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To have sex, of course. Right there in public, outside even, along Riverside Drive in Stratford Hills, a little west of Pony Pasture.  Since that cute Yellow-Spotted Salamander is the  mascot of Friends of James River Park perhaps we should change our name to Lovers of James River Park. No, that’s ok.

I've never had the pleasure....

This photo is from last year, and it pains me to look at it because it reminds me that I struck out twice last year in  my attempts to see these salamanders who call my neighborhood home come out of the mud on a rainy night in February or March to cavort as only salamanders do.  My friend sent me that photo, but by the time I got there, all I got was a bunch of spring peepers going nutty.  Maybe this year will be the one. Hope springs eternal, in matters of love and yellow-spotted salamanders.

Ducks do it:

What's the big deal?

Yesterday at Pony Pasture, the ducks couldn’t be bothered by the to-do surrounding the 15 or so die-hards who arrived at the boat ramp at noon for the 4th annual Polar Plunge. Air temps were fairly kind, but still the chill was on the skin and faces of the cheery crazies even before they took the plunge.

Showing some guts, so to speak!

And at the stroke of noon, they were in, in honor of Wayne Goodman, RA-More stalwart and trail-builder extraordinaire, who is recovering from a spinal cord injury he suffered in Forest Hill Park. 

in the drink

Don’t expect to see a photo of moi in the James…maybe next year. It’s too bad I didn’t jump in wearing only James River Park license plate applications. That would have made great TV.

We don’t need Clarence the angel’s help to get our 350 completed license plate applications by January–we need YOURS! We’ve received more than 190 completed applications so far, but we need another 160 this next month to make this dream a reality. I believe, but Friends of James River Park needs all of our members and friends to send applications in today! (Pay with PayPal at  and get the application and info)

Here are 5 ways to help us get the plate now:

 #1 Think of the people who have made the park possible–Jack Keith, Jr., Joe Schaefer, Louise Burke, R.B. Young, and so many more. Buy a plate in their honor. I’m giving Louise a plate as a small token of appreciation for her work with her Girl Scout troop and concerned neighbors saving Pony Pasture from becoming a highway in the 1960’s. I’m a Brownie drop-out and I do NOT want to compound that humilation with having to tell Louise that she’ll never get a James River Park System license plate. Let’s get this done! Whom do you want to honor? 

 #2 Please spread the word on Facebook and Twitter. SportsBackers, Dominion RiverRock and our James River Park Facebook page. That will keep the buzz going.

 #3 Ask your friends and neighbors. Have their walks, runs, paddles, and bike rides in the James River Park System given them $25 worth of value this year?  It’s time to give the JRPS a present for all it has done for all of us. 

 #4 If you know of any large-scale event coming up (even in January) where park-lovers would be gathering and we could set up a table to promote the plates, please let us know at and perhaps volunteer to staff such tables.

 #5 For the person who has everything this holiday season, give him or her the promise of beautiful James River Park license plates. It’s a green gift–no wrapping necessary– and it will add park pride to the owner’s vehicle when they receive it in June. They’ll be reminded of you every time they ogle their plates.

 FOJRP believes it is crucial for the Friends to secure this dependable stream of income (once we have 1000 plates on the road, FOJRP gets $15 of every renewal and new application over that) in light of uncertain budgetary times for parks. We have composting toilets, trailhead signs, kiosks, trail markers and more we’d like to purchase and programs we’d like to underwrite so everyone can enjoy the park for years to come. Thanks so much for your help in clearing the first hurdle of our license plate campaign this January.

Sometimes nature knows best:

Here's looking at you, hole in the tree

Sometimes nature makes a mess of things.

river wood

Sometimes nature needs a nudge from nurture to be what looks like has always been and belonged.

not quite afloat

To my eye, this sculpture by R. L. Croft looks like something John Smith left behind or a pirate ship or an oversized eagles’ nest. But whether you’re inclined to see John Smith’s shallop or a pile of wood, it’s worth taking a walk in the woods at Pony Pasture in the  James River Park System to check it out. Take the main riverside trail east from the parking lot to Half Moon Beach. There take the narrow trail even closer to the river east and you’ll see the sculpture soon. That is if idiots don’t wreck it. It’s already changed since I saw it earlier this week. One bit of wood with iron in it is no longer standing athwart the stern (misusing boat terms for fun–avoiding pirate-speak to preserve my dignity) and I chastized two males today for taking a wooden pallet from elsewhere in the park to do some dumb thing to the boat. I guess some people’s nature is to wreck things. I’d rather leave that to nature.

in dry dock for now

This will be worth checking on when the river rises, as the boat might seem to float. When it floods, part of it will most assuredly become part of another log jam downriver.

Happy to let those more talented than I have their say or show off their handiwork. People who use their hands for something other than texting and typing are my favorites. Keep your mind out of the gutter, please.

So, until I get there tmw and get my own photo, herewith a link to Friends of James River Park’s Facebook page to see the  Pony Pasture Natural Sculpture done by sculptor R. L. Croft and Ken Huston of northern Virginia. Croft’s daughter is in school at VCU. More proof that the interplay among Richmond’s natural resources and our other less natural but sometimes still organic resources produces some mighty cool stuff.

Reminiscent of Andy Goldsworthy, he of  Rivers and Tides. Now that’s really cheating, plagiarizing oneself.

What I would give to make Chappel Island downtown, just east of the Mayo Bridge on the north bank of the James, into a sculpture park with winding paths leading to whimsical, mournful, and natural sculptures. That stretch of river has seen it all and letting something other than statues of dead guys on horses tell the story of Richmond and the river would be most refreshing. It would be the perfect marriage of Richmond’s arts and parks. I can almost see it.

Two out of three weekend days I’ve had the pleasure of walking along the James River on Riverside Drive in Stratford Hills and on the paths of the James River Park System at Pony Pasture and the Wetlands. It never ceases to amaze and horrify me how many people who live in Richmond never see these scenes.

A Great Blue Heron looking good

The light was exquisite, the leaves were all aglow, and the river rushed and sparkled just as it should. Herons, ducks, and cormorants hung out, dogs and their owners frolicked, children rode by on bikes, and joggers passed my husband and me now and then.

Fall is a wonderful time of year to head to Pony Pasture because it’s not overrun with sunbathers. On Friday, we saw only a few souls as we walked the riverside trail not quite as far as to the bridge to the Wetlands. This morning we had a little more company, but still had plenty of time and scenery to ourselves.

photosynthesis is photogenic

So I am  on the board of the Friends of James River Park. It is my sworn duty to tell people to get their butts and other parts to the park (and while you’re there, please pick up trash and a James River Park license plate application). As my almost 5 yr. old nephew said this a.m. after romping along trails, inspecting downed trees, and running with sticks, “This is a great playground!” He said it.

I’ve got James River Park System on the brain these days, spending time re-writing the Friends of James River park Web site that I won’t link to now since the current one is so inadequate…but wait till September when some beautiful and useful information will be at users’ fingertips and the typeface will be readable by someone over the age of 35.    

On Friday morning the Friends and I will be out along Riverside Drive between Pony Pasture and Huguenot Flatwater picking up trash. Meet at Pony Pasture at 8:30 a.m. if you’d like to help.  Gloves are a good idea as are water shoes if you want to scout for trash along the shoreline. Almost the most fun kids can have while knocking out some community service hours. More fun than poking around in poison ivy.

And in a matter of moments, I’ll be meeting with John Kneebone, Professor of History at VCU and Ralph Hambrick, co-chair of the James River Advisory Council and a member of the Falls of the James Scenic River Committee and now one of the participants in the James River Park System Oral History project, a collaboration between VCU and the Friends.  It’s been a privilege to connect some of the storytellers and shapers of one of Richmond’s very best ideas with those dedicated to keeping the stories safe and making them known. It’s a shame we were too late to listen to John “Jack” Keith, one of two Richmonders who worked to bring orphan islands and shoreline in Westover and Forest Hills to the city for use as a park back in the 1960’s. It was his death a couple of years ago that spurred the project. Listening to Louise Burke, one of the saviors of South Side from an expressway that would have made the river and Pony Pasture the underside of a highway, say sweetly yet firmly, “I was not the ideal person to lead anything” was one of many treats.  In fact, she was the ideal person because she and her band of conservationists didn’t let studies, plans, moneyed brokers, county and city fathers and regional authorities push through what they thought they wanted.  So thanks, Louise. Check out the marker in her honor the next time you’re at Pony Pasture. It’s on the right not far from the boat put-in. And pick up trash along the river and road in her honor.

I’m back!