Bald Eagles, Snakes and Slugs

I’ve decided that some people are just better at being adults than others. I think I was pretty good at being a kid, but I could really use some remedial adult classes. For example, this happened yesterday:

I'll be looking like this for the next few days.

I’ll be looking like this for the next few days.

I have the pigmentation of skim milk and yet, despite yesterdays’ bright sun and 75 degree weather, it didn’t occur to me to wear sunscreen on a wide open, treeless hike. Which means that at this moment, as I write, the left side of my body feels like it’s going to burn off. For some reason, the right side didn’t is doing OK. Even though I know this burn will eventually turn into a patchy tan, I think sunscreen is just one of those things you’re supposed to automatically remember when you get old. Oh well. Thanks to a lifetime of accidental sunburns, I can probably expect to look about 60 when I’m 35.

But despite the burn, I had a nice weekend. Yesterday I invited my mom, dad, a family friend and my aunt and uncle to go out for a hike at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge because I like to make sure the old folks get out once in a while. But when you make plans with an Argentine-Colombian delegation you can pretty much be sure they won’t show up on time so I decided to head over a little early for two reasons: 1.) To make sure the trail wasn’t too muddy and 2.) To see some animals. I figured there would be more of them early in the morning. And I did see more than I did at Huntley Meadows. Mostly because I ran into a very enthusiastic birdwatcher who pointed them out to me. He was so excited. He pointed out two bald eagles a nesting pair of osprey and a blue heron. I even spotted a couple of animals on my own, like this thumb-nail sized snail:

I've decided that I can pretty much become an expert in slug photography because they don't really move. I can get as close as I want, take as long as I want and you don't even have to worry about them walking/swimming/flying/jumping way. I could not ask for a more compliant and cooperative subject. Turtles would also work out well.

Not exactly an elusive wildlife shot, but I’ve decided slugs are ideal photography subjects. You don’t have to worry about sudden movement at all. No flying, jumping, running or scurrying away for these little guys. I’m pretty sure I could become an expert slug photographer if I really wanted to. I feel like turtles would also be cooperative subjects.

And this snake:

OBWR Snake

Actually, my uncle spotted the snake. Somehow I missed it despite the fact that it was right in the middle of our path and it didn’t exactly blend into the environment. For someone who claims to like hiking, I’m really not any good at any hiking-related activities, like spotting wildlife, going uphill, planning appropriately and not complaining.

I also saw a few geese, but it’s hard to get excited about geese. I took some bald eagle and osprey pictures but they came out so blurry that they aren’t worth posting. One thing I learned during this particular hike is that I really like trees. They provide shade, they are pretty and they keep you cool. The Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge doesn’t have enough trees, and this did not please me.


I know I’ve spent the last five or six months complaining about the cold, but it turns out the heat can be uncomfortable too. Winter’s been so cold I kind of forgot what heat feels like. Yesterday was only about 75 degrees and low humidity, and I was already feeling the heat. There wasn’t very much shade in the park and I felt like I was walking el Camino de Santiago in Spain or something. A twisty, lonesome sandy road with little in the way of shade. I don’t know why I’m so complainy today. Maybe it’s the change of weather? I apologize.


I try to take the old folks out every once in a while. Here is my father, a true outdoors man, sombrero and all.


I’m not going to lie. I was expecting something a little more scenic.  Maybe when the leaves come out?


Though this view of the Potomac was pretty cool.

OBWR Swamp cleaner

I inherited by curiosity from my mom. My mom wanted to know what this guy was doing in the marsh so she had to ask. Apparently, he was cleaning the swamp to redirect/correct water flow. I don’t think he particularly enjoys the job, but someone’s got to do it. Also, if this is a natural area, is it really natural to redirect water flow? I think not.  But I’m sure there’s a very logical explanation I’m not logical enough to recognize.


Swampy area and lily-pads at the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I do like lily-pads.

After we left the park, we had a picnic at Veteran’s Park in Woodbridge and then headed over to Old Town Occoquan, a tiny, old-timey town on the Potomac. There are some shops, a few restaurants, some very upscale housing developments, lots of boats a Civil War historic trail (this is Virginia, after all) and not much else, but it’s one of my favorite Northern Virginia towns.

OBWR just chillin

The main strip in Old Town Occoquan. This old guy you see here is what I call a shopping widower. His wife  probably dragged him into town on the premise of a lunch at a well-remembered restaurant and after lunch said, “I’m just going to step into this shop,” which then turned into three hours of  intricate browsing resulting in the purchase of an $8 bar of soap and some kind of scented candle, because those are the kinds of things you find in towns like Occoquan. I empathize with this guy. If you want to torture me, take me shopping. Or to a museum.  I bet he wishes he’d brought his Kindle.

I took this picture in downtown Occoquan. Pear trees might be pretty, but they stink.

I took this picture in downtown Occoquan. Process filter, by the way.

After my parents, aunt, uncle and family friend went home, I decided to take a little exploratory drive. I headed to the Mount Vernon/Gunston area of Northern Virginia because it feels semi-rural and small towny in places and I like that sort of thing. As I was driving, I realized that were an unusual number  of really tiny, country-type churches, like this one below, called the Faith Gospel Tabernacle Church. The church interested me because it seemed abandoned and run-down, kind of like it was held together by Elmer’s glue and I don’t know, God’s will? But when I pulled into the parking lot, there was a sign saying the parking lot is for church members only and all violators will be towed, so I thought maybe it’s still in use. My original plan was to get out of the car and take a few pictures of the church because it looked like it belonged in rural Kentucky rather than the suburbs of Northern Virginia, but then, all of a sudden, this old guy in a beat up red pickup pulls up next to me and just looks at me. Doesn’t roll his window down or anything, just stares me down. I wasn’t really sure what to do.  You see, I watch a lot of crime TV so I know how these things can go. I decided to act casual so I smiled and rolled down my window and stared blankly at him because he was just sitting there, staring at me and I don’t know what else you’re supposed to do in that situation. Except maybe drive away, but I wanted my picture. So I rolled down my window and the conversation went like this:

Man: Who are you?

Me: Nervous laugh. Stare down at my cell and motion to it, saying “Oh, I’m just trying to find my way.”

Him: Stares at me and does not leave (or smile) and says “well, can I help you find your way?”

Me: It suddenly occurs to me that he can’t see the cellphone in my lap and probably thinks I’m trying to find my way to Jesus and he seems to have some kind of connection to the church, so I laugh nervously and say something to the effect of, “Oh, I think I’ll find it on my own, hehehe.”

Him: Well, I hope you find your way.

He then pulls out and  I think he’s going to leave, but no, he just sits there at the end of the parking lot waiting for me to leave! He seemed like he might be one of those get the hell off my property types and  I didn’t know if the church belonged to him, so I felt wrong getting out my car to take a picture. Instead, I had to snap a quick picture from my car and the old guy didn’t pull out of the parking lot until I turned onto the main street! Anyway, I Googled the church later but found no trace of it online. It’s an Internet ghost church.

OBWR church

The infamous Faith Gospel Tabernacle Church of Gunston/Mount Vernon, VA.

Categories: D.C Side Trips, DC Area Hiking, DC Area Outdoors Activities, Virginia

Tags: , , ,

7 replies

  1. Haha, that exchange was terrifying!

  2. I’m glad you were able to see some bald eagles. My photos of them always come out blurry too. And goodness- that snake was huge! Sorry about the lack of shade.

    Oh and one of your favorite Northern Virginia towns. That’s my town! My parents moved to Occoquan when I was about 18 months old. In 2010, I moved back here to raise a family of my own. : )

    Next time I’m in the Gunston Hall/Mount Vernon area, I’m going to keep my eyes open for that Faith Gospel Tabernacle Church.

    Have a great week!

  3. One of my best friends in college was from Colombia. I went with her to Costa Rica, luckily since I speak no Spanish. It was a breeze traveling with her. I enjoyed your stories and like you am so pale I cannot go out in the sun without feeling like a slimy mess from sunscreen. Good news, I had many accidental burns and when I was 35, looked closer to 20, so maybe that is in your genes too. Your dad does not look that old. I like your photos from the marsh. I find these places are so relaxing and wildlife abounds.


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