Walking into spider webs/screening phone calls 

28 July, 2019            Walking into spider webs/screening phone calls 

Evelyn and I were over in Bonair Monday evening and came back across the Huguenot Bridge toward the Virginia Eye Institute and Starbucks. Evelyn pointed out this impressive buck sauntering along the shoulder of Huguenot Road across from Starbucks. He’s still in velvet. He looks pretty young – he’s not real muscular or confident looking. Six points minimum but maybe more. The light was poor but this came out okay: 

Whitetail buck, as photographed from Starbucks parking lot:

I also (of course) got a reasonable Red-tail Wednesday. She was in the Westhampton Memorial and Cremation Park. I’m not seeing a ton of raptors these days so I welcomed this image: 

Big female red-tail waking up, waiting for prey to wake up

I drive east on Patterson Avenue every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning at a reasonable hour. I work with a person with a disability in the really early morning in the far west end those days. I come home down Patterson and always look at a tree in the swamp directly across the street from St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church. I’ve seen Bald Eagles, ospreys, countless red-tailed hawks, and a number of Red-shouldered hawks. But Friday, for the first time ever, I saw a Turkey Vulture – warming its wings as it faced the rising sun: 

Carrion eater greets the morning sun

I saw a nice young skink later that day at Deep Run. This is a youngster as you can tell from the blue tail. It was also tiny. Just a miniature skink. I tried to put my pen down for scale but this little being was moving real, real quick in that bright morning sun: 

Shiny tiny skink with bright blue tail

My friends were out of town for a couple days and I took their dogs to the river Saturday. I regret now I could have staged two identical pictures; they would have looked neat together. But these are close. I took this picture of Lola and Luna yesterday at 9:13 AM. I took the picture of Mackey and Turner precisely twenty-four hours and thirty-two minutes later at 9:45 this morning. Our river is without peer, anywhere: 

Luna (left) and Lola yesterday morning

Turner (left) and Mackey today

Nothing about this video or the words to this song really relates to this post – it could be regarded as a throwaway pop song, and that wouldn’t necessarily be incorrect. But it’s a 1987 song by David Lee Roth called “Just Like Paradise”. And the chorus is only two simple lines and I repeat it constantly in my head when I’m at the river with dogs:

“This must be just like livin’ in paradise
And I don’t want to go home”

For the Wildlife Center of Virginia Wildlife Book Club this month we’re reading Spiders: Learning to Love Them by Lynne Kelly. That’s where (tangentially) I got the title for this post. I’ve been thinking a lot about spiders and there are a lot of webs around Pony Pasture this time of year. I wonder if that’s why the WCV picked this book – because it’s spiderweb time. They are hard to photograph! I’m not even a quarter of the way through yet, and so far I’ve learned much more about spiders than about the webs themselves. But you don’t have to know anything about gardenias to know they’re beautiful – they’re just beautiful. I don’t have to learn anything extra about this to appreciate its beauty – it’s perfect the way it is: 

I know it’s not a rose. But it is spectacular. It’s not even a miracle – any more than a rose is. But still.

The title of this blog post, for no particular reason, is adapted from a 1995 song by the band No Doubt. The song is called Spiderwebs and it’s about tangled up relationships. And screening phone calls, which some of us may recall was a thing you did back in the 1990’s. Before phones got “smart.”

Speaking of things that can be appreciated equally with knowledge or in its absence, look what Evelyn convinced to bloom in our yard Wednesday: 

Spiderwebs, the river, roses – all the same. Perfect the way they are – they cannot be improved.

That rose reminds me of a quote I saw recently – I’ll put it in here in a moment. I read a lot, lot, lot of books by a Vietnamese buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh. He’s 92 now but he had a really bad stroke about five years ago and I’m pretty sure he’s not talking. Though he looks healthy. His best lessons (IMO) are numerous and so simple any child can easily understand them. It occurred to me as I typed that that sometimes they’re so simple an adult can’t understand them. But he doesn’t call for elaborate explanations of roses: 

-Thich Nhat Hanh

Enjoy the miracle this week! 

All best, 



Posted in Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, James River, love, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, roses, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Spiders, whitetail deer, Wildlife Book Club, Wildlife Center of Virginia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Some things in life can be improved… 

21 July, 2019            Some things in life can be improved… 

…but this weekend wasn’t one of them! Evelyn’s birthday was this weekend and her sister Jackie came down from NJ to help us celebrate. Evelyn and Jackie and Ariel and I went out to The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing for dinner last night and took this 4x selfie: 

Me, Ariel, Evelyn and Jackie, Rocketts Landing yesterday evening just after dinner

Yuki didn’t join us on our walk this morning, but aside from that glaring omission, our hike at the river this morning could not be improved. Look at Mackey and Turner on a rock just as we arrived at Pony Pasture this morning: 

Mackey and Turner watching the river flow toward the ocean this fine July morning at Pony Pasture

Since this weekend was the fiftieth anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the moon, Ev suggested I include my “blue moon” picture from August of 2015: 

Plane passes in front of a “Blue moon” – August, 2015

If you’d like to see the rest of that blog post, it’s from August 2, 2015 and the title is “Serendipity – once in a blue moon.” 

For a little moon shot history in our family, one of my brothers was born the same date (not the same year) Apollo 11 launched from Cape Canaveral and another of my brothers was born the same day (different year) that Neil Armstrong stepped off the ladder from the lunar module to the moon’s surface. I was a young boy, but I clearly remember watching it on our first color television in the knotty pine paneled basement of the house where I grew up in Silver Spring, MD. A.k.a. “The house with the good basement.” 

I learned two new things about Neil Armstrong while researching this blog post. He had a son then a daughter then another son. But, sadly, his daughter died from a brain tumor when she was only three years old. The second thing I learned was his family’s request when he died during heart surgery at eighty-two years old. His family released a statement that said “For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.” Sometimes I’m so happy to stumble across stuff like this when I’m doing my blog posts. It’ll be too cloudy to see the moon tonight but I’ll think about that next time I see the moon. Maybe I’ll get another moon picture up here next week. 

I saw this squirrel stretched out trying to beat the heat Monday at Deep Run: 

This is how squirrels cool off when it’s hot. It jumped up and ran off a moment later.

That was Monday. I was in the same spot – right where this squirrel was – on Friday and I looked down about ten feet at the tangled forest floor. I was looking for snakes – they’re currently hiding from me – and saw a box turtle! Mammals are unfond of hot weather, and it’s amazing how often I see birds panting. I mean, birds panting – who would have imagined? I wouldn’t have, anyway. But I’ve photographed a Red-tailed hawk panting after carrying a dead rabbit up to a high perch on a July day – panting like nobody’s business. And I’ve photographed ospreys panting on their nest many times. I photographed crows panting (not a great picture) earlier this week, and just today I had starlings panting on my feeders. But anyway, reptiles I presume enjoy the heat. Skinks are sure fast moving and a challenge to photograph when it’s hot. This Woodland Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) was munching a mushroom on the ground about ten feet below us. I walked down and walked over to it for this imperfect image. It was so hot – and not a breath of wind:

Box turtle gobbling up a mushroom

I recently finished a book called Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss by Margaret Renkl. It has a lot, lot, lot of short, crisp, informative essays about all manner of subjects. One is called “Things I knew when I was six” followed by “Things I didn’t know when I was six.” There’s a chapter called “To the bluebirds” and one called “In Which My Grandmother Tells the story of Her Brother’s Death.” In a chapter called “Encroachers,” she talks about starlings, and writes “the starlings don’t belong here,” because they’re non-native (they’re European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris)), an invasive species. She says that “they are aliens here.” But she goes on to write that “The alien does not know it’s an alien.” She goes on to describe the undeniably sad death of a starling in her yard and say “I can only pity it.” I’m looking at starlings on my feeder this minute – as I type this sentence. I think a lot about that “the alien doesn’t know it’s an alien.” I am a caucasian human male in North America – the most destructive invasive species in the history of invasive species. Comparing the destruction my species has done to the destruction starlings have done is like comparing the sun to a candle. I don’t love having starlings on these feeders. But I also don’t love feeling like a hypocrite. One morning when there’s one out there in pretty light I’ll get a nice picture.  

Too much rumination and not enough photography this week! 

Today I had a bluebird, a cardinal and a goldfinch on my feeder at the same time – primary colors! I didn’t get any brilliant pictures (I rarely, rarely do – I just take a lot) but here’s a goldfinch. Male goldfinches are always cheerful (IMO) to look at. If goldfinches were invasive species, I wonder if people would be so judgmental. It’s difficult for a starling to look cute. It’s difficult for a goldfinch not to: 

I think if goldfinches were invasive species you would possibly hear less grumbling

I got one other picture the same day as that goldfinch picture that came out pretty well. It’s not framed just right but it captures (IMO) the essence of a male Northern Cardinal:

BRIGHT! The second of three primary colors I saw on my bird feeder today

For some reason – I don’t recall why – I stumbled across this old picture of my dogs Ivory and Nicky in Montana in 1999. Twenty years ago! This spot is called “The Rims” and it’s a prominent and startling and lovely and imposing and unique feature at the edge of town. We spent a lot of time hiking up there that summer: 

Ivory (left) and Nicky (black and difficult to see) on the Rims in Billings, MT, twenty years ago this month!

It’s been a great and busy weekend. I was so happy that Jackie joined us for Evelyn’s birthday – I hope she comes back soon! And I hope you do too! 

Have a great week, 


Posted in Birds, box turtle, cardinals, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, James River, love, moon, People, Pony Pasture, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Turtles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Light work

14 July, 2019            Light work

The light made photography effortless again this week; I’m always grateful. But I get lazy! I also can never decide which picture I like best. My favorite photography subjects, raptors, have been all over town this week. I even got some ospreys I hadn’t gotten in some time. My memory card runneth over with pictures of Red-tails from this week. It’s tough (for me) to pick a favorite, but I got real close to this one in good light so I’m going to go with it. This is at the very western edge of Westhampton Memorial and Cremation Park, 10000 Patterson Avenue in Henrico: 

Notice the blue eyes? I think this is a first year Red-tail.

Eleven minutes earlier (precisely) I’d been standing at the end of the driveway at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, 10627 Patterson Avenue in Henrico – just up the street. I don’t know if the hawk caught the squirrel of if the squirrel got hit by a car and the hawk grabbed it. However it came about that hawk was clutching this squirrel, it’s safe to say all of that squirrel has become part of that hawk: 

Red tailed hawk with gray squirrel about to become breakfast

Squirrels will never be safe from cars, but they’ll always be safe from ospreys. If it doesn’t have scales and gills, ospreys aren’t interested. I was over in BonAir early (-ish) Tuesday morning and on my way home saw an osprey on a familiar nest near Fulton Bank in Stony Point. I was parked at 9030 Stony Point Parkway to take this picture: 

Fighter pilots were warned to “Check 6” or look at the 6 o’clock position (behind them) for unexpected attacks. That’s probably not why this osprey is checking 6.

The last image I took there was at 8:16. Then I drove north across the Willy Bridge and eight minutes later (8:24) snapped my first picture of two ospreys on a nest across Parham from West End Assembly of God. Evelyn was by there earlier today and saw three on the nest at the same time. But they’re all big now. When I visited, probably one bird was out hunting. Or, more properly, since they’re ospreys, fishing. Here’s a picture I took of a pair: 

A pair of ospreys near West End Assembly of God, but Evelyn tells me she’s seen more on that nest

Yuki’s taking a little summer break so Mackey and Turner and I are going to the river on the early side to avoid the heat. We arrived at the intersection of River Road and Huguenot Road and this doe and fawn were ambling across the parking lot near BB&T and headed across Huguenot Road toward Schwarzchild jeweler (6000 River Road). I took five  pictures in under two minutes. Both deer got around the guard rail and into the woods. They’re safe in there; it probably takes them ~2 minutes to cross the train tracks and get to the river’s edge. I snapped this picture with my phone (in the parking lot) when I first caught a glimpse: 

See that little deer? On the grass? Directly in front of the bank door? Boy this is an excellent time to be alive.

Here’s the first picture with my real camera, to give some idea of the setting. This was a petite doe, presumably the mother: 

Sauntering and/or ambling toward the road:

A moment later, she and a passing cyclist paused to consider their great good fortune at crossing paths this fine Sunday morning:  

Probably the biker was happier than the deer. But this was not traumatic for the deer:

In the next image, her offspring has joined her at the edge of the road to get its nerves up to cross: 

Parent and offspring about to have a road crossing safety lesson. It went well. I watched until they were all the way across and in the woods. 

I would totally think twice about crossing that street too, even if my mother was there to make sure it was safe: 

It was a pleasant morning and the traffic was light, but I suspect this fawn was a little anxious.

They both disappeared into the brush: 

Mother and youngster make it across the street and head for the river

That was a nice, nice, nice way to start a Sunday morning. 

I’m just going to wrap up with a couple pictures of shadows in our living room. When the dogs were at the groomers Tuesday – I am not making this up – the sun shone through our living room window through the leaves of this lush philodendron. I regret not photographing the sun on the leaves: 

Philodendron in living room

The sun shining through the leaves made this cool dog shadow, since Turner and Mackey were not around to keep us company:

Dog shadow through philodendron leaves

Dog shadow closeup. I don’t think this ever happens when Mackey and Turner are home.

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


Oops! Almost left a picture off. The river is getting its colorful summer look, blue water reflecting a blue sky with bright green plants and a bit of muddy granite to add balance:  

All of it – us, the churches, ospreys, deer, everything – all here because of this river. I’m happy every time I look at it.


Posted in Birds, Fun, James River, love, ospreys, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Starbucks, Trains, whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Where to start? Embarrassment of riches

7 July, 2019            Where to start? Embarrassment of riches

I didn’t know where to start this week – too much fun stuff. I was parked at a gas station  near a busy intersection Tuesday morning when I heard a bird singing louder than the traffic. The gas pumps were next to my passenger’s side door. I took this picture out of the open driver’s side window, resting against the steering wheel: 

Song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) Isn’t this a fun picture?

Mackey and Turner and I went hiking with our friend Sam Tuesday afternoon and Sam took this excellent picture of the Virginia State Insect, a Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio glaucus). Great job Sam! (This took a lot of patience – butterflies don’t sit still very long): 

Tiger Swallowtail – the Virginia State Insect – excellent picture taken by Sam. Nice work Sam!

There’s going to be another northern water snake a ways down this post, by the way. They’re still going strong at Deep Run Park in western Henrico. 

I should also mention Sam and I were hiking back when Mackey and Turner suddenly, simultaneously, became fascinated with something in the woods to our left. We saw the telltale brown patch of fur on one of Pony Pasture’s large herd of resident whitetail deer. Mackey and Turner were polite (probably too hot to run after deer) so they contained their excitement. Sam and I passed the camera back and forth and each took a handful of pictures. The deer was in a real tangly spot, so this was the best one we came up with: 

Pony Pasture whitetail just a few minutes down the trail from Sam’s butterfly!

A break in the rain allowed me time to take a nice bike ride Saturday at Deep Run, so I was coming east on Patterson Avenue just before noon instead of my normal time of around 9:30 AM. Sure enough there was a raptor on the dead tree across Patterson Avenue from St. Bartholomew Episcopal Church, 10627 Patterson Avenue. There was a very nice lady there working outdoors in the heat, doing some gardening and weeding and sprucing things up. Very dedicated! We talked a bit about the hawks and ospreys that frequent that area. 

The bird in the tree was a young male Red-shouldered hawk. I’d seen birds drying their wings before in the sun, but I don’t think this guy had gotten wet. I am convinced he was letting the breeze cool him off. I’ve never seen a Red-shoulder or a Red-tail sit in this position: 

Red shouldered hawk probably cooling off on the edge of Patterson Avenue

On the Fourth of July Mackey and Turner and I took a quick hike around 10:00 AM. I finally got a picture of a Prothonotary warbler! I’ve been hearing them a lot this  year but not yet been able to point my lens at one. There are a few things I’d improve about this picture if I had it to do over again, but one of my favorite things about wildlife photography is you don’t get to it over again – you have to get it right the first time! It makes the experience very immediate. This is what I came away with: 

Prothonotary warbler with an insect in the canopy at Pony Pasture on the Fourth of July

Evelyn’s roses are stunning – continually. These were on our windowsill twenty-four hours before I took this picture, so they’d faded a bit. But still: 

Evelyn’s stunning roses, classic rose look, classic rose smell

Think I’m going to leave it at that for this first week of the second half of 2019. I hope you had an excellent Fourth of July and your summer is off to a great start. See you next week (I hope!), 


PS If anyone is interested, this is my 400th blog post. My first was on 2 March, 2011, a trim 62 words with no pictures. It’s interesting (to me, anyway) that my thoughts and feelings today reflect precisely what I wrote in those seven brief sentences. It was called Rivers are always different and always perfect 

Out of the four hundred posts I’ve done, the top three most viewed were all about ironmans I was doing in those years (2011, 2012, 2013). My #1 most viewed post of all time was Owl pajamas, candy corn, a beautiful day – Beach2Battleship 2013. It doesn’t have great pictures but the race recap is pretty fun. I’ve loved endurance athletics for my whole life, and they’re what’s helped me recover from my accident and brought me whatever success I’ve had. My next triathlon is in August at Quantico. I can hardly wait! 

PPS Perhaps you’ve noticed, I didn’t put a snake picture in here. There were so many of them this week – they’re really out in force. But I don’t think I’ll get lots of complaints that I didn’t include one. Maybe next week.

Posted in Birds, Flowers, Fun, love, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, red-shouldered hawks, Rivers, roses, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), Snakes, triathlons, whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Pimento cheese picnic – and more! 

30 June, 2019            Pimento cheese picnic – and more! 

Me, Marvin, Laura, Ethan, Sam – Natural Bridge, VA

My old friend Ethan, world renowned snake photographer and his family were in Roanoke this week visiting their family. They invited me for a picnic and hike at Natural Bridge State Park in Natural Bridge, VA. I’ve driven past it on Interstate 81 since my sister started at Virginia Tech in 1981 (thirty-eight years ago!) and never visited! I still drive down there to visit my brother in Blacksburg so I’m glad Ethan and has family invited me to spend some time there. And they brought pimento cheese sandwiches! And fresh vegetables (the tomatoes were my favorite) from the farm share Ethan’s grandparents use. Those tomatoes were A+. But they also had those excellent little cucumbers. We ate outdoors on picnic tables with tablecloths – it was so nice – in the shade and even had lemonade and iced tea! It fueled us up for a great hike down to see the Natural Bridge and the Monacan Indian Living History Exhibit a few minutes further down the trail. 

The picture above by the way is less than half of the family members who were at the picnic. The rest were scattered ahead of us and behind us on the trail. Ethan’s grandparents and his aunt and uncle and sister and another cousin were hiking too. 

I am untalented at photographing on this large scale. But here’s one I took with my phone: 

Same Natural Bridge – other side

This was a sign talking about the particulars: 

The bridge’s impressive dimensions – but you don’t entirely grasp the scale until you’re standing under it.

It is way bigger than you think, or than the words on that sign imply. When I looked up at it from below I didn’t gasp or do a double-take, but I was unprepared for the true size. I felt the identical sensation – it was a true little flashback – of going to the Grand Canyon with high school friends around 1978. If you’ve been educated in the US – or probably most other places in the world – you’ve seen pictures of the Grand Canyon. You know it’s vast, you know it’s colorful, imposing, awe-inspiring, superlative exhausting, etc. But that moment when you actually walk up to the edge and look in it and across it, you realize (or I realized) I had no idea of the scale. There’s no comparison between the two, except that in my life, the reality dwarfed what I imagined from the photographs. You should check it out! Especially if you travel that stretch of 81 with any regularity. 

There’s a song – true story – by They Might Be Giants called She’s Actual Size. The first line of the chorus is “She’s actual size, but she seems much bigger to me.” That’s as precise a description as any other about the way I felt when I saw the Natural Bridge – “it’s actual size, but it seems much bigger to me.”

FYI there’s a snake or two (possibly three but I haven’t committed yet) this week. Also on the snake front I saw two new snakes this week. I only managed to photograph one, a Northern Brownsnake (Storeria dekayi), more precisely knowns as “Dekay’s” Brownsnake. But since the proper noun “Dekay” is a homonym with the noun (or verb) “decay,” it’s unwieldy in conversation. It’s a smallish, unintimidating reptile. 

In that conversation (smallish, unintimidating reptiles), this morning at Pony Pasture I saw my first ever (there) Northern Ring-Necked snake (Diadophis punctatus edwardsii). But a. They’re tiny and b. It’s hot and they’re moving real quick so c. I didn’t get a picture! But now that I know they’re there, I’ll probably start seeing them. They’re sweet looking little snakes. 

I’ve seen plenty of Ebony Jewelings (Calopteryx maculata) this year, but not in good light or close. They’re gorgeous insects, and they have (IMO) one of the great names of all insects. This week I managed a reasonable image: 

Ebony Jewelwing on granite at Deep Run

Here’s the Northern Brownsnake. They’re not brightly colored, but they’re also not as bold as watersnakes. I’ve seen them on two different occasions now. Both times they were less than ten feet from water snakes. In people (or in dogs) the difference in demeanor between the two would have been a difference in confidence. This is shameless anthropomorphism, the projection of a human trait onto an animal, but the water snakes seemed bold and insolent and more than a little bit thuggish. Between the two snakes, the water snakes had way more “swagger.” The Brownsnake looked worried. I had the sense it didn’t want anyone (any predator) to know where it was. Water snakes simply do not care. That made it real hard for me to get a good picture of the Brownsnake (that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it) but here’s what I came away with: 

See it hiding out in there? See the way those water snakes look in old pictures – lying out in the open? Much different.

As summer sets in, our Rose of Sharon is blooming vigorously in a corner of our backyard. There were dozens and dozens of buds on the ground. Plus I couldn’t really get a good angle, but there is a purple Rose of Sharon this prolific or more. I just couldn’t get into a good spot. But check out this beauty: 

One of zillions of Rose of Sharon flowers in our backyard. And a zillion more are on the ground.

Still plenty of Red-tails around, although none close to the house recently. But this is one I’ve seen for a few years, I took this picture (you’ve seen a million of these) on the cross at Discovery United Methodist Church in the west end near the intersection of Gayton and Lauderdale: 

I hope people don’t tire of these images. For me it’s like a breath of fresh air every time I see one.

Speaking of “stock” locations where I photograph a lot of raptors, I often pass that swamp on Patterson Avenue just east of Lauderdale. I stop at another church on Patterson to photograph raptors in that swamp. I’ve photographed innumerable Red-tails, a handful of Red-shoulders, one memorable Bald Eagle, and on Tuesday I got a reasonable image of an osprey. I think it’s holding a fish but I can’t say for sure: 

Osprey about ten feet from Patterson Avenue

Our gardenia continues to perfume our home. I’m not sure if this is the one Ev put on the kitchen  windowsill this week or that was another one; they’re really rolling: 

Gardenia before coming indoors

I was just about to close off this blog post when I glanced back at my pictures from today – and almost neglected one I snapped when I let the dogs back in the yard after the river. Here’s something to kick off the second half of 2019 on a lovely, timeless note: 

That is about as perfect as a living organism can look

Have an excellent week! 

All best, 


Shoot! I almost “put this to bed” without one of the purple martins I got Thursday. This was Thursday afternoon around 1:00 and it was hot and the birds were all panting. I first saw a bird panting a few years ago and I couldn’t figure it out. Now I see it all the time. Check this out:

Panting Purple Martin at Bryan Park

Also (I can’t seem to finish this blog post) Evelyn was leaving for work Thursday evening and she stopped on the edge of the front stoop and found someone grazing on our lush and fragrant clover!:

If our front door fell off its hinges it would have landed on this rabbit:





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

Soap that floats / ”instructional bath”

23 June, 2019            Soap that floats / ”instructional bath”

All one hundred of us bathed in the lake at Camp Waredaca in the 1970’s. Not at the same time, and we bathed with our swimsuits on, but every Friday we had “instructional bath.” Did you know Ivory soap is the only soap that floats? That’s what we were told to bring to Camp Waredaca every summer, because we took baths in a lake. More at the bottom, after lots of pictures. Also, that part about the only floating soap – not #fakenews. Try a bar of Ivory – it’ll float. Then you can waste your hard earned or easily inherited $ and buy one of every other kind of soap and try it out if you don’t believe me. But take my word for it. And donate the sinking soap to some oddballs who don’t take baths in lakes. 

Apathetic Red-tailed hawk ignores livid Mockingbird:

Snake warning – nearer the bottom of this post there will be not one but two snake pictures – and each picture has five snakes! So prepare yourself if you’re a person who responds irrationally to photographs of snakes. All five snakes are non-venomous (and extremely common) Northern Water snakes (Nerodia sipedon sipedon).

The June solstice was Friday (the day before yesterday) at 11:54 AM EDT. That’s when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer, as far north as it ever appears above the equator. Every day (here in the northern hemisphere) will be shorter between now and Saturday, December 21. It’ll be a few weeks before you notice it though. One of my friends says that summer is almost over by the Fourth of July. The first time I heard her say that I was probably fifty years old or so; I’d never subscribed to that notion before and still don’t. But we’re all different.

Anyway, we are unquestionably in the time of the most sunlight which is why I’m seeing mockingbirds and hawks and bucks and snakes and flowers, flowers, flowers and more flowers.

Speaking of snakes, I’m going to insert the first of two identical snake pictures in a moment. I took the picture looking down from a footbridge in Deep Run Park this week. It has five Northern Water Snakes of various sizes on rocks. A couple big ones are obvious; if you have sharp eyes, you may be able to count all five. Farther down the blog I’ll post the same picture, but with red circles drawn around all the snakes. Look closely; I could have missed one or two. As you’ll see, they blend in well.

Yuki was out of town this morning so Mackey and Turner and I walked at Pony Pasture without him. We saw a Whitetail buck! His rack was currently not monstrous, four or perhaps six points. But he was strong and muscular and quite tall; I suspect those antlers will grow. They’re thick and still have a little velvet. Hunters call thick antlers “beamy” and by Pony Pasture standards these are beamy. And getting beamier. Maybe we’ll get to see him again:

Healthy young Whittetail buck at Pony Pasture this morning

On the same hike this morning, we were grateful to see (I was grateful to see – I can’t really speak for Mackey and Turner) the Virginia State Insect (I will never not-marvel that such a title exists) an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus):

Tiger Swallowtail, the Virginia State Insect at Pony Pasture this morning

Everything in this blog (and everyone who reads this blog) is solar powered, somehow. And this is the week in Virginia when we get the most solar energy every day. That’s why everything is blooming and growing. I’ve included Evelyn’s relatively new hibiscus here before, but it deserves a second (and probably more) appearance today. It’s a particularly garish display of photosynthesis, all this sunlight converts carbon dioxide and water into this. Who needs magic; this is science and it could not be any more eye-popping:

Hibiscus – photosynthesis in action – it practically grows while you’re watching

Daisies are never garish, but we’ve never had them in our yard before – until Evelyn planted several earlier this year. As soon as I saw it I was reminded – I’m not even making this up – of a 1972 (!) song called Daisy a Day by a man named Jud Strunk. I’d just typed the period at the end of that sentence when I googled Mr. Strunk and learned this. Which I suspect might come as a surprise to you as well. At least according to imdb.comOn the Apollo 17 lunar mission, a tape copy of his hit single “Daisy A Day” was brought along by the astronauts, making it the first recorded song ever played on the moon.” If you sought independent verification of that fact I suspect you’d come up empty-handed, but it’s an interesting assertion. And who am I to say; I haven’t sought independent verification. Here’s the inspiration for me in this blog post, courtesy of Evelyn and evolution and photosynthesis (and our backyard):

This makes me want to stop blogging for a minute and go fry an egg. 

Gardenia next, and the first snakes after that.

Our tall outdoor gardenia struggled a little bit in the early Spring, for reasons that were not apparent to me. I never saw Turner pee on it, but there’s a >0% chance he did. The plant itself still doesn’t look particularly enthusiastic (the way for instance that hibiscus does) but it’s cranking out lush, fragrant blossoms almost as fast as we can snip them and bring them indoors to perfume our home. There’s no song (to my knowledge) about a-gardenia-a-day but that’s practically what we’re getting. I present here for your inspection (too bad you can’t smell it) our GOTD (Gardenia Of The Day) for Sunday, June 23, 2019, the first Sunday of Summer:

GOTD or Gardenia Of The Day, first Sunday of Summer, 2019:

Here are five snakes on rocks ten feet below a footbridge at Deep Run Park this week. A little farther down the post I’ll put in this identical picture, with all five snakes circled in red:

There are (no less than) FIVE snakes in this picture. Scroll down for help finding them.

If you scroll down to last week, you’ll see a picture I took of a rabbit on my way to work Wednesday morning. It’s standing in a little patch of unbloomed clover, facing toward the right side of the picture. That is almost exactly due north (360º). I drove past precisely seven days later – almost to the minute – and the clover had bloomed and what I’m guessing was the same rabbit was there. Only facing the opposite direction. I suspect that is insignificant:

Same rabbit as last week I’m guessing, in bloomed clover

Here is the snake picture above, with five snakes circled (maybe you can find more; I couldn’t):

Did you find all five the first time? Did I miss any? Leave a comment!

On to a little snapshot of a story about a family summer activity from when we (and you) were a lot, lot, lot younger:

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The lake at Camp Waredaca was our swimming pool all week until Friday when it became our bathtub. On the list of recommended supplies for a stay at Camp was Ivory soap – the only soap that floats. The lake was five acres. During the week we had “instructional swim” in the morning – swim lessons – and “free swim” in the afternoon. Except on Fridays – before we went home for the weekend – when we’d have “instructional bath.” All five of us (me, my two sisters and two brothers) began as campers there in the early 1970’s. It was an overnight camp then, Sunday through Friday for eight weeks every summer. We typically went for two or four weeks. Until we were all eventually old enough to be “CIT’s” (Counselors In Training) or Counselors and stay all summer. Which we all did. Here’s a mid-1970’s picture of “instructional bath” at Camp Waredaca:

“Instructional bath” with Ivory soap, mid-1970’s, Camp Waredaca, MD

I used that picture without permission from the Camp Waredaca Memories facebook page. The consensus on the facebook page is it was taken in the mid-1970’s. I’m not sure who took the picture; let me know if you want me to a. Take it down or b. Credit you. Same for people in this picture. I’ll do either one in under twelve hours. The history of it was, Ivory was doing a commercial or a print advertisement (as I understand it) and we were sending them this picture. That may have been a 1970’s example of #fakenews but I don’t think there was such thing then. I mean, look at this picture. 1970’s, Camp Waredaca, Montgomery County, MD.

As research for this blog post (not making this up) I bought a bar of Ivory soap Monday and have been showering with it all week. I can’t tell much difference. None, really, with the soap I’ve been using (Dr. Bronner’s). Here it is floating in my sink earlier – don’t try this with Dial, Coast, Irish Spring, Dove, Dr. Bronner’s – they’ll go straight to the bottom, and you’ll have to drain all of the water out of the sink before you’re able to recover them. That wasn’t an option in the lake, so, floating soap:   

#ivorysoap #soapthatfloats #recommendedforbathinginlakes

The label (trademark) is generally unchanged from what I remember from those long ago years of Watergate, the Bicentennial, the Concorde, etc:

Largely unchanged

“Instructional swim” was swim lessons in the “crib” – a roped off section in a shallow part of the lake – if you were young and not a strong swimmer. If you were older and stronger and a better swimmer, instructional swim was out on one of the square plywood rafts tied with braided nylon ropes to algae covered cinderblocks on the muddy lake bottom eight or ten feet below. As I recall there was no true “instruction” during instructional bath. It was just time taken out of instructional swim for an end of the week bath.

See the raft out there on the lake behind everybody? Before you were able to swim out there on your own, you had to pass a “raft test” under a lifeguard’s supervision. You had to swim out to the other side of the raft, tread water for ten minutes then swim back. Then you were allowed to go out there during “free swim” and do cannonballs off the raft or race around it or around both rafts. This picture cuts it off – there was another identical raft out of the frame on the left side of this picture. Most times of the summer there was little or no “standing around” on the rafts unless you were a lifeguard – the horseflies were vicious and well named. It’s commonly thought that they’re called “horseflies” because they’re found around horses. The ones that tried to bite us when we were standing on the raft lifeguarding in that summer sun were called horseflies because they were almost as big as horses. 

In order to paddle a canoe around on the lake alone (and to go on canoe trips away from camp), you had to pass the “canoe test.” Similar to the raft test, but you had to start out on the near side of the lake and swim to the other side while a lifeguard (counselor) paddled a canoe alongside. Then you had to tread water for ten minutes again and swim back across the lake. It was a daunting prospect for some people. I’m fortunate to come from a family of strong swimmers and I have good memories of it. At least I think I do. I was a lot scrawnier than I am today. 

My two brothers and two sisters who were also campers and counselors there may recall it differently. Plus various Camp Waredaca alumni who drop in here on occasion. Please comment in the comments section on this blog or shoot me an email or a text or (this is the least effective) give me a call. I will update the scenario in a future blog post. Plus I’d just love to hear from you! I have done zero research for this except look at this picture and a handful of others on the Camp Waredaca Memories facebook page. But the memories of my summers at Camp are in every way indelible. Especially  now – late June was right in the middle of Camp season.

I would love to hear anyone’s comments about this post or about their experience at Camp Waredaca, or about any other camp. Camp Waredaca began in the 1930’s (really!) and the overnight part of it stopped I don’t recall when – someone enlighten me – maybe in the middle or late 1980’s.

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I was just about to close out this blog post when I looked online for a little more info about Camp. It’s been thirty plus years since the overnight camp closed, but the friendships I have from Camp and friendships my siblings have from Camp are lifelong. If I had any kind of self-discipline or any writing talent other than the most pedestrian kind, I could write a fascinating book about it. Because the setting was in every way magical, and I don’t even believe in magic. Rationally you’d think that people chose camp, but (irrationally) it seems like camp chose people. Of course that’s the way memory works; I’ve forgotten all the people who weren’t well-suited to it, and I know there were many. But Gus and Laurie and Katie and Susie and Mark and Jeremy and Robert and Gretchen and Susie and the other Robert and Rob and the other Katie and Kathryn a.k.a. Kelly and Beth and Steve (RIP) and Mr. and Mrs. B (RIP) and Joe and all the ones I’ve left out and so many more. If one of them is sitting next to you now or you’ll see them soon, ask them what they would have been doing if they were at Camp this time of year. They’ll smile. They might share. Plywood cabins and canvas tents and singing at Chapel and Mr. Butts and the Sliding Board Tree and horseback riding and riflery and camping trips and night hikes and a camaraderie I never experienced before or since. It was in every way priceless. And in many ways indescribable; I wish I was better at it! Where the campers slept, there was no electricity and no hot water. Ever. You’ve probably seen me in a “simplify” hat or t-shirt or sweatshirt. Life at camp was real, real simple. Once you’ve had a taste of that simplicity, at least in my own case, you learn there’s a lot of happiness there.    

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Have an excellent week,


Posted in Rivers | Leave a comment

Turner and I are creatures of habit

16 June, 2019            Turner and I are creatures of habit

I gave Turner the empty PB jar to “lick the bowl.” Ev snapped this picture:

Evelyn took that picture Wednesday and it was too great to not put in this blog post. I didn’t even know I had it when I started this post.

Turner is reliable and predictable; he’s a pure creature of habit, one the qualities that helps make good guard dogs. Though you’d never know it (the guard dog part) from meeting Turner. But the last thing he and Mackey and I do before we go to sleep at night is take a walk around the block. It’s night, typically around 10:00. When we get home, Mackey usually goes right in the house, but Turner makes a loop through our dark backyard to make sure nothing is amiss. You can practically set your watch by how long it takes him.

Last night we got back and Mackey and I went in the house and Turner made his rounds of the backyard. He usually takes two or three minutes. There’s a bird feeder back there and the fallen seed attracts visitors at all hours. Anyway, it had been more than ten minutes and Turner wasn’t in the house. He would have come in if I’d asked him to, but I knew he’d found something  interesting so I took a flashlight and went out. He was near a big spreading bush next to the woodpile, and when I shone the flashlight under it I saw this opossum “playing possum”:

That’s what “playing possum” looks like

Since I 1. feed birds and 2. walk dogs at night, that’s the second time I’ve had an opossum in my yard “playing possum.” They really, really look dead. But if you come back an hour later, they’re gone. They eat ticks! In addition, of course, to spilled bird seed.

Turner and I went back indoors; it was gone in the morning.

I was scheduled to fly twice this week, but the weather came unraveled Thursday so I only flew Tuesday. An excellent flight, though. My instructor Joel and I flew to KMFV, Accomack County Airport. We flew in N162SF, one of Hanover County Airport’s (KOFP) Tecnam P92 Eaglets. A plane I enjoy more every time I fly:

Tecnam P92 Eaglet at Hanover Airport. That is what good flying weather looks like.

It’s about ninety miles from Hanover to Accomack. The last section of the flight is over the Chesapeake Bay, and pilots of single engine planes like to cross at a high altitude in case of engine failure. You can glide farther. So we gradually climbed on our way there, and crossed the Bay at 5,500’. Accomack is on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, a moderately narrow peninsula. So when we came home, we flew circles over the airport so we could climb high enough to make it back worry-free. It takes a few minutes of circling, so Joel asked if he wanted me to let him fly the plane while I took a few pictures. Here’s a picture I took a few minutes after we took off:

Climbing out above runway 03/21 at Accomack Airport, KMFA

The runway is 03/21 (the two runway compass headings, with the zero at the end cut off) and it’s 5,000 feet long by 100 feet wide. That’s almost precisely the same as Hanover, and it’s way more than twice as much runway as you need for a tiny little plane like a Tecnam.

At home I got a poorly lit picture of a pair of red-tails on the tower. I didn’t realize it was a pair until I looked later. One stayed on the tower while the other set off in search of something tasty to eat:

One Red-tail launches from a cell phone tower while the second hawk remains behind

Years ago I took a picture of a Red-tail that had carried a rabbit up to a tower. It was July and the hawk was panting visibly. I’ve only seen that once. I also think Red-tails eat a lot of animals that have been hit by cars, and I suspect that’s what happened then. A saw this rabbit in my neighborhood Wednesday morning on my way to work. I am quite confident it didn’t get hit by a car or eaten by a hawk:

Cottontail rabbit in my neighborhood when I left for work Wednesday morning

I’ve been more disorganized than usual this week! So I’m going to bed! All best,


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