The Cicadas In Full Force

The Cicadas seem to have ramped up their numbers and activity these days. It got so loud one afternoon that we could not even follow the conversations on the TV show that we were watching in the living room with the patio door open. We had to close the door! The trees in the backyard and in the front are full of these creatures. This is how it sounded one afternoon from the deck.

If you look at a capture of the volume levels for the above audio recording (processed using an app called Audacity), it looks like this!There is a real pattern here. They are actually communicating in their own way.

There are dead cicadas all over the ground in the outdoors these days, anywhere you walk. It is difficult to avoid stepping on them. The birds must be having a feast. You can hear the cicadas buzzing in the air, and watch them flying all over the place. You may even get hit by a cicada every once in a while if you are outside for a long time. While there can be a somewhat panicky reaction when this happens, with some frenzied flapping of the hand(s) where you thought the insect made contact with you, they are actually quite harmless!

We continued to experience the presence of the cicadas during for our walk from Edwards Ferry last weekend. Here is a picture of one of them.This is also the time for dragonflies and butterflies. Here are some pictures. We saw a few different kinds of dragonflies, but I had a difficult time getting them in a position where they could be photographed properly. I was successful with this Common Whitetail male.

You can see two Cabbage White butterflies in the picture below.

This is a a Question Mark butterfly. As you can see, I had to be happy with getting a picture from a significant distance away.

The picture below is of a Northern Pearly Eye butterfly on the trail. It might be sitting on the remains of a dead field mouse. That was the conclusion I drew when looking at the rest of what lay around it. Interestingly enough, we saw a couple of dead frogs on on the trail. The sight was surprising enough for me to give a yelp and leap into the air on one occasion to avoid stepping on it.

Here are a few of the newer flowers this year.

This is the flower of what seems to be a somewhat common weed. It is easy to miss because the plant is very small, and I did not realize how common it was until looked around more carefully this year. I have seen it in other, very different, locations. I have also seen it in the past years but have been unsuccessful in identifying it so far. The flower looks like a sombrero to me.This one is called Deptford Pink. It is a real tiny plant.

And this is Chicory. We will be seeing much more of this all around us from now on – as the weather heats up.

I thought these mushrooms on the trail were quite pretty. They were tiny. You may be able to make the size out from the size of the stones around them.

Another week passes by as we quickly head towards the Summer Solstice and the official start of summer in these parts. Outdoor activities, including the barbecues, the lazing around swimming pools, the visits to the beaches, etc.., have already begun since Memorial day. The increased vaccination rates have made it possible for people to gather together in a safer manner than was possible last year.

Unfortunately, there are still many who do not want to be vaccinated in our country. Some do not “believe” in the vaccines. Some talk about their “freedoms”. Perhaps there are also some who still even refuse to acknowledge the reality of the pandemic. It is a pity that people do not understand the concept of living in a society where we all need to pull together and look out for each other. It is also a pity that there are people living in an “advanced nation” who do not even recognize that the science and the technology that was responsible for providing us these vaccines is the same thing that is allowing us to exist and also enjoy our current lifestyles at the current moment in time in the earth’s history. It is especially a pity when people in our country do not realize how fortunate they are to have vaccines freely available. They still do not want the vaccines, even while other countries are suffering because they do not have enough, or any.

The Scent of Honeysuckle

There were a few suggestions being generated for the title of this blog even as we were walking along the towpath last Sunday. I settled on using this one.

The weather turned cold and somewhat nasty over the weekend. There was also the threat of rain. None of this impacted our plans for the weekend walk. One motivation was the fact that the rest of the week had been a disaster with regards to doing any form of exercise. It has been quite hot outside, and there were also the persistent distractions of the mind on a few fronts that affected the motivation in this regard. In fact, the weather had been hot enough during the week that we had to turn on the air-conditioner one day. And now it was cold enough that we had turned on the heat once again.

Thankfully, it did not rain while we were walking. Also, thankfully, the weather is back to normal temperatures for this time of the year once again.

The decision to go to Brunswick, MD, was made even as we were driving towards Point Of Rocks, our originally intended destination for the start of the walk. There was a sudden realization that we had actually visited Point of Rocks quite recently, and we really felt like going to some place new. We indulged ourselves! We changed our destination while en route. Because of this very late decision, the route we took to Brunswick was not one that I would normally have taken. We drove on the more beautiful back roads between Point of Rocks and Brunswick, arguably taking a little more time to get there than we would have done otherwise.

We walked north from Brunswick in the direction of Harpers Ferry. We did not make it to Harpers Ferry, but turned back more than half way there, less than a mile beyond the entrance to the trail at Weverton. Weverton used to be a mill town on the Potomac river. Water power from the river drove its development back in the day. The town was eventually destroyed by flooding from the river. All that is left behind today are the thick woods. You can apparently find the remains of some of the old buildings – a surviving foundation wall or a chimney – if you wander off the main trail. I have made such efforts in the past to find the lost town. This was when I used to run along the towpath by myself. I had no success. I only found this one trashed car during one of my explorations. (The car was most certainly from a time well after the original town’s existence.) We did not make any such attempt to discover the remains of the town during this walk, though we kept peering every now and then into the woods, hoping to get a some glimpse of the remains of foundation stones for buildings – without success!

As we were starting our walk from the parking lot in Brunswick, we came upon a creature that looked like a nutria (or a beaver, I cannot tell the difference!) with its little one. They were just a short distance away from the restroom located next to the parking lot. It held its place, not attempting to get any further away from us humans.As I walked towards the restroom, another small creature emerged from the ground beside the restroom.This little one was so engrossed in what it was doing – probably looking for food in the grass – that it did not attempt to get away from me until I was almost on it. I had some fear of being charged by a parent beaver (one could imagine it even being rabid!) that was obviously waiting for its young one, but, thankfully, it stood by calmly. The little one eventually noticed me and ran towards the parent, and the whole family vanished into the tall greenery next to the water. Just FYI, Canada Geese react very differently in situations like these!

Talking about encounters between animals and people, here is another one that took place during the later part of our walk. The deer had been staring at us from a distance while standing on the trail before these bikers appeared.

It was another beautiful walk,including the subject matter of the title of this blog. The sides of the trail closer to Brunswick had been mowed. These sides were covered all along the way by mock strawberry plants that had fruited.

We saw a plant with a flower that looked like a rose,and this is other new flower that I also could not identify.

I believe these are blackberries!

We passed Lock 31 and its unique lock house as we approached the entrance to the trail at Weverton.You can see Weverton Cliff in the background of this picture. We have climbed Weverton Cliff in the past. You get there by getting on the section of the Appalachian Trail (AT) at Weverton going north (in the general direction of Maine). Of note is the fact that the Appalachian trail and the towpath share a common pathway between Weverton and Harpers Ferry. At Harpers Ferry, the AT crosses over into West Virginia on one of the railroad bridges across the Potomac (at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers). From Harpers Ferry onward, the AT heads south in the general direction of Georgia.

There were some interesting signs on the trail at the location in Weverton where the AT diverges from the towpath and heads off north on its own. The white blazes on the brown post in the picture below are the general markings for the AT. You will find these all along the approximately 2,200 mile long trail to guide you on your way. The double blaze on the post indicates that this is a place where there is a change in direction of the trail. You find it here since this is where the AT makes an abrupt left turn and diverges from the towpath. The unique element in the picture above are the road signs for bicycle routes. I do not recall seeing these anywhere else on the towpath. Some extended research has revealed the existence of a U.S. Bicycle Route System that covers the entire US. Interesting!

Brunswick has a massive railroad yard that is operated by the freight railroad company CSX. There is also a separate section in this railroad yard where the suburban MARC trains are parked when not in use. During the stretch of our walk closer to Brunswick, we walked next to a line of closed auto-carrier rail cars (also called autoracks) that seemed to stretch at least a couple of miles, more than half way to Weverton! I am not used to seeing such long trains. This is a picture of a coal train passing by the parked auto-carriers just outside of Brunswick.

We did see a couple of new birds for the first time this year. There was the goldfinch, and the other bird was a female wood duck with its little ones.I had seen the same kind of ducks in the same area around the same time of year many years ago.

The graffiti in the picture below was the source of one of the other suggestions for a title for this blog. It was difficult decision at game time! The location of this piece of graffiti was one of the supports for the Route 17 bridge across the Potomac river at Brunswick.You can barely make out the remains of lock 31 of the canal in front of the bridge support in the picture above. Our car was parked under one of the other supports for the bridge closer to the river itself.We took the back roads once again when returning home. I think this is the route we will be taking from now on to go to Brunswick. It avoids the stress of the highway traffic and lets us enjoy a scenic ride through the more peaceful back roads of rural Maryland. Why rush?!

Alternate States of Reality (10/11/2008)

This blog is another email from times past – a trip back to a time long ago when I used to travel to Los Angeles very frequently on business trips. All of of this is now a distant memory, but a memory that will take a long time to completely fade away. Times have changed.
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The trips to Los Angeles are becoming second nature to me. I drive the streets of El Segundo as if I know them like the back of my hand. Then there are the regular drives that I make north of LA to Burbank, on the crowded expressways that dissect the concrete jungles of downtown LA. The expressways are really amazing, with metered entrances, several lanes in each direction, soaring flyovers, and even some elevated sections that let the people who are carpooling fly high over the regular lanes of backed up commuter traffic. Although I have never lived in California, names like Pasadena, Ventura Boulevard, Burbank, seem so familiar to me. (Maybe I listened to too much California music when I was growing up.) All over the world we find a way to live in our different states of reality, but at the end of the day it is all a human creation. My life as a commuter, traveling at least once a month to LA, has become my reality, and it would be hard to argue that it is not my own creation.

With my regular trips to different places these days comes the attempt to make some adjustments and allowances for my internal state of affairs. Actually, this could be more of a psychological issue than physical. I have no pain, perhaps a very slight physical ache once in a while (that could be more mental than real) that I can ignore for the most part. I do need to remember to carry around my innumerable medicines. I seem to have no problems with the endless walking that is involved in getting from place to place within the airports even though I am dragging my luggage around with me all the time. I have no troubles with the endless bus rides to and from parking lots and distant car rental places. I do not feel any particular weakness (although I still have not been able to get back to my more strenuous efforts on the trail during the weekends).

I have had to try to adjust my eating habits during these trips and that is still a work in progress. But I have also found certain places that I can visit again and again during my trips to LA. The Subway deli with its veggie patty sandwich is an old standby. The Japanese eat-out place looks promising, especially the Salmon on rice with teriyaki sauce, consumed with a green salad and cranberry juice. I have become a regular at “Thai Dishes”, a hole-in-the-wall joint on an inhospitable stretch of Aviation Boulevard next to an old military aircraft factory and a railroad line, not far from DIRECTV. The spicy chicken and vegetable combinations, washed down by some Singha beer is a delight after a long day at the office. I drink a lot of water. (I now have to sit in the aisle seat on a flight rather than the window seat.) During the last trip I ate just fruit for breakfast on my last day because fruits are supposed to be good for you. I am not convinced that everything that I am doing really makes sense. It is the conventional wisdom of the day that one follows, but it is quite possible that conventional wisdom changes with time and is not always correct. One lives according to today’s rules, whether they are right or wrong. Does anybody have any wisdom beyond that?

Yes, I am building up an alternate state of reality with my trips to Southern California, and perhaps I will be able to survive this reality long enough to enjoy a different and more fulfilling reality some time in the future, before time runs out. I have a feeling I am not the only one in this state of mind.

Brood X

This is the year of Brood X, a brood of cicadas that emerges from the ground once every 17 years in our part of the world – to mate, lay eggs from which nymphs emerge, and then die, perhaps even before they are able to complete the process. The nymphs that are born drop from the trees where the eggs are laid, burrow into the ground, and they are gone for the next 17 years – to reappear once again and transform into fully grown cicadas. The cicadas are everywhere these days, and they will be gone within the next month or so. They do create a racket! We saw a lot of them last weekend on the trail near Dargan Bend.
This visit to Dargan Bend was a follow-up to a visit earlier this year. At the time of the first visit, all of our surroundings were primarily brown. This time the experience was completely different. It was green all around, although the leaves for the Sycamore seem to emerge a little later than for other trees and plants. It is also already getting warm enough for the gnats to emerge in certain sections of the trail.

We walked south from Dargan Bend, towards Harpers Ferry, the opposite direction to the one we had taken earlier this year. This was a stretch of the trail that we had not explored before.

The flowers of early Spring are gone and we are left with primarily the Rosa Multiflora, Honeysuckle and Fleabane. The American Bladdernut, a plant whose flowers we saw in April, have now fruited.I have not yet been able to identify this one new flower in the picture below. We saw it in at least a couple of places along the trail.The river is quite wide in the section of the trail close to Dargan Bend. This section is just upstream of the remains of Dam 3.We walked past an inlet lock just before remains of Dam 3.In times past, the inlet lock provided a good means providing water to the canal from the water collecting in the river behind the dam. We stepped off the trail in this section to go down to the river itself.This area of the river downstream of Dam 3 is quite rough.You can hear the roar of the river here.

We did not quite reach the bridges at Harpers Ferry, but we could see them in the distance, probably less than a mile away, from the shore of the river just beside the remains of Lock 34.To the left side of the picture above is Maryland Heights. There is a trail to the top of the cliff. We have hiked this trail a few times in the past. It is a good workout! Harpers Ferry is on the right side of the picture.

I have been thinking about the lifetimes of the cicada and what their lives mean in the grand scheme of things. They live underground (on the liquids in the roots of trees) for most of their lives, and they emerge from the ground once in 17 years to produce progeny. And then they die. That’s it! You should read about their strategy for survival as a species once they emerge from the ground. It is quite unique considering that they are consumed in large numbers by other creatures once they emerge above ground. (They are even considered a specialty for consumption by humans in some quarters. If you do an Internet search you can find a few recipes.) Do these creatures have a purpose, or is there simply an evolutionary process (or instinct!) for self propagation and preservation of the species that is in play? Is there some kind of grand plan that includes these creatures? How do human beings fit into all of this?

A Sudden Encounter

I came upon a black rat snake yesterday,
And came to a sudden stop when I saw it in my way,
I was running on an overgrown trail, emerging from the woods,
The snake lay halfway across the trail, just ahead of where I now stood.

We looked at each other as if to say,
Who of us shall make the first move and go his (or her!) own way,
I was a little hesitant to pass in front of the snake for sure,
Visions of it darting forward, it would have been more than I could endure.

As the snake stayed still and flicked its black tongue in and out of its mouth,
I had to make some kind of move, of that there seemed be little doubt,
I tried to tap my foot against the ground to create some kind of a vibration,
And picked up a stick to encourage the snake to avoid a confrontation.

The snake quickly turned and effortlessly slithered away to places unseen,
It’s curves and black color distinct against the shades of the path so green,
I ran by where it had been, and went my merry way without further say,
I don’t know if the snake and I are destined to pass each other yet another day.


The More Familiar Flowers

We stayed closer to home last weekend, going for a walk between Sycamore Landing and Edwards Ferry. This has become our go-to walk in recent times, when we do not want to go far, and when we do not want to be too adventurous. The distance that we cover is towards the longer end of our limits, and I am usually beginning to drag as we get towards the end. I am going to feel it more and more as the heat picks up.

This was the weekend that the old standby, the Rosa Multiflora flowers,made their appearance beside the trail. The other flowers that I became familiar with when I started visiting the canal was the Fleabane. Those were also around in large numbers.

Other flowers include a kind of white violet (it could be a Canada Violet),what I think is called False Solomon Seal,and clover.

In the sections of the canal bed with water, we found Yellow Pond Lilyand Yellow Iris.

I believe that this plant is called Solomon’s Seal.It would indeed be quite the coincidence if we happened on both False Solomon’s Seal and Solomon’s Seal during the same outing, but I am not completely confident about my conclusion.

This is probably a Mock Strawberry.

As an aside, I now think the plant I had mistaken for Virginia Waterleaf back in April is actually an American Bladdernut. They form very distinctive pods later in the year.

The trail was packed with people during the later part of our walk. (This is one of the disadvantages of staying closer to home.) We passed a troop of boy scouts. They were taking their own sweet time moving north. When they stopped at Edwards Ferry for a break, their troop leader was noting (maybe complaining) that it had been less than a mile between breaks. He wanted them to get up and keep moving.

The campsite near Edwards Ferry was full. When we took a detour along the river at Edwards Ferry, we actually discovered a couple and a dog camped out on the unmarked trail by the river. They said that the campsite was too full.

Bikers were also out in large numbers, and in large groups. They were mostly riding in a courteous manner, moving into single file when passing. All the same, we had to been vigilant. There were many occasions when we would turn back expecting somebody to be coming up behind us, only to find that we were imagining things!

The “LAX from the Westin” Picture Gallery

This gallery is linked to the subject matter of my previous blog.

Some interesting observations came to mind when I was trying to pick pictures for this blog. One is that quite a few of the aircraft that I used to see in those days are no longer flying. This list includes the Boeing 747 (with the exception of the later B747-8), the Airbus 340, and the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and McDonnell/Boeing MD-11. There is even a picture of a freighter DC-8 above! The Airbus 380 and Boeing 747-8 aircraft only arrived later, and soon they too will be no more.

Also of note is that a few of the airlines that were in existence at that time are no more, including Continental, Northwest, and US Airways.

The picture in the collage above of the small rolling suitcase taken in front of the door of my hotel room as I prepare to depart Los Angeles to come home is symbolic of the nature of my work-related travels in those days. The bag carried everything I needed for a short trip. It was small enough to fit into the overhead bins of the aircraft I flew on, so that I did not have to check-in any luggage. I could get through airports quickly without having to wait at luggage carousels or in check-in lines. I was constantly traveling – in and out of hotel rooms, arriving and departing at all possible hours of the day. The passageways, the concession stands, and even the restrooms, of the United and American Airlines terminals at LAX became very familiar to me.

A person can do it, especially at a younger age, but you may not really fully realize what the experience of constant long-distance travel is doing to your body and soul, especially as it is happening. Some of us simply had to do it.

Random Musings On The Flight From Los Angeles (1/29/2009)

I wrote this during one of the many trips that I used to take to Los Angeles when I was working. I have taken the liberty of making a few corrections/improvements, but not that many…..
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The American Airlines Boeing 757 lined up on Runway 25R at LAX airport, with its distinct and ugly snout pointed West towards the Pacific Ocean. Silverbird quickly accelerated down the runway, muscling its streamlined form with rapidly increasing speed hard against the wind. Barely halfway down its runway the aircraft rose up from the ground, nose pointed skyward, as if eager to break its connection with Mother Earth and get away from its clutches as quickly as possible. It quickly ascended at a steep angle and attacked the sky like an eager and angry fighter jet rising to meet the enemy, its engines screaming with a distinct shrill and high-pitched sound that sounded so unworldly, yet so sweet, gaining altitude by the second. Within moments the aircraft was over the Pacific Ocean and was banking sharply to the left, beginning its U-turn to head back east to the Washington, DC, area. The aircraft turned east in the area over the Port of Long Beach and quickly rose to its cruising altitude. The unusually swift prevailing winds that had originally delayed my arrival into LAX on Monday were now speeding me on my way back home for an unexpected early arrival.

The Westin Hotel near LAX is located due east of the airport. Century Boulevard, which runs in front of the hotel, takes you directly from the hotel to the airport terminals. The hotel is shaped somewhat (but not exactly) like a cross, with the base of the cross facing the airport. The aircraft flight paths leading into LAX happen to be on both sides of the hotel (and therefore on both sides of the airport terminals themselves). LAX’s four runways run in an east to west direction (or west to east, depending on your perspective), on either sides of Century Boulevard. The runways on the south side of the airport terminal begin not too far from the hotel itself. The runways on the north side begin further away from the hotel, closer to the airport terminal itself. Most of the time the planes come in to land from the east and takeoff to the west. There are very rare arrivals from the west, usually late in the night or in the early hours of the morning before the regular traffic has begun. Being a frequent traveler, I usually get a room on the highest floors of the hotel. My view from the hotel depends upon which section of the hotel my room is located on. If I am facing east, I can get a beautiful view of the sunrise over the hills, and of the aircraft, with their lights turned on, lining up to land on the runway that runs close to the hotel. If my room faces south, I can see the planes fly right by my window at a very low altitude. To the west, I can view aircraft taking off from the airport, and I can also enjoy the glorious colors of sunset (if I manage to get back from work at a decent time). The planes look very nice in the light of either the rising or setting sun. To the north, I can observe the planes approach the airport at a significant height (since the runways start further away from the hotel), framed by the hills to the north of LA and the skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles in the distance. The rays of the rising sun hitting the skyscrapers of downtown LA can create a unique and beautiful sight that lasts for just a few moments. I am usually awake well before dawn because of the difference in time zones, and I spend time looking for things to photograph in the distance. I sometimes wander down the hallways of the hotel to try to get a good spot to take a picture – to find the particular angle that, at the right time, offers a unique perspective. I have to admit that my pictures do not come out well since I am dealing with non-ideal conditions for photography, and a camera with limited capability. But I keep trying. And the hotel staff have not yet stopped me from doing what I am doing.
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American Airlines Boeing 757
American Airlines Boeing 757 through a dirty window

It has been many years since I last visited Los Angeles. I still have a lot of memories of my trips. The Westin Airport LAX is still in operation.

Sample pictures taken from the Westin during that period of time are in the next blog.

Conshohocken, PA

Our travels last weekend took us to Conshohocken (I love the way the word “Conshohocken” rolls off the tongue when you are saying it!) and Villanova on the outskirts of Philadelphia, PA. This was our first long-distance trip since the beginning of the pandemic that was being made for reasons other than visiting family. We went for a wedding. The names Conshohocken and Villanova are actually not that unfamiliar to me, having spent some time in the early 1980s in another suburb of Philadelphia called Landsdowne. I suppose that I must have heard the towns mentioned on the local news or in traffic reports when visiting Philadelphia. But, I really had not spent any significant time before this trip in either Conshohocken or Villanova.

We stayed in a really nice hotel on the southwest shore of the Schuylkill river (here we go again with the unique names!) in a place called West Conshohocken. I remember the river because there is a highway right next to it called the Schuylkill Expressway that used to be notorious in its day. I do not know if the highway still has a bad reputation, but in those days, navigating the twists and turns of this narrow highway through the center of Philadelphia, including its narrow shoulder spaces and short entrance ramps, was considered quite the challenge. The highway even earned the unfortunate moniker – the surekill expressway! The Schuylkill Expressway is actually a part of Interstate 76.

We had not stayed in a hotel room for over a year at this point. So, it was once again all a new experience for us.
The room on the 8th floor overlooking the Schuylkill river felt quite luxurious,

and the corner placement of the room offered us window views in two directions.

Not having had the opportunity to spend the night in such a nice and upscale room for many years, it took me a minute or two to adjust my expectations of what normality could feel like for people who were fortunate enough to find themselves circumstances like ours. Fact of the matter is that I used to stay very often in places like this during the time of my employment. There was a period of time when I stayed in a hotel room practically every other week. It was a part and parcel of my life experience in the business world. I can still recall the whole experience – the travels, the car rentals, the driving through strange places (that would eventually became familiar), the solitary dinners in restaurants with a glass of wine beside me to numb the soul, the endless waits in airport lounges, etc.. I do not miss that life!

The wedding took place on a property in the town of Villanova, about a five minute drive from our hotel. Villanova was obviously a town for the very rich. It smelled of old-money – huge estates surrounded by well kept fences or walls to keep out the riffraff, meticulously manicured and landscaped properties, and massive homes in traditional styles situated as far away from the main road as possible, it seemed. The wedding space itself must have been one of these homes once upon a time. It has since been converted into a sprawling arboretum, with the central building that used to be the home, and the space around it, available for events like weddings. It was a beautiful setting for the outdoor ceremony and the festivities that took place after that. Once again, not having been to weddings in such settings in a very long while, I had to make my own mental adjustments. I have not had to dress up for formal events for a long while. The fact that we were at such a grand event, where no expense was being spared for the celebrations surrounding the happy occasion, was something that got me thinking once again. But being a part of events like this is actually not something new for us. It is just that I might be changing. I have become more used to seeing the other side of things. In any case, it did not stop me from joining in the celebration – enjoying the drinks and the excellent food laid out for us, and boogieing my way into the night. So much for consistency and clarity of conscience!

We went for a walk on the Schuylkill River Trail the morning after the wedding. When complete, this trail will run all the way from headwaters of the river in the eastern ridges of the Allegheny mountains to it termination at the Delaware river in Philadelphia. The section of the trail we tackled runs on an abandoned railroad right-of-way along the north shore of the river. Next to the trail are railroad tracks that are still in use for the suburban SEPTA line to downtown Philly. Of note is the fact that there is also another railroad line on the southern shore of the river that is still in use for Norfolk Southern freight traffic. The existence of lines on both sides of the river is a reflection of the industrial background of the place. Railroad lines used to be the lifeblood of towns like these, and these lines usually used to run along the shores of the rivers because of the relative ease of laying tracks along the relatively flat shorelines. It was not unusual to find competing railroad lines on either shores of a river.

We crossed the bridge over river to get to the trail, and then proceeded east along the trail in the direction of Philadelphia. We quickly left the newer developments and the remains of old industry in the section of the trail that ran through Conshohocken, and soon entered a more rural section.

It was a pleasant walk, with sightings of wildflowers like honeysuckle, buttercups, purple dead nettle, gill-over-the-ground (also called ground ivy), dogwood, etc., and also some new flowers that we were seeing for the first time this season. These included what I think was Paulownia tomentosa (also called Princess Tree),Spiderwort,
and clover.

The birds were out in large numbers. We were greeted by songs emerging from the trees and bushes beside us as soon as we entered the trail.

Here were some of the sights from our walk.

The waters looked quite calm as we walked over the bridge across the river. The thick green foliage of the woods indicated that we are well on our way into summer.

We noticed that the signage on the trail itself was quite good.



As you can see from the picture below, the trail was also wide and well paved.


There were a lot of bikers on the trail. The location in the picture below looked like an ideal stop during a ride!They even had an official bike station beside the trail with tools to make repairs to bikes.The section of the trail outside of town was quite wooded. It might be hard to imagine that an active railroad line and a highway run along the other shore of the river. You cannot even see the SEPTA double-track that runs beside our trail on our side of the river (just below the level of the trail) in this picture.

We even chanced upon one of the SEPTA trains stopped at a station.

We checked out of the hotel soon after returning from our walk and cleaning up. There was not much packing to be done. We had brunch in the town of Conshohocken to celebrate Mother’s Day. And then we headed home.

A blog about travel during this time of the pandemic would not be complete without some mention of how the pandemic impacted the activities of the trip. People are still using masks in general, but fewer people than I expected seemed to be wearing them during the wedding celebration itself. Some were more careful than others, and the use of masks decreased as the night progressed! It is a little difficult to eat and drink, and dance, with a mask on! I hope the confidence in the impact of the vaccines on the situation is justified. The hotel in which we were staying still had a requirement for masks to be worn in all of its open spaces. Also, their restaurant was closed because of the pandemic. I was not really paying close attention to the masking efforts of people on the trail during our walk because of the circumstances – existence of open space and a lot of separation between people. I believe we are in a transition phase in our country.

Trainspotting at Point of Rocks, Maryland (12/12/2004)

I noted last week that I had written an email a long time ago about an encounter with a bird at the Point of Rocks parking lot many years ago. I proceeded to search for the email in my records, discovered it, and posted a blog – only to realize that I had already posted the same email in my blogs in 2015. I did a quick take-down of the duplicate blog! Some might have already noticed a blog that disappeared after having been announced. I messed up!

But, during that search for the forgotten email, I also discovered another email that covered my first ever visit to Point of Rocks. I thought it worthwhile to post this email. My perspectives of distances and the nature of the challenges along the canal and trail have changed with time.
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It was still somewhat dark outside when I left home shortly after 7am in the morning. I have a long way to drive today. I am extending my coverage of the C&O canal by going all the way up to Point of Rocks at Mile 48.2 on the canal. I am leaving the safe confines of Montgomery County and driving up into Frederick County, all the way to the end of Route 28. I am truly venturing into the boondocks and lands unknown. I drive past the fat happy cows (are they Holsteins?) and the horses poking their heads through the picket fences. I drive past the house surrounded by bird feeders at the corner of routes 28 and 85. That is some sight – seemingly broken bird-feeders all over the property! The house looks old and dilapidated.

It is cloudy as I drive. The weather looks gloomy, and not very inviting for a run along the canal. As I approach Point of Rocks after the long drive, I even begin to lose the radio channel that I am listening too. The program today is about civil rights goings-on in the United States in the 50s and 60s. They are playing songs about the company bosses and their union busting activities. The company owners actually resorted to murder in many cases. We are all so greedy in this United States of America. We do not want to pay for the true value of things. Do we really care for the working man? The talk turns to Israel and Palestine, and the recent report of the sufferings of the Palestinians as they try to move around. They are treated as less than human beings at the checkpoints. Even people who are sick, and women who are about to give birth and need to get to a hospital, are not allowed through. People are assaulted. These circumstances cause people to lose their humanity. The DJ came up with a great saying from Martin Luther King about the worst thing that can happen to people – that they become so apathetic and do not do anything to help others. This is what I found when I did a search on quotes by MLK – “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”. Anyway…

Point of Rocks is a railroad junction on the old B&O railroad on the way from Washington DC to Pittsburgh and points north. The railroad crosses the Potomac at Harpers Ferry around mile 60 (all distances from now on are distances on the C&O canal!). There is also a railroad line here that branches off from the main line to Frederick City and Baltimore. I drive into “Smalltown USA”, with its old small houses, some of them abandoned and falling apart. Looks like things have not changed there for while. Point of Rocks has a small, very nicely maintained, commuter train station with lot of parking. Most of the railroad traffic here is probably freight trains, but there are also the commuter trains that stop here. I have to drive across the railroad tracks close to the train station, and over a wooden bridge crossing the canal itself, to get to the parking spaces for the towpath. The parking lot is right under the bridge that takes highway 15 over the Potomac river into Virginia. I hesitate to park here because the parking lot is close to the river level and seems to slope towards the swiftly flowing river. The lot is also quite empty. I do not want to come back and find the car in the middle of the river! I drive back to a spot further up the road where I had seen a couple of vehicles parked on the side of the road and pull up next to them hoping for the best. Things worked out OK except for the fact that I had trouble pulling the car out when I tried to leave – the wheels kept spinning in the mud. Next time I will be more careful. The hood of my car is now covered with brown spots of mud.

The run itself was uneventful. I had to wear my track suit because it was quite chilly. Because the trees were bare, I could see the wide river on the one side and the railroad tracks parallel to the canal on the other side. The tracks paralleled the canal until mile 45, but I did not see any trains. (There is an interesting story about the battle between the B&O Railroad and the C&O canal for the rights to the property next to the river in some places, especially where the cliffs came right up to the river near Point of Rocks.) The trail was quite muddy due to the rain the day before, and in spots I had no choice but to charge through the mud. I could not help noticing that the area was so flat that it was actually hard to find a private place to pee if one needed to. At this point in this tale, I will digress into a lesson on peeing in the woods on a cold winter day. (Those sensitive souls who are offended by this kind of stuff can skip the next paragraph.)

There are some important things to remember about peeing in the wild. The first requirement is that of finding a spot where you will not be observed and you are not exposed. In these parts of the trail, it might just be a matter of looking left and right, since there are not too many people around. Find a protected spot where you do not expose too many bodily parts. This is most important for women, because on a cold day such as today, your butt can freeze. (You do remember that I had a potential story about “Turning the other cheek” last spring, don’t you?). The next few points are for the males. It is important to make sure you know which way the wind is blowing. You do not want to be dancing around trying to avoid the fountain. Third point – make sure your can feel your fingers. If not, you do not necessarily know which way you are pointed. Lastly, make sure that you really are done before you begin reinsertion. On a cold day, far away from home, you do not want any disasters of the wet kind. OK! Lesson is over. Back to our story…

I made my way past two camping grounds, Calico Rocks, and Indian Wells, as I followed the towpath south to the Monocacy River at mile 42.2. It was quite chilly and windy as I rested on the aqueduct. All of a sudden, I could also hear the sounds of the open, unimpeded by noise generated by the constant movement of my feet on the trail. There was this bird that was crying out from the trees in some kind of a pattern. Since I am clueless about bird-sounds, I imagined some mighty bird like an eagle or a hawk calling out. I could hear the rumble of traffic carried long distances because of the absence of foliage on the trees – you really cannot get completely away from civilization. There was somebody at the boat jetty banging on some metal part, disturbing the quiet. Off in the distance, the towers of the PEPCO power plant stood out over the waters.

I made my way back to Point of Rocks without incident. It suddenly felt colder and windier as I started my way back. I had to wear my gloves. Encountered only three or four people on the trail. Went past the overturned port-a-john on the trail at Noland Ferry. (Trust me, you really do not want to know any more about that!) Made it back to the car in good spirits. As I was sitting in the car relaxing with my donut and a cup of coffee, I heard the sound of a train headed into Point of Rocks. It was a train consisting for Amtrak Superliners pulled by an GE AMD-103. Soon after, I heard, and spied, a freight train rolling in. I quickly grabbed my camera, and rushed out of the car (leaving the radio on and the key in the ignition). I sprinted across the bridge over the canal with new-found energy in time to sight the train approaching from my left. The engineer blew the horn loudly, partly because the road crossed the tracks at this point, and probably partly because he sighted this madman rushing towards the tracks! Do not fear! I stopped well short of the tracks, to take my picture and to feel the thunder of the freight train drawn by the three powerful locomotives rolling by. Awesome!

As I was leaving Point of Rocks, I stopped by the train station to take a picture and was pleasantly surprised to see another freight train go by headed in the direction of Frederick and Baltimore. Point of Rocks is really a good place for trainspotting.

Got home by about noon. I have to cook the chicken for the next week. Teresa has a meeting with her small-faith group. I have to go for my music practice today evening.

Life goes on. Catch you later.
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I had an analog camera is those days. Here are scans of a few of the pictures I took that day. The water level in the Potomac, under the Route 15 bridge, looks somewhat high in the picture below.This is a picture of one of my old cars, the Ford Contour, parked in the old parking area that used to exist under the bridge in those days.You can see the tail-end of a freight train passing Point of Rocks station on its way towards Baltimore in the picture below.Just another note that the little house at the corner of Routes 15 and 85 where the bird houses were being sold is long gone. The space has been taken over by the forces of nature!

I used to eat donuts for breakfast regularly when going for my Sunday runs. That has stopped – for reasons that do not need to be expounded upon.

The PEPCO power plant mentioned above is now owned by a company called NRG Energy.