Autumn In The Year 2020

After all our attempts of the previous weeks, we finally did get to see some decent autumn colors. During a walk to Clopper Lake, we came upon a stand of trees beside the lake where the color was at it peak, or close to it. The light was just right for pictures like this.

We also made a trip to the Catoctin Mountain Park, up north near the town of Thurmont in Maryland, on Saturday. The place was packed with people by the time we got there. We had to park along the main road just outside the park in order to try to get to the visitor center and the trails. (The line of cars parked along this road was even longer by the time we left the park that afternoon.) The trails were also packed with hordes of people, some of whom had come in large groups. That was surprising to see during these times of COVID-19.

Because of the conditions on the ground, we decided to drive into the park instead of taking one of the trails at the visitor center, but still had difficulty finding a place to park within the park itself. The parking lots in there were also full, and there were also a limited number of such lots. The added frustration was that you had to drive away from the road to enter these lots, and then you would find that there was not even one parking spot available! We tried most of the lots. It was frustrating to have to drive through the colorful roads where the colors had just peaked and not have a place to pull over to take pictures. The pictures taken directly from the car (I would stop on the road itself if there was no traffic behind me) were pathetic. Fortunately, we had some luck towards the western end of the park.

In any case, here are some pictures of the park and surrounding areas. It was quite cloudy, and the quality of the pictures are representative of the conditions.



The colors of autumn last only a short time. We will be seeing a lot more brown tree trunks by the end of the week. When looking back at the pictures I have taken recently, I am also reminded that it was still green all around us when I started looking for the autumnal colors just earlier this month. Changes happen quickly during this time of year, and before we know it we will be experiencing the full force of winter.

I saw an interesting episode of American Experience recently. It was called The Gilded Age. This episode is set during the late 19th century. This was the period of time when the USA was being transformed from an agrarian society to an industrial one. This was the period of time when “capitalism” began to be favored in government, and wealth inequality, and power inequality, came into place in a systematic way. It is a fascinating story. It has only gotten worse since then, and one wonders how much further this phenomenon can persist until all hell breaks loose. This is a good episode to watch if you want to understand our history, and where it is we come from as a country. These days, one could be led to believe that the maintenance and furtherance of the capitalist creed is the primary goal and functional requirement of the US government apparatus, and that one should accept this as gospel truth if you were a true citizen of the USA. Know that this is not what the founding fathers were thinking of, or necessarily had in mind, and that such thought process is only a more recent invention being pushed forward by the people in power in order to try to maintain the status quo. Meanwhile, the inequalities only continue to get worse with time.

Beautiful Sunday – Four Locks to Dam 5

Hi, hi, hi, beautiful Sunday
This is my, my, my beautiful day
When you say, say, say, say that you love me
Oh my, my, my, it’s a beautiful day

Beautiful Sunday – Daniel Boone

We went looking for the Autumn colors once again last weekend, only to be disappointed – once again! Smart person that I am, we headed up north, thinking that we would have more luck there. But it was not to be. What we observed was a strange mix of trees that seem to have lost most of their leaves, and trees that were still green, with a few trees with hints of different colored leaves mixed in. Different sections along the sides of the road displayed very different characteristics when it came to the Autumn foliage. I got the impression that while the colors may not have peaked in some sections, there was a chance that there could be a direct fade to brown that was going to take place in others. The conversation in the car turned towards making a trip to the Shenandoah Valley, a place that is known for its Fall colors, and spending a little more time there. The problem is that places like that attract a crowd during this season.

But the attitude changed soon after we arrived at Four Locks. (We had previously come here when the kids visited earlier this year.) The thermometer in the car said 38° as we took to the trail. I was bundled up in my typical attire for a cold winter morning – including a cap, two pairs of gloves, and three layers over my chest. I might have overdressed! It did not feel too cold out there. The skies were clear, the sun was out, and there was no wind.

All negative thoughts regarding the failure of the mission to find the colors of Autumn faded away as soon as we got on the towpath. My mood was instantly uplifted! It is an amazing thing that happens to the spirit, and it is difficult to explain and describe. But it is real enough – even though I cannot find the words to describe the exact nature of the change that happens to you. You are simply happy in the moment! A little later during the walk, a woman passed us by on her bicycle, and she had this look on her face that I totally recognized and understood. She was feeling it the same way I was! This was the place to go to to forget about everything else and free up your soul. We encountered quite a few young women on bicycles during this walk, more than we normally do, many carrying material for overnight outdoor stays. And they all had smiles on their faces as they went by. Beautiful Sunday!

As far as the colors were concerned, we primarily saw yellows. We think that a significant contributor to the yellow color are the pawpaw trees that we now realize are plentiful throughout the length of the canal.

It was about 60° by the time we returned to the car, a little before noon. We had worked up a sweat and our outer layer of clothing had come off during the walk. I had to strip down further before we drove home in order to avoid overheating in the car.

Here a some pictures.

There was the early morning mist over the Potomac. This is what we saw from the parking lot at Four Locks when we arrived.

This was the view upstream of Lock 48 in the Four Locks area. We were headed downstream. The lock house for the four locks, and Locks 49 and 50, are also visible in the background. The four locks in this area are numbered from 47 to 50.

These are views of the trail in the morning sun.

This a view of the Potomac river from the trail as the sun rises.

This is a picture of Lock 46 and its lock house. You can see the remains of the bridge that the mules (that used to pull the canal boats) used – to transition from one side of the canal to the other. From this point onward, until the Lock 45, where the canal temporarily ended at the river, the towpath ran along what is normally the berm side of the canal. The boats were pulled along the side of the river beyond Lock 45.

These are pictures of the river from the section of the trail that runs right beside the river itself. The presence of cliffs like the one that you can see in the picture below made it difficult to build the canal here.

We passed Dam 5 on the Potomac as we headed further downstream. The Inlet lock seen in the picture below allowed boats to transition between the river and the canal once again. You can see the lock house that is present at this location in the second picture, along with the bridge that carries the trail back from beside the river to the original towpath beside the canal.

We explored a little more of the trail beyond Dam 5 before turning back to return to Four Locks.

This is a picture of the Four Locks area taken as were returning. Locks 49 and 50 are visible in the picture.

We did not see too many colors during our walk that morning, but it sure was a beautiful Sunday anyway.

My Continuing Search for Autumn Colors

The weather turned wet on Sunday after an extended period of sunshine, a period of time that had left me wondering whether the solar panel system on our roof would end up generating a record amount of energy for the month. I now do not think this will happen. There is an concept called the law of averages that will probably even things out over the the month. (Note that the law of averages more of a common sense statement rather than a mathematical statement of probability. But that is a discussion of another day!)

Anyway, it was a sunny morning last Thursday when I did a bike ride, heading towards Washington, DC. The experience of this bike ride left me with the feeling that I could be reaching the tail-end of the riding season – or that my strategy of starting a bike ride early in the morning – in order to ensure that I was back home at a reasonable time – was not going to work for the rest of the year. It was much too cold! It was cold enough that I went off-trail to visit the fully-equipped restroom at Great Falls after about eight miles of riding – to turn on the dryer in the facility in order to warm my hands and get sensation back to my fingers. It being early in the morning, I was riding in the shadows of the woods, and I could not even depend on the touch of the sun to warm me up.

I was still feeling the cold when I got to the end point of the ride, a spot beside the trail between the mile 7 and 8 markers of the towpath, just beyond the footbridge across the canal.In order to keep myself warm (while I refreshed myself with a Clif bar and some water), I parked the bike next to a bench that happened to be in the sun.

It had warmed up nicely by the time I started making my way back to Rileys Lock, to the extent that I encountered many more riders headed the other way during this stretch of pedaling.

As you can see from the pictures above, and also from the pictures below that I took at the start of the ride at Rileys Lock, the leaves on the trees were still generally green that day,but there were also signs that they had begun to drop!

I did not feel too tired at the end of this ride. I am sure the outside temperature had something to do with it.

We went for a walk on the towpath last Sunday starting at Pennyfield Lock and heading north towards Rileys Lock. Because of the threat of rain later in the day hanging over us, we decided to get a very early start. We did not even have breakfast before heading out!

You observe more things around you when walking than when biking. There were the early signs of the coming change to the foliage, and there was at least one point at which we also got a glimpse of how extraordinary the Autumn view can become as the season progresses towards its peak.

In any case, a walk along the canal is beautiful and therapeutic in so many different ways.

Unfortunately, we were also reminded of how busy, and sometimes unpleasant, this section of the trail can get during the weekends, with hordes of inexperienced bikers and walkers taking over the towpath. We had to be on our toes and aware of traffic in both directions while walking. We encountered large groups of people who were unfamiliar with the protocols and courtesies of the trail, people who created a danger to themselves and others. What to do? I made the mistake of trying to let people know in one instance even though I am not good in situations like this.

The Fallen Leaves

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA carpet of dead leaves covers the ground, lit up by the bright morning light.  The leaves glow in the warmth of the sun.  There is a beauty in the dying.

Before we know it, the golden leaves will all be swept away.  The winds of winter, even now, renew their strength. They blow our way from the north once again.  Soon we will be scurrying to find shelter from the bone-chilling cold as Old Man Winter reaches out with his icy fingers.

And this will pass eventually.  As Winter fades into Spring, the cycle will start once more. There will be renewal.  All this will happen without a care for what you or I think, and without care for your or my presence…  And so it goes.

Days of Autumn

I wrote an optimistic blog a couple of days ago.  I had seen the sun come out and was ready to bask in its glory.

Alas, it was not to be!  The clouds appeared in the sky soon after I posted the blog, and the weather turned gloomy once again.  All motivation to go out and get some exercise soon faded away.

But the sun did come out once again yesterday.  The bright blue sky stayed that way the whole day.  I could go out for a run, in preparation for the Feaster Five event that one is going to participate in on Thanksgiving.

As I was driving around the neighborhood, I noticed a couple of bright spots in the midst of the drab surroundings.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlthough Fall has generally been a dull affair this year, there are still some isolated flashes of brilliance to be experienced before it is all gone.

And then it turned cold and cloudy once again today.  And now it is raining!  Dang!

These are the days of Autumn.  I suppose that is what one should expect.

The Sun is Finally Out Again

There are leaves on the ground all over our backyard.PB070001.jpg These are the days of transition, from the greens of summer, to greys and browns of winter.   The days in-between, the days of Autumn, can be quite pretty as we observe the dying of the leaves, but we have not had occasion to see much of that in our neck of the woods this year.  We did make the attempt during the last couple of weekends to see how things were on the towpath.  Two weekends ago,  we saw mainly green.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis was how it looked where we went last weekend, to a different section of the canal close to the place we had been to the previous week.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We already seem to be at the end of the Fall phenomenon in these parts!  It was a surprising difference that we were seeing between the two places that were just a few miles apart over the the course of a week.

And then it started raining!  The wet leaves stuck to the grass and the pavement all around our neighborhood.  It stuck to the rooftops of cars parked on the street.  It got carried into the storm drains by the storm water flowing in the streets.

The dampness penetrated the layers of clothing and made one feel miserable and wanting to crawl back under the sheets.  There was no motivation to go outside and do some exercise, something that was needed badly!

But the sun is out today.  I am optimistic about what the day can bring.

Autumn Finds Its Way To Our Neck Of The Woods

It has been a somewhat disappointing transition process in our surroundings so far this autumn season.  Other than the occasional exceptions, leaves have been slowly but surely falling off the trees without a hint of how colorful and pretty that process can be on a good year.   It must be the weather.  Nevertheless, we have persisted in looking for the signs of significant change as we walk the C&O canal towpath during the weekends.  Last weekend was a particularly drab one, with the threat of bad weather discouraging others in our group from walking with us.  But the two of us did go out to check out the changing of the seasons.

Regardless of how pretty the process of autumn is in our parts, one cannot escape the feeling of change in the air. The cooler, and soon to be cold, weather forces you to contemplate the winter months that lie ahead.  The changes in the landscape remind you that soon it will be time once again to batten down the hatches and power through a time of year that provides a challenge and a mood of its own.  The cycle goes on.

In The Still of The Day

I was driving on the road from the parking lot at Pennyfield Lock.  I was driving quite slowly.  It was not just the numerous potholes in the road that were slowing me down.  It was very quiet and relaxing out there and I was in no hurry.  Besides, there was an older gentleman walking briskly in the middle of the road in front of me with headphones covering his ears.

I had observed this older gentleman on the trail at Pennyfield lock a few minutes earlier where I had stopped to check out the fall colors.  The colors in our neighborhoods (except for that red maple that we planted behind our house) seemed to be somewhat muted this year relative to other years, but things seemed to be getting better a the tail end of the falling of the leaves.  I drove to the parks in spite of a weather prediction (that turned out to be accurate) that the sky would become cloudier as the morning passed by and that there was a chance of some rain.

In any case, the gentleman was walking with a purpose.  He looked like he did this kind of stuff regularly.  He was proceeding quite briskly in his yellow coveralls.  He had a backpack and I saw a camera hanging from a strap attached to it.  I did not see his water supply, but I am sure he was carrying some.  He had his music.

As the car got closer to this gentleman, I began to wonder if he realized that I was there.  The combination of the headphones he was wearing and fact that I was driving  a Prius that was in its quiet super-efficient mode because of my speed, could have made me difficult to notice. Since he was in the middle of the road,  I decided to drift off to the side of the road and get closer to him at a slower pace.  I was not about to honk the horn.

I got a response from him.  He shifted the position of his head as if to acknowledge me, and I was not sure if he was irritated by my approach.  All of a sudden he started crossing the road in front of me, to the side I was trying to pass him on.  I had not wanted him to change his position on the road just for me, but I figured out that this was what he was doing.  I reacted by turning the wheel so that the car moved back towards the middle of the road.

The guys raised his hands and signaled, it seemed somewhat aggressively, for me to stop.  As I halted the car, he broke off a stick from a fallen branch beside the road and walked with it across the road right in front of me. Soon he was pushing something that was on the road off of it.  I then saw it.  It was a small turtle and it looked very familiar!  After he had moved the turtle, he signaled for me to proceed. My mind quickly rewound to the incident many years ago when I had also moved a turtle off  a road. That incident had  motivated me to start writing about random stuff, and in some way led to the existence of this blog!  It felt, in a very irrational way, that there was some kind of connection being made across the different times of my life.  Weird!

As I eventually passed the gentleman in my car, I told him that he had done a very nice thing.  He was wearing his headphones, but he nodded to acknowledge me, and continued with his brisk walk.

Here are some pictures from yesterday.  I need to get out today to find out if I will find better conditions for fall photography.  It actually looks much nicer in some spots than I expected, but I also need better lighting to try to bring it all out.

 

The Passage of Time (10/5/2009)

Not sure if this fits into the weekly category, but since life is a quest for something or the other, I decided to post this old letter from 2009 with a few pictures I took at that time…

img_1612The leaf dropped out of the tree and was caught by the gentle Autumn breeze as it fell from the sky.   I swung my arm lazily as I ran by, as the leaf drifted across the trail.  Amazingly I made contact and the leaf ended up in my hand.  Alright!, I said to myself. At least that is what I thought I was doing.   But these days I am sometimes not sure if I am speaking to myself, or if I have said something out aloud without realizing it.  But it did not matter in this instance since I was all by myself.   I could behave like an happy two year old without having to worry about somebody looking at me in a strange way because I was not “acting my age”.
img_1602img_1652Perhaps, this is one reason I enjoy being out there on the trail.  I can scream out loud with a sense of wonder every time the heavy locomotives of the freight trains power past me.  I can even sing loudly to myself with only the flowers, the birds, and the occasional curious squirrel hanging around to hear the cacophony.  I can drop the burden of “expected” behavior and be myself.  I can take unplanned diversions from the trails into the unmarked woods if I want.  I can follow the butterfly or dragonfly as it flitters from flower to flower, hoping it settles down long enough at one location without flying away at my approach, so that I can take its picture.  (It does require a lot of patience!)  It is truly a healing process to get away from “civilization”.  Maybe I have a stupid smile on my face when I am out in the woods, and this why the few people I encounter seem to respond to me with a pleasant Good Morning.  Maybe they are all as crazy as I am.

The heat of summer is behind us and the cooler days of Autumn have arrived.  There are the cool and crisp Fall mornings – with the clear and bright blue skies, with the occasional fluffy wisps of clouds floating by – looking like light cotton balls that are being gently pulled apart by some unseen hand in the sky.  There are the cold and gloomy mornings, when the clammy feeling penetrates your jacket, and even your skin, when the heavens are filled with dark ominous clouds that block the sun and scurry across the sky, as if in a hurry, eager to get somewhere.
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The leaves are just beginning drop from the trees and there are already a few spots of reds and yellows in our neighborhood and on the trail.  The Frittilary that I saw in large numbers at the beginning of summer in Black Hill park have long since gone, and so have the somewhat rarer Monarchs.  There is still the occasional Tiger Swallowtail to be seen, but other than a few Skippers, this really seems to be the season for the Sulphurs.
img_1587The unidentified dragonflies and damselflies are still around in smaller numbers, occasionally flying around in pairs as if they were indulging in some sort of mating ritual (perhaps they are!), but they will also disappear as surely as the butterflies and the leaves on the trees.

The various types of ducks that I used to observe at Black Hill have long since gone, and I am looking forward to Spring when I hope to see the somewhat rarer migratory species once again.  The Canada Geese that are supposed to be migratory never left, and they dominate the lake and the river these days.   The cardinals are still around, but the robin will only return in spring.  My good friends, the blue heron, can very frequently be seen in certain sections of the canal fishing.  (Yesterday I saw a whole bunch of cormorants perched on some rocks in the middle of the Potomac near Harpers Ferry.  I was even fortunate to capture the picture of a raptor, perhaps it was an eagle or a osprey, diving into the waters of the Potomac to come up with a fish that it had caught!)
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The last flowers of summer can still be seen in the woods of Black Hill and along the towpath – the purple chicory, some white and purple fleabane, some asters, a few goldenrods, and some others that I still cannot identify.  I wish I had more time!img_1597
img_1649img_1668I cannot wait to experience the vast expanses of the fields of Virginia bluebell on the towpath in Spring.

And thus the days, the seasons, and the years go by, and one finds that one has survived to reach the age of 50!  (Teresa had arranged a great surprise Birthday party!  Thanks to John from arranging his trip from Bangalore so that he could spend the evening with us.)  The times seem to rush by in a hurry, and before I knew it, over 20 years of marriage have gone by and the kids have all grown up.   In just a few years the next generation will be ready to take over the reins from us, and eventually we will also be consigned to the dust.  The cycle of life will continue. I have to remind myself constantly that we need to do our best while we are here, and that we also need to make the best of what we have without being greedy.  In tough times I have to try to remember that I am one of the fortunate ones, and that the present will eventually become the past.  In the short time that we have here on Planet Earth, perhaps we can try to leave our mark by doing something positive for others, and we can also try to leave the world in a better shape than we found it.  Maybe, just maybe, this could be The Meaning of Human Life.

Life goes on.   Keep on Truckin…
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