Poor photography backs me into a corner

19 April, 2020            Poor photography backs me into a corner

I didn’t get great pictures this week (IMO), so I backed myself into a corner and actually had to write something to make this a good blog post! It is so much easier to just photograph an  owl or a deer or a hummingbird! Roses! Goldfinches! Ospreys! There are so many things to photograph – writing takes work

But I’m not working a ton due to COVID and the pool (the Y) is also closed due to COVID. So in the last eighteen days I’ve gone for fifteen bike rides and it’s given me lots of time to think. I wrote a little at the bottom of this post. 

Virginia Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana) is blooming at Pony Pasture right now. Mostly out of the mud at the moment; the river reached almost fifteen feet deep earlier this week. It was only about eight feet deep this morning but the park is real, real muddy. I took this picture Tuesday at 10:17: 

Virginia Spiderwort at Pony Pasture this week

We looped around and came back up the trail. This was a little over an hour later, not real far from where the spiderwort was. See the bench? The river was ~13.7’ deep at that time, rising toward its crest at 14.7’ that evening: 

Pony Pasture Tuesday. See the bench on the right?

Ev’s gardenias are still (even as I type this paragraph) blooming and perfuming our home.  I took this picture Monday at lunch time: 

In my notes this says “flawless gardenia” but all gardenias are flawless

Dash is enviably unconcerned about it all. Gardenias, COVID-19, flooding rivers, electoral politics, it’s all the same to him. Does every picture of Dash look the same? Sort of: 

Wave your paws in the air like you don’t care

Squirrel from Deep Run this week: 

Deep Run squirrel

Maybe next week I’ll get better pictures. You never know! This week you’re stuck with a memory that’s stayed with me for twenty-five years. Have a great week! Come back next week! 

All best, 

Jay 

= = = = = = = = = = =

A bilingual Spanish professor with a port wine birthmark – RIP Dr. S 

I struggled intermittently for years after my accident. Never physically. I accepted my physical limitations (such as they were) early. But emotionally the changes were difficult to accept, so I saw a therapist. This story is not about therapy though. It’s about a bilingual professor with a port wine birthmark on his face. 

I’ve kept Dr. S anonymous in this blog post. But obviously if you had a Spanish professor in the 1990’s with a port wine birthmark on his face, you know who I’m talking about. 

I learned long ago he died. I didn’t learn until I began researching this blog post that he was only 56 years old. Two years younger than I am as I type these words. And he had a ten month old granddaughter! And he died nearly twenty years ago, which also came as a shock, since he taught me during my second (my post-accident) undergrad career. Amazing that amount of time has passed. 

Here is the cover of the journal where I wrote about him: 

Journal cover from 1994

“PD” was my therapist. I “graded” each of our sessions as soon as I went out to the car afterward. 

Here’s the first mention of Dr. S in my journal: 

1994 Journal entry

Here’s where I typed it into my online journal: [[7/18/94 1359 Thu PD’s B 

I guess a B. we began talking about my excellent swim this weekend plus SPA and thus two subjects occupied most of the time except when she brought up late a little about the fee increase and about vacation. I also talked some about Dr. S  and his port-wine birthmark and how it may have affected him developmentally and she thought it was interesting that I thought that much about it.]]

His name is searchable; I found it in my online journal right away. Here is the second mention of Dr. S. Including why it moved me so much, and still moves me over a quarter of a century (!) later: 

Bottom of first page

Continued

Here’s where I typed that into my online journal: [[7/27/94 Wed 1557 PD’s A?

It could have been, but maybe not, maybe I’m just in a good mood because […] I had all real coffee on my break, but today was good. We talked about my competitiveness or non competitiveness, about reading about her, about UVA and W&M and Gonzaga, about I don’t know what all. Today at PD’s we also talked about another little situation. It came to me sometime that Dr. S appears totally Anglo, yet speaks [Spanish] like a native. [Dr S was born in Cuba to American parents who worked at the State Department].  And plus he has that port wine mark. What an incredible combination, what a person to have met. So I said to him, you must overhear a lot because you look like such an Anglo and you speak so well. He said yes, I do, and I’ve found out that people aren’t usually talking bad about you behind your back like you think they are. What a cool little thing to stumble on. A totally bilingual professor with a port wine stain. Unbelievable.

“All comparisons are invidious.” – Dr. S

“Language doesn’t completely make sense.” – IBID]]

If people talked bad behind his back, Dr. S would know. And I’m quoting him directly when he said “I’ve found out that people aren’t usually talking bad about you behind your back like you think they are.”

I hear – I know my readers hear – about unkind people every day. But my life experience simply does not bear that out. I hear of (and/or interact with) kind people every day. They’re in the clear majority. 

Think about how often you’re kind. I’m certain it’s not every waking moment. But I’m sure you are most of the time. It’s just too difficult to go through life if you’re not! 

= = = = = = = = = = =

 

Posted in cats, Flowers, Gardenias, James River, love, People, Pony Pasture, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), squirrels | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Peace like a river

12 April, 2020            Peace like a river

Today is Easter and several friends said and wrote “peace” to me earlier. As Mackey and Turner and Yuki and I got out on the rocks at Pony Pasture this morning I thought of Paul Simon’s 1972 song Peace Like a River. If you click that link and listen to the whole song, that’s three minutes and forty-two seconds of your life you’ll never get back. But you’ll be real, real, real relaxed. It’s calming. Like the river. Just ask Yuki and Turner and Mackey: 

There is no stress there. None. Peace like a river.

The first line of the song is “Peace like a river ran through the city.” I don’t know a ton about the song – I’ll read more about it. But the second verse – written in 1971, close to half a century ago – says “I remember Misinformation followed us like a plague.” If you look up enough stuff you always stumble across odd coincidences like that. “Misinformation followed us like a plague” in 1971 and in 2020 we have competing “experts” with misinformation about COVID-19. Who could make this stuff up? Not me. Crazy. 

Much less of a coincidence was my dogged return to the branch these owls love so much, and this morning – April makes sixth consecutive months – I photographed a Barred Owl: 

Barred owl at Pony Pasture! Again!

Evelyn took this picture of one small azalea bush in our backyard. I was looking at pictures of different flowers on an instagram nature page. It had a quote by a philosopher named Iris Murdoch. I’ll use it as the caption for this picture; it’s made for this picture: 

Photo by Evelyn “People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.” – Iris Murdoch

This one (somehow) almost didn’t make it into this blog post. Thank goodness I found it at the last moment! Every time I see a flower now I think about that quote by Iris Murdoch:

This flower is wildly uninhibited

If you didn’t read the caption on the earlier picture, it’s “People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.” I’ll remove and replace a single noun and use it as the caption for this picture I took at Deep Run this week. My Dad would have been mad with joy: 

“People from a planet without birds would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.”

Since the Y’s been closed and I’ve been unable to swim I began riding at West Creek for an hour every single day. Today was my eleventh consecutive day. That’ll end the streak; tomorrow’s going to be a rainout. But I saw this Red-tailed hawk in a tree in the swamp off Patterson Avenue Monday morning at 8:00: 

Well named Red-tailed hawk Monday morning

When Mackey and Turner and I came home from our walk Friday evening I noticed Ev’s daffodils in the backyard. They’re growing everywhere in our yard, in all sizes and shapes and patterns and colors and smells – who even knew there were so many? The back lights were on but I didn’t even use a flash. Pretty picture, taken with my phone, at 9:51 PM: 

“Mad with joy.” It’s just everywhere you look, isn’t it?

This post is “peace like a river” but it’s not a stretch (IMO) to use the river as a proxy for the natural world. I’m aware the coronavirus is also from the natural world but the twenty-four hour news cycle is not. The river and the owls and the bluebirds and the hawks, even the starlings are more peaceful than anything from any news outlet I’ve noticed. The same is true for the azaleas and the daffodils and even the dandelions; they have no agenda. Evelyn and the dogs and I took a relaxing hike at Bryan Park yesterday; here’s a Purple Martin we saw: 

Purple Martin at Bryan Park yesterday. “Mad with joy.” (Me, not the necessarily the bird)

I photographed another Mayapple flower at Pony Pasture this morning. They’re ephemeral (like we all are) and soon will change to a different form. But here’s a flower from this morning: 

Late season May apple flower from this morning at Pony Pasture:

And last – not least – we saw a snail this morning! I see gastropods from time to time (snails are gastropods) but I know very, very little about them. They’re fascinating though – I may learn more. I’lll share it here when I do. Meanwhile, I’ll close with the one we saw this morning. And come back next week! All best, 

Jay 

Gastropod (snail) at Pony Pasture this morning

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

“The weird turn pro” – Hunter S Thompson, 1971 

5 April, 2020            “The weird turn pro” – Hunter S Thompson, 1971 

“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” – Hunter S Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 1971. That quote doesn’t relate to anything in particular, other than each time I encounter another coronavirus related inconvenience – all of mine have been minor – I think “this is weird.” If someone you care about has died from it, you have my deepest sympathy. But since I first heard the word “coronavirus” in February or March, it’s mostly just been… weird. 

Today is the thirty-second anniversary of my accident. What a way to celebrate – Yuki came home from his winter travels and joined Mackey and Turner and me at the river this morning! Dogs standing on warm granite under a blue sky on a 400 million year old river – this is the opposite of weird: 

Turner, Yuki, Mackey, the James River – the opposite of weird

We hiked a little deeper in the park and paused a moment for this one: 

Yuki, Turner, Mackey – a few minutes later, still not weird

I experience and think and read about gratitude regularly, mainly since I lived through this day 1988. Gabby Giffords in early 2011 survived being shot through her brain. I mean, think about that – for a moment – if you can. In an assassination attempt a man shot her in the forehead with a nine millimeter pistol. He kept shooting and shooting and killed six people, including a nine year old girl. But that’s not what this blog post is about. 

Neither is it about coronavirus, though that’s why the going is getting weird. But she wrote an article in Friday’s (4/3/2020) USA Today called [[What I learned fighting for my life. And why it can help America now.]]. She talked about being kind to one another, which of course is more important now while we all – everybody on this planet – go through this. She wrote “Each gesture, however small, is a stitch in the quilt that keeps our communities connected.“ More on that later. I have a few pictures this week. 

April has begun and central Virginia is bursting at the seams. Here’s a mayapple flower from our hike this morning: 

Mayapple flower from Pony Pasture this morning

And here are gardenias Evelyn brought home. Have you ever smelled a gardenia? If not, smell one. Your life will get better and it will remain better, even after you stop smelling gardenias. That’s just the way they are. Don’t take my word for it – find one and smell it. If you have smelled one before, it might not have been in 2020 – they’re just starting out. Find one and smell it! Here’s one of our beauties: 

Gardenia from our home (not from our yard – yet)

The dogwoods will be done flowering very soon. I took this one in our front yard today:

Dogwood in our front yard – that flower is almost finished

I have a handful more pictures. But first, I read an article in Friday’s NYT called I Never Used My Computer on the Sabbath — Until the Coronavirus. It was written by a man named Avi S. Olitzky, a rabbi in Minnesota. It’s a great article – it comes with my strongest recommendation. But my favorite part – by far – was the final sentence: “Meeting people where they are, bringing light into their dark corners — that is how you change and build a world.“ That sentence was perfectly true a thousand years ago, before there was a computer to use, or ten thousand years ago, before there was such a word as “sabbath.” When we’re looking back on the Spring of 2020, when the going got really weird, if we can recall the importance of “Meeting people where they are, bringing light into their dark corners,“ we’ll be making the world a better place. 

Wow – I’ve “talked” (written) way too much. Here is one of my favorite pictures from this week. A purple martin from Bryan Park: 

My first Purple Martin of 2020 (at Bryan Park)

This is half a mile down the street from our house, near Patterson Avenue: 

The caption is included in the photograph

The NYT must be printing old articles. I had a quote in my notes for this week and when I looked it up just now, I found it was from a Times article from September of last year! No matter. The article was called “The Trick to Life is to Keep Moving – What my friendship with a woman 51 years my senior taught me about growing up” by a woman named Devi Lockwood. I think just the title caught me – “the trick to life is to keep moving.” 

I’m going to need to move to my bed soon – I’m running out of gas! I’m working less so I’m exercising more and it’s catching up with me! Wow (again) I haven’t put up a picture of a pawpaw flower! They have to be the homeliest flowers ever. Or anyway after looking at gardenias and mayapples and redbuds and so forth. The fruit is the opposite of homely – think of eating a gardenia. It tastes so good you practically never want to taste another flavor. But for now, there’s a homely flower: 

Pawpaw bud. That’s really kind of pretty, in an understated way

I almost forgot – there are ospreys everywhere – except where I can get a reasonable picture. But I got a handful of adequate ones so I’ll close with a couple – and come back next week! All best, 

Jay 

This is zoomed in too far, but it’s always amazing (IMO) to see one actually holding a fish:

Osprey on a tower with the last bit of a fish

And this one’s zoomed out too far, but the light and the scenery are pleasing. I took this one this morning:

Osprey against a blue April sky

Posted in Birds, Dogs, dogwood, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, Gardenias, James River, koans, love, newfaze, ospreys, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“ephemeral” (noun): plant – or – (adjective): lasts a short time 

29 March, 2020            ephemeral (noun): plant ephemeral (adjective): lasts a short time 

My non ephemeral friend Gus and me at Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota in 1991. This picture was taken sixteen years after we met in homeroom in Freshman year at Gonzaga High School in Washington, DC: 

Gus, me, Mt. Rushmore, almost thirty years ago

We took this selfie yesterday at Pony Pasture with his son Joey: 

Amigos

This is Gus with my mom at my brother Kevin’s house for my fortieth birthday in 2001. Smiling always came easily for mom, but Gus was (by a very wide margin) her favorite of all my friends: 

Mom didn’t like all my friends but she adored Gus

We don’t live close together but we’ve stayed close throughout the forty-five years (what?!) we’ve known each other. Gus was one of the first people to visit me at the hospital after my accident – I was still in a coma – and he stayed close through the entire episode. Over the years, Gus and his family have had experiences that were in many ways worse than what I did – but he remains strong, healthy, energetic, caring and warm-hearted. He could be in the picture dictionary (sorry to overwork that metaphor) next to “resilient.” 

When we were hiking yesterday I saw my first Yellow Trout Lilies (Erythronium americanum) of 2020: 

Trout lily

I know not everyone will click on that link and learn more about Trout Lilies, but I’m going to excerpt the critical (IMO) phrase here. According to the Virginia Native Plant Society : “Across the state, spring would not be spring in Virginia without the entrancing drifts of trout-lilies, trilliums, and other lily kin in April’s sunlit woods.” 

I first hiked at Pony Pasture in my early forties and I’d never heard the words “Trout Lily.” What’s more, the only way I’d ever used the word “ephemeral” was as an adjective. I knew things could be described as ephemeral – lasting a short time – but I didn’t know it as a noun. As in “this Trout Lily is an ephemeral.” 

This is another thing blogging has done for me – I’ve learned things I would otherwise never have known, because they showed up on this blog. And this blog is nine years old and I’m still learning. “Slowly” is the way I always learn though – I am truly a slow learner. But I’m having fun! 

Readers whose plant knowledge is greater than mine (that’s a very low bar), feel free to correct me if I have misidentified any of these plants. 

Bluebells are ephemerals, but they’re already (last week) well represented on this blog. I need to research this more  before I blog about it too – I also need to work on my plant photography. But speaking of plants. I’ve mentioned in years past Evelyn’s planted elderberries in the beds beside our driveway. This year they had terrible looking black bugs on them. I learned they’re aphids – I can’t (today) be more specific. I took this picture this afternoon: 

Aphids on our elderberries. They are not welcome guests.

Evelyn was researching how to make them go away. I don’t know – as of today – how this happens. But – somehow – those aphids are attracted to elderberries. That’s not super mysterious to me; I’m attracted to elderberries myself. What is mysterious to me – I’ll learn this week – is how ladybugs are attracted. Because  – this is what’s weird – when we went out there, ladybugs were already laying eggs on the elderberries! Ev took this picture today: 

Ladybug eggs. How awesome is that? Photo by Evelyn

“You couldn’t make this stuff up” happens on this blog a lot, and if I live to be a hundred that sensation will always delight me. So in the “you couldn’t make this stuff up” category, my continued search of the elderberry plants yielded this. The fight against aphids requires unity:

Ladybugs defend elderberries with the opposite of the ultimate sacrifice (make love not war) I got up about 8:00 this morning; I’ll admit I didn’t anticipate that. Earlier this week I did hope I’d see – I’m not convinced they’re gone – was an owl. And I saw one! This was Tuesday, on the same branch (vine) I’ve photographed them on since Thanksgiving: 

Beginning another sixteen weeks?

Ospreys on the way home today. Their nest is looking more like it could hold some eggs. And while I was there, the ospreys were doing a fair imitation of those ladybugs making the opposite of the ultimate sacrifice. So perhaps there will be baby ospreys. We’ll see: 

These ospreys are looking more confident

Brown-headed cowbirds reappeared in my yard this morning when we got back from the river. Wikipedia describes them as obligate brood parasitic bird. They lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. It seems really unusual to me but I guess is business as usual to them. Some humans find this behavior repellent, in the manner that some people find the behavior of vultures repellent. Brown-headed cowbirds don’t have another way to survive – evolution has selected them to act this way. They’re cool looking too: 

Brown-headed cowbird – an obligate brood parasite

I tried to squeeze too much into this weekend (long bike ride this afternoon too) so I’m up too late so I’ll sign off until next week. It’ll be April! Enjoy! 

All best, 

Jay

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

“Sometimes it’s hard to think of the world as a good place…”

22 March, 2020           “Sometimes it’s hard to think of the world as a good place…”

“…but I got to tell you, there are people who don’t know me at all, sending me food.” – a woman in Louisiana whose husband has coronavirus, as quoted in the New York Times (NYT) on Thursday, March 19. The title of the article is Her Facebook Friends Asked if Anyone Was Actually Sick. She Had an Answer. if you’d care to read it. 

There’s more than slight irony in the fact that the opening sentence of last week’s blog post was me lamenting what I read in the NYT, reflecting my own unspoken thought that “sometimes it’s hard to think of the world as a good place.”  And the opening sentence of this week’s blog post is me being encouraged by what I read in the NYT. That people help complete strangers, just because it makes them feel good to help complete strangers. That the world really is a good place. That’s a great example of how evolution works. We all know that complete stranger could as easily be us. Every day is a new day. Most human beings are excellent, excellent people. 

No owls this week – the consecutive week of owls streak broke after an astounding sixteen weeks – but flowers are blooming. Yay. And ospreys are getting more active. Everything is getting more active. I think I’ll open with Virginia Bluebells from Pony Pasture this week. A delicate, graceful, reliable, bright sign of the onset of Spring: 

Virginia Bluebell greets Spring on the banks of the James River

I wish the light had been better for this image, but oh well. I saw an American  bullfrog this week! On the Virginia Herpetological Society’s page on bullfrogs it says “Males are generally smaller than females”. I’ve seen a few bullfrogs before and this was really, really big – I’m almost certain she’s a female. Check this out: 

My first bullfrog of 2020:

Speaking of Deep Run, I saw a white squirrel there again this week! It’s probably the same one I’ve been seeing. Have a look: 

My first white squirrel of 2020

The first flower colors I notice in Spring are (where I’m looking) the simultaneous bright yellow outbursts of daffodils, dandelions and forsythias. But now of course there are bluebells (see above) and steadily evolving bouquet of eye catching blooms. Speaking of bouquets – Evelyn arranged these camellias from our yard: 

Evelyn’s camellia arrangement

Look at that plant after she took those blooms inside. Early Spring Camellia bush, in the picture dictionary next to “prolific”: 

The camellia bush those came from after she cut the flowers! That is just crazy.

Wow – I mentioned ospreys in the third paragraph and I haven’t used a picture yet. I see at least three active nests on a short stretch of Parham/Chippenham, and I’m not even looking super hard. I’m not sure what the story with these two is. Maybe they’re young. Or maybe I have more to learn about nest building. But I think they should be making more progress than this:

They are not building a nest really fast. I’m not sure what’s up. We’ll see.

When we were headed back up the creek this morning I saw and heard a male Pileated Woodpecker hammering high in an old sycamore. I was working my way closer to him for a better image but couldn’t find the spot I wanted. I like the bare background though. You can see a few sycamore seed pods in there and even a handful of pawpaw buds. You can tell he’s a male – barely in this picture – by the red stripe at the back of his beak. If I didn’t know it was there I probably couldn’t see it – I’ll get a better image soon: 

Male Pileated woodpecker, working up high

I forgot I had people pictures this week – thanks to schedule disruptions from coronavirus/COVID-19. We had a nice four human/three dog hike at Deep Run one day this week. We of course faced the mirror (window); the dogs faced us. Couldn’t be helped:

Weekday hiking posse

Mid-March Redbuds – it’s hard to look at these and not feel happy.

Mackey and Turner and I were almost back to the car when I decided to take them out on the rocks so I could get their picture with a nice background. There was a woman named Betsy at the water’s edge with her two dogs and she offered to take our picture. Thank you Betsy!:

Thank you Betsy! Mackey, Turner and me, 11:48 this morning:

Some readers of this blog are familiar with the Highland County Maple Festival. It happens on the second and third Saturday in March and 2020 was the 62nd consecutive year – but it got postponed due to Coronavirus/COVID-19! I’d planned on attending with friends (and restocking my maple syrup stash) but they called it off! Fortunately many of the syrup makers have web sites and they’ll ship syrup to you. Yay! Here are a handful of links to Highland County syrup makers, but there are many more. It’s awesome on, of course, pancakes, waffles, French Toast, yogurt, ice cream – I love it with all manner of foods. It’s great on sweet potatoes. I use it 365 mornings a year on my oatmeal. 

I’m putting links to eight syrup camps on here, but there are many more in Highland County. I rotate through ordering from about five of them but they’re all fantastic. I’m relatively certain I had a sweet tooth in utero, long before I had anything that could actually be called a “tooth.” Also in my family the sweet tooth was on the Y chromosome. Mom loved sweets too, but Dad’s enthusiasm was more constant and outward and evident. When waitresses asked for our drink orders I can still hear Dad this very minute saying “sweet iced tea!” and still sounding like a little kid when he was seventy-five years old. His eyes were real, real bright too. When Dad was reading it was like he’d departed for another planet. Not when he was asking for sweet iced tea. A lot of stuff made my Dad happy. Nothing more than his family, but he loved reading, learning, pocketknives, flashlights, dogs, guns, conversation, grandchildren (anybody’s grandchildren, to be honest, but especially his own), baseball caps, gadgets, being outdoors, being indoors, sailing, ships, the Navy, Penn State, as I type I realize it’s sort of an infinite list. Dad didn’t think anything or anybody was boring – he always wanted to learn a little more. Sweet iced tea though – a signature request of Dad’s. I had more than a slight impression he liked saying it as much as he liked drinking it. 

Wandered off on my Dad Digression! Here are eight places you can buy fantastic Virginia maple syrup from the comfort of your own home. Or I guess from the comfort of wherever you’re connected to the internet: 

Back Creek Farms

Rexrode’s Sugar Orchard 

Duff’s Sugar Camp 

Sugar Tree Country Store

Puffenbarger’s Sugar Orchard 

Mill Gap Farms 

Tonoloway Farm

Southernmost Maple 

I left a handful out. To see all of the maple syrup I’m aware of in Highland County click here: Highland County Maple Products 

I’m going to sign off. I was really, really moved by the woman in the NYT article about  her and her husband who has coronavirus. And that she was feeling bad, and it was the kindness of strangers that turned her around. Of all the heartwarming things we  experience in our lives, few are more uplifting than the kindness of strangers. 

Have an excellent week, 

Jay 

Posted in Birds, Dogs, Flowers, Fun, highland maple festival, James River, love, newfaze, ospreys, People, Pileated Woodpecker, Pony Pasture, raptors, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), squirrels | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Musical blog post titles

15 March, 2020            Musical blog post titles

I read the New York Times way too much and it’s nearly impossible to look at it – at any section – without some mention of the Coronavirus, a.k.a. “COVID-19.” So I spent a ton of time hiking with Mackey and Turner this morning, and photographing owls, redbuds, dogs, the river, sycamore trees, Red-winged blackbirds, ospreys, crows, cardinals, goldfinches  – all 100% uninterested (as far as I could tell) in it. Uninterested in social distancing, in schools closing, hand-washing, coughing into their elbows, face masks, pandemics, all of it. Toilet paper, hand sanitizer, bottled water, interest rates, professional sports, advertising revenue – the list of what they don’t care about is enviably long. Meals and mates, that’s what “m&m” means to most birds in early Spring. Mackey and Turner and I doubled the length of our hike this morning because I was so reluctant to leave the sanctuary of the riverbank. 

So I thought I’d open up with one of Evelyn’s camellias: 

Camellias almost seem sheepish – they don’t show off. They should!

And of course an owl from today – the sixteenth consecutive week: 

16 weeks of Barred Owls – I feel so fortunate! And grateful!

“Musical blog post titles” is because I’ve gone through a lot of possible titles this week. And when I went to the river Tuesday – no owl! So I started making up owl free blog post titles. Plus many more as the week wore on, but I was happy to see an owl again. Maybe that’ll end the streak. Come back next week and find out! 

Meanwhile – speaking of things that made me happy today and got me out of the little funk I’d gotten into – I saw my first redbud of 2020 at Pony Pasture this morning at around 10:30. Redbuds are always a sure sign of Spring: 

Redbuds – the inevitability of central Virginia Spring:

Spring and Fall (Autumn) begin on the two “equinoxes”, or days in the year that have twelve hours of dark and twelve hours of light. In Spring (begins this week) the days have been getting longer and will continue to get longer until the June solstice on June 20. The Spring and Fall equinoxes mark the beginning of each of those seasons. The June solstice and the December solstice mark the beginning of Summer and Winter respectively. So these redbuds (and a few other flowers) are the first to show up each year. The early birds are nesting, and raptors are the most visible. They begin before songbirds. 

The light wasn’t brilliant and neither was the angle but I got an incredibly lucky picture on the way home from the river early this afternoon. I’ve been following an osprey nest near Stony Point Fashion Park for a couple of years now. They disappear (headed for Florida and points south) in late August or early September. But they show back up at the same nesting site almost on cue about six months later. I don’t know for a fact that these are the same ospreys, but I do know for a fact there are ospreys on the same tower every Spring. Anyway, check this out: 

Ospreys mating at a nest site that hardly merits the name:

That is a pair of ospreys mating – unbelievable that happened while I was standing there pointing my camera at them. I think ospreys mate a whole, whole lot of times early in the season. And look at their nest. It has like seven sticks in it or something. 

If one of those ospreys flew north along that powerline for three miles they could land in this nest – but this is a different pair of ospreys. Same powerline, different ospreys, three miles north. Sorry about the focus – my mistake:

A more established osprey nest three miles north

I was at the river Thursday (still hoping to see an owl, but still unsuccessful at that point) when I saw a signature early Spring Pony Pasture native plant, the Virginia Bluebell. Next week they’ll be going crazy. But at the moment they’re about as developed as that first osprey nest: 

Virginia Bluebells beginning to peek out at Pony Pasture

Here’s a sight I don’t normally see. When the dogs and I finish up our evening walk, this parking lot is normally empty. But with school closing for two weeks, Henrico County Public Schools is parking a whole row of buses across the street from our house for the duration of the Coronavirus/COVID-19 break: 

No one anticipated buses would be stalled by coronavirus

In fare that’s more consistent with my blog content, here’s a mockingbird on a sign at Strange’s Florist when I visited Tuesday looking (it’s too early) for gardenias: 

I don’t get tired of mockingbirds

I saw this squirrel at Deep Run three hours later: 

Very jittery young female squirrel at Deep Run Tuesday:

I’ll close with a picture of my handsome boys resting at the end of our long walk today. They don’t like to sit around the house any more than I do though – I don’t think they were in a hurry to get home. They’re both sleeping like logs as I type this though: 

End of the hike – they don’t move around as much

Have a great week! Come back next week! 

All best, 

Jay

Posted in Barred Owls, Birds, Dogs, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, James River, love, mockingbirds, newfaze, ospreys, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), squirrels, thoreau | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Some cars have sunroofs – mine has an eagleroof

8 March, 2020          Some cars have sunroofs – mine has an eagleroof

Picture taken through my eagleroof

I drove to the river on the morning of Virginia’s Democratic Primary and looked up and saw this gorgeous bird perched directly above the road in a tall Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera). According to wikipedia (a little trivia), tulip poplars are “the tallest eastern hardwood.” I slowly rolled to a stop almost directly underneath it while opening what I used to call my “sunroof.” Now, for obvious reasons, I refer to it as my “eagleroof.” There was zero traffic and I put on my flashing lights and pointed my camera straight up through my eagleroof and got that picture. What a treat! 

This is what the river looked like when I arrived a few minutes later: 

Peaceful

I was also fortunate to photograph a Barred Owl at Pony Pasture that morning – the fifteenth consecutive week. It was overcast that day and I photographed the owl in better light this morning so I’ll use that picture: 

Fifteen weeks in a row! And just as excellent!

The first time I photographed that eagle was (it says on my camera) 12:25 PM. I went to the polls later that day: 

Voting Tuesday

Speaking of politics – I’m nearly finished this book. It comes with my strongest endorsement – it is fantastic. The book is called You Are What You Read – Why changing your media diet can change the world by Jodie Jackson. The first sentence of her goodreads author intro says “Jodie Jackson is an expert on the psychological impact of the news on our mental health and the health of our society.” It is in every way worth your time: 

You Are What You Read: Why Changing Your Media Diet Can Change the World by Jodie Jackson

Of course obviously politics are so far down my list of favorite subjects it’s actually expressed as a negative number. Hiking with a friend at Deep Run this week an enormous female Red-tailed hawk swooped down and landed on a branch about a camera strap’s length above our heads. Much higher on my list of favorite subjects. She kept hopping from branch to branch and staying directly above us! I have no idea what that was about. But I do know I didn’t have to take a picture through my eagleroof – she was practically on top of me! I just turned my camera up and took these two quick images: 

The first picture I took of a Red-tailed hawk at Deep Run this week:

Same bird a moment later

So obviously the raptors are active. I can’t recall a week when I’ve photographed as many as I did this week. Maybe last year some time. I’m seeing a few ospreys but haven’t gotten a real good look yet. Probably by next week. But the early season flowers are really coming in, especially the ones that have Evelyn to coax them a little. I couldn’t decide whether to do an an inside daffodil or an outside daffodil so I’ll use both. I should highlight the hyacinths more but they’re dragging their feet a little still. Maybe next week, with the ospreys. But here’s an outside daffodil from earlier this week. Incredibly (in my experience) this daffodil even smells good:  

Outdoor daffodil (from our yard, courtesy of Evelyn and good breeding and photosynthesis)

I took this picture on our kitchen windowsill at 4:30 this afternoon. The daffodils and hyacinths look nice together. This could be in the picture dictionary next to “Spring”: 

Daffodils and hyacinths. It is impossible (for me, anyway) to look at this and not experience joy

Probably because it’s Spring (late winter anyway), I’m overrun (in a happy way) with pictures. Here’s one of Mackey and Turner at the river this morning: 

Look at that beautiful river. Look at those beautiful dogs.

Someone asked me recently about their leashes. They’re flexi brand leashes; they are super, super common. They carry them at Walmart, Amazon, Petsmart, Pet Club, chewy, my guess is they’re the most common brand of retractable leashes. You can get them anywhere.

Anyway, speaking of not dogs, I’ll close with Dash enjoying the sunshine of the first morning of Daylight Saving’s Time, 2020. See that gaze? He is a master at being completely focused and being completely relaxed at the same time. It is a brilliant talent: : 

Look at his gaze. He notices everything but nothing worries him.

If you’re interested, by the way (even if you’re not), the 2020 Iditarod got underway at 6:00 PM EDT today. The really, really fast front-running teams will finish beginning in the evening (EDT) a week from tomorrow. The all time record was set in 2017 at 8 days, 3 hours, 40 minutes and 13 seconds. 

Have a great week! Come back next week! 

All best, 

Jay 

 

 

 

Posted in Bald eagles, Barred Owls, Birds, cats, daffodils, Dogs, Endurance, Flowers, Fun, hyacinths, James River, love, newfaze, People, Pony Pasture, raptors, Red-tailed hawks, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Unless you have wings and/or feathers… 

1 March, 2020            Unless you have wings and/or feathers… 

Turner confronts a brazen bird seed thief in our backyard

…you’d better not be stealing Turner’s bird seed! 

The birds drop lots of seeds on the ground. Rather than letting them go to waste, Turner eats them. Last night when we got home from our walk, a Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana), North America’s only marsupial, thought it would slurp up a few mouthfuls while we were gone. Turner bolted into the backyard and chased it up onto the back fence. It couldn’t “play ‘possum” up there! After I took the picture Turner and I went back inside and presumably the opossum got back to cleaning up seed. 

Speaking of bird seed. Also yesterday – it’s late Winter but it’s also early Spring – I looked out the window and saw a bird I’d never seen before! Do you have any idea how many birds I see out there? I am an encyclopedia of the birds that visit that feeder, so I was thrilled to see a “new” bird. I grabbed my camera and got this shot really quick: 

My first ever yellow-rumped warbler. What a treat! 

I’d never seen one in my life! I used a nifty app called Merlin Bird ID. I just uploaded that picture and it immediately identified the bird as a Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata). In yet another example of birding always keeping me humble, the first sentence of the ID site says “Yellow-rumped Warblers are impressive in the sheer numbers with which they flood the continent each fall.” As old as I am and as many birds as I’ve seen, and I don’t even recognize a bird whose “sheer numbers… flood the continent each fall.” That is really, really fun. 

Since I’ve had those feeders outside my window I’ve gotten tons of gorgeous birds, including of course goldfinches, cardinals, bluebirds, titmice, chickadees, nuthatches woodpeckers and more. But a couple of seasons ago I saw my lifetime first Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) out there. Never knew such a bird existed. Then last year – if memory serves – I got my first ever Brown-headed nuthatch (Sitta pusilla). Every single one is a treasure. 

As the weeks with owls at the river continue, I’ll keep posting pictures. Here’s one from Pony Pasture from this week – my fourteenth consecutive week photographing either one or two Barred Owls on the same branch. Here’s one from this week: 

Week 14 Barred Owl

= = = = = = = = = = = 

A brief mid-blog break: 

So tomorrow (March 2) this blog will be nine years old! This is the 434th post. I’m not sure how many pictures, but a lot. More than 3,000 I’m sure. All the months/years are cataloged on the side of the blog. You can look back at any month of any year back to 2011. You can see snow in some winters, floods some years, a lot of flowers, birds, dogs, people, trees, trains, airplanes, there’s a lot on here. Have a look around! 

= = = = = = = = = = = 

I’ve seen Great Blue Herons in trees twice this week at Pony Pasture. Neither was beautiful but I really enjoy seeing herons way up off the ground (and water). Here’s one from this morning: 

Great Blue Heron / Great Blue Sky

I saw a squirrel hunched in the cold one morning this week. They like to soak up the sun, but they can (this one did) scoot right up the tree at a moment’s notice: 

Chilly squirrel getting toasty in the sun

I saw this pretty flower blooming the same day – in February! 

February flower

Recently I’ve been reading a book called Kindness and Wonder: Why Mister Rogers Matters Now More Than Ever by a man named Gavin Edwards. While I don’t discuss politics on this blog (or in my day-to-day life) it’s unavoidable, or it is to me anyway. So this book’s been real refreshing. Here’s a passage I found particularly comforting. Mr. Edwards was talking about a time when Mister Rogers was speaking with an early mentor named Dr. William Orr. Fred Rogers was taking a course called “systematic theology” and Dr. Orr was his professor. This is how Mr. Edwards told the story: Fred’s question: “Dr. Orr, what is that one little word that would wipe out evil?” “Fred, it’s ‘forgiveness,’ ” his mentor said without hesitation. “The only thing that evil cannot stand is forgiveness. It simply disintegrates in the presence of forgiveness.” Orr emphasized a personal philosophy that was governed by kindness, generosity, and, yes, forgiveness, rather than adherence to a detailed moral code.” 

The shrill tone in politics today – and the lack of kindness – is what bothers me most. This book does not have a single shrill moment. It’s a good reset. For me. 

Speaking of good resets. Here’s Mackey and Turner at the river this morning: 

Mackey and Turner at their favorite place (and ready to hike)

And – since Turner got a “solo shot” at the top of the post – I’ll close with a “solo shot” of Mackey this morning: 

I don’t use “Portrait” mode often but this is pretty. He’s such a handsome boy!

Come back next week! Have a great week! 

All best, 

Jay 

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

Owls travel a quarter of the way around the sun

23 February, 2020            Owls travel a quarter of the way around the sun

I’m open to people’s interpretations for why this might have happened. This week I observed a natural phenomenon and I find it nearly inexplicable. I photographed Barred Owls at Pony Pasture this week – for the thirteenth consecutive week! I’ll revisit that topic a  sentence or two further into this blog post. 

But first here’s a male cardinal warming up in the sun this week, puffed up against the cold. I didn’t see a female nearby but she couldn’t have been far away: 

Two out of three primary colors

Here is my “Week Thirteen Owl Picture”:

Barred Owls – thirteen weeks on the same branch!

The reason it’s significant – to me – is because, as I’ve noted incessantly, of the length of time I’ve been seeing these owls. “Thirteen weeks” is not a random number of weeks – it’s a quarter of a year. Earth takes fifty-two weeks to make a complete trip around the sun – one year. Those owls – one or both – have been sitting on the same branch – for a quarter of the year! I just cannot think of any other animal that behaves that way. A quarter of a year on one branch. I cannot figure out how evolution would select for that behavior. So if anyone can suggest why a bird like that might perch on the same branch for a quarter of a year, I’m interested to hear it. 

You can certainly see a robin fifty two weeks a year. But the ratio of robins : Barred owls in central Virginia is probably in the vicinity of 10,000 : 1 or something like that. Here’s one of ten thousand (-ish): 

When I was much younger these were a sign of Spring. Now they’re always around!

I believe robins are the most common bird in North America.

I also got a squirrel at the park one day this week. I don’t love this picture but I don’t have a ton of content this week so oh well. Smile: 

Gray squirrel hits the deck

Here’s some great content – the two best boys in the world, Mackey and Turner this morning at Pony Pasture at 10:43, urging me to stop taking pictures and start hiking: 

Mackey and Turner don’t like to stop. Except sometimes on the river.

Have a great week! Come back next week! 

All best, 

Jay

Posted in Barred Owls, Birds, cardinals, Dogs, Fun, James River, love, Pony Pasture, Rivers, robin, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), squirrels | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Happy to be outdoors 

16 February, 2020            Happy to be outdoors 

The 1,001st time I see them, I’ll be as gleeful as the 1st time

I’m reading a book by Florence Williams called The Nature Fix – Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative. Here’s the book cover: 

The Nature Fix – Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative – Florence Williams

Although that’s not my all time favorite owl picture, I was grateful to be there. I posted it on instagram and it automatically goes to facebook and an owl loving friend of mine mentioned how happy she was to see it. I’m aware I post pictures of these owls a lot – this is my twelfth consecutive week, but who’s counting? Anyway, this was my response on facebook: “If I see owls in the woods 1,000 times, I will be just as gleeful the 1,001st time as I was the first time. The novelty of it simply does not wear off.” 

Owls weren’t my only encounter with “the nature fix” this week. The reason I called this post “Happy to be outdoors” is somehow I got to spend extra time outdoors this week – and I normally get to spend a lot. Triathlon training has kicked off but I’m still too wimpy to ride my bike. So I go to the park a lot. This is from yesterday (2/15) at Pony Pasture: 

Fewer than half the deer I saw at Pony Pasture yesterday:

I was at Pony Pasture this week Tuesday, Thursday, yesterday and today. Four visits in one week – that’s a lot even by my standards. I also visited Deep Run Friday. I saw a Hermit Thrush there but didn’t get any pictures I loved. 

There were a whole, whole, whole lot of deer at Pony Pasture this week; I’m not sure why the population of certain regions of the park ebbs and flows the way it does. I was seeing herds of six or seven or more deer at a time on two or three days this week. 

Just after I saw those deer Tuesday, they began running through the woods. I’m not sure what caused it; perhaps there was an off leash dog somewhere I couldn’t see. I almost never see them run. But anyway, they ran towards the creek and a bunch of them swam across! It was totally unexpected for me and I was unprepared to take a decent picture. But here are two moderate images; it was so cool to see: 

In this picture a deer is jumping into the water. You can see the splash from another deer too.

Here you can see one deer jumping in and another (barely) to its left

Please don’t get the wrong idea; it’s February and I spend plenty of time indoors. I took this picture of Dash snoozing on a chair near the fire Tuesday: 

He only does this when the woodstove is burning

My camera is always close by – even now it’s about a foot from my keyboard. Since I never know what’s going to land on my bird feeder, which is only about six feet away from the window behind my desk. But I always keep it in my car during the day, and when I was driving home from work Friday morning I saw this squirrel chowing down on fresh maple buds at around 9:30: 

Squirrel against a bright sky on Valentine’s Day morning 

Although I’m not Buddhist, rivers are powerful symbols in Buddhism. I follow a wise Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh and Tuesday morning this was on his instagram page: 

Go as a river – Thich Nhat Hanh

Some friends were out of town this week; I took their dog to the river a couple of times with Mackey and Turner. Here’s the four of us on the riverbank yesterday morning: 

Going as a river with a little crew yesterday morning

Have a great week! Come back next week! 

All best, 

Jay 

Posted in Barred Owls, Birds, cats, Dogs, Fun, James River, love, People, Pony Pasture, Rivers, simplify, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!), squirrels, whitetail deer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment