Textures On The Ice

We had not been able to go out for our weekend walk for three weeks in a row because of the weather and did not feel too good about it. We were determined to try to get out this last weekend in spite of the cold, and in spite of the fact that we had had sleet as precipitation just a few short days earlier.

The temperature was about 18°F when we awoke on Sunday. We decided that we would start our walk a little later in the morning than usual. Thankfully, all the roads on the way to the park had been cleared completely of snow and ice. But the parking lot at Riley’s Lock was a bit of a mess. We managed to find a section of the lot away from the lock house where there was a reduced amount of ice on the ground. The cars in the picture below are parked on ice. To the right side of this picture you can see the temporary bridge over Seneca Creek at the location of the Seneca Aqueduct. The aqueduct itself was badly damaged by major flooding in 1971. (I might have already mentioned in some earlier blog that this is the only aqueduct on the canal where there was a lock located on top of the aqueduct.)

The temperature was still below freezing when we started the walk. But, it was also a bright, sunny, morning. There was no breeze to be felt. Although it took a while for us to warm up, we felt no discomfort after that. Extra layers of covering were shed. We found ourselves in the walking zone once again. We covered our usual distance during the walk in spite of our initial concerns about the conditions. It had reached temperatures just above freezing by the time we finished our walk.

The trail was mostly covered by a sheet of ice,although there were a couple of short sections where the ice had melted to the water-soaked surface because of the sunshine.There were signs that many people had visited this section of this trail before us. The footprints in the snow and ice (in other sections of the trail) provided traction for us later arrivals. If you look carefully, you can see the faint markings of the Yaktrax that Teresa was wearing to provide traction while walking on the ice.

The sky was completely clear that morning. There was not a cloud to be seen.

The water in the canal had frozen,but the river was flowing freely.We even saw people in kayaks at one point during the walk.

The particular circumstances of the day allowed me to take a series of pictures under conditions that were unique and transitory. I just happened to be there at the right moment in time. The conditions were just right – the temperature, the state of the ice on the trail, the light that was falling on the trail, and finally, the simple things in nature that had fallen at the particular spots on the trail at that time without having been stepped on by either a human being or animal before we got there. Here are some of these pictures.

It was a unique opportunity that, thankfully, I did not miss!

Fetching The Newspaper

The winter weather is staying with us for an extended period of time. It sleeted the whole of Wednesday. This is how it looked on Thursday morning when I opened the garage door to pick up the newspaper. It lies at the bottom of the driveway in the picture below, in a plastic bag.What you are looking at is a sheet of ice, more than an inch thick. I placed my foot on the ice to get a feel for it. It was hard and extremely smooth. The only way I was going to get to the bottom of the driveway over the driveway itself was by sliding – on my bottom! My safer path to the roadway was over the ice-covered grass along the sides of driveway. It was possible to break through the ice there by hammering at it with the heel of my boot and creating a rough spot in the broken ice that could give me a certain level of traction – more than I could achieve on the driveway. I had to do this step by step. Thus was the morning paper retrieved that cold Thursday morning!

The paw prints that you see on the ice in the picture above are from the deer that wander around our home. They are a big nuisance. They eat everything in winter, including the plants that are supposed to be deer-resistant.These particular plants should have grown to be healthy bushes by now, about three to four feet tall, if the deer had left them alone over the years. I had even sprayed these plants recently with a liquid that is supposed to keep deer away. You can see how well that worked! C’est la vie…

It is sleeting once again as I post this blog.

The Treadmill in the Basement

It is a place where I can set goals, but not be hardheaded about them. It is a place where I can learn to pace myself. It is a place where I can try out different strategies on different occasions without fear of consequences. It is a place where I can discover my limits, and learn to accept them. It is a place where I can find ways to become better and better at listening to my body, and adjusting accordingly. It is a place where the changing numbers on a display can keep my mind occupied even as I consume the miles. It is a place where the relationship between the rhythms of the run and the information on the changing display in front of me can be studied and analyzed in so many different ways, endlessly, and the algebraic constructs inherent of these analyses can reveal patterns that can be tracked, patterns that prevent boredom and also create continuity and motivation in the mind. It is a place where nobody else sets my pace but myself. It is a place where one can learn lessons pertinent to life in general.

My treadmill is about 12 years old at this point. The green patches of oxidation on the metal – from the sweat that can pour off the body when the machine is in use – will attest to its age. Some would consider the machine broken. The buttons on the arms have not worked for many years. Their physical connection to the main electronics in the body of the machine is likely broken. I am also pretty certain that the machine is not calibrated properly any more. I have confirmed that it still keeps time properly, but I suspect that the rest of the numbers are estimates – based on a calibration of the expected speed of the motor for different input settings, followed by some physics and math, including calculations based on the application of Newton’s laws of Motion. (Based on my experience, I do also feel inclined to diverge into a criticism of the electronics and the software in this machine, but that is probably not wise.) More recently, I have been using a GPS wristwatch that also has an accelerometer while running on the treadmill in order to get the statistics for the run. The device has its own method, and algorithms, for keeping track of speed and distance. Neither of these devices, treadmill or accelerometer, is measuring either parameter directly. Fortunately, both the devices provide numbers whose differences are within my tolerance range. As I might have hinted at earlier in the blog, I can be flexible about these things.

I have been using the treadmill extensively so far this winter. This year, while running on the machine, I have become even more sensitive to the pains and aches that come with age. I have had to adjust. My muscles need more time to warm up. They also seem to need more time to recover after exercise. I have not yet reached the speeds that I used to run at even a year or two ago, speeds that were significant to me, but would have been considered laughable by some others even of my own age. One could separately argue that I am not doing myself any good by just using a treadmill, and pushing myself on the machine, and that my exercise approach needs to be more varied and holistic. Truth of the matter is that I came into my current routine only because of necessity. This was what I needed to do in 2008. I feel that I can still change and adjust if needed – as my body informs me. That is what my experience on the treadmill so far tells me.

Some day the machine will stop working. Mechanical parts that are in motion for long periods of time do tend to wear out. I hope the failure mode will not be catastrophic when this happens. Perhaps I should keep a fire extinguisher close by!

From Brain Pickings – The Snail with the Right Heart: A True Story

I expect that the viewpoint of this particular article could bother some folks – depending on how one sees the world. I found it thought-provoking.

This posting led me to do some investigating of my own. I was taken up by the science involved, and the apparent universality of some mathematical concepts in nature. I learnt about the concept of Chirality – about how chirality appears in nature, and how chirality extends even down to the genetic and atomic level. In general terms, left-handedness and right-handedness in nature can sometimes even lead to widely different properties of the objects in question. I also looked into how the Golden Mean, or the Golden Ratio, manifests itself in the world – even in the shapes of snail shells!

Go ahead and look it all up. The natural world is fascinating.

About Black Ice And Other Things

This was how it looked on our driveway when we awoke this morning.The temperatures were below freezing the whole of yesterday, and we also had precipitation in the form sleet the whole day. So, even though the conditions did not feel too bad outside this morning, I had to be extra careful going down the driveway to pick up the morning paper. There are enough bones that have already been broken in our home over time!

Black ice can be deadly, especially when it makes its appearance where people are not used to it. The scene at the site of a multi-vehicle crash on a highway in Texas a couple of days ago was horrifying. The video that was taken as the crash was happening was difficult to watch. You can see the fast moving vehicles, both large and small, approaching – speeding towards the already existing pile-up, not able to slow down because of the conditions on the road, not expecting a pileup to materialize right in front of them on a highway that is completely clear until this point. Then there are the individual crashes themselves. You anticipate them – one at a time. A loud thump from the other side of the road followed by the crunch of metal and the sight of debris flying into the air. It is especially horrifying to see this happen to 18-wheelers that, I assume, are moving at the speed limit.

The bad weather is moving through the midsection of the country. This is another Sunday without a visit to the park. There is no precipitation today, but we do not want to take a risk of falling because of the conditions on the ground. (Does one really want to hurt oneself on Valentines Day?!) Suffice to say that this has been an unusual winter so far. I cannot remember the last time we were prevented from going to the park three weekends in a row because of the weather.

Onto a different topic…

We watched a couple of notable movies this weekend. You will have to decide for yourselves if they are good ones. The first one was from the early 1980s. It is called My Favorite Year. The main reason that we ended up seeing this movie was because it brought back a memory from my graduate school days at StonyBrook. They used to have regular movie shows on campus during the weekends, mainly for the students living in the dorms. I watched the first showing of this movie and found it hilarious. I laughed out loud through the whole showing. When I returned to the dorm, I immediately told my friend, Ravi Korlipara, about it. The two of us went to see the next showing of the movie the same evening! Seeing the movie for the third time a couple of days back was a little bit anticlimactic for me. It took me back to a more innocent time. It was a time when one was less judgemental about the nature of, and the craftsmanship in, movies in general. Slapstick still made me laugh out loud then. (I think it is called a belly laugh.) And, perhaps, the topic of drinking and drunkenness – or at least how these were portrayed in movies – was looked at through a different lens by society at that time. Maybe it is only that I have changed since then. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the movie this time.

The other movie that we watched was called Mango Dreams. It is a more recent release. The story-line is a simple one, but it is effective. It deals with human relationships. It addresses particular aspects of the story of India, and the impacts of historical events on ordinary people. At the end of the day, I found it to be an uplifting story. I do have to note that I sometimes felt like I was watching a play being performed on a stage, but that does not take away from my positive review!

And so it goes. I miss not being able to go to the park and spend time in the outdoors as usual, but I do appreciate the diversions.

The last time I saw my friend from StonyBrook was in the 1980s. I have lost touch with him since then. Perhaps I will try to contact him once again the next time the opportunity presents itself.

Another Storm

This storm arrived, once again, on a Sunday – once again disrupting our Sunday walk. For some reason, I felt that this was a prettier storm than the one before. Perhaps it is only a state of mind. I took a few pictures around the house, but, in the end, felt disappointed about them. The weather was warm when compared to the days of the previous storm, and a lot of the snow melted away the same day.

It also happened to be Superbowl Sunday. Not that this mattered too much to me. I have not seen a single American football game this season. I used to watch a lot of sports when I was young, but no more. Arena sports no longer grabs my attention, especially if it is all about overpaid professionals going about their job.

Nevertheless, I had resolved to watch the entire game on Sunday because it is such an American thing to do. I even figured out which team to root for – even though I had no interest in the game. This year there would be no disruptions in the viewing of the game because we were not a a party with other people – which is typically the case on Superbowl Sunday.

The game was fine. There was enough strategy, skill, and technique demonstrated in this game, which, although physically tough and brutal, involves a lot of organization – almost military like, but perhaps with more rules! But I was also surprised by how I felt about all the hype and the additional artificial drama that was a part of the broadcast of the game. In the past I would have accepted it, and maybe even get drawn into it, but now it seemed completely fake and artificial. The ads were particularly stupid. And to build sports personalities into hero figures makes no sense to me. Perhaps the overall experience is like watching gladiators fight in ancient Rome – in a more “civilized” way. (I wonder if they had advertisements during the Roman times in the Colosseum. There must be an Asterix comic book including a panel or two satirizing this concept!)

Nevertheless, having chosen a side to cheer for, I was surprised by how quickly my emotions were manipulated. I began to not just cheer for my team, but also find fault with the other – and with the referees. I was actually “hating”, and I surprised myself with the intensity of this emotion. I was even prone to verbally expressing these emotions. I think it is the animal instinct in all of us that draws us in to something like this in spite of ourselves. I was a part of the audience in a Roman amphitheater! This is what happens in our politics today.

Yiannis Pavlis Visits Ilulissat in North Greenland

Yiannis is a photographer who posts on Pbase, a photo gallery website at which I also post pictures. Yiannis goes to places far off the beaten path. He is an adventurer! I have noticed that many of the parts of the world that he visits have very cold climates.

Here is Yiannis’ picture gallery of Ilulissat. Lots of interesting information also to be found here along with the pictures. I feel like visiting some day, but this might be too much to hope for!

This is the video that he has posted along with the pictures in his gallery.

Here are all his galleries.

This is the Wikipedia page for Ilulissat in case you have interest in more information.

The Storm Arrives

It was snowing steadily when we woke up on Sunday. I had gotten up with the faint hope of still being able to go the river and the towpath for our usual weekend walk. I had actually been thinking about the unique opportunity to get pictures in the park during the snowfall. I gave up the idea quickly, primarily because of the risk of getting stuck in the snow on one of the narrow roads leading to a trailhead. There was no way that these secondary roads were going to be plowed that soon, especially during a snowstorm.

I used to get excited about taking pictures around our home, and even around our neighborhood, when it snowed. For some reason, I did not feel that way this time. Nevertheless, I did try taking a few pictures at home. Most of them did not look interesting to me. All I saw was whiteness. Here are a few of these pictures. At least a couple of these pictures were inspired simply by how I felt when looking at particular objects. They may not mean anything to you.

I am hoping that there will be better opportunities for picture-taking the next time we go to the canal.

The Next Blog

It is in the nature my blogging process that I am often not sure where the inspiration for the next blog will come from. There is definitely a theme that can run through a series of blogs when one is on a quest, or when something is happening. Not today. We have not been to new places on the canal recently, and there is also no new experience from the walks that seems worthy of sharing. The political scene that used to get me worked up in the recent past has gotten to a more tolerable level. We have also not traveled to new places in other parts of the world for over about a year at this point.

I have no interesting articles to point people to today. Also, I have not yet rummaged through my trove of old e-mails to gain some inspiration. There is not much other internal or external inspiration for thought either today. The mind is a blank – the thoughts that sometimes organize themselves in the brain organically to form a complete blog, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle coming together to create a complete picture, are not cooperating. The mind is not quiet enough for any of this to happen. I think I am also distracted because of having to deal with other practical matters. Perhaps, I will just post some pictures from our last weekend on the trail.

It was a cold morning on the towpath as far as we were concerned, but sensitivity to cold is a relative experience. There are some people (including some of those whose blogs I follow) who spend their winter outdoors, looking forward to their activities in the heights of the Rocky mountains in the middle of winter. Such folks might have laughed at us, and considered our reaction to the outside temperatures that morning “wimpy”. And we do not even have to go as far as the Rockies. There are others, even from our part of the world, who perhaps also laugh at our sensitivities – as they get out on their bikes on the roads and trails at these temperatures for recreation. Yes, we saw some of these people last weekend! I do not know how they do it, but I do know that even the little bit of additional airflow created by the forward motion on a bike would, at these temperatures, bring me to a stop quickly. Tears would run, my nose would turn red, and I would lose all sensation on my chin.

But, there we were, delaying our departure to the park to later in the morning since we thought that 24° F was far too cold for us. Not that it got that much warmer later in the morning when we reached the trail – but the sun was at least higher up in the sky. Here are some of the pictures from the outing.

These pictures were taken at the Monocacy Aqueduct. You can see where the Monocacy river meets the Potomac river in the second picture.The following pictures were taken at the parking lot for the Dickerson Conservation Center access point to the trail.These are all good sentiments on the poster, but I cannot see anybody attempting to barbecue at the kind of temperatures we are experiencing these days!