Walk, Bike, and Run

I felt good this morning. I was able to go for a run after a somewhat long break. The last couple of days have been a little cooler than usual, and the temperature was in the 60s when I started out. I thought that I would feel a little sluggish because of the break. That happened to not be the case. I got my mojo going pretty quickly, probably because of the cool temperatures. The running came easy. I was was able to maintain a decent pace throughout the run, and I actually felt wonderfully refreshed the rest of the morning.

We walked from Weverton to Harpers Ferry last Sunday. We were walking a section of this trail for the first time this year. Because of the location closer to Harper Ferry, there was more activity on the trail than one wishes and hopes for. But it was OK. We still had our extended periods of quiet. Here are some pictures from the walk.

The railroad line runs beside the canal all the way to Harpers Ferry.

This is the Route 340 bridge across the Potomac.

The river is very rough downstream of Harpers Ferry. The water is also very low in summer.

Harpers Ferry is across the river in West Virginia at the meeting point of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. The railroad line crosses over the river on the bridges to the right of the picture.

The newer flowers that we saw for the year during this walk include White Campion,

Buttonbush,

Queen Anne Lace (here in its early stage),

flowers that I was unsuccessful in identifying last year too,

Crown Vetch (distinguished from Red Clover because of the nature of the leaves),

Hedge Bindweed,

Wild Sweet William,

Rose of Sharon,

and Asiatic Dayflower.

My bike ride last Wednesday started once again at Pennyfield lock, but this time I headed towards Washington, DC. I rode up to Chain Bridge. It was a typical hot and humid Washington, DC, summer day. I covered more distance this time than I did during my first ride of the year last week. I put in a little more effort than during that first ride – keeping up a decent speed on the trail. There were quite a few people on the trail in spite of the heat. Thankfully, interactions with folks I encountered were generally pleasant, including a conversation with a couple who were in the early stages of an ambitious ride of over 60 miles! I hope they made it.

Here are a couple of pictures from my ride. The first one was taken at Widewater.

You can make out the typical haze of a Washington, DC, summer day in the second picture.

All The Creatures Of The Garden

I do not have a recollection of ever having seen a creature like this. And it happened right outside our front door. I had seen an unusual kind of skipper butterfly, one with a particular pattern on its wings, on one of the plants, and had stepped outside the house with my camera to try to take its picture. There comes this strange looking creature flying in the air and alighting on the Vinca flowers in order to to nectar. It hung around for a little while, flitting from flower to flower. It was not still enough for me to get a decent picture.

I had to do some research to try to figure out what I was looking at. It is apparently a Hummingbird Moth. It can hover in the air by moving its wings rapidly (like a hummingbird!). It is a little bigger than a bee, and it looks like nothing else I have seen. And it came to our garden! I have been keeping a lookout for it for a few days since I first saw it without success.

There are apparently a few kinds of Hummingbird Moths, and this one might have been a Clearwing. They are not seen very frequently in these parts. The things your learn! The things you see in the garden!

Riding For The First Time This Year

I rode my bicycle last week – for the first time this year. It has been a late start. I was going to start writing about the reason why this has happened, but then realized that I had a late start, for almost the same reasons, last year also. So my mindset in this regard, and the preparation for this first ride, mirror what happened last year. I wrote about it in the first section of this blog.

Truth of the matter is that I had gotten my bike cleaned up for a ride a couple of weeks earlier, but had never gotten around to actually taking the bike to the trail. This year, I am finding that the heat outside is discouraging me more than I expected from my efforts to exercise. I have become better at making excuses. Years are catching up.

There were three distinct stages to the ride last week.

The first stage was getting used to the feeling of being in the saddle once again after a very long time. When I am on a bike, the distances and the scenery pass by more quickly and smoothly than I am used to when on foot. I cannot pay as much attention as I usually do to things beside the trail. Nevertheless, it was difficult to miss the large number of birds at the pond at Riley’s lock. I had to stop to take pictures. There were an unusual number of egrets at this location.

There were also a few Great Blue Herons to be seen all along the trail. We have not seen them for quite a while, and their sight, for some reason, brings a feeling of comfort.

The second part of the ride was when I was transported into a world of happy fantasy, where my mind wandered away into some other space. The act of biking itself became completely instinctive. I even recited a nursery rhyme loudly when I went past a section with a lot of blackbirds. My song for the morning included the words – “I want to fly like an eagle, let my spirit carry me“! And then, there I was, chasing the butterfly, and the bird, and the rabbit, as they showed me the way ahead, each for a short distance – as they fluttered all over the place in the air in front of the moving bike, or skipped along in the grass beside the trail, or hopped for a while on the trail, all while staying in front of me. This was my Alice in Wonderland moment, and there were no magic mushrooms involved.

The last stage of the ride was the slog. This happened primarily because I am not fully in shape. (Thankfully, I had decided to do a shorter ride than I normally would have pushed myself to do.) If I had been in shape, I would have been in the zone by this point. This stage of the ride is usually notable because one can end up speeding without even realizing what is going on. But I had to slow down. I was feeling the effort. There were also a few distractions along the way, including having to deal with the hordes of people who had descended on the trail by this time.

I hope I can keep myself motivated to do more rides this year. The bicycle rack remains mounted on the car.

How Does Our Garden Grow

I tried to create a garden of flowering plants in our front yard when we first moved to Maryland many years ago. Shrubs, seeds, and bulbs, made their way to our home from the local store. Many of these plants actually survived for at least a little while. We had beautiful flowers of different colors in our yard that drew in the bees and the butterflies. It was actually pretty. It was a time when I actually tried to remember the names of the plants we had in our garden! The plants needed care, and some of them died because I was not very good at it. But, generally, things were going well. Then came the deer.

The deer in our neighborhood are absolutely fearless.  They walk around on our streets as if the whole place belongs to them.  They sometimes do not move even an inch when you try to shoo them away. They also eat everything up in the yard.  It is worse in winter when they get really hungry.  I had tried to find plants that they are not supposed to like, but that did not stop them.

I gave up trying to create a garden a long time ago.  I would not get much sympathy when I ranted on about the deer immediately after they ate up a bunch of stuff.  I was told that deer also needed to live.  Served me right for trying to live in a green and wooded place similar to the place I grew up in in India, where there were a lot of deer!

But, now, the attempt to create a garden has been revived once again! The motivating force for this effort came from elsewhere, but I had no objection to it. I knew enough to not set my expectations too high. We planted a bunch of supposedly deer-resistant plants.  I also made sure to spray this product on the plants every once in a while to try to deter the deer.

Unfortunately, it has not been working out that well. The deer have been munching regularly on some of the plants we bought. Deer-resistant, my foot! They also try out the other deer-resistant plants we bought, but stop before getting too far. A few of these plants seem to recover after being eaten, with new leaves reappearing, only for them to be chewed up once again. The “deer-resistant” ground cover that we had planted must have been particularly enjoyable since they actually seem to have dug deeper into the soil with the mouths to get access to any succulent leaves that they might have missed. (It would be amazing if that plant comes back to life.) I came back from a bike ride this morning and saw that the deer had made a meal of another plant that seemed to have been recovering.

The previous owner of the house had planted hostas on the side.  They used to come out beautifully every year – until the deer found them.  They love the leaves and the flowers.  They either jump over, or get around, the plastic fence I put in place. In spite of being eaten regularly, the plants come back every year in Spring – only to be eaten once again.  This year things were a little different for a while.  I had changed up the fence a little bit and that seemed to keep them out for a little bit longer than usual.  The hostas were growing really nicely, and I was looking forward to seeing the flowers.  And then the deer found a way in one night!

I am not as upset about this kind of stuff these days as I used to be!

One aspect of taking care of the garden, regardless of the losing battle with deer, is the process of pulling the weeds and the wild grass that appear with regularity among the plants that we are trying to grow. It takes the right set of circumstances for me to actually get down to the job of weeding, but once started, I can keep going on and on. There is actually something peaceful, meditative, and zen-like, about the experience of weeding. There is also the feeling of satisfaction when getting the weeds out by the roots (even though you know that your effort is ultimately futile, and that you are going to be repeating the operation some time in the future – again and again).

There is also something interesting about the way in which the weeds seem to get themselves entangled in the plants that we are actually trying to grow, to the extent that you have to pull up some of the “legitimate” plants along with the weeds in order to be successful in the weeding operation. Is this a natural process that is meant to increase the chances of survival for the weed? Order and organization, and separation, seem to be the enemy of the existence and survival of some weeds. Order and organization are not always the way in which natural processes work on Planet Earth. Maybe things are meant to be messy. Human beings messed with the overall equilibrium of the planet when we started creating our own ordered processes and our civilizations. Today, we are doing this to a greater extent than we ever did in our history – primarily looking out for ourselves, not paying enough attention to the rest of the planet. All that stuff is in the weeds! Can this be a good thing? How does our garden grow?

Going Around In Circles

An alternative title for the blog could have been “Teaching an old dog new tricks!”

We went down to Prince William County in Virginia for the July 4th weekend. The young ones wanted to spend some time kayaking on the Occoquan river while we were there. The older ones agreed. I had to confront some trauma left behind from an incident in the mid-eighties (at the end of my graduate school days) in doing so. The boat that I had been on in a lake in Upstate New York had overturned thanks to some youthful hijinks. My glasses had fallen off, and I lost them in the muddy and, fortunately, shallow water I ended up standing in. I had to manage without any glasses for the rest of the stay, and also had to figure a way to get back home without them, having to travel from Utica to the New York City area without them! I cannot remember today if I had to drive.

It was a more mature group in the kayaks this time. I ended up in a supporting role in the whole process. I proceeded to inflict my damage regardless of my status and duties on the captain and rower-in-chief of our double kayak, not managing to maintain a good rhythm in the whole process of rowing, stopping my rowing far too frequently to take pictures,and, stranger still, causing the boat to turn to the right constantly and consistently in spite of my lame efforts to correct this tendency. I tried to blame what was happening on the twisted oar that I was using. But I also have a history of not being able to move in a straight line! There was an incident that happened when I was younger that comes to mind. I had been swimming near a beach on the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. I had been swimming parallel to the shore, and ended up swimming straight towards the gulf itself because I could not see where I was going and ended up turning in that general direction in the water. There was no good excuse for that incident other than a complete loss of directional sense in the water. (I prefer to swim in swimming pools where the lanes are clearly marked.) I could blame my behavior this time on my separated shoulder.😛

In any case, we had a good time on the water. We rented the kayaks at the quaint little town of Occoquan.

We rowed a few miles out on the Occoquan river that day. In one direction, we rowed out to a point upstream where we could proceed no further due to the presence of rocks and what looked like some rapids further upstream.In the other direction, we rowed towards the meeting point of the Occoquan and Potomac rivers. In the end, we still had a way to go before reaching the Occoquan Bay, where the Occoquan river terminates at the Potomac, but we did reach the highways and the railroad bridge over the river not too far from the entrance to Belmont Bay.On the way to the Potomac river, we drifted past marshlands and the verdant greenery of the river bank. We saw Pond Lilies and Pickerelweed.

We explored a creek that we discovered just after we rowed past the Interstate-95 bridge over the river.

We did get too close on one occasion to a nesting Osprey in the middle of the river.

Kayaking is something that I can see myself doing once again in the future – provided that the water we are on is calm, and also not flowing too swiftly. I think you can teach an old dog new tricks! But no whitewater kayaking for this dude.

Hope folks had a relaxing 4th of July weekend.

The People vs. Agent Orange: PBS

I saw this documentary a few days ago using the App for the PBS Passport streaming service on my Roku device. Depending on where you live, you might be able to stream this on to your computer from their website for free.

What many people already know about this subject is that Agent Orange was employed by Americans during the Vietnam war as a weapon of mass destruction. Perhaps the only worse weapon that has been used during war in the earth’s history for the purposes of mass destruction is the nuclear bomb. (One has to admit that the Germans and the Allies did also do a very effective job of mass destruction with their bombing campaigns of London and Dresden during WWII.) In all of these efforts, people did not care who was killed, soldiers or civilians, adults or children.

The use of Agent Orange is quite possibly the worst ever case of the use of chemical warfare on our planet since the use of poison gas during World War I. We efficiently destroyed both the land and the people of the country. They are suffering even today. We also poisoned our own soldiers, even though the people in charge knew what the chemical could do to them. (The Veterans are still fighting for government support and acceptance of responsibility in this regard.) It was quite a shameful episode from history.

What I did not know was what happened in the USA after the Vietnam war with regards to Agent Orange, with the continued use of the chemicals as a herbicide, and the many lives that were destroyed because of this. The air and the drinking water sources for many people living near the forests where the chemicals were being used – the forests that were being cleared by the big logging companies – were being polluted by chemicals that have the ability to damage and destroy the genetic make-up of people, causing illness and disease not only in the people exposed to the poison, but also in their offspring. It appears that the people and organizations responsible for all of this are still escaping their full responsibilities. This includes even the federal government. The facts about the impact of this chemical are still being covered up – even to this day! The documentary indicates that evidence has even been destroyed along the way. It is a very, very, shady story. This is an American Horror story!

The Heat of Summer – Once Again!

Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city…
…………..The Lovin’ Spoonful

The temperatures began its rise into the 90s last weekend. Knowing that it was going to get very hot, we started our walk earlier than usual on Sunday. We were on the trail at Swains Lock before 8 O’clock! In spite of the early start, it did not take too long before we began to feel the sweat collecting on our necks and back. It was going to be one of those days!

We walked towards Great Falls. Here is a picture of the tavern at Great Falls.

We continue to see flowers for the first time this year along the towpath. The numbers I am recording are staggering. These include Tall Meadow Rue,

Yarrow,


Trumpet Flower,


Pickerelweed,


Mullein,Thistle,what I believe is Bindweed of some kind,


Black Cohosh,


Day Lily,Basil Bee Balm,

and a couple of flowers that I could not identify.

We also found raspberryand pawpaw fruitalong the trail.

The heat of the summer also brings out the dragonflies and the butterflies. We saw a few skimmers, a zebra swallowtail, and even a Red Admiral and a Crescent butterfly. (I will post some of these and other pictures in my Pbase photo galleries.)

We took a detour on to the River Trail just north of Great Falls on our way back to Swains Lock. It was a delightful experience! We ended up walking on a narrow trail along the side of the river. There were very few people on the trail and we saw a lot of birds. There were so many herons on the other side of the river, with many of them standing on their own individual rocks!I have to believe that there is a park on the other side of the river that is attracting the herons.

We also saw a Indigo Bunting.At first I was not sure about the identity of this bird, being confused by a shaft of light falling on its breast, but I now feel more confident of my conclusion. (Of course, I am not an expert on this matter, and my process for identifying a bird is always subject to verification/confirmation by any knowledgeable birder or ornithologist who happens to come this way!)

Here is the video of the song that I mentioned at the beginning of the blog.

The Taste of Raw Onions (11/11/2008)

This is another oldie from the days when my work used to take me to Los Angeles regularly. The last time I posted something like this was earlier this year.
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“This is K-EARTH 101.1” said the voice of the announcer on the radio. I was in the process of turning my super-efficient Toyota Prius Hybrid car from Century Boulevard on to Aviation Boulevard, just before Century went under the railroad bridge on its way to LAX airport. It was around 7:00 am on a nice sunny Thursday morning, and I was joining the other Angelenos heading off to work. George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” started playing on the radio as I drove out towards the end of the airport runways on Aviation Boulevard. All of a sudden it hit me! This felt like a scene from some movie made in the 70s. I must be dreaming. This cannot be real! What am I doing here?

I worked somewhat late that day in the office in El Segundo and finished around 6:00pm. I decided to treat myself to a good dinner in a decent restaurant, but also decided to order a salad along with my beer so that I would be eating something healthy. My destination was Cozymels Restaurant that evening. The black and white Ahi Tuna salad that was shown on the menu sounded just right. When the food arrived I was in for a shock. The sliced pieces of tuna were all pink. It was basically a lot of raw fish with some kind of decoration of white and black spots on the surface of the tuna – with lettuce, mango pieces, raw pink onions and a few other things. I could not finish the food. The mango pieces were tasteless and I still had the taste of onions in my mouth the next morning. Yuk! This was my great treat during my last night in LA last week.

I also traveled to LA the week before. That was a longer trip that lasted the whole week, and I spent the days in Hollywood at a conference. The area around Hollywood Boulevard is a very strange place. The conference that I went to was in an upscale hotel next to the famous Chinese Theater and the Kodak Auditorium. From an open verandah on the fifth floor just next to the conference rooms one could see the famous Hollywood sign up on the hill, and if you looked down you saw all the high-end stores and restaurants located beside the hotel. But things were different away from the hotel. I took a walk along the street at lunchtime one day and noticed that, outside of where the conference was being held, it was a very rough and tough place. It looked really run down and the buildings looked their age. There were lots of cheap stores around – T-shirts for tourists, cheap electronics, smoke shops, cheap luggage, cheap food, etc.. There was the smell of urine in the air, there were people loitering around on the street that it seemed wise to avoid, and you came across the occasional homeless person sitting on the side-walk talking to himself. One person was looking into all the garbage cans trying to find stuff. It occurred to me that although I was a little uncomfortable during my walk this was home for a lot of people. Would I still have been uncomfortable if circumstances had been different, and I had to spend more time in that place. We develop our comfort zones, and our own limited sense of reality that we can deal with. That may not be the real world.

The trips back from LA the last two times have worn me out. It is not the flights that have done me in, but it is the drive back home from the airport. I leave LA early in the morning, and by the time I get on the highway at Dulles airport to go back home, it is already dark. I join the long lines of red tail-lights of barely moving traffic on the Washington Beltway and one wants to get stop the car, get out, and scream. It is then that one actually feels the complete sense of futility. You know, I have been in a situation for many years where I have wished that I could stop what I was doing, take an extended break, and try to do something more interesting and fulfilling. It looks like I am not going to get there for a number of reasons. But I still persist with what I am doing, and I wonder if there is a choice. Is this a trap? It is only when you are stuck on the highway of life behind the red tail-lights, with little sign of progress, that it all hits you like a ton of bricks.

Well, the trip back from Hollywood ended in a bad way. I was not in a good mood when I arrived at home and I declined to go for the Halloween party at a friend’s place. I stayed at home by myself and went to sleep, and promptly woke up the next day feeling sick. My throat felt like sandpaper and it was on fire. I recovered after a sleepless Saturday night, and a Sunday of high temperatures, only to have to head back to LA once again last Wednesday. Fortunately, this last trip ended in a better manner. I did not fall sick, and I was able to head out to the towpath on Sunday morning to recover.

What a beautiful day it was last Sunday! The colorful leaves of Autumn have almost all fallen by this time, but some of the sections of the park were still really quite pretty. The woods in the area near Carderock were a strange combination of yellow and orange. Dried leaves covered the towpath in most parts and lay on the waters of the canal like a carpet. Where most of the leaves have fallen off the taller trees, there were still some short trees left behind that were a very bright shade of yellow. Looked great! When the wind blew, you could see the leaves that were left of the trees come loose and fly away over the canal. There was this one large dried leaf that kept floating over the canal and refused to come down. There were beautiful reflections of some of the colorful trees in the waters of the canal. In a certain section, there was a deer that was running along beside me in the woods next to the river, behind the thinned out foliage. It looked like it was keeping me company. It was sunny out there and the temperature was just right. There were many folks enjoying a Sunday morning outing. Kids were on bikes. Kids were in little carriages that were being pushed along by the jogging adults. There was this young couple who were just thrilled about seeing a great blue heron for the first time. The guy had to tell me about it. I just smiled. I am now a veteran. I just kept going, in no hurry to get to the end of this outing. It was the perfect day. But I did tire out at the end….

By the next weekend there will be nothing left to see on the trees. Another cycle of life would have completed. One will have to await the rebirth in Spring.
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Quantum Computers, Explained With Quantum Physics : Quanta Magazine

I am not sure I will ever understand the concepts of Quantum Computing completely, but I still a kick when I get a feeling that I have gotten a somewhat intuitive sense for what is going on. For me to get beyond this state of understanding, I have to put in a far greater level of effort than I am capable of doing at this time. For now, this will suffice.