Harpers Ferry Over The Years

My regular exposure to Harpers Ferry over the years has primarily been because of my weekend runs along the C&O Canal towpath.  It has been mainly about the connection between the town, the Potomac river, and the railroad line that crosses the river and passes through the town. I run past the town on the other side of the river, under the railroad tracks that cross over the Potomac into Harpers Ferry in West Virginia after emerging from the Harpers Ferry tunnel on the Maryland side of the river.  Often I even experience the rush of the trains while running in this area – trains that are crossing the river with their horns blaring, or those on the tracks on my side of the river south of Harpers Ferry, and those on the tracks on the far shore of the Potomac north of Harpers Ferry.

January 2008
Winter view of Harpers Ferry from the C&O canal (January 2008)
October 2007
Sunrise behind the hills at the bridges of Harpers Ferry (October 2007)
January 2008 2
Early morning freight traffic moves through Harpers Ferry (January 2008)
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Blasting out of the tunnel on to the bridge across the Potomac (January 2009)
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Racing across the river on a winter morning (December 2013)
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Train crossing over the Potomac (July 2015)

There are the pictures taken from the tip of Harpers Ferry where the Potomac and the Shenandoah meet.

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Maryland Heights in the background as a freight train crosses the Potomac (July 2015)
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Maryland Heights, the railroad bridges, and Route 340 road bridge over the Potomac (May 2012)

Then there are the pictures taken from across the Potomac river, from Maryland Heights.

Panorama - September 2018
The town of Harpers Ferry nestled between the two rivers (September 2008)
April 2010
Harpers Ferry from Maryland Heights (April 2010)
April 2010 2
The Amtrak Capitol Limited stopped at Harpers Ferry (April 2010)

When we have guests visiting, a view of the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac is a must.April 2005OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is picture of the river flowing in the direction of Washington, DC, taken from high up on a hill in the Harpers Ferry cemetery .April 2005 2This picture was taken in 2005.

It has been a while since I ran on the C&O canal across from Harpers Ferry, and this is primarily because the weekend exercise routine has changed in recent times.  But I do miss the experience, and the connection still remains.  I still hold a hope that I will be able to return to the activities of my past years.

Harpers Ferry (2/13/2005)

This note was written in 2005.  As you can see, I considered what I had accomplished that day very significant at that time, when it fact it could be considered just another minor milestone in the story of my life.  But perhaps it did also affect my psyche in a way that led me to the place I am today. Who is to say!

As a point of reference in time, I got my first digital camera only a month after this outing on the C&O canal towpath.

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I reached my Destination today, February 13, 2005. Alleluia and Glory be!!!

Some of you may know about the historical town of Harpers Ferry, located at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers in West Virginia, at the meeting point of the three states of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. It is a beautiful town located on a hill. It saw a lot of action during the civil war. It was the site of an armory in those days, and John Brown also staged his unsuccessful insurrection there to try to free the slaves. Lewis and Clark went through Harpers Ferry on their way west, picking up weapons and other supplies. They even had a boat made out of iron in Harpers Ferry for their trip. That particular project was not successful…

The B&O railroad crosses the Potomac at Harpers Ferry. The railroad lines emerge from a tunnel on the Maryland side and split in two directions, over two bridges, as they cross the river, with the bridges passing on opposite sides of the town of Harpers Ferry. These bridges over the waters are an impressive sight. There are also remains of older bridges across the rivers to be seen around the town. The rivers are wide and the waters very rough. This is white water territory! Over the centuries, the waters have cut a notch through the mountains, and there are cliffs and hills all around. It is both pretty and powerful at the same time.

We have visited Harpers Ferry a few times in the past. I have noticed the C&O canal towpath during those trips and made note of the fact that the trail runs all the way up from Washington, DC. I remember thinking to myself at that time that it would be extremely cool to come up the towpath from Montgomery County by bike. Well, I have done it, not by bike, but on foot, and not all in one day, but over a period of months. It is my destination!

When we were growing up in Madras, there were a couple of books that I loved to thumb through. Both were travel books and had lots of pictures in them. One of the books was of travels in the USA and the other was of travels in other parts of the world. There is a picture from one of the books that has been stuck in my head – it shows a train crossing a bridge over a river and the railroad track splitting off in two directions on the opposite side of the river. In my imagination, this is the town of Harpers Ferry.  I remember that when we first visited this town, this was the image that came to mind. The thought, most likely a figment of my imagination, was that this was something that I had seen in books as a child, but now was fortunate enough to experience first-hand. Yes, this is my destination!

Harpers Ferry is at mile 61 on the towpath, and quite far away from home. This is probably the limit of where I can get to comfortably without stretching myself too much. In fact, I had to get on the highway at 6:40 am to make sure that I got there at a reasonable time to start the run. This is yet another reason for me to consider this as a destination. I will pause at Harpers Ferry for a while, take a measure of what I have done on the towpath thus far, and consider setting other goals for the future. Meanwhile, there are miles to be covered over and over again, and trips that will surely give me new experiences with the River.

The run between Brunswick (mile 55) and Harpers Ferry took me from a familiar set of surroundings into new and different territory. So far the canal has mainly run through heavily wooded areas, and the river has tended to be a quiet beast for the most part, showing itself occasionally through the branches of the trees. As one gets closer to Harpers Ferry, the towpath is right up against the river. The area is completely open and there are very few trees around. You are running on an embankment completely exposed, about 20 to 30 feet above the river on one side, with the dry canal bed just a few feet below you on the other side. You realize the magic of the system of locks, that allows them to maintain the waters of the river and the canal at different levels. (This area has quite a few locks because of the significant drop in the level of the river.) As an added bonus, you have the B&O railroad on the other side of the canal, and I saw quite a few freight trains rumbling by. This place tends to be noisy – there is also road traffic from route 340. You also pass by the little town of Sandy Beach which is essentially a row of houses parallel to the canal, railroad tracks, and road, with its back up against a hillside.

On the way back from Harpers Ferry, as I pulled out of the parking spot under the shadows of the cliffs of Maryland Heights, I decided to take the road less traveled. I turned off the highway onto a local road, led by a sign that simply said “Brunswick” and “Route 478” on it. I did not have a map in the car, and did not have a clue about route 478, but I decided to be adventurous anyway. I ended up on a fairly empty road running past the railroad tracks. I went though the little town of Knoxville, with its traditional main street and its multicolored row-houses, and eventually ended up in Brunswick, MD, at its sprawling railroad yard. I drove over the tracks and into the parking lot for the towpath by the river. Although I had run past it in the past, this was the first time I had actually driven to the lot. It looked safe. Next time I will know where to park in Brunswick.

So, faithful readers who have stuck with me through my travels and through this long essay, this is the end of a stage in my travels. Who knows where the next voyage (if there is one) is going to take me. I have seen many faces of the River, and hopefully the next time you visit us, I can take to the spot on the river or canal that best fits what you wish to experience – whether it is quiet and solitude, whether it is unimaginable beauty, whether it is awesome power and fury, or whether it is just a simple picture of the timeless flows of a wild and untamed river that has always been, and will continue to be.

Until whenever – Adios Amigos!
kuria
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As you can see from the pictures I took with my analog 35mm camera during my run, I did not actually enter the town of Harpers Ferry that day.  I only saw it across the river as I ran on the trail.Scan-29Scan-30

Regular readers of my blog will also know that I have traveled further along the towpath in the years that have passed since that day, including a trip that covered the entire distance from Pittsburgh to the Washington, DC, area – the Great Allegheny Passage from  Pittsburgh to Cumberland, and the C&O canal towpath from Cumberland to DC.  I do not consider Harpers Ferry that far away from home these days.  Times and perspectives have changed.

The Wedding Reception

We were very thankful for all the people who came even if the weather did not cooperate.  They survived a very warm and muggy evening.

The food was fresh and tasty, and those who participated in the dancing had a great time.  There were conversations going on all over the room.  The trivia session grabbed the attention of at least a small number of people in the crowd.  The bride and the groom made sure to meet as many of the guests as they could.  It was wonderful to see everybody even if one did not get to spend time with folks, lost as I was in the chaos of my mind.

 

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

The Udvar Hazy Center is the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM)’s annex at Washington Dulles International Airport in Fairfax County, Virginia.  The huge space hosts a whole lot of aircraft and other human built flying objects, in all shapes and sizes, from the beginning of human flight.  There are just too many exhibits to remember, or even go through in detail in a single day!  Here are a few pictures.

If you are fascinated by aeroplanes just like I am, read more specific details about some of these aircraft, and see pictures of some of their transitions to the museum, at the following links provided by the Smithsonian.

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.

Space Shuttle Discovery.

The Enola Gay.

The Mustang.

The Concorde.

Dassault Falcon 20.

Global Flyer.

Super Constellation.

Harmony College East 2018

I attended Harmony College East last weekend.  This was my first time attending  technical classes related to barbershop music.

This event was conducted by the Mid-Atlantic district of the Barbershop Harmony Society.  There were classes on various topics that were conducted by experts in the field; there was individual coaching if one desired; the entertainment in the evening was provided by the choruses and quartets that were being coached, and from award winning groups, and finally from an awesome youth ensemble; and finally there were various opportunities to sing.  It turned out to be an awesome experience.

I was definitely putting myself outside my usual comfort zone with this experience, and for many reasons.

The event took place is a college campus in northern Maryland.  I stayed in a dorm room and ate my meals in a cafeteria, sharing a suite and a common bathroom with folks that I did not know.  (Also pay attention to the paragraph below in this context.)  It has been several years since I did something like that.

The barbershop scene is not very diverse.  A significant number of the people attending the event were white and old. Even the people who were not old were mostly white.  Being an introvert, I had to make an extra effort to engage with folks. Fortunately, they all turned out to be nice people, even if many of them were unlikely to share my interests and viewpoints.  Having said all of that, the young kids who were there for the youth camp seemed to be a more diverse lot.  Perhaps there is hope!

With no background in music, I did not know what I was getting myself into.  I ended up learning a lot about performing for an audience in general, and barbershop in particular.  I learnt that the unique craft of barbershop music is based on a singing technique that encompasses four parts that come together to emphasize different harmonics of a fundamental frequency in order to create “barbershop chords” that have a unique and pleasing sound.  (And it is not always the melody that constitutes the fundamental frequency.)   I also learnt that pianos are tuned in a way that is called “equal temperament”, which allows music to be played in various keys, but which essentially makes them out of tune – in that they do not play the harmonics of a note properly.  In order to play harmonics properly the piano has to be of “just intonation”, but then you lose the flexibility of the musical instrument, be it a piano or a guitar.  You cannot create barbershop harmonics with today’s piano because the notes are off.  Wow!

I stumbled into barbershop music several years ago by chance.  It is only now that I am gaining a proper appreciation for the technical aspects of the craft that I have taken up.   I understand why it is most important in barbershop for the vowel sounds created by the four different parts to match perfectly to create the perfect sounds.  I understand why it is important for the four different parts in barbershop to be sung at different volume levels corresponding to their place in the chord being created (something that can even change from note to note) to create a good sound.  This is more difficult than I originally thought.  But it is also awesome to be always learning!

I will end with a video that was shown at one of the classes illustrating what a good performance may look like.   This was a song sung in competition.  (For anybody interested, the order in which the quartet is on stage is – tenor, lead, bass, baritone.)

Incidentally, the group had points taken off for the break in the performance.

When Science Veers toward Elements of Belief and Disbelief

The following article is about the Theory of Everything (TOE) and more specifically about String Theory and where it stands today.  I do not expect anybody to understand the “science” of the article, but I hope that you get a sense of the tone.  We have entered a realm of scientific investigation where the mathematics far exceeds what can be experimentally shown.  It will probably remain that way for a long time because the energies required to create the conditions under when the theories can be proved or disproved are not practical.  For example, what if a certain phenomenon can only be observed under conditions that exist related to the energies involved in the presence of a black hole?

I used to think that science needs to keep digging deeper and deeper into the fundamentals of existence, but I am beginning to wonder if there is a useful purpose to this endeavor beyond a certain point.  Does any of this really help us understand more about ourselves or have the potential to help us in some way in the future?  Even if the experiments to prove something about the TOE were to become practical some time in the very distant future, what if the energies required to set up the experiment to prove it are of an order of magnitude that would change the conditions under which the experiment has been conducted in some irreparable way?  Would there ever be a reason to conduct such an experiment?  It would be like eating the apple in the Garden of Eden.

The comments related to this article below (seen at the end of the article) may be more enlightening than the article itself.  You get to a point where the conversation can seem to have overtones that are similar to those when talking about religion.  Does science as defined today become pointless beyond some point?

https://www.quantamagazine.org/why-is-m-theory-the-leading-candidate-for-theory-of-everything-20171218/