Two Presidents, one church, no politics, no religion

1 October, 2017            Two Presidents, one church, no politics, no religion

President Carter’s non-political, non-religious message

I watched a DVD of the Sunday school class President Jimmy Carter taught at the Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, GA on August 27, 2017. President Carter spoke about President Trump and it was a Sunday in a church so it’s tempting to think both politics and religion – two subjects I avoid on this blog – would be in the conversation. They were, but they were not the most significant lesson, and they were forgettable compared with President Carter’s most important message of the day. That message is summed up in the two white words on the red background at the top of this blog post. I’ll return to that at the bottom of this post. After a handful of pictures.

I hope no one’s heart was badly broken when they read last week’s blog post (Venomous snake video, my first fox, more) and didn’t see a single Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). I won’t make up for that omission with more than one picture this week, but I will include this. The most predictable Red-tails I’ve seen recently perch on the cross at Discovery United Methodist Church at 13000 Gayton Road in Henrico, VA. I took this picture on Wednesday (9/27) at 9:15 AM:

Regular Red-tail – Discovery United Methodist Church

I went to Hollywood Cemetery with a buddy a few hours later. If you’re unfamiliar with it, the cemetery is at 412 South Cherry Street in Richmond. It’s perched on a hill overlooking the falls of the James River, where it’s been since 1850. There are millions of good photographs of it, but I haven’t added any. The light was still pretty like it was in the morning and I did take this picture inside the mausoleum looking out south across the river:

Looking south across the James River through the mausoleum at Hollywood Cemetery

If you walk through that bright opening, there is a flagstone terrace overlooking the CSX railroad tracks (the main attraction for my buddy) and the James River. That’s the western (upstream) edge of Belle Isle you’re looking at across the river. Hollywood Cemetery is open 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM 365 days a year and there’s no admission and it would be a bargain even if there was. Cemeteries aren’t my favorite places to visit but Hollywood is pretty and relaxing and unpretentious, even though two American Presidents are buried there. I read in Wikipedia that it got its name from the holly trees throughout the cemetery, and they’re hard to miss.

Also hard to miss is the Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) popping open everywhere in the less fussed over corners of our backyard. I just read that it’s a deciduous flowering shrub of the mallow family. It’s native (I’ve recently learned) to India and Asia so decidedly non-native. Like I am. It looks pretty against the blue sky:

Try to look at that and not smile. I can hardly help myself.

Evelyn has our American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) producing extravagant clumps off the fruit that unmistakably give it its name. I took this picture on Thursday (it was still September), but it looks even prettier today:

Early autumn color. I never even knew.

Our front gardenias continue to flower and perfume our yard and home even now, on  October 1. The bush in our backyard (the one with the credit-card-sized blossoms) has a dozen buds that look like they’re going to burst open any moment. So hopefully next week you’ll be seeing them here. The sun that was above the horizon for nearly fifteen hours daily in June stays above it for less than twelve hours a day now. It takes a lot of energy to produce those gargantuan blooms, and the sun is “feeding” them for a few minutes less each day. But there will be no clouds for the next couple of days so we’ll get more blooms.

Meanwhile Evelyn has Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) gleaming in the front of the house, on the sides of the house, and in more than one spot behind the house. It’s encouraging to see this much cheerful color in October:

This flower is in our yard today. In October!

The river is low today, 3.26’ at the gauge just west of the Huguenot Bridge. You can see the web site for the gauge here: Westham Gauge. The gauge is on the north bank of the river. If you paddled across (from the south side) in a boat you could climb out and see it easily – it’s near the water. Just across the river from Huguenot Flatwater. Right now there are too many leaves to see it from Huguenot Flatwater but in January the trees will be bare and it’ll be visible. The five “low water records” there begin at the deepest (least low) record of 3.00’ on 9/17/1943. All five of the low water records fall between 9/17 and 10/21 of various years, so we’re right in the heart of dry season. The five high water records, by contrast, are scattered – one each in March, April, June, August and November. I don’t have a true obsession with meteorology, but I am more aware of it than normal. Please pardon me – spending so much time near the river heightens my awareness and interest.

Regarding those river depths – recall today’s depth, 3.26’. When it gets to 5.0’, you have to wear floatation devices at Pony Pasture. At 9.0’, the river is closed unless you have a permit. 12.0’ is “flood stage.” Are you familiar with our area? When you drive over the Huguenot Bridge and look down at the CSX railroad tracks, those are at the 18.2’ mark. Now get this – on June 23 of 1972, during Hurricane Agnes, the James crested at 28.6’! So next time you look down at those tracks, imagine them under ten feet of water. That would probably go over the top of a coal car. That’s why the buildings at the Virginia Eye Institute are on stilts. Anyway, pardon my descent into nerdiness.

I was with another friend at Deep Run park Friday (9/29) – the same park where I’ve twice photographed copperheads this year – and this honeysuckle was as beautiful and fragrant a flower as you’ll ever see. When I first edited (lightly) this image I called it “poor man’s gardenia.” Because for sheer beauty, there is no improving this. And the smell is incomparable. Maybe a more precise expression would be “gardenia for the horticulturally inept.” I’ll be the first to admit that doesn’t roll right off your tongue. But feast your eyes, since you unfortunately can’t feast your nose:  

Poor Man’s Gardenia, a.k.a. “Gardenia for the Horticulturally Inept”

I’ll close the photographs with, of course, my boys at the river this morning. We usually pose in the woods behind the Wetlands but we traipsed right through today and I didn’t get a picture until we were nearly done. Just before we got to the car we went back to the river and they were very relaxed when I took this picture:

Yuki, Mackey, Turner – and the Mighty James River, this morning

Enough of this. For this week. Let me get to the part with the presidents and the church and no politics or religion. And come back next week!

All best,


PS – Almost didn’t mention – flying is going well. Possibly a bit slow to get off the ground if you’ll pardon the expression. But I had three lessons last week and three more this coming week. This is the plane I flew Thursday (before I untied it): 

My current favorite airplane, a 2003 Cessna 172S


Two Presidents, one church, no politics, no religion

President Carter’s Sunday School Class

Maranatha Baptist Church, Plains, GA Sunday, 27 August, 2017

Mr. Carter opened up his Sunday school lesson with warm introductions and conversation in a decidedly neighborly tone. He makes no secret that he’s a deeply religious man – he revels in it. And President of the United States is as political as you can get. Fifteen minutes into his chat he said “I try not to criticize President Trump” and then “I haven’t agreed with much he’s done since he’s been in the White House.” There was a lot of laughter, and it was not kind or warm-hearted. You wouldn’t want people to laugh about you that way. I was impressed to see President Carter looked pained when he heard it, and he put his head down and said “I’m not saying that in a derogatory way.” And he meant it. The laughter stopped.

I don’t write about or discuss politics, but I have strong opinions and I vote in every election. The problem right now – and Mr. Carter knows this – is not if you like one party or dislike another. It’s not if you want higher taxes or lower taxes or more fossil fuels or less fossil fuels or more money spent on health care or less money spent on health care. The problem is, many people are choosing to speak in an unkind fashion, and they’re speaking loudly, and it’s putting the focus on the anger and incivility rather than on the taxes and fossil fuels and health care, where it’s supposed to be.

When President Carter was talking about President Trump, it wasn’t about politics or religion – it was about being kind. I need to remind myself, every day.  


An addendum to my addendum that I don’t often include. My experience of watching Mr. Carter’s Sunday school was my own. My friend went to the class and I wanted to discuss it with him, so I ordered a DVD of the class and watched it, twice. But I also did research for this and found two articles about it in the Huffington Post. Both were written by a woman named Lynn LaPlante Allaway, a woman who describes herself thus: “Writer, blogger, jazz violist, classical violinist, Mom to four young kids, married to a jock, I’m never bored.” The first was called Jimmy Carter’s Sunday School, written 12/21/2015. The second was How Jimmy Carter Soothed my Election Blues, written 11/22/2016. Ms. Allaway’s temperament is not like mine (I don’t play the violin, nor am I married to a jock) but she’s a talented writer and captured what I felt was Mr. Carter’s essence. I recommend both articles.  

Posted in Birds, Cessna 172, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, honeysuckle, James River, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Venomous snake video, my first fox, more

24 September, 2017            Venomous snake video, my first fox, more

A surprising number of people (I’m learning) are unfond of Copperhead snakes (Agkistrodon contortrix). I got some pictures and a video of one Friday at Deep Run Park in western Henrico. I’ll put them later so you can bail out if you have an irrational fear of snakes. I suspect no one has any fear, irrational or otherwise, of Evelyn’s gardenias. This one is enormous – and you can smell it from an enormous distance. Check it out compared to my Kroger card. Full sized Kroger card, not key-chain size:

I did not even know they made gardenias this big. Totally a State Fair Gardenia. You can probably smell it from your house.

I had a “good gardenia problem” earlier this week. Our front gardenia had five open blooms at the same time, and I couldn’t get them all in one picture. “Too many gardenias to fit in one picture” – that’s a good problem. The floral version of “too much chocolate.”

I took my lens cap off on six days this week, and I photographed gardenias – in our yard – on five of them. There are other flowers too, but the most noticeable are the gardenias and these gleaming nasturtiums:

Everything else fades in the background

Roses! How could I forget roses! They’re still going full power as well. The reason I forget roses is I never get a picture I like. The color never comes out looking real. I take a lot of pictures but I remain an amateur in many ways. Like getting color correct. But have a look:

Maybe if I’d read a photography book for once in my life I could get this color more realistic. They are beyond compare.

My flying lessons are progressing steadily. Getting off the ground, you could say. I finished my seventh lesson early this afternoon, but my longest lesson (in the air) has only been 1.2 hours (an hour and 12 minutes) and I’ve had one as short as a half hour. They’ll get longer as I gain skill and confidence as a pilot. It’s still early days but I’m learning fast. This is N5335J, a 2003 Cessna 172S, the plane I fly in most. I flew in it today, and this is a picture I took on Thursday:

Cessna 172, fun and beautiful and comfortable and forgiving

I’ll wait until later in this post for the copperhead. This morning (Sunday, 9/24/2017), Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I headed for Pony Pasture. As we pulled into the parking lot at 8:30, a Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) was jogging casually along the southeast edge of the lot, headed west. There were twenty cars in the lot. Plus hikers, joggers, dog walkers, more. I noticed it moving and kept my eye on it. I snapped a few pictures from the car but nothing great. Here’s the only one I got. I’ll do better. Unfortunately it has mange:

Red fox with mange, Pony Pasture parking lot, 8:30 this morning

We were in the parking lot visiting with that fox until 8:40 this morning. We wandered down the river bank and up the creek for 55 minutes until we came over a hill between the Wetlands and Willow Oaks golf course and were greeted by this pretty girl. With at least one youngster visible in the upper right: 

Adult whitetail and at least one youngster near the eastern edge of Pony Pasture this morning

Fortunately all three dogs are on leashes and fortunately I anticipate the lunge. Because the three of them combined outweigh me by forty pounds and if they decided to have a closer look at that deer, I’d be outvoted. This was about ten minutes later, when we’d put the deer behind us and got in the woods and caught our breath. You can hardly see Mackey in this picture (he’s in the center). But if you ever met Mackey, you’d be able to tell right away he kind of likes it that way. I’ve never known a dog that thrives on being in the background as much as Mackey does. He’s always there but he’s never in the way:

Yuki, Mackey, Turner

Attention: this copperhead – like the copperhead I photographed in April – is not from Pony Pasture. It’s from Deep Run Park in western Henrico. Deep Run is much more “civilized” – much more contrived, lots of asphalt, playgrounds, swing sets, soccer fields, lights, signs, fountains, etc. It’s the reduced-fat generic vanilla ice cream of parks.  In Pony Pasture, you can be in true wilderness. Deep Run, not so much. But I see way more venomous reptiles there than anyplace else. 

Well, I’m not prejudiced against reptiles, so here’s another copperhead from Deep Run Park in western Henrico. I’d been on the same trail precisely 21 weeks earlier (on April 28, 2017) when I encountered The first poisonous snake I’ve ever photographed. The one I got on Friday (9/22) was much smaller and much, much edgier. It was cooler in April and that snake was unmistakably calm. Calm people, calm dogs, calm snakes, calm birds, they all have a similar, unmistakable posture, a way of gazing at the planet that lets you know in an instant they don’t feel threatened. So they’re not threatening. The snake Friday was much different – it was radiating anxiety. I wasn’t putting my camera or my phone or my feet or my hands anywhere near it. Copperheads are super-photogenic, though. This is the snake as it was crossing the edge of the trail:

Copperhead leaving the trail at Deep Run

This is it a bit further from the edge:

Clear of the trail:

Closeup (with a zoom lens!) of the head:

Closeup (using a zoom lens!) of the copperhead’s business end:

I’m also adding a picture I took standing up with my phone. This camouflage is peerless. I wonder how often we all walk past these snakes. Look in the precise center of this image:

Look very carefully at the center of this image, the copperhead is right there

Here’s the video. This snake was so cooperative. Scary but cooperative:

Now for something a bit more civilized – gardenias Evelyn cut and put on our back porch table:

Evelyn fills and surrounds our home with beauty. Even when your eyes are closed!

Did I mention I went to the river this morning? I’ll leave you with this – taken ten minutes walk downstream from where we photographed the fox:

I apologize to viewers who tire of this sight – I just never will. Looking at that makes a lot of things better.

Have a great week! Enjoy this weather! Come back next week! All best,


Posted in Birds, copperhead, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, James River, Pony Pasture, Rivers, roses, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Snakes, whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments


17 September, 2017            YW84JOY

Andrew and me, post race this morning in Manteo

I couldn’t get that thought out of my head this morning in Manteo, NC. It’s a license plate I saw, many years ago. Sound it out – you’ll understand the sentiment. That’s a picture of me with my friend and fellow triathlete Andrew, who has competed with me in multisport races for close to thirty years. Another athlete snapped that picture just after we finished the Outer Banks Triathlon around 10:00 AM today. We did one yesterday too. Here’s the sunrise just before yesterday’s race:

Saturday pre-race sunrise. Why wait for joy?

Yesterday’s (Saturday’s) race was an Olympic distance triathlon, consisting of a 0.93 mile  (1,500 meter) swim, followed by a 24.8 mile (40 km) bike and finishing with a 6.2 mile  (10 km) run. This morning’s race was a Sprint distance triathlon – precisely half as long as yesterday’s race. Today we started out with an 0.5mi (750m) swim, then a 12.4mi (20 km) bike and ended with a 3.1mi (5 km) run. I would say that these medals were the reward for all our hard work – except we didn’t do any!

Round medal – Olympic (Saturday)
Triangular – Sprint (Sunday)
Square – “Series Challenge” (both races)

I mean, seriously. We got to swim and bike and run around Manteo and the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a few hours each on two days. We saw beautiful scenery, we met positive, upbeat, cheerful people, and we had others yelling encouraging words at us the entire time. So which part was the hard work? No part, that’s which part. A person in Andrew’s family owns a cottage in Kill Devil Hills, NC, and that’s where we stayed. Here’s my car parked outside:

House where we stayed between races. With a dock on the sound. YW84JOY

So, seriously, again – hard work? No way. We ate a lot (we burned up a lot) and even that was fun. Yesterday evening – after the Olympic distance race – we had dinner at the Black Pelican Restaurant in Kill Devil Hills. This was the view from the front of the restaurant:

Beach road and Atlantic Ocean:

Just after that race – before we even went home – we refueled with cheeseburgers and chocolate milkshakes from the Olde Towne Creamery in Manteo. If you’re vegan they have sorbet and probably other stuff. If you’re vegetarian, they have milkshakes which are OMG. You can not even believe how delicious. I chose the third option, which includes giving thanks to the spirit of the cow who gave its life so I could eat what their menu describes as a “CHEESEBURGER A true American classic chuck steak burger.” No one would ever mistake me for a connoisseur of any type of food, but I know a good burger when I eat one and this is off-the-charts good. The place is tiny and service is beyond compare. If you’re ever in the Outer Banks, go there. It’s a treasure.   

We were just getting back from the second race today when I did an arm selfie (you don’t see tons of arm selfies) of my race number with additional smiley face just before I washed it off:

It’s important to wear a smiley face while swimming, biking and running

I’m closing up on a moment – I’m running on fumes. But I can’t let a week go by without a raptor, especially anaccipiter.” Red-tailed and Red-shouldered hawks – this blog is littered with their pictures – arebuteos.” I see one or more buteos almost literally 365 days a year. I’m lucky if I see an accipiter ten days a year. It’s possible this is a female Sharp-shinned hawk (they’re noticeably larger than males) but better informed people than me believe it’s a male Cooper’s hawk. An opening sentence on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology web site says that “Separating Sharp-shinned Hawks from Cooper’s Hawks is one of the classic birding challenges.” So I’m not swearing by my ID. Believe it or not I took this picture Wednesday evening in West Broad Village almost within sight of Burger Bach just after Evelyn and I finished dinner. Their burgers are the best in central Virginia by a considerable margin. But check out this hawk:

Male Cooper’s hawk on top of a building in West Broad Village at sunset

I also can’t let a late summer week go by without a picture of the nasturtiums Ev still has proliferating in our front yard; she brought these in a couple of days ago:

Evelyn both surrounds and fills our home with beauty

And I got home too late this evening to get a good gardenia picture, but next week. Ev sent this picture yesterday. When I got home tonight there were four huge blooms on the plant – the most it’s ever had, I believe:

Gardenia picture Ev sent while I was at the beach. But I couldn’t smell it! Now I can.

I had my third flying lesson Thursday. I took this picture of the plane just before we started it up:

Plane I flew for my third flying lesson

One more race picture. Andrew took this about ten seconds before I crossed the finish line for yesterday’s race: 

There is not a single minute during a triathlon when I am not happy. You should try a short one – you will not regret it for one second.

I’ll close with a picture from Friday evening in Manteo, just as we were picking up our race information:

Sun heading for the horizon Friday evening in Manteo. 13 hours before race start:

Have a great week! All best,


Posted in Birds, Cooper's Hawk, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, outer banks, People, raptors, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), sunsets, triathlons | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Fortunately, I don’t have to choose

10 September, 2017            Fortunately, I don’t have to choose

When seasons wane and new ones begin, I always feel the new season is my favorite. I remember Spring wrapping up in late June and thinking “Summer is my favorite!” Fourth of July, corn on the cob, birthdays, I love it all. As I watch summer birds disappear from  the river and autumn birds arrive, I’m already thinking “Autumn is my favorite!” Fortunately, I don’t have to choose between seasons. I enjoy the four-way tie.

Normally I put these photos in chronological order, beginning with pictures I took early in the week. I took a few nice ones, but I took this one this morning at 11:00 and I like the color. This happens to me all the time at the river. I’ll stare so intently at one beautiful scene, I’ll miss something else. As you look at this dazzling moth (unless it’s a dazzling butterfly) and the glow of the flowers, look directly below the moth and there’s not one but two bees. One at the bottom and one less distinct in between. A cheerful sight:

It’s hard to look at this and not smile

Back to the beginning of the week – this is from Monday – possibly on the same flowers. It could easily be the same bee:

More flowers, more insects – more beauty

I need to learn more about this plant. I believe it is some form of clematis. There is a native clematis and an invasive clematis. This one looks nice and smells nice, but that’s true of many native plants as well as invasive ones. If anyone knows specifics, I’d love to learn more:

Clematis at Pony Pasture

On Wednesday (9/7) near the CSX tracks downtown, I saw my first Osage orange of 2017. I was surprised and gratified to discover it – I wasn’t expecting it until October or November. Next week I’ll use something for scale, because it’s hard to get a feel for how big these are. Not quite as big as a softball but much bigger than a baseball:

First osage orange I’ve seen in 2017

So, anyway, Thursday. Certain predictable red-tails in certain predictable spots help me feel a certain predictable calm, and I make a point to visit them when I’m in the area. My camera is always in my car. The cell phone tower in the Westbury Apothecary parking lot is a reliable spot for Red-tails, and I photographed one on Thursday (9/7) at 5:00 PM. It wasn’t until I looked at this picture on the computer a few hours later that I saw the damage to its tail. I’m not certain what’s happening here – I’m open to suggestions. Note carefully also the two streamers coming off the tail:

Red-tail on cell phone tower 1/2 mile from my house. Note damage to tail, and 2 streamers:

I returned Saturday afternoon at 1:00 – it’s not even half a mile from my house. So this is the same bird, forty-four hours later:

Same red-tail as above, forty-four hours later:

It still has those streamers. I’m not sure what’s happening here. I’ll keep an eye on it. My friend Kim is a wildlife rehabilitator and she works with raptors and feels certain the bird will groom those feathers out. 

This morning I saw my first Bald Eagle at Pony Pasture in some time. It tuned me in more sharply on the change in season than any other natural phenomena. Recently, the sky above the rapids at Pony Pasture has been filled with ospreys. If there were available fish, the ospreys were catching them – that’s all they eat. Eagles love fish too, but they’re not committed to them the way ospreys are. They could never compete with the ospreys. But ospreys near Pony Pasture have vanished, or at least I’m not seeing or hearing any. It’s time for ospreys to head for South America, and they’re gone. Leaving more fish for the eagles.

This was a long shot, and the trees are so leafy, it’s difficult to see. If I hadn’t seen the eagle fly in there, I’d have never known. This was this morning at 10:00:

See the eagle hidden right in the center of the picture?

The next picture will give you an idea of how I set up to photograph that eagle. See the big mound in the bottom-center of this picture, at the edge of the riverbank? I was leaning my camera on that to steady it while I focused on the eagle all the way across the river:

That hump – in the center – I was steadying my camera on that. Aiming across the river. 

There were still pawpaws at the river this morning – a lot. I’m not sure what eats them besides me. But something must – they are so delicious and there are so many of them. They taste best right there on the river bank. You can smell the river and feel the wind and hear all the riverbank sounds, the crickets, the leaves, the water, the breeze, it is in every way a feast. Here’s a picture I took this morning – with a raccoon footprint in between. Since raccoon feet are referred to as paws, the caption for this was inevitable:

Pawpaws with raccoon pawprint in the middle, plus deer hoofprint at lower right

Snap back to civilization – I’ll close with a picture of Dash snoozing in the tea tray in the living room. This is an animal who has zero concept of the word “stress”:

Dash is a cool cat, but he always finds a way to stay warm

I hope your week brings you zero concept of the word “stress”! If you experience some,  spend an hour or so near the river – it’ll fix you right up.

All best,


Posted in Bald eagles, Birds, cats, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, Insects, James River, koans, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SSDW – Same Stuff, Different Week

3 September, 2017            SSDW – Same Stuff, Different Week

No birthdays or triathlons this week, although I did have my second flying lesson Thursday morning (8/31) at 7:00. I’m not even officially a student yet, although I’ve scheduled lessons well into the future. I hope I can figure it out!

I‘ll take photographs connected to my flying lessons, but for now my focus is riveted on my instructor and the airplane. I’m sure when you first learned to drive a car, you were a little  nervous and a little excited and a little anxious but after you drove for a few years, you were more used to it. I suspect flying will be like that. However – this is what the airport looked when I was parked outside waiting for it to open; I took this through my car windshield:

Hanover Airport (KOFP) at 6:57 AM on Friday, 8/31/2017:

Now, of course, the “SSDW” – Red-tails and gardenias, of course. My “best” Red-tail this week (I’ve seen a lot) appeared a block away from my house Monday morning (8/28) when I was driving home from work. A large female, and she was standing on the ground looking under a bush, something I don’t often see Red-tails do. When I rolled to a stop she hopped onto a low branch and looked back and forth at the bush and at me:

Adult female Red-tailed hawk, Monday morning ~9:30, almost in sight of my house, about 6′ above the ground:

I was gratified – that hardly begins to describe it – to see (and of course smell) two gardenias blooming in our front bed Friday morning (9/1) when I left for work a few minutes after dawn. Gardenias are always a treat; it’s even better to see them (and smell them) in September. Evelyn has these plants putting up a lot of buds, some are opening up. This is this week’s “Gardenia of the Week”:

September gardenia – look at that. Feast your eyes. Thanks Ev!

Evelyn has our nasturtiums gleaming everywhere:

I think about my Mom a lot. But orange always makes me think of Dad.

I neglected to open with – but I’ll include here – something that is not “SSDW.” It was raining yesterday morning (9/2) and Evelyn and I paid our first visit (I cannot imagine why we waited so long) to the Lakeside Farmer’s Market (LFM) at 6110 Lakeside Ave. Richmond VA 23228. If you live in Richmond and you’ve already been, I’m sure you’re a regular. If you live in Richmond and haven’t been, please go – it’s a guaranteed hit. Wherever I go – to work or to the Y or to a grocery store or to a triathlon or a flying lesson or a restaurant or a park – the quality of the experience is determined as much by the people I encounter there as it is the reason my for my visit. Like a restaurant can have outstanding food, but if I find the people insufferable (or, more likely, they find me insufferable), I won’t enjoy the experience. But if the people are engaging and friendly and warm and outgoing, I’m going to have an excellent time regardless of almost any other factor. The places that have both (a great experience and great people, like Pony Pasture and the Y, etc.) are the places I treasure and visit over and over. LFM has great people and it’s a great experience – I already know I’ll be a regular. Give it a try! I could have taken a better picture, but if you know me, you’ll know why I find this appealing – maybe you’ll like it too:

The Great Bicycle Pyramid of Lakeside

Since it’s a farmer’s market, check out these watermelons and corn on the cob and grapes. We had some of that corn for dinner tonight:

Think that looks spectacular? It does. But you should taste it! OMG

These grapes were just begging to be photographed: 

Almost too beautiful to eat. Almost.

This morning when Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I went to Pony Pasture, the weather was the nicest it’s been since April. There is no such thing as an unenjoyable visit to Pony Pasture, but weather like today’s makes it even better than usual – though I admit that’s hard to imagine:

Just like the seasons – every day is different, every day is perfect.

No shortage of insects today either – but we’ll see less of them as the days shorten and cool. In mid-June, the sun was above the horizon each day for nearly fifteen hours. Today it was above the horizon for less than thirteen hours, and that downward trend will continue for more than three months. A great reason to enjoy today! As if we needed one! Here’s a damselfly on the riverbank this morning:

Damselfly takes the morning sun on the riverbank

Insects and flowers go together – neither are fond of the shortening, cooling days, and it won’t be long before they’ve vanished for the year. But they’re still on bright display – limited time only! They look different when you can smell the fresh morning air, but this is a reasonable approximation:

Delicate and graceful

Delicate and graceful too, but with a passenger who makes me happy for a long lens

The pawpaws continue in full swing – the fallen fruits will squish under your feet if you walk in certain spots – but their time is drawing to a close. For 2017. The seasons at Pony Pasture are just like the river – they never stop changing and they’re always perfect. Pawpaw leaves are huge and there are hundreds of trees at the river and they keep a lot of sunlight from reaching the ground. They’ll begin to fall in a month or two and the forest and the river bank will get brighter every day. This won’t be the last pawpaw I see in 2017 (I hope) but they’re slowing down:

A ripe pawpaw near the river’s edge in early September

Mackey and Turner and Yuki are as enthusiastic – often more enthusiastic – as I am about everything and everybody we encounter at the river. I missed taking a picture of the boys when they were in better light, but this is a fun image. You can barely even see Mackey and Turner, they fade into the background so much behind Yuki’s glow. But see Mackey there on the left, the last dog? His mouth is open and his tongue is out. He was being a silly boy. I think Turner (center) was looking at a squirrel. His gaze takes on a faint but unmistakable tinge of obsessiveness when it finds a squirrel:

Three handsome boys (but two are hard to see!)

Have a great week! All best,


Posted in Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, Insects, James River, koans, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Birthday dinner – flying lesson – triathlon – pass the buck

27 August, 2017            Birthday dinner – flying lesson – triathlon – pass the buck

Cessna 172 – I flew in that today! Turning, banking, ascending, descending, it is beyond amazing. I can hardly wait to learn more.

Birthday dinner at l’opossum. That is flash glare or something on my lip – if it was food I would have eaten it.


Me on the left, Pat’s brother-in-law Tom next, then Pat, then Andrew, Quantico Triathlon 2017 – photo credit to Pat’s wife (Tom’s sister) Megan. Thanks Megan! 

Whitetail buck on the side of Riverside Drive, August 24, 1:00 PM

This week, where do I begin? Evelyn and I celebrated my 56th birthday at L’opossum on Wednesday evening. My friend Andrew and my friend Pat and his brother-in-law Tom and I all completed the Quantico triathlon yesterday. This afternoon I took my first flying lesson at Heart of Virginia Aviation (HOVA) in Ashland, VA. Thursday after we hiked at the river, Mackey and Turner and I saw a whitetail buck in the woods alongside Riverside Drive, squiring around a herd of four or maybe six pretty little does and fawns.

This is my first birthday since Mom died. I hadn’t been thinking about her much recently but she came back into sharp focus on my birthday. When I was growing up, we didn’t have big birthday parties or get expensive presents or whatever. But just little things, like in the car you got to choose the radio station, you got your favorite food for dinner, that kind of thing. Just little stuff, but when you grow up in a family of seven, it’s really fun to be #1 for that day. And when we were adults, my Mom didn’t send real cool, clever, beautiful cards, but she always sent a birthday card – she never missed any birthday. Ever. And you better believe she’d call.

But speaking of cool birthday gifts. Even though my birthday was on a Wednesday, it was busy from start to finish. I was up at 5:00 and worked during the day plus took a long swim plus Evelyn worked plus we went out for dinner. But it doesn’t matter what you did during the day – the last thing before bed is take Mackey and Turner for a walk. So Evelyn and I  got home from our birthday dinner around 8:30 PM and the front garden beds were a little dry and had begun to get that late-summer dreariness. About an hour and a half later, Mackey and Turner and I walked out onto the front stoop and looked down and saw this final priceless birthday gift from Evelyn. Look at this beauty:

Last birthday present of the day, these gifts are beyond compare. Each one is priceless.

Here are some of the excellent cards I got from my outstanding family and fantastic friends. They’re all so thoughtful – I could not possibly be more grateful:

Birthday cards – everyone is so thoughtful. Especially Evelyn’s – on the left.

Here are a couple of pictures the ribbon from the triathlon we all did yesterday:

Front of the finisher’s ribbon

Detail of back

The race was a 750 meter (1/2 mile) swim in the Potomac River, a 20 kilometer (12.4 mile) bike and a 5k (3.1 mile) run. Low key and enjoyable. 

That triathlon ribbon is another bittersweet memento this birthday week, because nobody wanted to hear about triathlons in more detail than Mom. And this one, she would have just levitated. Because my Mom was the queen of networkers – she met people she knew everywhere. I went to high school in Washington, DC at a Jesuit high school called Gonzaga and our colors were purple and white. So when I saw a bunch of guys in purple and white at the triathlon, I went up and introduced myself. We had a great chat, then they introduced me to the base commander at Quantico, Col. Joseph M. Murray – Gonzaga class of 1985! Six years after I graduated! It was great fun talking with him. To give an idea of the esteem that Gonzaga alumni hold for their school, this is the first sentence of Col. Murray’s USMC biography: “Born in Washington, DC, Colonel Murray graduated from Gonzaga College High School and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps in 1990 after graduating from Ohio Wesleyan University.” My mom just couldn’t get enough of that kind of thing. Plus I guarantee – there’s a 100% chance – that she would have said “Oh, sure, Joe Murray, I was talking with his mother last week about…” Mom knew everybody, and knew something interesting about them. She was incapable of not carrying on a conversation. I don’t know how she did it.

My friend Andrew (on right w/glasses on head in picture at top) has been doing triathlons with me for decades. I remember going to his wedding, and now his oldest is a senior in high school! This year was my thirtieth anniversary of competing in triathlons, and he did one with me at Lake Anna in May. His birthday gift to me was a book – an actual book – about that race. Here are a handful of my favorite images. If you see me out and about sometime and want to see it, just let me know – I’d love to show it to you. I’ll probably carry it around with me in my car this week. It’s the only one on this planet! Unless  Andrew made more of them… Here are a few of the pictures I especially enjoy:

The author is wearing orange:

Two page view:

The book even has a picture of how I begin every race day (and every non-race day).

This is the place where I took the flying lessons:

Sounds simple enough:

I had my first flying lesson here today:

I had an excellent instructor named John Gillette. After some ground instruction we actually flew the plane for nearly an hour! 0.8 hours to be precise; that’s how many hours are in my logbook as I begin my journey toward earning a Private Pilot Certificate. My first flight was in equal parts invigorating and intimidating. John was calm and thorough and capable; he’s everything you’d want a flight instructor to be. I can hardly wait for my next lesson.

Of course Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I began our day at the river this morning. We started early so I could get out to Hanover for my flying lesson so we got to the river a bit early. Check these boys out at Pony Pasture this morning around 8:30:

This is just a tiny bit of what you missed if you didn’t go to Pony Pasture this morning:

In our family – Mom would have loved this too – other people had exciting news this week. My brother Shane was appointed to a new federal advisory council on motorcycle safety. If you’d like to learn about the appointment (and see a recent picture of Shane), here is the article: Transportation researcher appointed to federal advisory council on motorcycle safety. If you look at the picture on that article, I’ll tell you something about it you might not otherwise know. You might see his big smile and say “oh, he’s so happy he got that great appointment.” Which of course he’s happy about that, but you’d be wrong. Shane’s life is studded with remarkable accomplishments. Just google him. But he never smiled like that before he and Kristin got married and had Wesson. He’s done great things for decades and never smiled anything remotely like that. You are totally seeing Kristin and Wesson in that smile.

About seeing that buck near the river – I was parked at the foot of this sign when I took that picture. Facing away from the river:

I was practically touching this sign when I photographed that buck at the top of the page

There is so, so, so much happening at Pony Pasture right now – you owe it to yourself to visit. There are so many pawpaws on the ground in some spots you can hardly walk without stepping on them. They smell divine. This morning a guy was carrying his 2 y.o. (he told me) daughter on his shoulders. She was saying “Pick pawpaws! Pick pawpaws!” He said she didn’t know what it meant but she just liked saying it. It’s easy to tell why. I’ve been eating pawpaws on every hike. I described the flavor to a friend as “banana-peach-custard, only with a hint of vanilla.” Plus there’s something indefinable about the flavor of a pawpaw. Because the texture is part of the flavor. It is like no other fruit I’ve ever eaten. Plus whenever I eat them I’m standing on the edge of the river and there’s a breeze and there are river sounds and smells and usually a little dirt I didn’t brush all the way off – it is a treat for every sense.

I often say they’re perfectly ripe after they fall off the branch but before they hit the ground. The perfect flavor/consistency window is so narrow. But the flavor and the experience is transcendent. It is not to be missed. Or ever taken for granted. Here’s one that fell in a bed of wintercreeper. Wintercreeper is another nasty invasive species (just because it takes over) but it cushions the ground for pawpaws and keeps bruising to a minimum. Here’s a picture from this morning, after I gobbled a little bit for breakfast:

Fresh pawpaws (though one’s half-eaten) nestled in a bed of wintercreeper

This week has almost been too full! But Thursday (8/24, the same day I photographed the buck), Mackey and Turner and I were hiking in The Wetlands at Pony Pasture and we saw a doe stomping around in the undergrowth. I didn’t look at this video until later; I wish I’d gone over to see what she was pawing at. Take a look at the video; it lasts 25 seconds. It is not flawless, but you may see some deer behavior you’ve never seen before:

Whitetail grazing in Pony Pasture, 8/24/2017

Here’s a still picture I took of her at the same time. She’s in mid-chew, but her mouth is not open, so she still looks demure:

One of Pony Pasture’s healthy and well-fed whitetail herd

There is so, so, so much happening at the river now – and everywhere else. There are pawpaws and deer and cardinal flowers and – as my sister Katie told me (thanks Katie!) – “New York ironweed – I think the scientific name is Vernonia noveboracensis“. There are cardinals and ospreys and kingfishers and owls and paw prints in the mud and alligator gar lurking in the shallows, the first leaves are beginning to drop, the river flows and flows and flows, and it changes and changes and changes, and it’s always the same. It’s like the answer to a kids’ riddle: Q: “What changes all the time but stays the same all the time?” A: “A river!” 

Have an outstanding week. All best,



Posted in Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, James River, koans, ospreys, Pony Pasture, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), triathlons, whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Turns out I was wrong

20 August, 2017            Turns out I was wrong

I was certain I’d seen the last Barred owl (Strix varia) of 2017. It’s mid-August and I thought I wouldn’t see them again until 2018. Mackey and Turner and I were hiking in Pony Pasture on Thursday (August 17). We had just crossed the bridge that goes toward the Wetlands and turned left (toward the river) and the creek was on our left. I noticed an unusual shape below us, and this young Barred owl was perched on a tree limb that had fallen across the creek:

A young Barred owl peers up from the creek bed Thursday morning:

I can’t say for certain but I suspect that was a young owl. I steer clear of attempts to interpret the facial expressions of non-human animals, but I thought I picked up on a bit of bewilderment here. I suspect owls (almost any raptors) are not used to looking up at people. But the tree that bird was perched on was at least three feet below the trail. I suspect that was a “youngster’s mistake” getting caught down low like that. But there may be other interpretations – I’m not an owl expert. It only took a moment for it to hop up into some low branches so it was looking down at us. The correct position for a raptor. Maybe that was my last Barred owl viewing for 2017. I’ll keep my eyes peeled. When it got up higher it was hidden by leaves and hard to photograph. 

Cardinal flowers (see the last couple of weeks) are a harbinger of autumn in Pony Pasture. Another bright flower appears at the same time; I’m not sure what it is (identification is welcome and encouraged) but I always see this bright beauty in late August:

There are still so many colors in the park

There were plenty of Cardinal flowers Thursday too. They were still blooming all over the park this morning. And some bright yellow flowers. Lots of color still on the banks of the river. And there are pawpaws everywhere, and they’re really just starting to get going. I saw a Red-tail near home that day too – the raptors are beginning to show up everywhere. More than usual, believe it or not.

Anyway, what really prompted the title of this post was a sentence I typed on this blog exactly seven days ago. I put up a picture of a lovely gardenia blossom from our yard and wrote “I’m confident it will be our last gardenia blossom of 2017 but what a sendoff.” I should just stay out of the prediction-making business. I put up that blog post (A brand new treasure at Pony Pasture) around 8:00 PM last Sunday. The next morning – twelve hours later – I looked to the right of our front porch and saw (and smelled) this:

This graceful gardenia made a liar out of me (see last week’s blog post if you don’t believe me)

There are nasturtiums blooming with it, but I didn’t make any confident (and incorrect) predictions about the end of their growing season:

Brightest flower in the garden

I jumped the gun on several a number of predictions – I anticipate them too early in the Spring too – but many of these plants and animals will be assuming different forms or headed for a more favorable climate soon. But Wednesday there were still two (at least) ospreys on the nest near Fulton Bank. This was a very late arriving nest so I’m guessing they’ll be among the last to depart:

I think these birds will head south soon. But I have a poor track record when it comes to predictions.

Two hours earlier near Richmond Fire Station 25 (8800 Huguenot Road) I looked up and saw a Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura ) standing on a cell phone tower facing away from me with its wings outstretched. I’m not certain why the bird was doing this. It wasn’t drying out its wings; this was 12:00 in the afternoon on a dry, crisp day. And it didn’t fly either:

I can’t account for this behavior. But it sure looks neat.

I’m aware that I overdo it on Red-tail pictures in this blog but I saw – and photographed – Red-tails nearly every day this week. I get an odd feeling of comfort when I see them. I can’t quite put my finger on it. But it’s there. Here’s an “old standby” – a Red-tail in a predictable spot, on the cross at Discovery United Methodist Church (13000 Gayton Road). I haven’t seen this bird in some time and I was gratified to spot it looking down at my on Friday (8/18) morning:

Shadowy Red-tail at Discovery United Methodist Church

There was another one the same day near the Westbury Pharmacy, and another in the same spot on the following day. That is a bird (Red tails in general, not that one in particular) that I never tire of seeing.

Besides our gardenias and nasturtiums (and Red maple and elderberries and figs and basil and tomatoes) Evelyn still has our roses blooming like there’s no tomorrow:

If you’d asked me to predict rose blooms, I’d have been wrong about that too. That is a spectacular flower. 

I’m aware that luck is the main component when I get good photographs, and I wasn’t real lucky with this one. But I pointed my camera up and clicked this morning just as this osprey flew over while the dogs and I were at the edge of the river. I may get better at “aerial photography”: 

That blue background forgives a lot of mistakes:

These flowers were on the riverbank this morning too – just at my feet as I photographed that osprey:

These river flowers come and go, like everything else. What a treat while they’re here!


I almost called this whole blog post “mea culpa

I spend a lot of energy avoiding writing about politics, religion and advertising in this blog. I wrote a post in mid-2016 called NO POLITICS, NO ADVERTISING, NO RELIGION because I keep those subjects off this blog. The “mea culpa” part is, I don’t keep them off here out of any sense of duty or out of any nod to what I think is right or important or interesting or pleasing to an audience. I keep them off here because I am a naturally anxious person and I work hard to be calm and present. No matter what happens in the world – I mean, regardless of every single other thing – when I go to Pony Pasture, I know what I’m going to get. I know when I stand on the bank of that river and look across it, if I look to my left, the river is going to be flowing toward me. If I look to my right, it’s going to be flowing away from me. That’s the only way it’s every been, and that’s the only way it ever will be. I don’t watch television but I read the newspaper way too much, and it doesn’t take the edge off my anxiety. But the river always does. And so does seeing Red-tails on crosses. And watching flowers bloom and fade and leaves fall and come back again in the spring, and deer browsing in the woods. I may give the impression I just enjoy all that stuff, and I do. But the truth is – the mea culpa part is – it’s necessary for my peace of mind. I’m grateful every day.


“Everyday I’m here I’m grateful’ 
And that’s the gist of it.” – Paul Simon, Cool Papa Bell

Posted in Birds, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, James River, ospreys, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, roses, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments