The lesson I missed

9 August, 2020            The lesson I missed

Not a huge lesson – but last week – when I wrote about the guy with the leaf blower – I missed the bigger lesson. If you recall (or not) I wrote “Anyway, he’s in there in his little cloud of smoke and dust and flying debris and he sees me riding toward him and he raises the blower and points it straight up in the air until I pass by!” I just have a tiny addendum to put on there, but since it is an addendum, I’ll add it at the end of the post. 

This week’s blog post is so slender that if it was a human being, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was really a skeleton. One of these weeks I’ll put some meat on its bones! 

I’m aware of the repetitive nature of my dog/river pictures. But there’s just nothing i don’t like about them! Mackey turned thirteen this summer and he gets around great but his old haunches have a tough time so we’re staying off the real steep rocks. No climbing to get on these!: 

Look at those guys! We were ALL at our favorite place!

Speaking of repetitive nature, dogs and hawks are the two items (plus the river) that appear in most of my blog posts. I got this one around a block from our house Wednesday: 

Red-tail near home Wednesday

And Ev’s flowers, naturally. She’s growing a lot back there and I snap a few pictures when the light is nice. This one’s bright and has a bee flying over it: 

Flower with bee taking off (or landing)

I keep my camera behind my driver’s seat when I go places. I had just taken my fase mask off after I left Kroger and walked back to the car yesterday evening. It was 7:55 PM (sunset was at 8:10) when I photographed this mourning dove perched on a wire over the street: 

Evening mourning

Yikes! That’s really slender! Ever heard the expression “you can never be too rich or too thin”? This blog post is too thin. I’ll forage for a few calories this week. Let me jot down that tiny lesson I mentioned earlier: 

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When I saw that guy stop blowing leaves to let me pass, and he was so gracious, it was very mano a mano – just the two of us were out there in the heat, and we weren’t communicating – except by his kind gesture. So I’d had that gesture in a very limiting one-on-one framework. It didn’t occur to me until later (after talking with Evelyn) that anyone reading this blog post would have done the same thing if they’d been the ones blowing leaves. It’s just what people do. Everybody could imagine themselves riding a bike through that mess and not want to do it – so they hold off for just a second. I mean, think of somebody you really don’t like, someone you have a real difficult time getting along with. If you had ear protection in and a real loud leaf blower and they were riding toward you on a bike, you’d still stop to let them go by. I think that’s an instinctive response toward other human beings. It’s not like you’re running into a burning building to pull a person to safety. It’s just a reflexive gesture of kindness. Everybody does it. It’s another great thing about being alive. 

That lesson that the kind gesture was universal rather than individual – that’s the one I’d missed. I read the news too much! 

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Have a great week! Come back next week! 

All best, 

Jay 

Posted in Birds, Bryan Park, Dogs, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, Insects, James River, love, newfaze, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), sunsets | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s hard to build with no foundation

2 August, 2020            It’s hard to build with no foundation

And I hardly took any pictures this week – the foundation of my blog posts! But I’ll make do. And hope for more pictures next week. 

Personally I’m always happy to see dog and river pictures. We had the great good fortune to bring our old friend Luna with us this morning. Left to right it’s Turner (brown), Mackey (foreground), Yuki (unmistakable white dog) and last (but in no way least) Luna (little black and white dog). Luna doesn’t strike me as being that small but she runs right under Yuki and comes out the other side and keeps going – true to her Border Collie nature: 

L-R Turner, Mackey, Yuki, Luna

Of course you’ve seen a million pictures of Dash (our little orange cat) sprawled in the sun in the summer or near the fire in the winter. He’s been a sprawler since Day 1. I just found an old (and old quality) picture of him from when he first arrived here in early 2008. He’s shown with his big buddy Handsome. In the summer of 2008 Handsome slipped out of the house and got run over by a car on Three Chopt Road. Dash mourned – or at least missed – Handsome for 48 or possibly 72 hours. Then he turned his affection to the dogs and he’s loved them ever since. Dash and his buddy Handsome, January, 2008: 

Dash with his old buddy Handsome (RIP), January, 2008

Here’s a dragonfly I saw this week: 

Dragonfly this week

And Luna the following day! Here she is when I came over to take her for a walk yesterday afternoon: 

Does she look like she’s ready to go?

Well, I don’t have a ton to write or photograph. I began a quick story last week – I may include it here – 

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Okay – this just started – at 8:35 Sunday evening. I found an email I sent to myself at 3:37 PM Tuesday just after I finished riding at West Creek. The email’s subject says “People being kind for no reason”. In the contents of the email it says “Bright view landscaping 

Salute w leaf blower 

Sand leaves pine needles grass clippings dirt dust, always a cloud”. 

The story was – I was riding my bike at West Creek. And I could hear the whine of a leaf blower ahead and as I came down the hill a guy was out there in the heat – according to my bike computer it was 100.3º that day – blowing leaves and sand and pine needles and grass clippings off the road. Remember – it was a hundred degrees. And this guy is wearing long pants, a long sleeved shirt, a hard hat, holding this blower, the whole thing. I practically feel like I’m suffocating just remembering it. Anyway, he’s in there in his little cloud of smoke and dust and flying debris and he sees me riding toward him and he raises the blower and points it straight up in the air until I pass by! Just to keep from blowing stuff on me! He had zero to gain. His boss wasn’t going to see him. He had zero idea who I was – not that it would have mattered. He was just kind for no reason! 

I was so moved by his gesture that I came home and wrote a note about it to one of my riding buddies. So I wrote a brief version of that story. As I was about to hit “send” I took a peek at the NYT. And after observing and writing that very story and experience, I see this on the digital “front page” of the NYT: ”The Cult of Selfishness Is Killing America”. You know, seriously. Look what just happened – to me, in my real actual life – as opposed to what’s being blared in the press. My experience might as well have happened on a different planet, or at least in a different country. But it didn’t. It happened on a weekday afternoon on the outskirts of Richmond, VA. It’s not a perfect world (yet) but please take my word for it – the cult of selfishness is not killing America. 

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Come back next week! I know I say this every week but I hope the pictures/post will be better! All best, 

Jay

Posted in cats, Dogs, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, James River, love, newfaze, People, Pony Pasture, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Slender

26 July, 2020             Slender

Some blog posts are more portly than others. This one is slender. But not invisible! Although it was not slender, this frog at Deep Run was nearly invisible; I almost walked past. I was looking for snakes (reptiles) but was fortunate to come up with an amphibian instead: 

Frog (Bullfrog I believe) at Deep Run Monday:

I missed a lot of good pictures this week. Skinks move super fast in this heat. Dash actually does move fast (like his name) from time to time but not often. He knows the sound of the UPS driver and the FedEx driver; he’s sure they’re bringing boxes for him. He loves the smell of cardboard in the morning: 

Dash in his Tuesday box (one of them)

Dash in his Wednesday box (one of them)

Dash waits for us by the door when we go to the river (and when we walk around the neighborhood) but I don’t think he’d care for Pony Pasture. It was already hot when Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I got on the water at 9:00 this morning. The river was around four and a half feet deep today – not a ton of water: 

Mackey, Yuki and Turner as our hike was beginning this morning

Have I mentioned – perhaps I have – that Evelyn has us getting produce from a farm share called Agriberry? We pick up a mixed basket every week. This was our basket from Wednesday. Peaches, blackberries, raspberries, cherries, strawberries, blueberries – and they tasted better than they look! And they look really good! Peaches and cherries have pits; everything else goes in my oatmeal in the morning: 

Editing this picture made my mouth water

Despite the baking temperatures, Evelyn is bringing out the best in the plants in our yard (and in our house). How about if I close with a rose. This is from Wednesday – and have a great week!: 

Too bad you can’t smell these! What a treasure.

All best, 

Jay

PS I’m about to hit “publish” on this – and Evelyn’s over at a friend’s house! It’s unedited! So all mistakes are mine. Hopefully not too many! Have a great week!

Posted in Birds, Bryan Park, cats, Dogs, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, James River, love, People, Pony Pasture, Rivers, roses, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inevitability – it’s a good thing

19 July, 2020            Inevitability – it’s a good thing

Before I ramble – Happy Birthday Evie! Today (7/19) is Evelyn’s birthday! 

In a minute I’ll put pictures of some flowers Evelyn’s growing. They are bright and cheerful and make our already lovely yard even more lovely. But the birds on our feeder planted this one; a stalk popped out of the ground a couple of weeks ago. With the inevitability of the long hours of mid-July sunlight this was glowing underneath the bird feeders Friday morning:  

It’s impossible (for me anyway) to look at this and not smile

Evelyn’s been working much harder than anyone should work outdoors in this heat. Especially on her birthday! It takes a lot of sweat plus a lot of water out of the hose to keep these flowers happy in weather like this. I took these pictures after Mackey and Turner and I got back from the river around 11:00 this morning. Look how gorgeous they are!: 

Our cheerful backyard today:

Just to the left of the daisies – more Evelyn inspired cheer in our backyard:

Yuki decided to stay indoors and enjoy the a/c this morning. Mackey and Turner and I enjoyed a little hike with just the three of us. This picture is from 8:50 this morning. It certainly wasn’t cool then, but it was tolerable down on the water: 

Mackey and Turner make that river look even better!

I was thinking about that sunflower when it opened up, and not thinking that sunflowers – or any flower – are inevitable. But thinking that if you live in the northern hemisphere and it’s July, there will be a little less daylight tomorrow than there was today. Whatever else happens in the world, those patterns are inevitable. As long as the earth turns around its axis and orbits the sun, that will happen – every July. Even though the days are getting shorter, the sun is bright and the days are warm, and at least here in Richmond the conditions are right for spectacular flowers. Speaking of which – here’s another of Evie’s flowers from this week: 

Gardenias are like chocolate – there’s no such thing as too much

As an aside – I took this picture at 8:12 PM today – I just turned around to pick up my camera from the floor. Turner, Dash and Mackey are always wildly enthusiastic about my blog. Fortunately I have highly developed powers of perception and I can detect their enthusiasm. You’re forgiven if you’re unable to detect it: 

My support crew is hard at work

This next pair of pictures, by the way, is not inevitable – it’s unusual. If you’ve followed this blog you know I spend lots of time watching hawks. Monday morning as I was driving out I looked at the tower across the street and saw not one Red-tailed hawk but a pair of Red-tailed hawks on an electric tower. It is quite rare for me to see two at one time. It almost never happens. 9:22 Monday morning – almost in sight of my house: 

Pair of Red-tails almost in sight of my house Monday morning

So then I go through my day and work with some clients and go for a bike ride and come home and take a shower and go up to Kroger – and look up on the cell phone tower near the Westbury Apothecary – walking distance from home – and look what I saw up there:

Second pair of Red-tails in the same day!

I almost never see Red-tails in pairs, ever. But Monday I saw two pairs in one day. What a treat!

This butterfly was fun. It was a fun story, I should put it at the end but oh well. Mackey and Turner and I hiked over two miles in just over an hour this morning. We were just getting back near the car – we were at Half Moon Beach if you’re familiar with Pony Pasture. There was a very small, very brown girl maybe (maybe) three years old crouched down talking about – I couldn’t quite understand her at first – a butterfly. I would totally have not seen it – I was looking up at ospreys. When I looked down I saw she was fascinated – how could she not be – with this beauty. I managed a couple of quick pictures. She was with a large group of adults and kids who were clustered around in the shade higher up the riverbank. Twelve people give or take. One guy was their obvious leader – the whole crowd was deferential to him. He was giant. He was my height, a white guy like me, probably a few years younger than me, mirrored sunglasses, enormous beard, giant gut, wearing a tank top, sunburned, covered with tattoos. Three hundred pounds if he was an ounce. This picture was on the little monitor on the back of my camera. I walked up to him and showed him the picture. I said “she just pointed this out – I never would have seen it.” He leaned forward and lowered his mirrored shades and peered at this butterfly. This enormous, tattooed, bearded giant. He looked up at the little girl and said “Look at this picture he took! He never would have seen it if you hadn’t shown him!” He was so joyful it was so, so, so charming. There was 0% chance anybody would ever have described this guy as “cute.” But he was totally, totally cute the way he responded to this. I could not have been more charmed:  

This butterfly brought a whole bunch of people together this morning. What a gift and a treat.

Those moments make me so happy. Sometimes I get so tired and jaded. Then I have these encounters with human beings that make me so happy. Over and over and over. We are all fortunate to be here together on this planet. 

I’ve seen a couple pretty dragonflies this week. I’ve done a lot of bike riding, and this beauty landed on my handlebars just when I finished: 

Dragonfly hitching a ride on my bike

I saw this beauty at Deep Run: 

For those of us who enjoy insects, summer is a grand time

My favorite editor and gardener is out celebrating – she has the day off tomorrow! So if there are mistakes this week, it’s all me. One more picture of Evelyn’s handiwork before I sign off. I took this picture Wednesday. Amazing:

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever” – John Keats, 1818

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

Jay

Posted in Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, Insects, James River, love, newfaze, ospreys, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, roses, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Blogging for blogging’s sake 

12 July, 2020            Blogging for blogging’s sake 

It’s more than that really – I have a handful of pictures – but I just want to get a quick post up to get in my routine. And thank you to everyone who has encouraged me to blog more. 

A person we just met this morning took a picture of Mackey and Turner and Yuki and me at the river:  

Our favorite way to spend a Sunday morning:

In addition to our lush gardenias, Evelyn has a patch of mixed flowers thriving along our back fence. Daisies and more: 

Simple and spectacular

Thanks to Evie’s hard work we have a cheerful backyard

That’s the other thing about Evie’s hard work – it makes photography easy!

I was visiting a buddy near River Road Monday afternoon – and look what I saw while I was driving down his driveway!: 

When I was driving down the driveway, this young Red-shouldered hawk was perched on the fence:

I rolled to a stop and put my car window down. I’m sure this is a male; he was petite. Cars are perfect “urban blinds”; most animals don’t see them as a threat and ignore them. He obligingly hopped down off the fence and perched on a rock at the top of a small creekbed. At this point he was below me – I was pointing my camera down at a raptor. As a long time raptor photographer, that experience is so disorienting it practically gives you vertigo. Hawks don’t live down low – they fly high or perch high. To point your camera below the horizon is a strange sensation.

It hopped up on a rock by a creekbed:

I like more air conditioning, Evelyn and Dash like less. Here’s Dash lying with his head in the sun: 

Gobbling up the sunlight

Here’s a pair of purple martins from Bryan Park Thursday. The male is on top talking loud, or loud by purple martin standards. Notice the female below him? Still in the house? Is she acting demure? I’m not sure how to interpret emotions in songbirds: 

Male purple martin up on the wire, female still in the house:

Since I opened with dogs at the river I think I’ll close with that too. The one at the top is from 11:09 this morning. 

Quick break with water nearby

Have a great week! I hope to have another post up a week from today. All best, 

Jay 

Posted in Rivers | 1 Comment

Not your father’s lawnmower

5 July, 2020            Not your father’s lawnmower

I got a new lawnmower yesterday. It was shocking, although not because it’s an electric lawnmower. I’ll write a little more at the bottom. 

I took a little break from blogging; we’ll see how it goes. My last blog post was on May 17 – seven weeks ago! I haven’t gotten a million pictures I love, but I’ll post a handful. As I type these words on Sunday afternoon there’s a Brown thrasher on my suet feeder – not their normal eating mode. And there are a couple of catbirds out there too. Goldfinches, bluebirds, starlings (of course), house sparrows, woodpeckers, house finches, cardinals, a lot of happy birds. I don’t really know if they’re happy but I do know they’re well fed, one of my personal prerequisites for happiness. The chubby-cheeked-chipmunk sprinting back and forth from the ground under my feeders to its hole under my front walk looks happy too by that measure. It may have a partner and/or babies under there that it’s trying to keep happy. Hopefully a hawk won’t swoop down and satisfy its hunger with a plump chipmunk. Nature is red in tooth and claw even when there are no cardinals in the neighborhood. 

Here’s a Northern Flicker from my feeder two days after my last blog post: 

Flicker on my feeder

And a male Red-bellied woodpecker the same day: 

Red-bellied woodpecker – same feeder, same day.

And here (predictably) are Mackey and Turner at the river this morning. Yuki went to the beach for the Fourth of July (not even kidding): 

I’m happy a lot, but I’m happiest right in that exact spot

It wouldn’t be a blog post from me if it didn’t have a hawk in it. Here’s a male red-tail from West End Assembly of God Friday:

Male Red-tailed hawk at West End Assembly of God

With most raptors (Red-tailed hawks are a textbook example), the males are approximately a third smaller than the females. They’re identical in every way except size. If you see a pair together, it’s obvious. After a while you can just look and tell. But – interestingly, IMO – since the males are a third smaller, they’re called “tercels.” In this wikipedia entry under the word “falcon,” under “etymology” it says “The traditional term for a male falcon is tercel…” Our mom’s last car was a Toyota Tercel and for a long time I thought that was just a made up word. But it’s a male hawk – excellent choice.

I was driving on Three Chopt Road near University of Richmond a couple weeks ago and there was a deer in someone’s front yard – I pulled over for a picture:

Whitetail deer thoughtfully pruning shrubs near U of R

Back in May – again, just after I took a blogging break – I was reading a book called What It’s Like to Be a Bird by a brilliant author and illustrator named David Allen Sibley. I was reading a chapter about Cardinals – my feeders always have two or three or more pair around – and read this page:

Illustration and explanation of Cardinal courtship behavior

And if I’d been reading that book in, for example, December or January, there would have been cardinals but no courtship. But since it was May and there were cardinals and courtship, I looked out my window and took this picture –

To quote David Sibley, “A male Northern Cardinal offering food to a female.”

This Brown Thrasher was thrashing in my front lawn (they like the back and side lawn as well) in mid-June. I like the brown and green together. And that yellow eye:

Brown thrasher / Green grass

Robins are such everyday birds, but sometimes they give you a good look. This is from Bryan Park a couple weeks ago:

Robin at Bryan Park

Also – sorry this is out of chronological order – here’s a picture I took of a molting cardinal this morning. Every summer, cardinals “molt” – their old feathers gradually fall out and are slowly replaced by new ones. I photographed this molting female cardinal on my feeder just before noon today:

Molting female Cardinal

I’ve taken a lot of pictures of Purple Martins this summer but not posted any. I haven’t seen my friend Adolph White this year. He is a natural teacher and knows more about those birds than anyone you’ll ever meet. He also put up and maintains these purple martin houses at Bryan Park. I hope I see him soon! I took this picture earlier  this week. I think they’ll be heading south soon. Along with the ospreys:

Just a handful of the dozens of purple martins at Bryan Park.

As a nod to my dad, since I’m referencing him in this blog post, here’s a picture of his favorite bird. I took this a couple days after my last blog post. They’re brighter in early Spring – their colors are fading a bit now:

My dad’s favorite bird:

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Also – a word of thanks to Evelyn and to my brother Kevin and my friends Pat and Nate and Gilpin – and all the other people who encourage me to write and photograph. And even more thanks to my late mother and father, who always encouraged me to write. When I take pictures of birds or even just watch them out there on the feeder or in the park or flying around the rafters in the mall – it happens – I feel what I’m sure my dad felt. No matter what they’re doing (possibly except for when a hawk is eating a chipmunk), it’s calming to watch.

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This is not your father’s lawnmower

My gas lawnmower died (in a  manner of speaking) yesterday when I was about a third of the way finished cutting my front lawn. It wasn’t ancient and it was (is) fixable but now I have a brand new (only been used once, by me, yesterday) battery operated electric lawnmower. I was shocked (I keep using that word) how different it was. It’s not self-propelled but it’s so light you can push it with one finger. And compared to a gas mower it is totally quiet. It’s noise is comparable to a vacuum cleaner, except you’re outside, so it’s not noisy at all. 

But what stuck out most for me – what really made it not like my father’s lawnmower – is there was no smell. The smell of gasoline and exhaust has never bothered me – even as a little kid I associated it with fun stuff, like my dad cutting the grass, or when we first started going to self-serve gas stations in the 1970’s and filling up the car ourselves. We were going somewhere, we were doing something, we were active and engaged. The first lawnmower I remember our dad having was a Lawnboy, and all Lawnboys had their own special shade of green, in much the same manner all John Deere equipment has its special shade of green. Except Lawnboy green tended toward the lime green side of the spectrum where John Deere green tends toward the forest green side of the spectrum.  

Dad’s Lawnboy had a two cycle engine, so you had to mix oil and gas together in the correct ratio. So the gas smelled different and the exhaust smelled different. And your gloves smelled different when it soaked in, because it always soaks in, and as a little kid you can’t resist seeing what your gloves smell like, because you’re pretty sure you’re more like a grownup if your gloves smell like that.  

On dad’s mower you had to prime the engine before you started, you had to push a little blue plastic button three or four times before the engine would start. Dad never cursed when the engine wouldn’t start; I have no idea where I picked up that bad habit. The button was blue plastic – it really stood out against the green mower – and dad would let me push the button to prime it. You could really smell that two cycle gas. 

So anyway – this is the most unlikely segue you’ll encounter today, or perhaps ever – I was thinking of dad the same way Red Rooster coffee roaster in Floyd, VA was thinking about their customers during COVID – “wish you were here.” Bear with  me – I haven’t written this well. So Red Rooster Coffee is in Floyd, VA and that’s the main coffee I drink at home. So because of COVID all their customers are staying away (fortunately for me they have a good online store) and they came up with a blend called “Drink Floyd”:

Drink Floyd – Wish You Were Here

So it’s a song about loss – it’s complex – and of course I was thinking about dad and cutting the grass. I don’t really miss my dad more than is appropriate – they raised us to experience healthy grieving and move on with our lives, which is what adults do, and what I and my siblings have done. I think when I miss dad now – when I wish he was here – is when I hear the tone of the current “debate” – though it’s really an argument – about COVID, masks, pandemics, leadership, elections, there’s a drumbeat that’s not soothing. But dad always considered both sides. He would have worn a mask everywhere he went – 100% chance – but he wouldn’t have judged people who didn’t. When I’m thinking about my father’s lawnmower, and my father, I don’t think it’s really him I’m wishing was here – I’m wishing his attitude was here. His level- headedness and sanity. You could be agitated when you began a conversation with my dad, but never when you ended one. That’s what I wish was here. In a word, it’s civility. But civility’s not gone for good. It’ll return soon. Civility is an efficient emotion. 

I think it’s already returning! 

Have a great week, all best, 

Jay 

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Posted in Birds, Bryan Park, cardinals, coffee, Dogs, Emerson, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, James River, koans, love, newfaze, Northern flicker, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-bellied woodpeckers, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, robin, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), thoreau | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

(Nothing But) Flowers

17 May, 2020            (Nothing But) Flowers

So nice to be on the actual river again

That’s Turner (front) then Mackey (black) and Yuki bringing up the rear at the river at Pony Pasture at 9:30 this morning. The river’s been so high for so long, that rock’s been under water every time we’ve been down. We were grateful to get on the water today. 

Also – before I get much farther – I’m going to include my first snake picture of 2020 in this post. In case you don’t care for snakes.  

This blog post title is the name of a song by the Talking Heads from 1988. I was looking for owls and butterflies and deer and snakes and dragonflies and turtles and frogs and more this morning at Pony Pasture but it kept going through my head that there was “nothing but flowers.” Here’s one I saw by the path: 

Dianthus at the river today. Notice the handsome furry white foot? Photographer’s assistant

Guess whose foot that is in the background? White goes with everything. 

On a slightly more cultivated note, here’s one of Ev’s roses from our backyard. I photographed that dianthus near the river at 10:17. I dropped off handsome white-footed dog at his house on the way home then walked into our backyard and photographed one of Ev’s roses an hour and twenty minutes later: 

Like the river, they’re always perfect, always different

To prepare anti snake people I’ll start with a less fear inducing reptile from nearby, a few days earlier. This is a five lined skink. I’m sure one exists somewhere, but I’ve never read a list of the most commonly occurring reptiles in Virginia. Five lined skinks have to be at or near the top of the list. Very few people have an irrational fear of skinks, and you can see why: 

Five-lined skink at Deep Run

I’ve been seeing snakes – plenty – for some time at Deep Run. So far only Northern Water Snakes though. Usually when I see them they’re on rocks and the light is not great. But one crawled across the asphalt path at Deep Run this week and I got this reasonable image: 

Water snake out of the water

If you want to see something really, really, really fascinating occurring in real time – this is live, 24/7 – I suggest you log on to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) Falcon Cam. You can click on that link this very minute – or any time you want – and see an active Peregrine Falcon nest “on a ledge of the West Tower of the Riverfront Plaza building in downtown Richmond, Virginia.” That’s on around 9th and Byrd Street in downtown Richmond, overlooking the falls of the James River. Here’s a screenshot I took Thursday: 

Adult peregrine falcon with hungry baby Thursday:6-falcon 

That baby with its mouth open is (it appears to me) in excellent health. I’m going to  post a picture of an adult (I believe the female) feeding it this morning. The adult is holding a bloody piece of meat so some viewers may not care for the image. But although the baby is looking away from it in this picture, it was gobbling pieces of meat like it was the last food on earth. Here’s the baby being fed: 

Earlier today. The baby is not hungry anymore, at least for a little while

I’m going to sign off – definitely check out that falcon cam. Like a lot of stuff in nature, a ton of it is boring. But some is fascinating – like when they’re feeding the baby. I don’t know if any more eggs will hatch. We’ll see. 

Also, before I sign off, I learned an odd fact this week. I’m reading a tremendous book called What’s it’s Like to be a Bird by David Allen Sibley. He talks about farmers who grow the bird seed that I use to fill my feeders. He writes about how the farmers protect the seed – from being eaten by birds. Crazy world. Have a great week. 

All best, 

Jay 

PS My editor is sound asleep. So if you notice more mistakes than usual this week, that’s why.

Posted in Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, James River, love, newfaze, People, peregrine falcons, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, roses, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Snakes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy Mother’s Day!

10 May, 2020            Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy Mother’s Day! Nice work Evie!

Like Evelyn, my friend Marion is a talented gardener, and Marion once told me roses were meant to put out their best blooms in time for Mother’s Day. Evelyn’s been tending the roses in our yard for many years, and look what bloomed mid week this week. All I can say is OMG. 

My brother’s wife Jenny is mother to three of my nieces, and today she posted pictures of her own mother – who is very much vibrant and alive and joyful – and of our mother, who is still that way only in our memories. Jenny posted some old pictures of our mom today and I did a few screenshots. Thank you Jenny! Here’s one of mom and dad, I think before they got married – or close to it – in 1958: 

My mom and dad in their mid-twenties. That is astounding. I’m so fortunate!

The following picture is mom at her eightieth birthday with all five of her children and several spouses and about ⅔ of the grandchildren she had by that time. She has more now! 

Mom more than half a century later. Wow.

I was reviewing old blog entries for this post and I found one from mom’s memorial service in early 2017. In that post I quoted something our old family friend Liz Adams said at that time. It’s possible this ship has already sailed, but I’d like people to be able to say this about me, hopefully when I’m ninety or older, but you just never know. Here’s what Liz said about mom: “I never heard her say anything bad about anyone; I never saw her cranky or cross.” – Liz A., 19 January, 2017

You may recall from an earlier blog post that I wrote how enthusiastically dad would say “sweet iced tea!” Mom and Dad both had little stock phrases they used in different contexts; we heard them often. Mom used to say with similar enthusiasm “Toby Chipmunk Soup!” I’m somewhat certain she couldn’t produce an actual recipe for something called “Toby Chipmunk Soup.” It was one of those ingredients-on-hand winter recipes. Each iteration of “Toby Chipmunk Soup” was different-from-but-similar-to all the batches that preceded it. I thought of “Toby Chipmunk” (mom would have too) when I snapped this picture out of my office window Wednesday morning: 

 

Mom noticed lots of birds and animals, and often made humorous remarks about them. Dad was more scientific. But he noticed just as much. 

My Y has been closed since early in the COVID-19 era, and I haven’t been able to swim. So I’ve been riding my bicycle during my normal swim times just to maintain (hopefully) an adequate level of fitness. Today I took my thirtieth bike ride since April 1; I’ll be glad when the pool opens again! But I’m also grateful the weather’s been so lovely, and there isn’t much traffic, so it’s been nice riding. As of today I’ve ridden 495 miles since April 1. I’ll be glad when I can get back to swimming! 

There was an article in the NYT this week about swimming pools reopening in the post-COVID era. The article quoted a swimming coach named Mark Schubert and the message he’d posted to greet his returning swimmers: “May the new normal teach us to be grateful for the things the old normal taught us to take for granted.” That is a good, good, good idea. 

Before I rode today, of course, I took the dogs to the river for a relaxing hike. Our old friend Luna joined Mackey and Turner and Yuki and me at Pony Pasture this morning. Here is the four of them near the edge of the river at 9:15 this morning. The upper lot is still closed so we’re not going out on the rocks yet. Soon we hope! This morning was pretty though: 

L-R: Yuki, Mackey, Turner, Lola – back row: James River

Evelyn got strawberries from our farmshare (Agriberry) this week. I’m not kidding – they taste better than they look – and they look awesome. And man you should taste them with ice cream: 

They taste better than they look – and look how awesome they look!

Here’s another picture from our yard this week. I called it “Get offa my lawn!”: 

“Get offa’ my lawn!” – scolding a nest parasite cowbird

I photographed honeysuckle today; I don’t love the image but I love honeysuckle. I searched old blog posts; I found the first honeysuckle picture was nine years ago this month in a post called “Flora – and some fauna.” A sentence in that post says “In the unlikely event I end up in Heaven, and in the still less likely event Heaven has only one flower, I hope it’s Honeysuckle (Lonicera).” With apologies to gardenias, I still hope that. I’m not super confident in my ability to keep a gardenia alive, but honeysuckle (it’s invasive, of course) is much more forgiving. And it smells so good. Here’s some from today at Pony Pasture: 

If heaven doesn’t smell this good, they need to have a word with the Management

I almost forgot! I did see a Barred Owl at Pony Pasture Tuesday, but it was being harassed by a crow and the pictures were suboptimal. But I did get a twenty-five second video of the crow being irritating (or anyway it appeared that was its intent). Have a look – it’s worth a few seconds to watch: 

Owl and crow at Pony Pasture, May 5, 2020 

Wait! One more! Dash snoozing in the sun Friday morning: 

Find a sunny spot and take a nap this week

Have a great week, all best,

Jay

Posted in Barred Owls, Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, honeysuckle, James River, love, newfaze, People, Pony Pasture, Rivers, roses, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thanking a one year old for putting the “social” in “social distance”

3 May, 2020            Thanking a one year old for putting the “social” in “social distance”

Our neighbor Austin turned one yesterday. Austin single-handedly brought together more smiling people than I’ve seen since the first time I heard that peculiar word “coronavirus” back in February. This is what I saw when I walked out the door yesterday morning – Austin’s birthday parade coming up the street: 

Could there be a more beautiful day for a birthday party?

So I didn’t get a ton of great pics this week, really only a couple, so I’ll scatter them in here – among the party pictures. 

Here’s a picture of a Rose Breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) that came to my feeder Monday morning: 

Rose-breasted grosbeak comes to our feeder

Before Austin brought all the people together yesterday, when I thought of “social distance,” I focused on DISTANCE. Thanks to Austin, now when I think of “social distance” I think of SOCIAL. Thank you Austin! 

I’ve been around a long time and I know a lot of people. I have had a ton of birthdays. Guess how many of them had something like this? If you guessed “zero,” I admire your precise and correct response: 

Austin’s birthday was REALLY social!

Black locust trees are common in Virginia, but they hide in the background and don’t draw lots of attention. But they’re flowering right now (today) and I did manage to get one picture this morning at Pony Pasture. Unfortunately these were too high off the ground to smell. I have never smelled a tree flower as fragrant as a black locust. I’ve hardly smelled any flower as fragrant as a black locust. 

I was fortunate to see a handsome male Bluebird perched on a wire while Mackey and Turner and I were headed out to pick up Yuki for our hike at Pony Pasture. He was very accommodating! I’m always grateful to get a picture like this: 

A handsome male bluebird posed on our way to the river this morning

This was the table that greeted all of Austin’s guests yesterday. VERY social, though of course we all kept our distance. Note the bottle of Purell doing double duty as a paperweight. When people look at pictures from this birthday in the distant future they’ll reliably say “oh, Purell, right, coronavirus, that must have been the Spring of 2020.” But – there were doughnuts! Thank you Austin! That’s how you put the “social” back in “social distance.” Happy Birthday Austin! 

What a way to celebrate your first birthday! Thank you Austin!

FYI, I had a picture published in a magazine! If you click here you can see the cover picture on the current (May/June 2020) issue of Virginia Wildlife Magazine. The cover of this month’s issue has a picture of an osprey holding a large bluefish. If you have the actual magazine and  open up to page 46 you’ll see the picture I took in the “Pics from the field” section. I took a picture of the picture – it looks a lot better in the magazine: 

A picture of the picture I took – you can see my name! – in Virginia Wildlife magazine

Back to Austin’s party! Here was another family being social: 

I’m fortunate to have such a popular neighbor – what a party he had!

Mackey and  Turner and I took at little hike at Pony Pasture Tuesday. We were happy to see these three officers patrolling on horseback. Beautiful horses and friendly police officers – Richmond is such a wonderful place to live: 

Richmond’s finest on horseback Tuesday at Pony Pasture:

I’ll close with a couple more of Evelyn’s spectacular flowers. We have so many gardenias it takes me a long time to sort through the pictures! So here’s one I took at 7:45 this evening: 

Gardenia from this evening:

Can’t leave Dash out. Here he’s about to start playing soccer with a tennis ball: 

Game, set, match

And I’ll close with a rose (I like the way that sounds). I took this one Wednesday morning at 7:30: 

It is simply impossible to tire of this:

Have a great week! Happy Birthday Austin! Thanks for putting the SOCIAL in social distance! 

All best, 

Jay 

Posted in Birds, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, James River, love, newfaze, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, roses, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Signs of progress – the system is functioning: 

26 April, 2020            Signs of progress – the system is functioning: 

I saw my first deer in a long time this week. So far, everyone always loves deer pictures on this blog. When it comes to blog views, deer are the opposite of snakes. So here’s the opposite of a snake at Pony Pasture Tuesday morning at around 9:30: 

The peace of wild things

I took this picture of Evelyn’s roses in the backyard at 8:30 Monday morning. I photographed the same bush around 7:30 this (Sunday, 4/26/2020) evening. I’ll put that picture at the bottom of the post. Spoiler alert: the roses are doing what roses have always done: 

Evelyn’s roses 8:30 Monday morning

Anyway, when I got that deer Tuesday, Mackey and Turner and I were looking for Barred Owls. We were unsuccessful, if you count seeing a deer as unsuccessful, which it obviously is not. Speaking of items in the “unsuccessful when looking for an owl” category, we also saw more lovely spiderwort Tuesday: 

Spiderwort – same day – and just a few minutes walk from the deer – Tuesday

AND – the “unsuccessful when looking for an owl” category is mighty fun – we saw late season bluebells!: 

Still bluebells left in the woods this week:

Evelyn hit the jackpot with this most recent gardenia. More likely the gardenia hit the jackpot with Evelyn; she brings out the best in them. When I say “hit the jackpot” I mean I could take great pictures of this plant any time. But I like the “missed an owl” theme from Tuesday, so here’s a gardenia picture I took that day (on our back porch). No I didn’t – I apologize. I took one Tuesday, but I took this “triple” Thursday; I couldn’t resist: 

A triple gardenia. When you eat pizza near it, the pizza tastes like gardenias. I’m not even kidding.

Tuesday (4/22/2020) was the Fiftieth Anniversary of Earth Day! My friend Jody gave me this globe for my birthday many years ago and it looks great for Earth Day. Thanks Jody!: 

Earth Day

Earth day too

Big planet

Evelyn has many friends at Project Yoga Richmond. She showed me a poem they’d posted on their Instagram page on Earth Day morning. You may be aware of it. It was written in 1968 by Wendell Berry. The poem is The Peace of Wild Things

“The Peace of Wild Things”  Wendell Berry – 1968 

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. 

Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I went to Pony Pasture this morning to be in the peace of wild things. Like the deer on Tuesday, I suspect these owls don’t “tax their lives with forethought of grief.” I was so moved to see them this morning. Trust me – you can have an enormous amount of despair for the world growing in you, and when you come into the peace of these wild things, for a time you will rest in the grace of the world, and be free: 

The amount of peace in these wild things is inestimable. There is no room for anything else.

You should try it! There’s no shortage of social distance either, especially when it’s muddy like it is now. 

I have wild things outside my window all day, although birds on a bird feeder are not quite as wild as those owls or that deer. But the first (for me) catbirds of 2020 descended on our yard this week; I’m always grateful. This is not what I’d call a “peaceful” image but they’re attractive birds. In the height of nesting/mating season: 

Pair of catbirds energized by suet

A handsome (though I’m uncertain of the gender) bluejay this week: 

Bluejays dominate the feeder. But crows run them off.

Finally – look at the roses at the top of this post, then compare them to this picture, the same roses, six days and twelve hours later. The world is doing what it always does. Coronavirus is around now, but it won’t be here forever. Enjoy these roses! And go into the peace of wild things. 

Same roses at the top of the post. plus 6.5 days of sun and rain and love:

Come back next week! 

All best, 

Jay

Posted in Barred Owls, Birds, Dogs, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, James River, love, newfaze, People, Pony Pasture, Rivers, roses, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments