Thanksgiving in The Time of Thanksgiving and COVID-19

I had told myself that I did not want to do the long drive to Massachusetts once again, so soon after the previous trip. But we ended up heading north for Thanksgiving anyway. The drive turned out OK since I had help with the driving in both directions this time.

Of course, coronavirus was on the mind. Ventilation, masks, physical distancing, etc.. were on the mind. The infection rate has skyrocketed in our country in recent weeks. We had to be careful. Our family group was small enough, and every person had to take responsibility for their own actions.

Conversations, games, daytime naps, walks in the park, including Lucy, cooking,bird watching, etc.., were all part of the informal routine during this vacation, with people free to participate as they desired. No pressure!

We did gather at the table for the significant meals. What you are seeing in the picture below are mostly the remains of the Thanksgiving meal the day after. I neglected to take pictures of the Thanksgiving meal itself, which included an Irish Soda Bread that was demolished in a single sitting.Even Lucy seemed to feel free to do whatever she felt like.



There have been a couple of very specific occasions during the last few weeks when I have strongly felt the spirit of community and sharing in a way that felt somewhat different and unique, yet familiar. When sharing of effort is done with a complete sense of openness, without holding back, without a feeling of being imposed upon, without any expectation of any kind of reward other than the generation of a somewhat vaguely defined feeling of happiness and satisfaction that cannot be quantified, then you are mentally and spiritually in a special place. One could ask, what more does one need other than to experience such a feeling, a feeling that immediately warms the cockles of your heart. The goal of the sharing in some instances is not perfection, but the outcome feels that way.

The first time I felt that way was when I assisted with the preparation of the Thanksgiving meal. I provided only a couple of the many hands that helped in the efforts to prepare the roasted chicken, and to cook the beans.Different people participated in the effort in barely organized fashion. It felt like nobody was specifically in charge of worrying about the outcomes. The sense of responsibility was shared and we stepped into roles organically. But the outcomes were good nevertheless. Somehow things all came together.

I had the same feeling back in Maryland when working at the food bank the week after Thanksgiving. I had an intense sense of commonality of purpose. We, the volunteers, just stepped in to do what was needed to prepare closed boxes of food for distribution – including piling the boxes on pallets for shipping, moving stuff, including the loaded pallets, around, recycling cardboard packaging, cleaning up waste, etc.., instinctively stepping in to help each other as needed. In the end, there was great satisfaction in the outcome, and the sense of a successful team effort. We all felt happy about what had been accomplished. We actually lost count of the number of pallets that we had piled up with boxes. It sounds repetitive, but perfection was not necessarily the goal of our effort, although it felt like this was the result that had been achieved. I have been volunteering for years at this point, and I have felt this way in the past when I am working with the regulars (now my friends) who come in on Tuesday. Perhaps I have even articulated this same thought already in the past, but I was so surprised at how similar it felt to the Thanksgiving experience.

As I might have indicated in earlier blogs, my personality lends itself to trying to plan things in detail in advance, sometimes with a degree of obsessiveness, trying to make sure that all the angles are covered, so that one can anticipate anything that can go amiss. That approach can lend itself well to the professional engineering environment where 100% solutions might be important, where you want to do everything you can to ensure that very little can go wrong. This thought process may not be that relevant in many situations in real life. When you are working with others with a genuine sense of community and commonality of purpose, your approach and goals can tend to be different, and the results can be much more fulfilling, and relevant to the human condition.

As If to Demonstrate an Eclipse: Comedian Chuck Nice Reads Billy Collins’s Ode to the Quiet Wellspring of Gratitude – Brain Pickings

Computer Scientists Achieve ‘Crown Jewel’ of Cryptography | Quanta Magazine

I have worked on projects involving cryptography in my past. I understand some of the basic concepts that provide the security in cryptographic systems enough to be dangerous when discussing the topic, but I never became an “expert” on the subject. I found it a difficult subject to tackle, requiring a greater level of dedication and/or level of smartness than I was capable of. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating topic. I wrote about the extent of my exposure to the topic here.

https://www.quantamagazine.org/computer-scientists-achieve-crown-jewel-of-cryptography-20201110/

Transitions

We are in a seasonal transition in our neck of the woods. It is a truth – as true as anything and everything else that is real and factual. There is no way that somebody can refute my statement, right? Winter is around the corner in Maryland.

Unfortunately, facts seem to be more and more difficult for people to accept in today’s world. It is the belief that counts, and a lot of our actions will be based on these beliefs. I could have edited those pictures I am showing you, or even picked pictures out from my collection from a different year, to state something that is untrue. You believe that I will not do that. There is an element of trust involved. You believe that I will not lie to you.

It is a sad thing that active efforts are being made to destroy the trust that people in the US have in their electoral system. When this happens, the truth, and the facts, do not matter. The lies are considered credible. And the lies can become a matter of faith. Living in a virtual world of computers and social media makes this process even easier. Facebook’s algorithms have no means to separate out truth from lies. AI technology is also not necessarily based on starting from truths. Scientific truths have no basis in a virtual world, facts have no foundations there. These days you can argue that the world is flat, that man did not land on the moon, and that a conman won this election – and the algorithms in the computers will say, fine, we do not care if this is true or not, and we will proceed as if this is fact.

All real facts point to the successful and honest conclusion of the election process in the US, a process that was as fair as it could be. Unfortunately, apparently 70% of Republicans, at this time, believe that the election was really won by the candidate who actually lost it – the two-bit huckster, the conman. Unfortunately, this fantasy is also not explicitly repudiated by the people in power who are in a position to state the facts. They are afraid. They are hypocrites who look out only for themselves. People lie, these lies are amplified, and these lies are believed because of the kind of world we live in. The facts have no place here. There is more chaos, uncertainty, and anxiety, in the transition that is taking place in our country because of all of this. This is nuts!

The Late Burst of Color

I have been observing the autumnal shedding of the leaves by the crape myrtle tree in our backyard for many years. It happens a little later in the season than for most other trees in our neck of the woods. The burst of colors when it happens is phenomenal. It gets your immediate attention. I do not think I have focused on this phenomenon as an object of photographic record-keeping in the past. I thought I would shares some of these pictures this year.

This is a view of the tree from one of the bedrooms at the peak of the colors.

This is a short sequence of pictures showing the change in the appearance of the tree during this turn of the season.

Here is a picture of the tree taken at sunset. The sky was a shade of purple when I took the picture. The color of the sky changed immediately after that – here one moment, and gone the next!
Soon, it will all be gone.

A Sigh of Relief on Another Beautiful Sunday

We went back to Williamsport last Sunday. It was a beautiful morning – somewhat cold when we started our walk, but above 70° by the time we finished. We walked in the general direction of north and west, towards Dam 5. The river meanders a lot in this section. To be certain of the direction you are facing at any particular moment in time, you have to be paying attention to the direction of the rising sun and/or the shadows being cast across the trail. Beautiful morning!

We finally got to breathe a sigh of relief on Saturday. Four years of complete political chaos, and complete dysfunction in governance, will hopefully come to an end soon. I was going to add that four years of division will also come to an end, but that remains to be seen, given the attitude of the current resident of the White House towards the handling of his loss, and his approach towards the transition that needs to happen. This particular con game of his has finally reached its limit, even as he spews out absurd lies about widespread fraud in the election process. Even while some of us breath a sigh of relief, many are very unhappy. Even as some of us breath this sigh of relief, the cases of coronavirus rise in record numbers. People are also dying in large numbers. There is a lot of work that needs to be done at a national level to save ourselves.

Will end the blog on a happy note with the pictures from our walk.

The first few pictures were taken at the beginning of the walk. A faint mist was visible in the distance over the canal as we crossed the bridge on to the trail.

The skies were clear. The air was still. The reflections on the water were perfect. These are pictures of the Cushwa Basin,and of the Route 11 bridge over the Potomac river,taken as we departed the area of Williamsport.

Further along the trail, we found a place where there were steps that went down to the river.The majesty of the winding river was easy to appreciate from down beside it.

The clear and crisp morning light enhanced our experience of the trail, and our view of all that remains of the Fall foliage in these parts.

We turned to return back to Williamsport at a point where a dirt road led to a parking lot next to canal. Earlier on, I had considered driving to this parking lot, and walking along the towpath from this point onward. Seeing the condition of the road, I am not sure I would use this lot any time soon for that purpose.

I decided to swap lenses on my camera at about this point in the walk, and use the zoom lens for the rest of the trip. As I raised my head from the camera bag which was lying on the ground (over which I was changing the lens), I saw a deer standing on a rocky ledge on the other side of the canal. Why don’t you take my picture to make sure that you have attached the lens to the camera properly?, it seemed to be asking. That is exactly what I did.It is a magical place, this canal of mine!

Towards the end of the walk, we came upon our old reliable friend, the great blue heron. I had to take its picture.

We had to depart Williamsport quickly at the end of the walk because of another appointment that we had closer to home. I did not have time to take the picture of the Conococheague Aqueduct from the level of the creek as I had originally hoped to do. Now I have an excuse for making another visit to Williamsport sooner rather than later!

Getting Outdoors During a Time of High Anxiety

It is a time of reckoning for some of us as Americans. It is safe to say that there has never been a situation like this in the USA in the past. It is also tempting to say that there has never been an election like this in the USA in the past, but I do not know enough about American history to be sure about that. It is definitely true though that we as a country have been sinking into a dark hole the last few years, now accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, and that we might have a chance during the next few days to grab on to something on the side, even as we fall further into the hole, to try to at least stabilize the situation for some period of time. Perhaps we could even attempt to climb out of the hole, but that might be too much to ask for in the short run considering how far we have fallen. There is always hope!

We have seen strategies for winning an election that have never been used to this extent in this country in the past. The electronic media has made it easy for official campaigns to distribute manipulated audio/visual content, content that is designed to deceive, content that supporters of the president lap up. The president himself spews out lies and misinformation. As Steve Bannon once said – “flood the zone with sh*t”. And, sadly, we tend to not see the truth even if it is in front of our faces because we live in our own bubbles. The republican party apparatus has also gone into high gear to try to disenfranchise voters, and to prevent votes from being cast and/or counted. Lawsuits have been filed, and more have been promised. Armed vigilantes try to intimidate voters and people going about their daily business. The US Post office is failing to deliver mail-in votes in a timely fashion. (The person in charge of the post office is a recent political appointee. His actions could lead you to believe that what is happening is deliberate.)

One worries about the possible aftermath of these elections in ways that one never did before.

We had to find relief from our anxieties in other activities. Last week was a bad time for our usual outdoor pursuits. I am still adjusting to the fact that the weather is turning colder slowly but surely. The cloudy and damp conditions killed all of my motivation to try to get out. It was finally the weekend by the time we overcame our reluctance to face the seasonal forces of nature.

We went out to Edwards Ferry on Sunday in spite of the fact that rain was expected later that morning. The weather was still OK at the time we got on the trail. As you can see from this picture of the lock house for Lock 25, there were still patches of clear sky to be seen near Edwards Ferry.

As we started our walk, we could see the rising sun behind us struggling to pierce through the clouds that were coming our way. It was, ultimately, an unsuccessful effort! The skies continued to darken as we walked north towards Whites Ferry. We finished the last couple of miles of the walk in light rain. I had to put away the camera in my backpack at that point. I don’t mind walking in light rain even though it tends to impair my vision somewhat because of the water collecting on my glasses. For that matter, I am not sure that even heavy rain would necessarily stop me on the trail. My friends and I rode our bikes in the pouring rain during our ride last year. It was done deliberately, and it was also fun!

It was somewhat anticlimactic to be on the trail after the autumnal change in foliage. Whatever bright colors there might have been on the trees are almost all gone in these parts. Bare tree trunks are visible everywhere.

The only remaining color in this section of the trail was mostly due to the presence of the pawpaw trees.

There is a certain beauty in foliage that is primarily yellow in color, but I think I might be feeling this beauty more intensely because of its transient nature. After all, I do not talk about the green trees all summer long – or, do I?!

And we got to see some strange looking fruit on the trail for the first time. I would be curious to know if anybody can recognize these.

That’s it for this blog. Tomorrow is election day. I am keeping my fingers crossed!