The Doldrums of January

A winter storm came through on Sunday. I was determined to get back to the towpath before the storm hit. Too many weekends had passed without my having had the experience. I would go in spite of the very cold morning that was predicted. And I was prepared to go by myself if that was the only way to make it happen.

It was about 15°F (-9.44°C) when I arrived at Rileys Lock very early in the morning.

Because of the cold, I took the concept of layering of clothes to an extreme for this outing. Four layers of clothing protected the chest and the family jewels. Two layers of socks and gloves, and a skullcap and a hoodie protected the extremities.

The first thing I noticed was the new bridge over Seneca Creek at Rileys Lock. A closer look revealed that the bridge was still under construction and was closed off.

I had no option but to head south towards Pennyfield Lock.

It was a dull and grey morning. The sun struggled from behind a thick layer of clouds that portended the coming of the storm later in the day.The water in the canal was freezing in sections because of the cold.The river still flowed freely on the other side of the trail.

The conditions were such that even the little birds flying around the trail did little to raise my level of enthusiasm. Only the colorful cardinals, now clearly visible against the brown of the deleaved plants and trees, managed to draw my attention for an extended period of time. I was not motivated to take pictures, let alone take off my thick outer later of gloves to fiddle with the camera to try to optimize any picture being taken.

Regardless of all my caution, my fingers and toes began to freeze up.

I kept walking along trying to quieten my mind. I only saw one person on the trail during the early part of the walk. His jacket was a shade of blue that caught your attention from far away, especially in the dull brown background. He turned around as I was approaching him and went back the way he had come. I was very surprised to encounter a bicyclist. He came up from behind very quietly when I thought was the only one on the trail. I might have been singing before he warned me of his presence and passed me by.

I was able to eventually internalize and mentally adapt to the cold. I reached Pennyfield Lock and kept walking past the landmark. The place could have served as a milestone to use to turn back to return to my car. My thought when I had left home that morning was that I would see how it felt walking in the cold, and turn back the moment I felt that I was on a fool’s errand and was putting myself in some danger. At that point many of my fingers were still partially numb. Some had reached an intermediate state of pain which I think had to do with the pressure on the blood vessels as they attempted to open up in my fingers. It was actually usually a good sign. I could manage, even if my extremities were not in a completely good state. I had experience with the situation and knew how bad it would get. It also helped that there was no breeze at that point. I still could feel my nose.

It was a little bit after I passed Pennyfield lock that I decided that I would try to cover about 8 miles. It felt doable. I was comfortable.

I turned back at the point where the trail ran next to the cliffs before Swains Lock. I began to encounter more people on the way back to Rileys Lock. As I was not getting good opportunities for taking pictures, the camera went back into the backpack. I decided to start jogging. It was simply something that I felt like doing at that moment. There was no planning involved.

It was a different experience once I started jogging. First of all, the movement and the rhythm of the breathing came easy even though I had not run on the trail for probably a few years. I could keep going, and the going was easy. Perhaps it was due to the fact that I had done some jogging on the treadmill earlier in the week.

And then something magical began to happen. The blood began to flow through to my extremities more freely. I could feel it. The frozen feeling began to vanish slowly, although painfully. Before long, my fingers and toes were feeling fine and I had found a rhythm on the trail. It was a rhythm that I thought I could manage forever. The miles were passing by effortlessly.

It was about 19°F by the time I got back to the car. I was not feeling the cold in the least bit!

It started snowing in the afternoon.

Once You Get Started (11/22/2014)

An oldie….

The time was the early 1970s. We had already moved to the last house that we were to occupy during our stay on the beautiful IIT Madras campus.  My cousin had also moved in with us, into our home at B-8 Delhi Avenue, near the Shopping Center and the Staff Club.

It was a beautiful place.  There was greenery all around us. There were trees all around our home.  There were the woods in front of the house.  We had a beautiful garden.  Although I did not appreciate it at that innocent age, it was an idyllic set of conditions on campus.  Life was good.  We grew up in a happy set of circumstances. We made friendships that have lasted a lifetime.

But those days must have also been a major displacement for my cousin, with his parents and brother having moved to the United States, and with his having to move in with us on the IIT campus.  Thank goodness that he also had lots of friends from the neighborhood and from school.  He managed without complaining in spite of having to share a room with me, a most immature person with his own teenage issues.  (Although I am no longer a teenager, I wonder how much of that immaturity still follows me.)

One of the things I remember from those young days was the fact that my cousin used to get “things” from his parents in the US.  Since I was into music, I appreciated sharing the little Mitsubishi combination Cassette player/shortwave radio that his dad had sent him.  (I remember tinkering with the device and even connecting it to the amplifier that I had made at home.)  I remember that my uncle also brought some music for me to listen to, including cassettes of the latest music from Neil Diamond and Led Zeppelin.  But the one thing that subconsciously impacted me the most was probably the cassette tape he brought back with a recording of music from radio stations in the US.  The tape was most likely put together by my cousin’s brother.  I listened to this music over and over again and it got ingrained in my brain.  Later on in life I heard some of this music with a warm sense of familiarity.  It took me back to a happy place.

Fast forward to the year 2014…  As a middle-aged parent of two wonderful girls who have tackled the teenage years of their own lives with aplomb, as a person dealing with the issues that are typical of middle-age, I still find myself listening to the music of the 70s.    An extended exercise regime that I have taken up (to address at least one of my middle-age issues) has brought me to the treadmill in the basement of our home on a regular basis.  While on the treadmill, I end up listening to 1970s music playing on one of those music channels I get via my TV service provider.  The 70s channel playlist includes all kinds of songs that take me back.  Then there was this moment a few days ago when I heard this song that I had not heard for very a long time.  The memory cells were awakened in some long-forgotten corner of my brain.  It was a song from the cassette tape that my uncle had given us a long time ago!  I was back in an old forgotten place.  I made sure I remembered the name of the song as it flashed on the TV screen while I was running.

Later on, in front of the computer monitor, I listened to the song once again. (Youtube is a wonderful thing!)   I realized that the song that I was listening to was not in a style of music that I spend too much time with, but I also realized that I was listening to something that was unique and notable.  I was listening to 70s funk music in its purest and most raw form.  And the nature of this song was something unique, something that had caused little details to get stuck in the back of my head even though I had paid little attention to any of it.   The video also reminded me about how times change, and how music changes with the times, about how styles change with the times, to the extent that we might even forget some of the unique stuff that we grew up with.   I have a feeling that most of the folks that I am sending this e-mail to have no exposure at all to the kind of music I am talking about in this particular instance, but I am going to share the music anyway, in the hopes that at least one person will appreciate it.  I am sending this e-mail to people in different age groups, and I am curious as to the age group of the people/person who is most likely to react to this.  Or perhaps I am in a place of my own and nobody else cares.  It does not matter. The song is “Once you get started” by Rufus and Chaka Khan.

Dig that funky music!  Dig that far-out keyboard riff!  Dig that awesome bass guitar line!  Dig those bell-bottoms!

Here is a picture I took during a walk that weekend in 2014! It was a time during which a bunch of friends used to join us for these walks. Alas, that does not happen any more.

Drat, Double Drat, and Triple Drat!

I was hoping to get back to our regular Sunday morning walk routine today. We had already gone two weekends without this outing, and I felt the need to get back to the outdoors. Winter was calling me. The snowfalls during the last week would have made for an amazing and very different exploration of the woods and its denizens. The trails would hopefully be lightly tread this soon after the storms so that one would be crunching ones way over untouched snow on the virgin trail. These dreams were quickly shattered. A quick look at the weather forecast when we woke up revealed predictions of icy precipitation for the next few hours. We changed our plans. Drat that!

I did discover that this state of affairs created a great opportunity for me to take pictures of a brilliant sunrise from our bedroom window. I would not have noticed the developing situation if I had been otherwise occupied.I have been taking pictures of the sunrise from our bedroom window more often this winter, after the replacement of the blinds on our bedroom window this summer by curtains which are easier to move out of the way.

And then, when I went to a window at back of the house, this is what I saw.It was a perfect rainbow. And the rainbow stayed up for a long time.

The colors of the rainbow were very distinct. I was however unsuccessful in taking a good picture of the separated colors because of my inability to focus on the colors when I zoomed in.There has been an added element of uncertainty, and perhaps a little bit of chaos, in events of the last week. I have not been able to see an Endodontist yet because of a positive COVID test result in the family, one that also resulted in the cancellation of an international trip that was supposed to take place last week. Plans are being adjusted on the fly. Triple Drat!

A Painful Passage Of Time

The toothache was first felt during the night of 29th December. I was experiencing short and very intense periods of pain between extended periods of normalcy. Although I could make it through the periods of pain, I felt that the situation merited my seeing the dentist ASAP. Who knows what was going on in my mouth! I tried to set up an appointment but could not get through to anybody at the dentist’s office. Turned out it was closed until January 2nd.

I decided that I did not want to declare a full emergency and that I would bear the pain until January 2nd. Methods for handling the pain were researched and suggested – and tried. There was only temporary relief.

The weekend passed. January 2nd arrived. It was snowing when we woke up – our first snow storm of the season. Snow was accumulating on the ground. There was the chance that the doctor would not open his office under these conditions. And how would I even get to the office if it was still snowing and the road conditions were bad. There was the possibility of my not being able to see the dentist.

Fortunately, the office was open in spite of the weather. I decided that there were some limits to how much pain I would bear. I drove to the office even though the conditions were not ideal. The local road had not been plowed, and the main roads were still slushy. (I had even considered walking to the office if the driving conditions were too bad.)

The dentist was unable to isolate the source of the pain I am feeling. He has recommended that I see an Endodontist. He prescribed some medicine to try to make the pain more tolerable in the meantime.

Meanwhile, the endodontist’s office is not picking up the phone and has not responded to my email…

The story continues. Life goes on. I suspect that there is a Root Canal procedure in my future.

Some Quiet Time

Seems like I have been unable to get some quiet time recently to allow me to wander off into the maze of the inner woods of my mind. Is there a path to some knowable destination in these woods? Nobody knows!

This poem resonated with me this morning.

As part of a happily discovered unexpected moment of introspection this morning, I was looking back at the number of times I have mentioned the coronavirus in my blogs the last couple of years. I was surprised at myself. It is everywhere!

At the very beginning of this particular trial by disease for humanity, I had mentioned that COVID was something that primarily impacted only our own species. The rest of this planet of ours continues on its (perhaps) merry way just like it always did, surviving despite all of the stupidity of its human inhabitants. I thought that there would be some comfort in that knowledge. Turns out that this is not the case. We have designed ourselves to worry and be concerned about primarily ourselves.

The reality that we have built for ourselves as human beings makes us all interconnected in these worries in ways that would have never even been imagined a few hundred years ago. In both good and bad ways.

We complete the metaphorical circle every year and most often come back to our starting point when it comes to human relations – the new year becomes merely a marker of the passage of time and the increase of entropy, and not the change that we profess to believe in, and perhaps may also wish to rededicate ourselves to.

I wonder what it will take for us to really remember that we are only the inhabitants of a Pale Blue Dot in the Universe, and that we are only one of the many.

The Windmills of my mind!

Its Just Another Day

I hate to admit it, but I do have the Monday Morning Blues today. The worries/annoyances have risen to the surface – Omicron, Build Back Better, stock market, etc.. The microwave oven happened to breathe its last yesterday. It has to be fixed before the rest of the family arrives for the Christmas holiday. The laundry and the groceries have to be done. It is colder than usual this morning, and the Reynauds is always there in the background. I think I can find plenty of stuff to get worked up about if I put my mind to it!😄

The conditions for our Sunday morning walk yesterday were not ideal. Although the temperature was supposed to be in the 40s – not too bad – it was cloudy, and there was a breeze coming through. There was the promise of the sunshine that was to come later in the day, with the blue sky poking through the clouds in the distance, but that did not do anything to help us feel warmer on the trail that time of the morning. My fingers never warmed up in spite of the 7 mile walk.

There were a couple of exciting sightings during the walk. The red-shouldered hawk settled on a branch just above the trail and sat there while I took its pictures. We were close to Swains Lock when that happened.

The bird eventually became shy and turned its head the other way.

We also saw a nest on the other side of the river with a couple of bald eagles in it. Their season for nesting is beginning. We have to thank the birders – a small group of older women – whose actions in the distance on the trail gave us a clue about the presence of the nest. (They also identified the red-shouldered hawk for us when we saw it the first time.)

Its just another day.

A Morning For The Freight Trains

We walked to the town of Brunswick and its big marshalling yard for the CSX railroad last Sunday. We encountered the freight trains well before we got there.

We were still driving from home towards the parking lot at Lander Lock, the starting point of our walk, when, at Dickerson, I sighted the rear-end of the freight train crossing the bridge over the road. The train was headed towards the bridge at the Monocacy river. When we reached Point Of Rocks about 10 to 15 minutes later, we saw the same train running on the tracks parallel to the road we were on. We then landed up at Lander Lock another 10 to 15 minutes later just as the same train was passing by. We had to stop at the railroad crossing to let it go by before proceeding to the parking lot.

It was in the 30s when we started our walk from next to the lock house.

It was the Sycamore trees that drew my attention early in the walk. One wonders if I ever will tire of their majesty?!

The first stop was Catoctin Aqueduct. You can see how low the sun was in the sky from this picture that was taken from the walkway on one side of the aqueduct.

We could hear the activity in the railroad yard even before we crossed Little Catoctin Creek a little later.We had to go down to the level of the creek to cross the creek. The original culvert over the canal was destroyed in a storm in May 2018 and has still not been replaced.

Little Catoctin Creek is located near the eastern end of the Brunswick railroad yard. The first thing we noticed was the back-and-forth shunting activity going on with a locomotive consist of three engines attached to a number of freight cars carrying containers with J. B. Hunt logos on their sides. (We originally mistook them for containers carrying ketchup and other tomato products!🤨)

The railroad yard was, as usual, full of freight cars dispersed over the different tracks. You could see and hear the occasional locomotive located behind the carriages on the tracks closer to the trail. There is a background rumbling sound of the locomotives at rest, and the occasional creaking and clanging of metal when freight cars are being moved around, when you are walking in this area.

This is a picture from the trail beside the yard.The sky was absolutely clear! This part of the towpath has actually been converted to a gravel road that people can drive on to get to a privately owned family campsite next to the river.

The distance we covered during the walk was a little more than what we usually tackle. The Brunswick parking lot for the towpath was slightly further away than what I had expected. I took some additional time to walk the extra distance on my own, looping back on the road next to the railroad yard to get back to the trail. This is a picture of the Maryland Route 17 bridge at Brunswick taken during that part of the walk.There were a couple of trains parked on the tracks at the far end of the yard.I see trains at this location almost every time I pass by on the road. (You can actually see these trains on the other side of the bridge if you open up the picture of the bridge!)

As we were departing the area of the railroad yard on our way back to Lander Lock, the train that we had seen moving about in the yard let out three blasts of its horn (similar to this sound) and started moving in our direction. It was still moving quite slowly, still picking up speed, when the locomotives passed us by. The train consist itself was much longer than the J. B. Hunt set of container cars that we had originally seen. With its over 160 varied freight cars, it was long enough (and slow enough!) that we even reached the Catoctin Aqueduct on foot on the trail before the train fully passed us by!

We made a stop at the Rocky Point Creamery on our drive back home to pick up some ice cream. We have driven past this place for many years, and this is the first time we stopped to investigate further. The ice cream remains to be consumed at this point in time!

The Webb Space Telescope Will Rewrite Cosmic History. If It Works.: Quanta Magazine

Collage illustration showing the Webb telescope as a blossoming flower surrounded by stars, galaxies, planets and constellations.

Image from Quanta Magazine

Until I read this article, I did not recognize how much the study of Cosmology and the history of the Universe is still in its infancy. There can be theories about the nature of the Universe, and about how things came to be, but, at the same time, it gets more and more difficult to establish the facts about time closer to the Big Bang through observations. With newer tools, newer discoveries are being made with fair regularity. Many of these discoveries have happened during my lifetime, but I have failed to recognize their significance, for example, the discovery of the existence of exoplanets on other galaxies, the fact that the Universe is not in a steady state and is growing in size, etc… Since I am not an expert in the field, I have the tendency to take things for granted.

If the James Webb Telescope works, we will be able to see earlier into the life of the Universe than ever before. Read the article to understand the details. Energy is still reaching us from earlier on in time from the farthest reaches of the Universe. We just need to be able to detect it with our tools. We still do not have the capability to see things that are close to the Big Bang. Hubble revealed a lot about the early Universe. Hopefully this telescope gets us even closer. This is fascinating stuff.

The article talks about the long developmental history of the telescope, and about its design and the nature of its operation. The challenges include design of this large piece of equipment so that it can be launched into space by rockets of today, a design that can detect extremely low levels of energy from distant galaxies, etc… This is probably the most sophisticated and precise instrument that has ever been built by human hands. Its cost approaches 10 billion dollars, about the cost of building the US Navy’s aircraft carriers today. If even one element of the implementation and deployment goes wrong, we have a problem that would be very difficult to recover from. When deployed about 1 million miles out in space, there is no physical access to the telescope. (That was a lifeline we had with the Hubble telescope.) This is the cost of discovery today.

The first possible launch date for the James Webb telescope is December 22nd of this year. The telescope is in Kourou, French Guiana, at the Ariane launch site. It has been fueled up..

It is a long article, but well worth it, I thought…

This is a video from the the article.

In My Life With The Beatles

The Beatles have been in my life forever, it seems.

I have told this story before – perhaps it is only a myth – about the time when I was a baby – a mere toddler – when I used to dance to the Beatles (why am I thinking Twist and Shout?!) playing on the radio. I must have been one or two years old and we were in the US for a short while, before returning to India.

Then there was the time we got the new stereo system in our home in Chennai. I got my proper introduction to the boys.

It was all brought back to mind by Get Back, the new Peter Jackson documentary about the Beatles that is now available on the Disney Streaming Channel. The documentary is about the making of the last album that The Beatles produced, Let It Be. This documentary is probably only for the diehard Beatles fans. It is in three parts, and it is quite long. It is basically a collection of videos captured (officially!) during the recording of Let It Be. The documentary has no commentary. It basically shows the hard work that goes into the whole process of creating a new album. It captures the setting for the rehearsals and recordings, including the personalities, the egos, the interactions, the conflicts, the brilliance, the playfulness, the creative process, etc.. of the Fab 4. The documentary is raw, and often seems to be repetitive, in its presentation. It looked like a train-wreck about to happen, but it all came together somehow. There was a lot that was happening.

And then there is the book that I am reading – In Their Lives. It is an anthology of essays from twenty-nine people, recognized in their fields, talking about their favorite Beatles songs.

All of this inspired me to listen to Abbey Road once again after a very long time and rediscover this brilliant piece of work.

It feels like the Beatles have been in my life all my life.