude, if you stay married for half a century then die, what would it make you really happy to leave behind?” They would have stated it more elegantly than this, but their reply would have been “lots and lots of happy children and grandchildren.” If they’d been flies on the wall at Kev’s house last night, they’d have been the happiest flies ever.

Kevin’s house is clean – there are no flies, or anyway not in late December. But if they’d been in there, they would have landed on Wesson’s volleyball at the top of its arc as he passed it back and forth with his cousins. Or they would have perched on the edge of Teagan’s crib and watched her in real life while the rest of us watched her on the baby monitor. They were never big on TV anyway. If there really were flies around last night – if mom and dad had been around in fly form – they might have been up at the barn while Jenny went up and fed the horses. Mom and dad would have been happy to see Jenny and to see the horses too. I’ve never known a McLaughlin who was unhappy in a barn. Some of us spend more time in barns than others, but I believe the five of share the sense of safety that is palpable in every barn.  

I’ll write more about my family in 2019. More than likely, anyway. See you then! 

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Posted in Birds, Bryan Park, Dogs, Fun, James River, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Stuart Little and the third definition of religion

23 December, 2018            Stuart Little and the third definition of religion

Thanks for the picture Elizabeth! Flying and dogs – how much more fun can a person have?


I just liked starting this blog post off with that picture. We didn’t actually fly that day. Mackey and Turner and I went to Hanover County Municipal Airport (KOFP) Thursday to drop off a Christmas present (Highland County Virginia Maple syrup, of course) for my long time flight instructor Ernest. He wasn’t around so we dropped it off at the front desk. My friend Elizabeth works at the front desk and Mackey and Turner convinced her to take that picture. The maple syrup was from my favorite Highland County maple syrup operation, Back Creek Farms. Click on that link and order some from them – or better yet, visit. Or go to the 61st annual Highland Maple Festival the second and third weekends in March – you will not be disappointed. I’ve been going for ages and it gets better every year.

My nephew Wesson and my brother Shane (Wesson’s father) reintroduced me to E. B. White’s classic children’s books such as Stuart Little, The Trumpet of the Swan and Charlotte’s Web. Reading them inspired me for this blog post. We exchange passages we’re particularly fond of. While Evelyn and I were riding the rails south from New Jersey last week, Wesson and Shane noted a passage in The Trumpet of the Swan that caused them to prick up their ears (in a manner of speaking):

“Sam always felt happy when he was in a wild place among wild creatures. Sitting on his log, watching the swans, he had the same good feeling some people get when they are sitting in church.” – White, E. B.. The Trumpet of the Swan (p. 249). HarperCollins.

I thought how happy I am when I’m in a wild place – if Pony Pasture counts – among wild creatures. Pony Pasture has deer and eagles and snakes and toads and snails and salamanders and frogs and skinks and squirrels and chickadees and tent caterpillars and barred owls and grasshoppers, butterflies, ospreys, raccoons, opossums, foxes, mosquitoes, bats, lightning bugs, bees, flies, eels, goldfinches, bluebirds, ospreys, wrens, robins, and chipmunks, plus at least one or two I’m leaving out. I’m always definitely among wild creatures when I’m at Pony Pasture. Pony Pasture definitely counts. Like Sam in The Trumpet of the Swan, I always feel happy when I’m in a wild place among wild creatures.

Monday morning I was still tired from our New Jersey Adventure but I had to get up at 5:00 and work. My morning job was more challenging than normal, and when I drove home I was relieved to see a Red-tail on a cell phone tower. I stopped and settled in and slipped into a photography trance and started taking pictures and a brief video while it was being mobbed by crows. All my travel-tiredness and work-stress vanished – like they’d never existed – when I focused on those birds. That was when I felt happy “in a wild place among wild creatures.” I am certain I experienced “the same good feeling some people get when they are sitting in church.”

I didn’t take this picture that morning, but I took it later this week – and I still had “the same good feeling.”:

Red-tail sparkling in the early winter sunlight


I thought about “the same good feeling” and I looked up “religion” in my American Heritage  Dictionary. Here’s what it said:


re‧li‧gion rĭ‐lĭj′ən n.
1. a. The belief in and reverence for […]

  1. The life or condition of […]   
  2. A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion: “a person for whom art became a religion.”

[emphasis added]

American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition Copyright © 2011-2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


Photographing raptors is an activity I pursue with zeal that might sometimes be called obsession. “A person for whom raptor photography became a religion.”

I pursue flying with joy and obsession as well, but I’m going to take a short break. One sign at an airport where we landed said “Flying is the 2nd greatest thrill known to man. Landing is the first.” I’m looking forward to getting back to it in 2019 at some point. Ernest and I had a great flight Tuesday. We flew for over five hours (total) and landed at eight different Virginia airports, including Hanover when we got home that evening. Here’s a selfie of Ernest and me shortly before takeoff Tuesday morning:

My flight instructor Ernest and me just before takeoff Tuesday:


One of our many landings was at Luray Caverns Aiport (KLUA); we stopped for lunch in Luray. I wish I hadn’t cut the bottom of this picture off but oops. Dulles is a Virginia airport, and so is Luray. They’re less than an hour’s flight apart, but it’s an entirely different world: 

Luray Caverns Airport. You just cannot beat this kind of flying.


A guy named Danny was the airport manager and he recommended a few great places to eat and drove us into town in the airport’s big old white Ford Crown Victoria. We first ate at Uncle Buck’s Family Restaurant, where I had scrapple and eggs on a bagel for lunch. We used to make scrapple when we slaughtered hogs at our cabin up there (in Page County) when we were younger. As my brother Kevin reminded me, scrapple is a.k.a. “Pond Horse” though at this time I do not know why. But you can google it. I was grateful to be there. Really, really, really far from the madding crowd for sure. Here’s the sign on the side:

Uncle Buck’s Family Restaurant, 42 E Main St, Luray, VA 22835


We went to a fantastic coffee place right next door called Gathering Grounds and had coffee and a little more to eat. Because why not. Here are two pictures I enjoyed from inside Gathering Grounds:

Zen Turner. This is the kind of thing you find when you go flying. This and scrapple. 





Can you figure it out?



Our friend Ariel had us over for dinner last night and she was serving lamb. Evelyn is a vegetarian but I love lamb; not least because it’s served with mint jelly, and when else do you have mint jelly? I couldn’t find any at Kroger or at The Fresh Market and Evelyn didn’t find any at Ellwood Thompson but on her way home she stopped at Yellow Umbrella and found this treasure:

You can’t really eat lamb unless you have mint jelly


This is how our plane looked when we got back to the airport. In weather like this you just want to fly and fly and fly some more. Even if you don’t like flying, look at this. See the moon rising back there? You just cannot imagine how much fun this is:

Look at that. See the moon back there? Rising over the mountains? Scrapple for lunch? How much fun can one person have? It is beyond compare. 


I am having an indescribable amount of fun flying, but it’ll be good to take a break. It’ll be even greater when I get back in the air.

I need to go to bed! Until next week – which will be my final blog post of 2018 – have a great week,


Posted in Birds, Bryan Park, coffee, Dogs, Fun, highland maple festival, James River, klua, kofp, moon, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Tecnam | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments