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!

 

Dear World, We Are So Sorry

Dear World,

We are so sorry we cannot cooperate and work with the rest of you in this time of the COVID-19 crisis.  This is because, unfortunately, our government has broken down and become completely dysfunctional.  In the past, in times of disasters, we were happy to take on a leadership role – to help with the direction and coordination, to provide support and assistance to the rest of the world as needed.   With our outstanding capabilities in science, medicine, and technology, with our robust government structures, and with our access to plentiful resources, we used to be well positioned to respond when needed.

But times have changed.  We have a big mess on our hands over here right now.  It looks like we cannot even take care of ourselves properly.  Our leaders have no idea what leading means, even within the context of our own country.  The president is missing in action.  We have set out on a destructive path that will lead to people dying in large numbers.

We are incapable of coming up with any kind of real plan to tackle the coronavirus.  Instead of doing the hard work that is needed on so many different fronts to fight the fight, the career conman who is in charge is engaged in preening and self-aggrandizement, and in trying to find ways to get a leg up in the coming elections. There is not a concern for the fact that too many people are dying.   They are collateral damage.  Bluster and bombast and outright lies rule the day.  Inputs from scientists and doctors are being ignored in policy decisions.  The apparatus of the government bureaucracy that has been so effective in the past has been damaged in a bad way.  Politically appointed hacks and yes-men, many unqualified, rule the roost, and they run amok playing their games for the benefit of our master of the con game. There is also nepotism going on at the highest level. It would be comical if it were not so sad.  There is no going back for the next few months.  It is a complete disaster.

Dear World, I hope you now better understand why we are unable to work with you.  In fact, our leader has made it clear that he is not interested in cooperation with any of you in any real sense.  Also, quite clearly, many of you are doing a much, much, better job than us in handling the pandemic.  I know that all of you are getting restless with the current situation – just like those of us here in the USA.  How much of social distancing can one take?  You want to break out of isolation, engage with other human beings person-to-person, and get on with life like it used to be. Please keep the faith and do what is right for humanity.  Know that many of us in the US are being quite reckless in our behaviors in this regard, unfortunately often at the prompting of our supreme leader and his minions. It is definitely resulting in a death toll that is unprecedented in recent times.

I would guess that even after all of you have managed to get this contagion under some kind of control, we will still be scrambling – flailing in various directions, wasting our time and energies, fighting. Many will probably still be dying.  There is no common strategy or set of rules in our country to handle the situation.  At some point in time, I expect that neighboring states that have different approaches to handling the pandemic could even end up tussling with each other in order to make sure that their own borders are protected from contagion.  Fissures have even developed within state boundaries. These are, in fact, encouraged by our great leader, the “stable genius”. In fact, even after you guys open up your economies and your borders, you are going to have to watch out for us.  We are not likely to be as prepared as you are.  We may be in a position to cause further worldwide damage.

Do not worry about us.  I will admit that the situation is scary, and somehow seems unreal, but we will manage. The mortality rate with this virus being what it is, many of us will still survive in spite of the astounding overall stupidity. People who believe in the science are themselves trying to be careful. We also have some sensible governors.  And the percentages are still relatively low.

We are OK.  One does not have to dwell on the absurdity of the situation all the time.  We can compartmentalize things in the mind.  Other aspects of life still go on.   For example, there is interesting news on the space exploration front.  Did you know that SpaceX and NASA are scheduled to jointly launch the first manned US space flight since 2011 this month?  The two-member crew entered pre-flight quarantine (standard operation procedure as I understand it) yesterday. 

On a personal note, it was warm enough for me to go running outside the house yesterday.  Did so for the first time this year.  I had been using the treadmill thus far.  Covered 6 miles, and I felt great. It was certainly an endorphin high!  There was also less traffic on the road. I think I must have also been breathing cleaner air.

Before I end, I would be remiss not to mention, once again,  the major positive that has come out of all of this, which is the response of the many citizens on the front lines who are doing their jobs and protecting the rest of us, all of this while the national leadership flounders. People are stepping up to help others.  Citizenship includes working for the common good.

Dear World, some day, after a vaccine is developed, we can join you guys in closer fellowship.  Or perhaps the elections will allow us to bring some sense to the conversation more quickly.  This too shall pass.  In the meantime, we would not blame you, the rest of the world, if you felt it essential for your own safety to maintain a travel ban to and from the USA for a longer period of time than expected.  That would be sad for those of us who have very close connections all over the world, but some of us would understand.

Once again, sorry for our mess, and sorry that we cannot work with the rest of you. We have our own battles to fight.  We wish you all the best.

With you in solidarity during these troubled times.

Escape to the Canal

It was very cold when we awoke Sunday morning.  Who would have imagined temperatures like 38° F during the middle of the month of May.  It seems like the weather has also gone mad! Thankfully, it warmed up as the morning went by.

We drove to Sycamore Landing for our walk along the canal.  It seems that the parks have been getting more crowded in recent days, as people try to find a place to go to get away from being cooped up inside the house.  The parking lots for the canal that are closer to the city have been closed because of the crowds that have emerged, crowds that do not practice safe distancing in this time of the COVID-19.  Sycamore Landing is off the beaten path, and it is also relatively close to home.  Hence this choice of destination.

Our wish for a less crowded destination was fulfilled.  We pulled into an empty parking lot shortly before 9:00am.

It had been two weeks since our previous walk on the towpath.  It felt nice to be back.  I let the tensions of everyday life slowly depart as we walked north towards Edwards Ferry.

The green has taken over the browns of winter in the woods.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was not long into the walk before we spotted a bright blue bird flying across the trail in front of us.  This was a bird that we do not normally see on the towpath.  The color stood out amidst the green of the forest. The vibrance of its color was similar to the vibrance of the color of the cardinal, a bird that is more common in these parts.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne was curious as to the nature of the bird.  I guessed that this was a male bluebird during its mating season.  I was wrong!   Later that day, we had a phone call with the kids on account of Mothers’ Day.  I shared this picture with them.  Jesse was quick to research this, even while we were talking.  The bird in the picture above is called an Indigo Bunting.  I do not recall having seen one of these before.

About a mile into our walk, we came across this fallen tree blocking the trail.  It was quite massive.  It was quite tricky for the bikers to carry their bikes across.  We sneaked across between the two branches of the tree without hurting ourselves!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFurther along the trail, we came across some deer that were hanging out.  These two appear to be having a conversation about the approaching humans.  If you look carefully at the picture, you might also notice the cardinal (out of focus) on the trail in front of the deer.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe woods along the C&O canal are infested with a plant called garlic mustard.  They are massively invasive, and show up once in two years.  We have been seeing these plants during all our walks along the canal this year.  Three or four years ago, I even took part in a cleanup effort along the towpath at a place called Carderock.  I think controlling the spread of these plants is a losing effort.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is shot of the flowers of garlic mustard.  This was part of my experimentation with the zoom lens to see if I could capture a picture which looked like one taken with a macro lens, i.e, taken with a lens that allowed you to take a picture from very close to the subject matter.  At the time that I was taking this picture, I did not realize that there was an insect nectaring on the flowers.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFurther along, we came across this Great Egret that took off at our approach.  We saw it flying over the trees further along the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe finally came across a real Eastern Bluebird.  It kept flying ahead of us for some time.  It would land on a tree, wait for me to get closer with the camera, and then take off once again.  It think it got tired of playing games after a while.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs usual, the air was filled with the sounds of the birds, occasionally mixed with those from the scurrying squirrels.  There are certain sections of the trail where the birds are more plentiful.  The woodpeckers, in general, make a very guttural sound.  The trees can vibrate quite loudly when some of the woodpeckers hammer on their trunks.  The woodpecker in the picture below is most likely a red bellied woodpecker.  It was escaping into the upper branches.  In general, these birds have a tendency to go to the other side of the branch or tree trunk when I approach with my camera.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were many flowers beside the trail as we approached Edwards Ferry.

These are buttercups.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese are fleabanes.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI myself did not walk all the way up to the river since I was busy changing the lens on the camera.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe parking lot at Edwards Ferry was quite full.

On our way back I stopped to take pictures of these turtles sitting out in the sun.  This was the only place where we saw turtles.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis green heron was fishing in the canal further along the trail.  We managed to distract it from what it was doing.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe rest of the walk was completed with a renewed sense of purpose.  We picked up speed in spite of the distractions of the park.  We completed the walk in a reasonable amount of time.  There were only a couple of cars in the parking lot by the time we got back shortly after 11am.

We did some shopping on our way home.  Then it was time to recuperate and rejuvenate.  I usually try to do that by taking a good nap!

Passages of Time – Let the Music Play on (8/1/2014)

This is a letter I sent to my former high school classmates in 2014.  I studied at a school called Central School, or Kendriya Vidyalaya (KV), in Chennai (formerly Madras) in India.

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“On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are how fragile we are

It feels like life in recent times has been particularly eventful for me, especially in the context of deaths of people that I have known one way or the other. Starting with my sister’s father-in-law’s death towards the end of last year, and continuing with my own father-in-law’s death while we were in India, including a good friend’s mother’s death around the time of my FIL’s passing away , and continuing with the recent news of the passing of PN Sreeniwas, and the latest – the death of a parishioner in our church a few days ago.  (She had been very a very active person in social outreach programs and was actually younger than me – a tragic loss.)  We did also lose a member of our acapella chorus to cancer earlier this year.  He was also younger than me.  There have been others.  I will mention Suma’s dad in particular even though I did not know him.  Ramu also lost his dad not too long ago.  We have lost a few other former teachers from KV recently.  We are at that age where our elders who are still in this world are in the end-game of their lives, and we ourselves happen to be vulnerable to the ravages of middle-age.  Cancer appears to be a common scourge.  While we mourn all the good people that we have lost, we perhaps also cannot help wondering how vulnerable we ourselves are, perhaps even feeling that we have become more vulnerable with the passage of time.

But we also know that death is simply an unavoidable component of the pattern of life. It is the nature of life that there is death at the end of it. One does not make sense without the other. The body does deteriorate with time even if the spirit may not.  We might find ways to extend our lives, but the end is inevitable.  Is there a reason to get depressed about all of this? Can we afford to be afraid of our destinies?  If it is inevitable, what is the point in worrying?  Should we not simply focus on taking care of things today?  Should we not straighten out our relationships with the world today?  We should not postpone things – because the tomorrow that you are waiting for may never come.  We could celebrate each day as if it might be our last, and find a way to ignore what is irrelevant in this regard.  For me to try to keep this kind of a perspective is difficult, but I must try.

Other than the cycle of life and death, I have found other ways of marking the passage of time in my life.   In my own case, I am very aware of how quickly the world is changing around me. Because of my overall background, it is the rapid development and use of new technologies for communication and entertainment that I particularly think about.  The rate of change is amazing even to me.  But the experiences in life that I identify with most, as far as marking the passage of time is concerned, have to do with the popular music of the times.   When a piece of music plays, my brain automatically tends to identify it with a period of time in my life.  Getting back to childhood, I have some very faint memory of my mom noting some music from the Beatles even when I was very very young (we must have just returned from our stay in the US).  During the period of life that includes my teenage years, I usually listened to contemporary music.  It was the music of Hindi movies that my mom played and sang to on the radio. And it was the English music that was locally broadcast, and which also came from far off countries and continents over the shortwave frequencies.  I was a child of the music of the 60s and 70s, and it will always remain that way.

My dad bought us a stereo system at home at some point, and I ended up buying music on vinyl from a store on Mount Road regularly.  (Anyone remember The Bay City Rollers?  In hindsight, their music was not very good. (sample)) The 80s came by, and I was a graduate student at Stony Brook before I started working in New Jersey. I ended up collecting older music in the CD format that was becoming popular at that time, while still continuing to listen to contemporary 80s music, both pop and rock, mostly on the radio. In general, there is less music from this era that brings that feeling of warmth, but there is still good music to be found and even bought (sample).  The 90’s rolled by, and by this time, I begin to feel like I was becoming dated.  There was less music that I could identify with, but, as a part of a continuing process that had started earlier on, I was getting more into the older music of a time before I was born.  I was getting more exposure to the original music of America – mostly jazz and the blues. Our kids are born during this period of time, and they spend their life listening to daddy’s music.

While I do get to listen to the music of the 21st century on occasion these days (when the kids turn on the radio and I am not in control), I do not go looking for it, and I do not quite identify with it.

But I am getting older, and nostalgia is only a matter of time.  The music that was once rejected has now become more familiar, and is capable of putting me in that unique frame of mind that comes with listening to some of my other older pieces of music.   I am not prepared yet to admit that the pop music of the 80s was anything more than atrocious, but I am enjoying it (perhaps in the same manner that I enjoy some of the atrocious music of the 70s).  It certainly makes me happy when I am exercising on the treadmill or cooking in the kitchen, and it also reminds me of a period of time in my life.  Time has passed, and I have changed.

I don’t know if I will live long enough to enjoy the music of the 90s. If and when that happens, it will be another milestone, another marker, for the passage of time in my life.  But it does not matter whether that happens or not.  I have to enjoy the music today.  Let the music play on.

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Astronaut Leland Melvin reads “The Chilean Forest” by Pablo Neruda

via Astronaut Leland Melvin reads “The Chilean Forest” by Pablo Neruda on Vimeo

You can access the text being read out by following this link to the particular article in Brain Pickings.

One does not even have to go as far away as Chile to experience these kinds of emotions.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPerhaps it is time for me to get back on my bike and ride!.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPS.  These pictures are not new.  They have appeared in previous blogs.

 

Making a Bad Situation Worse

It was a depressing morning.  The news is not that good these days.  And it was raining.  And it is still raining steadily outside as I edit this blog in the afternoon.  It feels damp and nasty.  You feel like nothing good can happen on a day like today.

I went out early in the morning to the grocery store, just after it had opened. I thought that I had the crowd beaten, especially since the store was supposed to be open only for people above a certain age.  Instead, I found a line of customers already waiting to enter. The inside of the store was also more crowded than I had expected.  Folks, in masks, were gamely trying practice physical distancing as they did their shopping.  It was so crowded that I even managed to crash my cart into another person’s at a busy intersection!

I feel depressed because of the way things are going in our country related to the pandemic.  I feel we are headed towards a medical disaster.  We are already setting records in terms of the numbers of people infected by the coronavirus, and also the dying.  We are Number 1 in a bad sense.   We don’t seem to recognize the irony of one of the most advanced nations on earth faring the worst when dealing with the pandemic.  Politics leads rather than science, and we are totally inept when it comes to acting in a united way as a nation.  And the pandemic is revealing all our flaws rather than high-lighting the positive attributes. One of the great positives is the way some of our citizens have come out to do the front-line work in dealing with this pandemic.  People are traveling across the state lines to be of assistance to others.  Surely our leaders owe them much more than their current efforts, helping them rather than making their work, and their lives, more difficult.

We are still in the middle of the battle.  Even as the numbers of the victims of the contagion increase, and even as we continue to break records (in a very bad way), some of our leaders, some even in charge of places with high risk factors, are ready to declare victory and open up places to business as usual. Some are even willing to call our response to the pandemic so far a great success story.  (Statements like these are almost Orwellian in nature.)  In reality, our chaotic and confusing approach to confronting the pandemic is only going to increase the time we have with this disease, and also increase the numbers of the dead.  It does not seem to matter to the reckless leaders.  If you are fortunate, you live in a state with a sensible leader.  Other leaders play with the lives of the people.  You can also forget about national leadership in the present situation.

I expect that it will take a while for the world to recover from the pandemic.  Life will not be the same for many people after the worst of the disease is over, even if some leaders promote the idea of a quick and complete recovery.  It is a high stakes con game that is going on.

Encounter With An Egret

It happened as we were walking last Sunday from Whites Ferry towards Edwards Ferry.  In the distance, we spotted something distinctly white moving over the water of the canal.  On the trail, in the vicinity of this white figure, was a couple walking their tiny dogs.  They had obviously scared this creature from the bed of the canal.

The white creature was an egret.  It flew straight up onto the branch of a tree on the other side of the canal and settled there.  It stayed there as we approached.  I was able to take pictures as we walked by.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe egret was still there on our way back to Whites Ferry.  This time, the egret was in the canal bed.  Every time we approached it, it would get up and fly off further down the canal.  I have great difficulty taking pictures of flying birds that are closer to me, especially with a zoom lens on the camera.  These might have come out OK.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe bird finally settled down for a long enough time for me to get its picture.  It was a majestic pose that it struck.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was only later, when I looked at the pictures I had taken more carefully, that I noticed the green patch around the eyes.  I looked it up on the Internet.  This kind of egret is called a Great Egret (or Great White Egret).

This was just one encounter from another fine morning on the canal.

I had posted one of the pictures I had taken a few weeks earlier in a family social media group that I am a part of.  It was a picture of the wren singing on a dead tree trunk. An aunt of mine, who is a college English teacher, responded, putting forth the following quote from William Wordsworth.

Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.

I do not know the context of the quote, but I do find it a worthy sentiment.  If such supernatural capability can be attributed to Nature, I would consider myself blessed many times over.