“That’s what’s up”

31 March, 2019            “That’s what’s up”

“That’s what’s up”

I know a barista at Starbucks; she’s been a steady employee for years. She’s calm and efficient and reliable; I know Starbucks is happy to have her. The location is always busy and our exchanges invariably brief and to the point. But Friday I was there with a client and it was slow and she was spraying tables and wiping them. As she passed our table I showed her the phone with my handsome nephew’s picture. She stopped in her tracks, spray bottle in her left hand and cloth in her right, stared at the picture for a moment and simply said “That’s what’s up.” I could not have been more charmed. It was the absolute last thing I expected to hear – and therefore of course the perfect thing.

Oops – I’m inserting this after I finished the whole post. It’s too great to leave out. I first met Wesson in September of 2015, when he was five or six weeks old. There’s a great picture of him in 2015 on this post if you want to compare. He’s still brand new IMO, but you can see him when he was really brand new in this blog post: This just in!

There is a snake picture later in this post – just giving advance warning. I’ll put it nearer the bottom.

Evelyn and I sent a box of Fannie May Mint Meltaways to my nephew Wesson and his family in Blacksburg earlier this week. My grandmother (my mother’s mother, a.k.a. “Gran”) and her husband (“Grandaddy”) always had them at their house in Arlington, VA when we were growing up. Except we called them “you-know-whats.” And they were only green – no brown ones. And I think they were larger, but perhaps they only seemed that way because I was smaller. And these boxes are only 9 x 9 rows; I am certain the boxes at Gran and Granddaddy’s house were 12 x 16 or bigger. But they taste just as great now. Man do those things taste great.

I need to put another picture in here. It’s not a great one – but there’s another new osprey nest beginning on my normal route. This one is over near Fulton Bank in Stony Point. These are (I’m thinking) young, inexperienced birds who are coming up here late in the season. They don’t exude confidence and their nest is haphazard. I’ll go back this week and see if it’s improved. This was Wednesday:

Newly arrive ospreys on a disorganized nest

Wesson and his dad (my brother Shane) found a recently emerged (and still muddy) Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) while we were hiking at their home in Blacksburg at 11:00 this morning. There will be a picture later in the blog post. Ophidiophobes, you’ve been warned! When I googled that word – because I love words, and I’m not making this up – the third google hit was to a link called “luxury rehabs.com.” I’m not even kidding. You can attend a luxury rehab to treat your fear of snakes, if it is somehow causing difficulty in your life.

The moon has been waning this week and the sky’s been clear a lot so I got a few decent images. I took this one Thursday morning (3/28) at 6:20. It’s officially a “waning crescent” moon, 48% full. This was relatively low in the southern sky, and it had only risen at about 2:30 that morning. It had risen at 49% full and it set at 12:30 that afternoon at 45% full:

48% full waning crescent moon

Here’s a pileated woodpecker from Bryan Park Tuesday when Evelyn and the dogs and I were hiking there. Look at the size of this hole!:

Bryan Park Pileated woodpecker with GIANT hole

I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts my father’s favorite tree was a dogwood. Evelyn just planted one in our backyard; it’s just leafing out for the first time. We have an older, more established dogwood in the front yard. This is one of its blooms from today:

Front dogwood – watch this space next week

Evelyn also planted a favorite tree of mine in the backyard, and it’s blooming for the first time this year. Redbud flowers are edible and delicious; next year when this tree’s a bit more established I’ll grab a handful and eat them. Eating redbud flowers has been a spring ritual with me since I began hiking with Ivory and Nicky on the Appalachian Trail in about 1990.

Brand new Redbud Evelyn planted in the back yard last year – delicious! Thanks Evie!

I actually just walked out back – it’s 8:30 Sunday evening – and ate a small handful of buds so I could write about them with the taste in my mouth. They’re what Spring tastes like. IMO.

This just in – one more picture from this weekend. Photo credit for this one goes to Evelyn:

All of us walking in Blacksburg this morning – except Evelyn! She took the picture! Thanks Evie!

Thank you Evie! She also took this one of Mackey and Turner while we were driving to Blacksburg yesterday:

Mackey and Turner, road trippin’, by Evie:

Anyway, I’m running out of gas (figuratively speaking). Let me post the picture of Shane and Wesson’s garter snake from this morning and hit the sack:

Garter snake Shane and Wesson found this morning in Blacksburg. Maybe 16″ long:

Have an excellent week! Come back next week! All best,


Posted in Birds, Bryan Park, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, garter snake, love, moon, ospreys, People, Pileated Woodpecker, raptors, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Snakes, Starbucks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The world is full of injustice”

24 March, 2019           “The world is full of injustice”

My friend Mark and I were weighing his salad at Kroger in Carytown this week when Secret Agent Man began playing on the store audio network. Mark is a walking musical encyclopedia and he triumphantly blurted “Johnny Rivers!” . We’ve been friends for fifteen years; he does that a lot. I’ll continue the story at the end of this post.

The light’s been lovely most of the week and Spring is waking up all over central Virginia. The sky’s been blue and it’s warming up. But to keep me from getting my hopes up too much regarding Spring, I looked at a post from April of last year – not even twelve months ago – that has a picture of freshly fallen snow on my car on April 8. Feel free to look at the blog post yourself, from Sunday, April 8, 2018 at Flying over the hoods of cars. But whatever it did last April or will do this April, I saw this lovely Brown-headed nuthatch on the dogwood tree in our front yard Tuesday:

Brown-headed nuthatch on my front dogwood. That bird could not possibly be any cuter.

And the camellia on the northwest corner of our house is blooming so vibrantly you could almost call it garish:

Camellia in our yard. Just amazing. Looks like it’s made from flamingo feathers

I noted my first osprey sighting of 2019 in last week’s only marginally coherent blog post, Incoherent. Barring something completely unexpected, there will be ospreys on that nest until at least August. I wish I knew the timeline for an osprey nest. They returned last week and I presume made the nest ready for eggs. I also presume the pair have mated. I think that’s roughly step two, and step three is laying eggs. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is my favorite birding resource and they have a detailed page for every bird. Or at least every bird in North America. On the osprey page under “eggs” it says “Egg-Laying Generally soon (1–3 d, sometimes longer) after nest takes shape and nest-lining added.” So presumably there are eggs on that nest. It goes on to say that the average incubation period is 37 days, or slightly over five weeks. I first saw them on 3/13. That means there might reasonably be eggs hatching by the week beginning 4/15. I was surprised to learn it takes them 50 – 55 days (seven or eight weeks) to fledge after hatching. So they’d be flying off that nest – we’ll see – between about June 5 and June 12. But if they hatch on 4/15 (as I’m guessing), I think it’ll be at least a week before I can see their heads above the edge of the nest from the ground. Might be closer to 5/1. I’ll watch – this is fun already.

I’m still not swear-on-a-stack-of-bibles certain which is the male and which is the female. I’ll continue to work at figuring it out. It doesn’t seem like it should be that hard.

Anyway, on Wednesday (3/20), one of the pair (I’m guessing the male) caught a simply enormous fish and carried it up to the top. Look at the size of this fish compared to the size of the bird. Think about what it took for him to catch that fish underwater and fly all the way up there while he carried it. He’s a powerhouse:

Osprey with a fish across from West End Assembly of God

Presumably this is his mate on the nest to the left:

Osprey on right with giant fresh fish. Osprey on left on nest, probably with eggs.

That camellia at the top of this post is a bright, cheerful, fun loving (appearing) flower, but they don’t have much scent. I’ve seen outdoor gardenias bloom before – there will be some on the side of Cary street near Fresca soon – but ours for the time being are indoors. This smell is first in line in the “flowers that smell outstanding” category; there are not enough superlatives to do justice to gardenias:

Evelyn’s Gardenias put the “G” in “OMG”:

I hadn’t been seeing much in the way of deer at Pony Pasture recently, but there was one lying quietly in the woods today when we were on our return walk. This deer was lying down watching us for a long time when we first got there. The dogs were unconcerned. She (possibly a he with no antlers, but I think it’s a she) was also unconcerned. But eventually she stood up. I took pictures for more than ten minutes and she never left. She watched, watched, watched, but didn’t waste valuable energy (calories) moving away from a threat the didn’t exist:

It was a good day to relax in the woods.

I took the last picture of her at 1:03 then walked back to the car and loaded up – that takes a decent amount of time. But it was precisely 31 minutes later, at 1:34, when I took my first picture (today) of a male Red-tail on a tower near my house. His crop (stomach) was full; he was just going to enjoy the sun and view for a while. He probably has to bring food back to his mate – assuming she’s on the nest with eggs. Though I have no idea where their nest is. He’s a handsome guy though. I got greedy and zoomed in from too long a distance; this picture is a little grainy:

Male Red-tail near my house earlier today

It was ~55º and sunny with a soft breeze; Mackey and Turner and Yuki would have it that way every day if they could. Pony Pasture’s northern boundary is the river and its eastern boundary is the creek that separates it from the Willow Oaks Country Club golf course. So there’s a muddy, shaded little beach right there at the northeast corner. It’s roughly the half way mark on our walk and we like to take a little break there when it’s not too flooded. In this picture, if Mackey looked to his left across the creek, he’d be able to see the cart path up the hill, and behind it the green for the four hundred yard par four fourth hole. But I’m a dog person not a golf person, so here are the boys this morning:

Yuki on the left, Turner middle, Mackey right, muddy James River behind

Before I send you off with my fun experience with Mark this week, I’ll close the pictures with one I took of a flower display Ev created in our mostly south facing kitchen windowsill. If you’re talking about a plant that can compete with a gardenia in the smell category, hyacinths are certainly in that conversation. Evelyn cut all these from our yard. The hyacinths are purple. The others are samples of the wide variety of daffodils Evelyn has blooming all over our yard:

Evelyn and photosynthesis keep our kitchen bright and our home fragrant

Enjoy this blog post! Enjoy this story! Enjoy your week! Come back next week!

All best,


Oops! Almost left out this Brown Thrasher from Wednesday!:

Brown thrasher on the feeder – not their normal haunts

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The world is full of injustice

A tall, slender young woman in a Kroger uniform with two distinctly different colors of hair (top ½ black, bottom ½ bright magenta, not unlike our camellia) was spraying the cash registers and wiping them with a terry cloth rag that may have been white when the store opened six hours earlier. She’d just heard Mark blurt out “Johnny Rivers!” She looked up at the speakers on the ceiling then looked at me and said “my whole life, I never knew who sang that song until just now. I learned something new today!” I just smiled and said Mark knows pretty much every song. And if he doesn’t know, he wants me to use an app on my phone to find out.

So anyway we sit down and Mark eats his salad and drinks either an A&W root beer or an orange Crush™. We’ve eaten lunch together every week for fifteen years; that’s all he ever gets. Sometimes Hawaiian Punch in the summer. After Mark finishes eating and drinking and cleaning up, we go back to the front register to get a Reese’s Peanut butter cup. Fifty-two Wednesdays a year. He watches this “vintage 80’s Reese’s Peanut butter cup commercial” every week. Every week he is delighted – it never fails – and shouts “Mmm! Delicious!” in unison with the stylishly dressed (for the 1980’s) couple on the commercial. They’re each listening to Walkmans which is why they didn’t hear each other coming. Mark picks up his one candy bar, and I ask him which register he wants to go to. His selection process is opaque to me; I can never predict. This week he chose one where a favorite cashier of his works. Other people must like her too; the line was long and getting longer.

Anyway, we stepped to the rear of the line, Mark with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup in hand. A man around my age with a cart overflowing with groceries was directly in front of us. He saw Mark’s candy bar and said “Just one candy bar? Is that all you guys are getting? Why don’t you go ahead of me.”

I see acts of kindness of this variety without fail; it’s rare that a day goes by without one, and a week never does. My positive view of human nature is shaped more strongly by my day to day interactions with other actual human beings than it is by what I hear on the radio or read in the newspaper. I also enjoy the indescribably broad range of interpersonal experiences I come across almost every day. They’d make great fiction, except they really happen, and some of them – like Wednesday’s, IMO – are so unlikely, even a good fiction writer couldn’t make them up.

Anyway, the guy’s outgoing and kind, and I tell him about our experience a few moments earlier, listening to Secret Agent Man and the girl learning for the first time who sang it. And the guy looks me in the eye – we’ve known each other for like thirty seconds, standing there in line at Kroger – and says “Do you know Johnny Rivers is not even in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?” He lets that sink in for a minute, then looks despondently at the floor and says “The world is full of injustice.”

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Posted in Birds, daffodils, Dogs, dogwood, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, hyacinths, James River, love, ospreys, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


17 March, 2019   Incoherent

There is no theme to this post, only marginal pictures. But the sun’s been bright for a while and it seems like I’ve seen just a little blue in the background so far in 2019. It was nice to see the first (the first for me) ospreys of 2019. Wednesday there was a pair on a nest on Parham Road. The first osprey I ever photographed was at Pony Pasture (of course) on October 5, 2014. But I didn’t know how to anticipate them. I got my first one on Parham Road in the Summer of 2015. It began then (for me) to be an example of suddenly becoming aware of a certain bird. Then you realize you were just passing them by before and never knew they existed. Suddenly you begin to see them constantly, because you know where to look. I got them on this nest for the first time in the Spring of 2016. So this is the fourth year in a row (as far as I know) that they’ve returned here. Here is (I’m guessing) the male. See the fish he has? And look at that talon. No other raptors have talons like that. Ospreys are the only raptor that only eats fish. It’s a “piscivore.” Some mammals are piscivores too, and so of course are some ducks, but ospreys are the only raptors. Those talons have been selected by evolution to grab a slippery fish under water and not let it go. Check this  guy out:

Look at those talons. That fish is not going anywhere.

I suspect this is his mate:

His partner, I believe. She’s blinking – that membrane is how they protect their eyes underwater.

Here’s the two of them:

Both at once. Not sure how long until there’s babies – I’ll learn about that.

I saw six turtles lined up in a row on a log at Pony Pasture Tuesday: 

These two were at the rear of the line. Looking chummy:

I got a nice Red-shouldered hawk in a new (for me) place Friday. This was on Hungary Road a short distance south of Staples Mill:

Red-shouldered hawk Friday. They seem similar to Red-tails until you begin to “get to know them better.”

Red-tailed hawks are out essentially every day now; I should have a better image than this. But oh well:

Around the corner from home. This one has a full crop, the bird equivalent to a full belly. You can see it bulging.

I have taken a ton of pictures of the moon this week. The sky’s been real clear and I always enjoy it. I got a nice picture Friday at 10:00 PM then again twenty-four hours later plus I got it earlier today in daylight. When I got it Friday it was 68% full (and growing) and 9.4 days old. Twenty four hours later it had grown 10% to 78%. I’m learning all this stuff for the first time. It’s fascinating. Today at 5:00 PM it was 86% full. It’ll be completely full Wednesday. Here’s Friday:

Waxing moon Friday evening:

Plus Evie has our indoor gardenias fragrantly flourishing. The outside temperature is predicted to go below freezing still early Tuesday and again Wednesday morning so no  outdoor gardenias for a little while. But these are excellent:

There are gardenias, and there is every other flower:

Have a great week!

All best,


PS I started to write a story about this old guy – he’s been gone for ten years – but it had a domino effect and opened up too many stories to contain in a small space. So I’ll reorganize and write about him later. His name was Mister Floyd and he was a great, great teacher. I was real scared when I first met him. He taught me a lot about being calm: 

Mister Floyd, November, 2008:


Posted in Birds, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, James River, moon, ospreys, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Turtles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A crybaby liberal has a macho weekend

10 March, 2019                A crybaby liberal has a macho weekend   

I’m kidding, of course – I’m not a crybaby liberal. Just whiny. And the weekend hasn’t been macho. Just more guy time than I normally spend. I sent some pictures to Evelyn and she texted back “macho weekend.”  

When I post pictures of snakes on here, I warn in advance for people who dislike pictures of snakes. No snake pictures on this one, but there will be at least one picture of a person (me) shooting a gun. So this is your warning – if you don’t like to look at guns, there will be pictures you dislike here.

So anyway – first picture. That’s me in the cockpit. The plane is a McDonnell Douglas T-45 Goshawk. The person teaching me about that aircraft is my friend Pat’s son Daniel, who got me started flying in July of 2017:

Daniel got me started flying propeller planes. It’s unlikely I’ll ever fly a jet. But this was so cool:

There will be a picture of me holding a gun pretty soon. So you’ve been warned.

Daniel and his sister Calli were born about a month after my niece Aileen. I’d been swimming with Pat (though much slower) for a few months when we did a two mile lake swim in Reston, VA. That was the first time I met Daniel and Calli. I think they were three years old. Daniel at that time was considerably taller than my knee, but not nearly as tall as my waist. Now he’s a couple of inches taller than I am and he is flying jets and he is really great at it. Crazy. I thought I was a grown up when I first met him. In like 1991.

This is all at Daniel’s current station, Meridian Naval Air Station in Meridian, MS. Meridian also has a lot of great outdoor activities available, including several lakes for fishing. Pat and I went fishing while Daniel did stuff with his wife and his son and his mother and his dog. Here’s a picture from fishing. We were fishing on Lake Martha. I took this from the boat:

Lake Martha, Meridian MS, this morning. I took this picture from the boat. It didn’t suck.

I took the picture of the lake. Pat took the picture of Daniel and me. Daniel took this picture of me shooting skeet today at Binachi Shooting Sports. In his essay A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, the late, great David Foster Wallace wrote about his experience  shooting skeet. He is in a small group of my favorite all time authors. So I’ll quote him word for word about skeet; he and I had similar experiences: “Actually it was more like I shot at skeet.” But I cannot recall when I’ve had this much fun doing something that did not involve hiking with dogs:

Daniel (or Pat) took this picture of me shooting at skeet today

I don’t know what you think about guns, but that was pure, 100%, never-wanted-it-to-end fun. And it is a lot safer than driving. Even if you’re a committed anti-gun person, I recommend you try shooting a round of skeet some time. I still cannot stop smiling.

Most of my clays broke when they hit the ground. But it’s a cool t-shirt.

Front of the t-shirt:

I also spent time in Richmond this week. After seeing a Great Horned Owl at Bryan Park a week or so ago, I went back to see if I could find it again. I was unsuccessful, but a gorgeous Red-shouldered hawk posed accommodatingly on a branch before I left. I called this image “Consolation Prize,” but I’m happy with it no matter what:

Red-shouldered hawk at Bryan Park this week

I am still a guest and being rude by blogging (although they’re probably grateful to not have to entertain me for a while). Plus I’m getting ready to have yet another awesome home cooked meal so let me sign off. I’ll be back next week! I hope you will too!

All best,


PS We’re staying on base at the Ensign Jesse L Brown Memorial Navy Gateway Inns & Suites. I got curious about Ensign Brown so I googled him. I read up and became even more curious. So I looked on Amazon and found this book. Which I am approximately a quarter of the way through and hate to even put it down; it’s fascinating and excellent. Check it out at Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship and Sacrifice by Adam Makos:

Devotion book cover


Posted in Rivers | 6 Comments

How can I put this delicately? Or “Prader-Willi continues”  

3 March, 2019            How can I put this delicately? Or “Prader-Willi continues”  

I primarily post relaxing images on my blog and generally write about relaxing things. That’s why I avoid politics, religion and advertising. But my rehabilitation career is late in its third decade and not every moment has been relaxing. I’ll return to that at the bottom of this post.

Imperfect image of a Great Horned Owl, but I was so grateful to even see one

Miserable image but this is the first time in my life I’ve ever pointed my camera at a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus). Many thanks to Michael Marra for  pointing it out. Michael is a true pro photographer; check out some images on his web site. I was fortunate to be walking the dogs earlier this afternoon when he was photographing (pro photographing) this bird. His pictures are way better. And he’s a nice person too.

Meanwhile. On Thursday, February 21 Evelyn and I walked to the Shore Dog Cafe for lunch. We were walking home north on Forest Avenue when we heard and saw a commotion in the trees. At first we thought it was a Red-shouldered Hawk catching a squirrel. We looked more closely and saw a pair of hawks mating! Of course I never go anywhere without my camera. Except when we’re walking out to lunch. Oh well. So I’ve been watching that spot and Tuesday one of the hawks was perched on a wire. I pulled over and snapped this picture and left:

Red-shouldered Hawk keeping an eye on me

I like birds 365 days a year but peak birding season in Virginia begins early March and runs through at least May. They’re all beginning to show up. Friday at the Y I saw a tree full of birds that in years past I would have written off as starlings. This was the first image I took:

At first glance I thought these were starlings. Then I zoomed in – see below:

But then I zoomed in and it was a flock of Cedar Waxwings! I had never seen so many at one time! I wish the light had been more favorable, but what a treat; they are so photogenic. And this was in the YMCA parking lot!:

A little zoom reveals a lot of lovely detail:

Peak birding season and peak flower season occur roughly in tandem. Evelyn’s growing  daffodils throughout our yard, but I photographed this small nodding daffodil in a small bed beside our driveway Thursday:

An early specimen of Evelyn’s seemingly infinite crop of daffodils

Evelyn got me started loving gardenias but I am an inept gardener. I’m awesome with dandelions and I can grow an award-winning clump of onion grass. But I did stop and buy a gardenia at the florist Wednesday morning. This sight and smell will get us through the coming weeks as Spring gains traction and becomes unmistakable and unstoppable:

I always feel like I should be able to smell it through the monitor. Gardenias are incomparable.

The river flooded earlier this week and crested Monday near midnight at 16.2’. We hiked at Pony Pasture (via Landria Drive) Tuesday around twelve hours later. It had gone down to 15.7’, so it dropped about six inches. We had to make a long detour to get around this bridge:

My shoes are waterproof, but I chose not to put them to this test

Then we went up to Charlie’s Bridge; time for another detour:

Charlie’s Bridge, still partially immersed Tuesday

We took a good hike yesterday, though the river was still high and the trails were still muddy and the main parking lot was closed. As I type these words Sunday afternoon the river’s gone down to 10.0’. It was a good day for Bryan Park – and I got to photograph my first Great Horned Owl! Our Dad used to whistle at them at night and they’d whistle back.

Anyway. Here’s my story from an earlier era in my rehab career. Enjoy, have a great week, come back next Sunday, all best,


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How can I put this delicately? Or “Prader-Willi continues”

On the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association website it says that the third phase of Prader-Willi Syndrome “is the development of an insatiable appetite/drive to eat, accompanied by intense or relentless food-seeking. This is the classic phase most people typically associate with PWS”. It also says that people with PWS have “hyperphagia (an uncontrollable drive to eat), combined with weight gain on fewer calories”. The same website says people with PWS often have “cognitive disabilities, behavioral problems”. This person couldn’t speak. And in my business we say “behavior is communication.” I’ll just call the guy Henry.

Consider for a moment that eleven word stretch that says “an uncontrollable drive to eat, combined with weight gain on fewer calories.” If you were designing a way to make a person’s life miserable, that would be the perfect way to do it. And it’s genetic. I have an old friend who is a psychologist. If he heard about Henry’s frustrations he’d say Henry “comes by it honestly.” My own drive to eat is ostensibly controllable and my weight gain is on the normal amount of calories and it’s still a challenge!

The part about “put this delicately” is the way this food-obsessed person with no verbal means of communication communicated his frustration. It began with the food he put in his mouth and chewed obsessively so he could use it as a weapon. But only when he was angry or frustrated. It changed my career path when it came out the other end and he continued to use it as a weapon.

If you’re at a lecture or reading a book about PWS, it can be dull or forgettable. If you’re a parent, not so much, and if a person is using their partially or completely digested food as a weapon, it is not dull. And it will not be forgettable for the rest of your life, or at least I haven’t forgotten it.

Sometimes he’d put food in his mouth and begin chewing it. And chewing it and chewing it and noisily squishing it around in his mouth, filling up his mouth and obviously not swallowing. When I was being trained, the aides would move back warily and say “swallow your food Henry! Swallow it!” Projectile vomiting was a favorite weapon of his.

Henry lived in a group home and when he came to school on a bus he was sometimes “escalated” – his behaviors were spiraling out of control. I’ve worked with a lot of non verbal people with behavior problems. At that point, I hadn’t. Since “behavior is communication,” I watched all of his behaviors so he would communicate when he was having a difficult morning. The first thing we’d do is go in the bathroom and I’d ask him to wash his hands. Then he’d start pressing the dispenser bar on the paper towel dispenser. If he was having a normal day – most days were normal – he’d press it two or three times and we’d finish up and go work on our activities. But if he’d had a bad dream the night before, or not liked his breakfast, or had a disagreement with one of his housemates, or not liked the music in the car on the way over – it could have been anything – he’d become escalated. He’d press the bar on the paper towel dispenser ten or more times. I’d have to tell him to stop. Picture that pile of brown paper towels reaching from the dispenser to the floor, piling up. But when that’s going on, he’s in a trance. It was practically like a seizure. I’m not sure he could even hear me. It’s some vestige of PTSD that causes me to tense up a tiny bit if I’m in a public bathroom now, twenty years later, and hear someone pressing the bar on the paper towel dispenser a lot. We’re all so funny, what impresses itself on our brains.

Henry was super escalated that day and I sent him into the bathroom stall to  sit down and go to the bathroom. He did – and a moment later, opened the door and came out with his hands full of it. He attacked me with it. Rather than recreate from memory, here’s my almost-twenty-three-year-old journal entry, excerpted here with names changed:


5/16/96 Thu 13:40 7607

“Slinging feces” is what the staff call it when Henry starts taking a crap and throwing it on the walls, etc. I think that there are two factors that lead to this behavior: 1) Henry has to be “escalated,” another work euphemism for “pissed off,” or whatever. I like that term. Henry gets escalated kind of often, so it takes a light touch to avoid that. The second factor is 2) Henry has to be alone. And it ain’t, as I am fond of saying, rocket science, to avoid that happening. You just follow him wherever he goes. I told the boss today that as long as I was there (at work) and Henry was too, no shit was coming out of that bathroom – period. They’ve since switched his old one-on-one to another case, and I have Henry all the time. For better or for worse.


5/17/96 Fri 13:50 7607

I probably won’t have nightmares about it, because I’m not a nightmare type person, but at the same time I’ll probably never forget the sight of Henry walking out of that right-hand stall today, zombie-like, a soft and putrid brown mound of his own feces overflowing out of each end of his hand. I’ve since learned that I need to give him choices, so I should have said to flush that back down one of those three toilets, but I just told him to flush it back down the toilet, so he threw it at me. My reflexes aren’t particularly fast, but his are even slower, so that initial launch landed in a blob on the edge of the sink. I was still clean up until that point, but when he attacked me, it was all over. Scratch one new shirt from Eddie Bauer. I didn’t need those top buttons anyway. I’m glad I was able to keep him from biting me. I was glad when Joel happened to appear at the door.

We’ve got another guy there, Keith, and he’s attacked a lot of people, mostly males, and before he attacks, he asks them to puff up their cheeks


The “Joel” I referred to at the end – this was purely a random chance – was the Director of the Behavior Intervention Program at VCU. And he had to use the exact bathroom I was in at the exact time I was dealing with the messiest behavior I’d ever been around. So I got to learn in real time to how to deal with a severe behavior problem, from an international expert on behavioral intervention. How cool is that? How could that timing have been any more awesome?

After an incident like that, your scale of what is off-putting and causes you alarm and consternation is deeply and permanently recalibrated. After you’ve been attacked with feces, other stuff that people say or do becomes less of a big deal. It prepares you for a career with people who have some behavioral challenges, because you’ve probably gotten the worst behind you right at the beginning.

= = = = = = = = = = = 

Posted in Birds, Bryan Park, cedar waxwing, daffodils, disability, Dogs, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, James River, love, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments


Just trying out my first ever blog post from my ipad. This is just a trial balloon. In a manner of speaking:

First gardenia (that I’ve seen and smelled) in 2019

Posted in Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, Rivers | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Lots of H2O, few pictures, Prader-Willi Syndrome

24 February, 2019         Lots of H2O, few pictures, Prader-Willi Syndrome

As I type these words Sunday afternoon, the James River at Pony Pasture is fifteen feet deep and rising. That means most trails are underwater, so Evelyn and Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I hiked at Bryan Park today. And didn’t get a lot of pictures!

I was taking pictures out of my office window Thursday morning when the sun came out for a moment. Mackey was lying behind me and it was shining right on him. Black dogs look great in black sunlight – especially up close. I turned around and took this picture – he is so handsome and dignified. He is an elegant boy:

Black goes with everything – isn’t he spectacular?

The “Prader-Willi Syndrome” part is an experience I’ll write about in the future. Perhaps next week. I’ve been encouraged to write about “turning points” in my life. All of our lives have an infinite number. My experience working with a young man with Prader-Willi Syndrome about twenty years ago was an unforgettable turning point in my life, my career, my education. If you’re unfamiliar with Prader-Willi Syndrome, as I was before I met this person, you can learn a bit here: ABOUT PRADER-WILLI SYNDROME. The person I worked with was in the third phase. A lot of the “me” you know was formed by my encounter with him. But I’d chosen to be there, so it works both ways.

The “me” you know is shaped most by my wonderful family and friends, but also of course by my almost equally wonderful companion animals. Mackey and Turner sit and lie in my office (and hike with me) but they’re not allowed on the furniture. Dash likes it up there, especially close to the fire, unless there’s a warm lap nearby. When I emailed this to myself I just put “no anxiety here” in the subject line:

No anxiety here:

As you’ve seen I’ve been taking lots of pictures of birds on my feeders. They’re arriving in ever-increasing numbers along with the ever-increasing daylight. Which will eventually become ever-increasing temperatures, but not for another month or two. I like birds a lot, and I know a lot of other people do too – but hardly anyone likes European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). I am not fond of them myself. But I don’t like the feeling of disliking a bird – I’m sure it doesn’t dislike me. I don’t even know if they have feelings at all. But I know it’s irrational to dislike an animal that doesn’t harm me or anyone I know, and I am a rational person. So I’m going to learn to like them by taking the perfect photograph. Something that displays their likability. All animals have it. With chickadees it’s effortless. It’ll take me a while to locate the likability in a starling. But here’s my first attempt:

Does this starling appear likable to you? I’m working on it:

There is also no rational reason to like a Red-tailed hawk more than I like a starling, but that’s the way I am and I’m not conflicted. Here’s a great expression; I don’t recall where I heard it: “the heart knows reasons that reason does not know.” In other words, our hearts might have reasons that seem unreasonable. Or irrational. Like preferring one type of bird over another. Here’s a Red-tail I photographed near my house this afternoon:

So happy to finally see some blue sky. Male Red-tailed hawk 2:45 this afternoon near home:

Here’s a mockingbird in front of my house during the rain yesterday:

Mockingbird on our front light in the rain yesterday

Next week – hopefully – frogs will be croaking at the river and flowers will be camera ready. Come back then! And hopefully I’ll get my story in here about my old buddy with Prader Willi Syndrome.

Have an excellent week,


Posted in Birds, cats, Dogs, Fun, mockingbirds, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment