Going to Hell in a Handbasket

I was considering what kind of a title to give this particular blog when the above phrase popped into my head. I promptly set off on a quest to find the origins of the phrase. My search was inconclusive. Apparently, the phrase could have come from either Europe or America. Really? Are they not two completely different places? The Internet fails!

The coronavirus has been with us for a while now. When I first started writing about it, barely three or four months ago, there was a certain sense of novelty about the situation. It impacted the way I wrote about the subject. Even though I knew this situation was going to last a long time, I might have even written about it in a manner that suggested that this was just a temporary issue that would go away. While that is a true statement in an absolute sense, my thought processes at that time perhaps also reflected a subconscious sense of optimism, and a refusal to completely internalize the long road ahead of us in battling the disease. I probably felt this way in spite of the stupidity that one saw going on around us regarding the handing of the disease. One railed against the stupidity, but, really, how bad could it get?! (I had predicted the kind of situation that the US would find itself in with regard to the coronavirus a few weeks ago – there are quarantines between states in the USA already, and the European Union is banning visitors from the US. The surprise is that this situation has developed more quickly than I expected.) Perhaps I had not yet become tired of the routine, and the predictability of the stupidity of the situation, at that time. It now seems to be a time for further mental adjustment. Maybe, the optimist in me would like to think that “This too shall pass”, but I am having a harder time internalizing this thought. Yes, it will pass, but who knows when.

It was in a different context that I had written in the past about how people are becoming less intelligent in the places that have most benefited from technology. Evidence of this is becoming very clear in the current environment in our country. Even the issue of wearing masks to prevent the spread of disease has become a political, and even religious, issue to some! It seems insane! It does not help that some of this kind of thinking is fanned by the person who is supposed to be in charge. Governors of some states are acting stupidly in response to the conman, and this is leading to devastating results. Mask wearing be damned!

So, we soldier on, hoping that somehow the devastation we are wreaking on ourselves will not get too close to us personally, and affect us personally. Other than taking personal responsibility, there is little that one can do.

The visits to the canal are getting a little more nerve-wracking these days. Places are getting more crowded, and some people (a small number) are showing a carelessness about the coronavirus situation. It is either that, or the current situation regarding the handling of the disease, that is finally getting to us. But, all that having been said, being outdoors is good for us. What we have learnt about the nature of the virus so far seems to indicate that even though it can spread from person to person easily, it does not last too long outside of a host. Also, the simple action of wearing a mask seems to reduce risk significantly. I have not yet gotten to the point of wearing a mask while exercising, but I do try to create space and/or turn in the other direction during an outdoor encounter. This is more critical on the narrow trails of Seneca Creek Park where I run once in a while. We take care and hope for the best.

We walked from Pennyfield Lock to Rileys Lock, and back, last weekend. Here are some of the pictures I took of flowers that we saw along the trail.

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Rosa Virginia/Virginia Rose

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Trumpet Vine Flower

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Red Clover

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White Clover

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Daylily

Williamsport, MD, On Father’s Day

The first time I came to Williamsport was in 2006. It was a time when I was extending my travels along the canal further and further away from home. The last time I visited was during the bike ride in 2016, on the penultimate day of the ride. We stopped here for lunch. And then there was the visit last Sunday, on Father’s Day.

I woke up that morning thinking to myself that I wanted to explore some new place along the canal that day. With an early start, we could be back home at a reasonable time. The initial response was one of concern – this was going to be a busy day already because of phone calls that were going to take place on account of it being Fathers Day. We went anyway – to Williamsport, MD. We left home very early, and we were on the trail by 8:15am.

As you can see in the photograph that I took during the visit in 2006 (in this link), the aqueduct at Williamsport was in a state of disrepair at one point. One of the walls that used to line the waterway used by the canal boats was missing. That particular wall had been made of wood, and it had collapsed in 1920 as a boat was passing over the aqueduct. The boat fell into the creek. They managed to separate the mules pulling the boat from the boat itself in time to save them.

The reconstruction of the aqueduct was completed in 2019, and we saw the results for the first time on Sunday. This is how it looks from the parking lot that we used.undefined
The canal used to be watered all the way up to the aqueduct, but not over it. There was an earthen wall across the canal bed just before the aqueduct that held back the water from the aqueduct itself. The canal is now watered over the aqueduct also, to a point beyond it. They now have boats for tourists that can take you on the canal over the aqueduct (although it looked like they had not yet brought the boats out this year). It used to be that you could cross over from the parking lot to the towpath just next to the aqueduct. That has changed. The National Park Service has now fixed the railroad lift bridge that exists close by to provide access instead. The bridge can now move up and down. It has been lifted and set to the upper position (semi-permanently, it seems). You can cross the canal using this bridge, while the boats for tourists can go under it.undefined(The bridge used to be stuck in its lower position in the past as you can see in this picture.)

The watered section of the canal is lined with wild flowers this time of year, including chicory,undefined
thistle,
undefined
and moth mullein.undefined
There are also plenty of small birds flying around in this section. To the right of this section of the towpath is the power plant at Williamsport. I did not take a picture this time, but here is a picture from the past.

Within a short distance, we passed Lock 44 with its lock house.undefined
undefinedI remember being able to go into this lock house when I made a visit a long time ago.

You enter the woods soon after passing the lock.undefined
The watered section of the canal also ends where the woods begin, near the gate seen in the picture above. The next landmark on the trail is the bridge for the highway Interstate 81 over the Potomac river. There is construction work underway on the highway as they increase the number of lanes on the bridge. The towpath is protected by a cover during this time.undefined
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Further along the trail, you pass a railroad bridge over the river that is still being used for freight traffic,undefinedand soon after that you see the remains of another bridge that used to exist in the past. Today, all you see of the second bridge are the remains of the piers running from one side of the Potomac river to the other.

This part of the trail has a different feel from the sections that we usually go to. The woods feel deeper. It could be so because the area is lightly populated compared to the places closer to Washington, DC. The trail is also very wide, and in good shape.undefined
Having started early, we also encountered very few people on the trail initially. But there were many more people on the trail when we were returning – including the bikers.undefined
On our way back, we crossed over the Conococheague Creek Aqueduct and continued our walk for a short distance to the other side of the creek. We proceeded to mile 100 of the towpath.undefined

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The entire trial is 184.5 miles in length.

We walked a little further on the towpath, and then started to make our way back to the parking lot.

The picture below was taken from the aqueduct on our way back.undefinedYou can see where the Conococheague creek and the Potomac river meet, and, if you expand the picture, you can see the difference in the color of the water of the river and the creek. The river was very muddy because of recent rains. The bridge in the picture carries US Route 11 across the Potomac river between Maryland and West Virginia.

This is a picture of Cushwa Basin at Williamsport taken from the trail. The parking lot that provided the closest access to the trail used to be on the left side of the picture. The closest access today is now from the parking lot on the right side of this picture. That parking area is new. The buildings in the picture are a part of the C&O Canal National Park. The building on the right is a museum. It was not open when we visited. The National Park Service is building a new park headquarters in Williamsport at this time. undefined
This is a picture of the Cushwa Basin during the days when it was operational. The basin had place for boats to load and unload without impeding canal traffic. It also allowed boats to turn around.

After returning to the car, we drove over to the parking lot that was closer to the aqueduct itself so that I could examine it more closely. It has an interesting look to it.undefinedThe newly reconstructed side of the aqueduct is actually made of concrete, and it is painted on its inner side to look like wood.

I suspect that the wooden supports on the outer side of the wall are just for show.undefined
Here is a clearer view of the inner section of the aqueduct.undefined
This was the last picture for the day!

Since we had started the walk early, we also finished it quite early in the morning. We still had a long drive to get back home. But we still got back well before noon.

The day turned out to be tiring – as predicted! We actually spent three hours talking to the kids! This was followed by another session talking to some of our friends. For some reason, I had a craving for food from Checkers that evening. (Yeah, my cravings do not necessarily lean towards fine dining!) We drove over to the local franchise after the last chat session and picked up some sandwiches to bring home. They had a sale – two sandwiches for four dollars! It was the cheapest father’s day treat. We watched some TV and went to bed early, quite exhausted. Enjoyed the day!

How Is Math Beautiful? | Quanta Magazine

“As Jean-Pierre Serre reportedly quipped to his mathematician colleague Raoul Bott, “While the other sciences search for the rules that God has chosen for this Universe, we mathematicians search for the rules that even God has to obey.””

https://www.quantamagazine.org/how-is-math-beautiful-20200616/

The Second Space

Regular readers of my blogs will understand what I am referring to in the subject line of this particular one. My previous blog was about how we had spent the morning doing our usual Sunday outdoor activities in the park. These activities tend to free up the mind, and to remind you that there exists another world independent of us human beings out there, a world that can continue to exist without our meddling. You tend to forget your worldly concerns while you are out there in the park.

We had a completely different agenda and experience on Sunday afternoon. We attended a rally and march organized by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. The march was in the Kentlands, a neighborhood community close to us in Gaithersburg. The Kentlands are actually within walking distance, but I was already tired from the morning’s activities. I was in two minds about going. We also had very little time to rest before departing for the rally. We finally ended up driving to a parking lot at a shopping center close to the site of the rally, and walking the rest of the way.

This was the scene early on, as people were gathering. You can see that it was relaxed atmosphere. The crowd was diverse in every sense of the word.

The place began to fill up by the time the event began in earnest and people began to speak. This speech was by Will Jawando, a Councilmember for Montgomery County.

It was crowded by the time we started marching – after the speeches – but it was possible to practice physical distancing. People were generally good about wearing masks.

The march itself was a laid-back affair.

We did a loop within the Kentlands, probably not more than a mile. We were led in the chants by a person at the front of the march. People were quite relaxed. At one point, there was a person who seemed to disapprove of the subject of the march who stood on the side where the people were walking insisting that “Blue Lives Matter”. Luckily, nobody engaged with him. But it was a good moment for me to actually think about how I should respond if somebody said something like this to me. The response would start with, “Yes, all lives matter, but…”.

We marched past the front of Lowe’s, the big-box hardware store in our neighborhood, and noticed that it was all boarded up, to the point that the massive doors in and out of the building were completely covered up. If you did not know any better, you would not have known that there were doors there. This is an indication of the thought process of the people running the store. They were scared, even though the people marching past were a bunch of suburbanites – all ages, genders, and races. And it was in the middle of the day! It felt like ignorance to me at that point. But, having said that, I have to admit that I myself had also been somewhat ignorant about what to expect at the march earlier on. None of the other stores were boarded up. In fact, some of the employees at Chipotle, a restaurant that we marched past, came out of the store to offer people drinks. A notable moment in the middle of the march was when we all stopped for a minute and knelt on the road while the names of the people who had been killed by police action in recent years was announced over the megaphone.

The march ended back where we started. There were a few more speeches made before the rally came to an end. Throughout the event, the organizers handed out snacks and water to people who needed it. Thankfully, the weather was nice the whole time. Of particular note was the fact that the organizers were all young people. Bravo!

There was a light atmosphere to the whole event. There were police cars parked around the venue of the speeches, but at a distance, beyond the crowds, and they had their flashing lights on. The Gaithersburg city police who were standing around the place where the march started – the place where the speeches were given – were in casual-looking uniforms, wearing biking helmets and shorts. They had their bikes with them. They were also unarmed. They did not look menacing as in some other cases that we had witnessed on TV. They also looked relaxed. The Montgomery County Police who were along the route of the march looked professional and serious. They generally kept a distance from the marchers. I wonder how they all felt about the speeches that were being given, speeches that addressed the impact of the bad behavior of their brethren. The head of the police for Gaithersburg chose the opportunity to speak in solidarity with the marchers.

I have to say that while I enjoyed the new experience, I feel that I was not completely drawn into its spirit. I say this because I was not particularly moved by the experience. I did not learn too much either. I did not get worked up and emotional. I did not get much useful information or motivation to engage further. Perhaps, we should have at least been carrying a a couple of banners ourselves, but we were nervous because this was our first time taking part in a rally. Being wimpy comes easily to some of us. I suppose one has to also consider the overall objective of a peaceful demonstration. In our case, I think it was an expression of solidarity of overall purpose. Other people, especially those who are most directly impacted by the injustices, have more in their hearts. They are crying out to be heard.

I will end with a few more pictures.

Between Two Spaces

We were on the trail before 8am on Sunday morning.  The idea was to try to avoid the crowds.  It did not work out that way!  The parking lot at the Monocacy Aqueduct was already full of vehicles by the time we arrived.   Fortunately, there were still a few parking spots available.  And the situation was not as bad as I imagined it would be once we got on the trail, at least for the initial part of the walk.  People had just departed for their various destinations along the trail.

I was able to feel the energy of the forest once we got going.  It was a very cool morning, one that had me wearing a light jacket.  The sun was still not out at that time.  I drank it all in, the confluence of the Monocacy and Potomac rivers, the green canopy of trees beyond, the vibes of the woods.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Indian Flats campsite, just beyond the aqueduct, looked quite full.  I counted five tents.  I had thought that there was a smaller limit for the number of groups allowed at each campsite.  But nobody checks, especially during these times. We encountered a girl hanging out on the trail just beyond the campsite, looking for birds in the trees. She had her binoculars with her.

My eyes wandered towards the tops of the huge Sycamore trees.  Somehow, I had not been paying attention to the majesty of these trees all these years.  They tower over all others.  They dominate the overhead skies.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe uncut grass surrounded the trail,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAalong with the plentiful pawpaw trees.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn a historical note, we had discovered the fruit of the pawpaw a few years ago, and consumed a lot of these fruit at that time.  But the interest in the fruit has subsided since then.  (The flavor of an overripe pawpaw fruit is somewhat overwhelming.) Nevertheless, a proposal was put forth to try to make pawpaw pie this year.  I will have nothing to do with it. 🙂

We even saw Spotted Touch-Me-Not flowers for the first time this season,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand blackberries too.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Early during our walk, we also encountered a person biking in the other direction without a shirt top.  He looked a little flabby and overweight, but he was proceeding quite fast, biking with vigor. The morning was still quite chilly at that point, too chilly to be biking shirtless.  It was a curious sight.  A point was made that certain drugs could put you in a state of mind to be able to do things like this. Who knows?!

The sun popped out from behind the clouds occasionally during our walk, but it remained mostly grey and very cool.  We did encounter a lot more  bikers, and people on foot, running and walking, later in the walk, but we were OK with that for the most part.  Unfortunately there are still some people out there who do not know the etiquette of the trail, which is especially important in the time of COVID-19.  Teresa suggested that I write an opinion piece for The Washington Post on this topic.  Hah!

I do miss the early days of my visits to the canal – when I could come to all of these places and encounter very few people.  Loved the solitude, and the opportunity to let the mind wander away completely along with the body.  But, on the other hand, I am also happy that more people are out in the park actually doing something that is good for their health and general well being.

Other than the occasional human beings, and the birds and the squirrels, there was not much to disturb the peace.  We heard freight trains passing passing by in the distance on a couple of occasions.  There was the sound of a motor boat on the river that caught my attention at least once.

A loud and unfamiliar repetitive sound caught our attention our way back to the parking lot.  It was coming out of the woods.  We guessed that it was an owl.  We heard the same sound again as we were approaching the camp site that we had passed on the way out.  At that point, we stopped to pay more attention.  The bird flew away before I could set up the microphone on my smart phone to record the sound.  Teresa managed to get glimpse of it.  The bird was most likely a barred owl, the only type of owl that I am familiar with in this parts.  The girl from the campsite whom we had seen earlier in the morning doing some bird watching saw us and came over to join us, but it was too late.

The parking lot at the Monocacy Aqueduct was completely full by the time we got back.  Some people who had been waiting in a vehicle drove into the spot we had just occupied as soon as we left.    Looks like I am going to have to get used to these kinds of crowds from now on.

As we were driving towards the Monocacy Aqueduct earlier that morning, my thoughts had been on the major news events of the day having to do with the recent police actions and the protests. Two nights earlier, there had been a new incident in Atlanta where another policeman had shot and killed another black man. That incident was followed up the next night with the burning and destruction of the place when the shooting had taken place. I was still processing new information coming in about all of this since I had been reading the latest updates on the Internet before leaving home. We talked about it a little bit in the car, but left these thoughts behind as we entered the park. But we were to return to these happenings later in the day. I mentioned two spaces in the title of the blog. That is the second Space.

Days of Introspection and Reckoning

It is a time of introspection for me, a time for me to once again confront the possible limitations of my own humanity. This time, my internal conversation is about my latent biases.

I think that those of us who happen to be privileged in some way or the other cannot help but have our own biases. Regardless of whether our parents tried to inculcate the right set of values in us, regardless of whether we were taught that all human beings are the same regardless of our race or background, or creed, people can end up feeling not just different, but maybe even superior. I am probably guilty of that even if my first reaction is to try to deny it.

At this time, my thinking is mainly focused on racism against blacks in America. I want to spend some time thinking about my learning process in this regard. As a young person growing up in India, I was not very knowledgeable about the experience of the African American people. I knew about slavery, and I had read Roots by Alex Haley as a youngster before I came to the United States. I also knew about the civil war and events associated with it. That was probably the extent of my exposure. I remember seeing movies from the USIS that talked about America, but the plight of the former slaves was not one of the topics that was touched upon. Lets admit it, the USIS was mainly peddling in propaganda that only presented the country in a positive light.

Before I came to the United States, I did not know much about the Civil Rights movement. I did not know anything about Jim Crow, or the events of the South in those days, in places like Birmingham, Durham, Selma, etc… I had not heard of the Freedom Riders. My real education on this topic started when I came here in 1980 for my higher studies. I would like to believe that I did not have any inherent biases against people of other races that I interacted with when I arrived as a graduate student. I encountered people from all over the world in the university, and we were all going through the same experiences in the same set of circumstances. But I am not sure now if I am remembering things correctly.

My regular trips from the university where I studied to New York City opened up my eyes a little bit to the black inner-city experience of that time. It was not a very happy introduction. You have to first remember that those times were, in general, especially bad for NYC as a whole. The city was still recovering from near-bankruptcy in the 1970s, and the infrastructure was in real bad shape. Times Square was still a red-light district. There were a lot of homeless people in the city, and they seemed to be mainly black. There were people hanging out in street corners who seemed to be looking for trouble. You had to be careful wherever you went because the city could be a dangerous place. There was graffiti and rubbish everywhere. The place was dirty. I remember being attacked by a bunch of kids one evening on a street near Columbia University. I remember the smelly and graffiti-covered subway cars that I traveled on. Often, there were homeless people sleeping on the cars. But I was young, and I found NYC to be a fascinating place. I used to love to travel on the subway system. I tried to experience every subway line there was, and every destination. I even bought a book about the subway (I think I still have it), and also resolved to cover all of the many lines of the subway system within a 24 hour period. Thank goodness I never attempted that in real life. On a different occasion, I remember being stopped by a plainclothes agent of the law (I was not sure he was an official policeman) for inspection at the Pelham Bay Park station, a terminus, because there had been some incident at some previous station on the line. The person wanted to make sure I was not involved in a crime. He let me go after a few minutes. I loved to wander around Central Park. New York City was my backyard, and I really experienced a lot of what it had to offer to a young person living on a shoestring budget.

One of the things you noticed about New York City was that there are a lot of people who were not well off who actually lived there. This was in spite of the fact that the place was very expensive. In my mind, the white man would commute every weekday morning to the downtown area from his suburban home – for his high paying job some big financial company, in one of the massive skyscrapers that dominated downtown. He would arrive in the morning for his work, and then disappear back to his comfortable suburb as soon as he was done in the evening. Such people were actually scared of the real city, and did not seem to want to have anything to do with it. The downtown areas used to become empty shells in the evening, abandoned by the better-off. The other rich who could afford it would live in the expensive apartment buildings around Central Park. The rest of the people who lived in the city were spread out over the five boroughs, depending on the levels of income, and depending on whether they were able to find a rent-stabilized apartment in a reasonably good neighborhood. Many people lived in high-rise apartment complexes in NYC. The poorer you were, the further away you were from downtown. Some of the apartment complexes in the outer boroughs of NYC looked like remains from a battle-zone. Many seemed to have been abandoned. In some cases, all that was left was what looked like a shell. Some of the buildings had fences around them to prevent them from being using for nefarious activities, like drug dealing. Most of the people who seemed to hang around these spaces seemed to be black. And you could ask yourself why things turned out that way for the blacks who occupied these spaces, and you could reach different conclusions based on your biases, and based on how much real studying you bothered to do about the history of the black people in the USA. That was the way it was in the 1980s for me.

We now live in Montgomery County in Maryland. It is a diverse community overall, and we would like to believe that we are enlightened, but I wonder. In spite of all its affluence, there are pockets of poverty, and places where people need help. People who are well off do not generally wander to these places. I have tried to tell myself that I am one of the enlightened people who understands where people come from, but how can I be so sure. I try to keep up with all aspects of American History these days, not just from the perspective of the White Man, so that I know what I am talking about. I have educated myself about the time of Jim Crow. I have educated myself about the Civil Rights Movement. I learned about the experiences of people of those times who spoke up, people like Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. I have listened to the speeches of MLK. We have watched shows like 13th, and When They See Us by younger film makers like Ava DuVernay. I learned about the workings of police forces all over the country. I learned about the Southern Democrats, and about the Freedom Riders, Birmingham, Selma. I learned about Rosa Parks, and discrimination, and lynching. I learned about the biases and the racism in the system. The white people actually thought they were superior human beings in those days, and, even though they may not admit it, many probably still have a few subconscious biases about this even to today.

And we now arrive at this moment in the history of this country, and the horrible incidents of today. I tell others that in order to understand the situation properly and achieve empathy, you have to study the history that brought us to this point. But now I am not convinced that even this is sufficient. Something more basic has to change. So I continue to try to educate myself about myself even more. Teresa and I watched the videos of Jane Elliot. We realize that there are insidious ways in which we can develop our biases, and it is not just about color. It is not simply a matter of empathy. It is not just a matter of knowing the true story. There is something more basic within oneself that is not good that is just waiting to come out. I realize that I have developed my own biases without really thinking about it. I really need to act with more thought and purpose in each and every moment going forward.

Today, we listen to the many, many, voices, some of them young, providing perspectives on the lives of the black people, especially in the inner cities. Social and news media are, thankfully, providing the outlets for people to speak. And I have hope. There is a significant push back from the black community every time some kind of police-on-black atrocity takes place, and it has become more and more effective. The voices are being heard, and they are voices that speak with a clarity of vision. They speak with reason. And I become a little hopeful that the push back will trigger some real change.

The first major backlash I remember from police on black violence in recent times was after the beating of Rodney King in 1991. The only reason why people knew about the incident was because somebody had made a video recording of it. Similar backlash, and accompanying violence, happened big time most recently in Ferguson, MO, when Michael Brown was murdered by a cop. Many other incidents have happened in the time between Rodney King and Michael Brown. The police officer got off without any punishment in Ferguson, just as has happened countless times in the past every time blacks have been killed by cops. Unfortunately, the focus of the press and others in these situations in the past seemed to be on the violent aftermaths. So, it is a legitimate question to wonder if things could go in a different direction this time.

I do think it is possible! One of the differences is that the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis was so blatant that it is not just the blacks in the community who are outraged and are actively responding. And the response to the murder is happening not just in Minneapolis. It is happening not just in the USA. It is happening everywhere! The press has picked up on the important narrative of racism, injustice, and police violence. The white people in the country are actually joining the marches in large numbers. And the youth of all backgrounds are involved. And it is also multi-generational. And the police have responded in many places with their entire arsenal of military-grade hardware and shown their true colors by using these against the citizens. And every single thing that happens out there is being video-recorded. Every mindless violent act of an out-of-control police officer gets shown to the whole world. I think every reasonable person who sees the official violence has to be angry. And , for a change, social and television media has been very good at amplifying the positive messages coming from the protestors. I hope for something concrete to happen before the momentum fades away.

But a reactive response to the moment is not sufficient. We need fundamental change in our mindset as a society. A band-aid simply will not cut it. It is going to take much more hard work by every single one of us to get a better understanding of our our biases and our racism, and to effect real change. It is not easy.

I want to conclude with a few links that caught my attention.

This is a interview on CNN.
https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2020/06/10/cornel-west-george-floyd-cooper-ac360-vpx.cnn

Here is a blog about the murals that are coming up in Minneapolis in the aftermath of the shooting.
The George Floyd Murals of Minneapolis: A Demand for Justice, Hope and a Better Humanity

There are moments of humanity in the middle of the violence. Here is a nice story.
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/06/06/breonna-taylor-protesters-protected-lone-lmpd-officer/3166914001/

We shall overcome.

From Spring into Summer

I am resolved to get this blog out expeditiously. If not, my current state of mind, which has to do with the weekly visit to the C&O Canal towpath yesterday, will begin to dissipate quickly. If that happens, the resulting blog could take a darker and perhaps more negative turn. The balance will be lost!

The thermostat indicated that it was 63° F outside when we woke up on Sunday morning.  It felt very nice for a change.  This being the tail end of the Spring season, the temperatures outside are trending towards the hotter side. We have even had some days when the use of the air-conditioner was needed. I was even forced to run indoors on the treadmill instead of outside last week because it was too hot.  This Sunday was not one of those days. We opened up the windows early in the morning to let some cool air in. We left home early for our weekly walk on the canal, to try to get there before the crowds descended, and to also hopefully get to walk under cooler conditions.  It turned into a very nice morning on the trail.

The flowers of Spring are mostly gone. There is thick green vegetation all around, including lots of tall grasses. Some mowing and clearing-out of the spaces next to the trail would be useful, but nobody knows when that can happen. Normal park services have not yet resumed completely.undefined

There were plenty of wild strawberries beside the trail! We talked about whether these could be poisonous. Wild strawberries and mock strawberries look very much alike, and can be distinguished by the color of their flowers. There were no flowers to be seen!undefined

There were different kinds of butterflies flying around. Here are a couple of pictures. A few of these butterflies would hang around you for a little while while you were walking.undefinedundefined

The dragonflies and damselflies have also reappeared.undefinedundefined

There were other, less-familiar, insects around. I suspect that if we had come later in day, we might have even been attacked by the gnats that are plentiful in these parts in summer. And after all, summer is officially only a couple of weeks away.

There were a lot of birds making a lot of noise. We thought we encountered call-and-response situations on at least one or two occasions. But I could not get a single picture of the birds, probably because of the dense foliage. Even the egret whose picture we thought we had gotten a few weeks earlier flew away from us.

The parking lot at Edwards Ferry was full. So was the one at Sycamore Landing when we returned after our walk. According to the C&O Canal Trust, there has been an about 50 percent increase in the number of people coming to the park in recent times. We saw both walkers and runners, bikers, a few dogs (running free), and a couple of horses (with people on them).undefined

There were also people in their boats on the river. Some of them were talking quite loudly. We could hear them all the way from the trail, and you could have clearly made out the details of their conversation if you were so inclined.undefined

All in all, we had a good day out in the park.

There has been a lot going on on the political front in our neck of the woods recently. The news from Washington, DC, is even worse than before. The president has finally built his wall, not on the border, but around his fortress (or bunker), a fortress whose boundaries seem to be ever expanding. We have a tinpot dictator doing his worst. Other, cowardly, politicians have willingly abandoned their responsibilities. The protests taking place in the streets of Washington, DC, and in other cities, still continue. It seems like the youth are not going away. We need to find a way to show solidarity, and to help make positive changes happen.

On Fire

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No, we didn’t light it, but we tried to fight it.
..

Billy Joel

Meanwhile, the chaos spreads, the country burns, the flames fanned by our clueless and self-centered leader – the conman!

Pandemic!
COVID-19
Presidential incompetence
Presidential ignorance
Presidential lack of responsibility
Absence of National strategy
Absence of oversight
The blame game
China, WHO
Massive Death count, still increasing
Massive unemployment
Recession
Depression?
Corruption in government
Politics of Stimulus
Poverty
Hunger
Homelessness
Inequality
Prejudice
Social Injustice
Race History
Racial Injustice
Oppression
Broken Justice System
The 13th Amendment
White Privilege
Systemic Violence
Broken Policing system
Police Violence
Inhumanity
Death
Video recordings
Qualified Immunity
Anger
Protest
Agitation
Opportunism
Vandalism
Destruction
Violence
Chaos
Rioting
Sabotage
Crimes
Losing sight of the message!
Policing Strategies
Police training
Crowd Control Techniques
Empathy?
Humanity?
Confrontation
Tension
On The Razor’s Edge
Action and Reaction
Death
The National Guard
The military police
The military
Broken government
Chaotic leadership
Missing leadership
Divisive leadership
Cowardly leadership
Deadly leadership
Tinder for the flames
More Anger
Burn, burn, burn
From Coronavirus to race relations,
Clueless in America

vote, Vote, VOTE, VOTE!

We may not have not have started the fire, we have to try to put it out. We have to come together in Solidarity.

It was heartwarming to see pictures of police and protesters coming together in solidarity in some cities. These are signs of hope.

This morning, it was heartwarming to see a older white lady standing all by herself on the grass near the intersection of Great Seneca Highway and Kentlands Boulevard holding up a sign that said BLACK LIVES MATTER to anybody who cared to turn and look. For some reason, it brings tears to my eyes every time I think of it.

We shall overcome.

Crossing Little Catoctin Creek

Our trip to the C&O Canal last weekend took us further north than usual.  I was trying to find some newer places to visit.  I was also hoping to avoid crowds.  There are more people on the towpath these days.  This could be for a number of reasons. Perhaps folks are tired of being forced to stay indoors (on account of COVID-19) and need an outlet.  Also, the parking lots along the canal that are closer to Washington, DC, have been closed because they are getting crowded. The crowds there are not practicing proper physical distancing.  Perhaps people have been forced further north as a result.  I also believe that the park has, in general, been getting more popular in recent years.

We had to drive north on Interstate-270, through Frederick, to get to the starting point for our walk, which was the parking lot at Lander Lock.  I had been making that drive on I-270 quite frequently during the weekends in the years gone by, but less so in recent times.   Family outings create their own time constraints, and this parking area was a little further away than usual.  There were more cars than I expected when we arrived there.  There were also more people on the trail than we expected, including a lot of bicyclists.  It was not exactly what we had hoped for.

This is the lock house for Lander Lock. Lander Lock is lock 29 on the canal.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first major water crossing of the walk was at the aqueduct across Catoctin Creek.  You can see the Potomac river in the distance in the picture below (taken from the aqueduct itself).  I did not take pictures of the aqueduct itself this time because  I have taken so many of them in the past (including this one).  In fact, I have traveled along this section of the trail in the times even before the reconstruction of the aqueduct.  Perhaps you can also make out the kayak on the shore of the creek, closer to the river, in the picture.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis section of the trail runs next to the railroad tracks.  The next parking area up north is at Brunswick, which is a big switching yard for CSX freight trains.  This morning was relatively quiet as far as railroad traffic was concerned.  We saw just one freight train go by.  There was more activity at the switching yard itself.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFurther north, we had to go down to the level of the Little Catoctin Creek to proceed further along the trail.  The old bridge that previously carried the trail over the creek had been at the level of the trail itself. It was completely destroyed in a flooding episode in May 2018.   (The original culvert for the creek, letting it flow under the canal itself, had been destroyed even earlier on and replaced by the bridge.  The old bridge had been meant as a temporary solution, but had lasted many years.)  The park service has now built a new bridge at the creek level that serves as a temporary crossing of the creek.  This bridge can only be used when the water level is low.  I do not know the schedule for a more permanent solution.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can see the remains of one of the walls of the original culvert in the picture below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere seemed to be many people in the campground next to the trail at Brunswick.  This must have been on account of it being the Memorial Day weekend.  The lock down situation because of the coronavirus has been eased in most parts of Maryland.  We, unfortunately, live in a county where the cases of COVID-19 have not come down significantly, and we have to follow stricter rules closer to home.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFurther north, the trail runs beside the freight yard.  This canal section, between the trail and the freight yard, happens to have water in it.  We saw this parent duck swimming away from us with its ducklings when it heard us coming, trying to take the little ones away from us to safety.  I suspect that the parent is a breeding female long-tailed duck, but I cannot be sure.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trail was getting even more crowded by the time we started making our way back.  There were families heading out to picnic.  This particular family had picked a spot beside the Catoctin creek.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe crowd on the trail made it a less pleasant experience than usual.  The notion of getting away from the crowd by driving away from the city did not seem to work.  We also ran across more people, mainly bikers, who did not seem to understand common courtesy on the trail. Perhaps an earlier start in the day is called for from now on.

In other news, the platform that I use to write these blogs on is changing its editing tools.  The newer tools have a greater level of sophistication, but there is a learning curve involved, and it is also not clear yet how much of the look of the blog I will be forced to change over time.  This is an unexpected challenge, and a distraction that I wish I did not need to navigate past at this point.  In fact, I am having challenges even editing this blog.  I think the tools themselves are still being debugged. We’ll see how it goes over the long run.

My Time along the C&O Canal Thus Far

I started out this blog simply wishing to show some pictures from our last outing on the towpath.  The effort morphed into something else.  I am OK with that.  These days I find that I am more easy-going about such things.  It makes for a less agitated general state of mind, and fits in with the current tagline for the blog – Anything Goes!

I have been making visits to the C&O canal and the towpath regularly since 2005. I try to get there every free weekend, even when the weather is not very cooperative.  The nature of my experience on the canal has changed with time. The initial and middle phases of my travels were periods of discovery of new sections of the canal not too far from home, and then of gradually extending the scope of my coverage of the 184.5 miles of this park space. Reaching Harpers Ferry was a first big milestone for me.   Reaching the town of Hancock further to the northwest was the next major step.  I finally ended up running along the canal just beyond the remains of a town that was called Orleans, west of Hancock.  The further away the location from home, the more time the Sunday morning visit took.  At its extreme, I would drive over an hour to get to a parking lot for the start of a run.  The last stretch of the C&O canal, including the town of Cumberland and the Paw Paw tunnel, were finally conquered only during my bike ride in 2016 from Pittsburgh.

I used cover very short distances along the canal during my initial visits.  I was still learning about the possibilities for exploration along the towpath.  I was also just learning to run on a regular basis.  I actually ran in hiking boots the first few times because I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to run instead of walk.  I did not even have proper running shoes. The effort level and time spent outdoors increased with time.  At its peak, I did a steady 12 miles of running on the towpath every Sunday.   The park became the place where I regained my sanity from the weekday madness. It also became the place of my exploration with the camera.

These travels have become a family affair in recent times. They are joint explorations. We do not run.  Rather, we try to walk briskly. We currently cover between 7 and 8 miles on a regular basis on Sundays. While walking, I try to remember things I saw and experienced in past years, and now it is also about sharing what I have been enjoying for years. That is part of the joy of the experience.  I do miss running, but life is about trade-offs.  The first priority is the joint outing.  I try to run during the week.  During the summer weekdays, I might also take the bike to the towpath.

There is a seasonal pattern to the experience of our visits to the canal. This time of year is mainly about the Spring flowers – which was what I wanted to talk about when I first started writing this blog.  These Spring flowers will all be gone in a short while. Every year, my focus is on capturing the beauty of the flowers while they last. I take the pictures of the same flowers year after year, but the novelty of the experience still remains. The result is perhaps a repetitiveness in the pictures of the flowers that I post in albums and in blogs every year.  That is the way in goes.  Keeping that in mind, today, I will try to only post pictures of flowers that I believe I have not shared in this forum so far this year.

The picture below is of honeysuckle flowers.  These plants are quite widespread along the length of the canal, and the flowers visible everywhere this time of year.  These might more specifically be called Japanese Honeysuckle.This flower below is called Dames Rocket. I used to mistake it for wild Phlox.  It is not as widespread as phlox.This is the time of year for the Rosa Multiflora plants.  They flower late in Spring.  These thorny plants are massively invasive.These are wild phlox.This is most likely Queen Anne Lace. Some time later in the year, all the extensions on which these flowers grow today will come together around a big seed ball in the middle of each cluster. You would not associate the seed ball with this flower if you saw it.The flower below is called Miami Mist. Finding out the names of some of these flowers is sometimes an adventure. I usually try to find a direct reference somewhere on the Internet to the presence of the flower on the canal itself.  In this case, there was none. I had to search further because of this – a more difficult task!  Sometimes I look at pictures of flowers I have taken in past years to try to jog my memory.  I was fortunate to find the flower this time.  The last time I took a picture of it was in 2011.I am almost sure that the flowers in the picture below are Ragworts.  I see them regularly during this season, but I tend to forget the name every year since there are so many flowers in this general shape and color.  These include the sunflower, and the state flower of Maryland, the Black-eyed Susan.  We also have yellow goldenrods this time of year.  Fortunately, they have a very different shape.  But I do tend to mess things up initially!The Buttercups are everywhere at this time.I could not resist this final picture of a buttercup and a rosa multiflora flower next to each other.It is an interesting exercise to think about where flowers of a particular kind are to be seen in greater quantity along the canal.  Some are widespread over the length of the canal, probably because the plants are more invasive than others.  Others are found only in certain places, and in bunches.   Consider the natural processes that carry the seeds of these wild plants from place to place – the wind, water, birds, animals, humans, etc…  Consider the rate at which invasive species of plants spread.   Consider the patterns of spread. Nature is fascinating!

I will end the blog with just the pictures of these flowers.  As usual, there were other things we saw, and other encounters we had, which are also interesting.  I will leave those for another time, and perhaps even another forum – or perhaps it will all remain unsaid.  How is that for saying something about nothing, or is it nothing about something.  Never mind!