Re-engagement and Re-connection

The re-engagement process started in earnest last weekend. The period of time after my return from India had been difficult. I had mostly been in recovery from some strange ailment that had hit me towards the tail end of my travels. The doctors at home could not figure out what I had caught, but whatever it was had thrown a few of my systems off-kilter. I lost a lot of weight – still have not made up the deficit. I was feeling a very strange lack of energy, and, other than a few isolated cravings, had no desire to eat or drink stuff that I usually enjoyed. The situation had kept me indoors most of the time since my return home.

But things could not stay this way indefinitely. I was getting stronger. I had to get out of the house and re-engage with my daily routines. I had to figure out how much I was really capable of doing.

What finally forced my hand was a trip that had been planned about six months ago. We had made arrangements to go down to the Shenandoah National Park to enjoy the autumn colors, staying a couple of nights at a place featuring tiny homes parked in the woods. The booking at the Getaway Outpost was not refundable. Making a reservation so far ahead of time to see the Fall colors had been a gamble.

As it turned out, we were, unfortunately, a little early for the colors of Fall. We could see the beginnings of change in the park, especially in the higher elevations, but the rest of the space was still green and lush. But how could that be a bad thing?! Regardless of the colors, you cannot go wrong visiting the Shenandoah National Park, especially if the weather cooperates. We enjoyed three gorgeous days in the park. We had clear skies all the time we were there. The mornings were chillier than I expected, especially when compared to home, but the days warmed up nicely for hiking. We had a wonderful time!

We drove to different locations along the Skyline Drive, stopping at a few of the overlooks along the way that provide views of the valleys below the ridge line, but spending much more of our time hiking on trails that started from beside the main road. The park was less crowded than I expected it to be. We were always able to find some place to park the car. We would split the day into a couple of somewhat shorter hikes, having lunch in-between – either at a picnic bench or seated in the car itself. Even though the distances covered in each of these hikes during the day were shorter, they were pretty intense hikes for novices like us, with steady climbs and descents. We covered about 16 miles, and did over 4000 feet of climbing and descending. We pushed ourselves, even when on the rough and rocky trails that we sometimes encountered, taking breaks as needed. We learnt more about our capabilities and limits as the days went by. We were really capable of doing more than we initially thought we could.

A lot of our time was spent on the Appalachian Trail that runs all the way through the park. Destinations on the trails included mountain tops and waterfalls. We walked up to the highest point in the park. We went down to what might be its most popular waterfall. Since the park runs over a hundred miles north-to-south (or south-to-north, depending on your point of view!), we were able to find trails at several spaced-out locations along the Skyline Drive, far away from the park entrances where the crowds tend to gather. We had a lot of time to ourselves on some of these trails, while some of the more popular ones got a little bit crowded. But, surprisingly, even the popular trails were not as crowded as I expected this close to the phenomenon of the autumn colors. We were usually walking in solitude in the woods by ourselves – surrounded by the thick forest vegetation. Whether we encountered signs of autumn was a matter of luck.

This is the year I finally became eligible for the America The Beautiful Lifetime Senior Interagency Pass. I made sure that I got the pass before we set out on this trip. This pass gives me access to all Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and US Fish & Wildlife Service sites all over the country that charge entrance or standard amenity fees for the rest of my life!  I guess this is one of the few perks of growing old in the USA.

Transitions

We are in a seasonal transition in our neck of the woods. It is a truth – as true as anything and everything else that is real and factual. There is no way that somebody can refute my statement, right? Winter is around the corner in Maryland.

Unfortunately, facts seem to be more and more difficult for people to accept in today’s world. It is the belief that counts, and a lot of our actions will be based on these beliefs. I could have edited those pictures I am showing you, or even picked pictures out from my collection from a different year, to state something that is untrue. You believe that I will not do that. There is an element of trust involved. You believe that I will not lie to you.

It is a sad thing that active efforts are being made to destroy the trust that people in the US have in their electoral system. When this happens, the truth, and the facts, do not matter. The lies are considered credible. And the lies can become a matter of faith. Living in a virtual world of computers and social media makes this process even easier. Facebook’s algorithms have no means to separate out truth from lies. AI technology is also not necessarily based on starting from truths. Scientific truths have no basis in a virtual world, facts have no foundations there. These days you can argue that the world is flat, that man did not land on the moon, and that a conman won this election – and the algorithms in the computers will say, fine, we do not care if this is true or not, and we will proceed as if this is fact.

All real facts point to the successful and honest conclusion of the election process in the US, a process that was as fair as it could be. Unfortunately, apparently 70% of Republicans, at this time, believe that the election was really won by the candidate who actually lost it – the two-bit huckster, the conman. Unfortunately, this fantasy is also not explicitly repudiated by the people in power who are in a position to state the facts. They are afraid. They are hypocrites who look out only for themselves. People lie, these lies are amplified, and these lies are believed because of the kind of world we live in. The facts have no place here. There is more chaos, uncertainty, and anxiety, in the transition that is taking place in our country because of all of this. This is nuts!

The Late Burst of Color

I have been observing the autumnal shedding of the leaves by the crape myrtle tree in our backyard for many years. It happens a little later in the season than for most other trees in our neck of the woods. The burst of colors when it happens is phenomenal. It gets your immediate attention. I do not think I have focused on this phenomenon as an object of photographic record-keeping in the past. I thought I would shares some of these pictures this year.

This is a view of the tree from one of the bedrooms at the peak of the colors.

This is a short sequence of pictures showing the change in the appearance of the tree during this turn of the season.

Here is a picture of the tree taken at sunset. The sky was a shade of purple when I took the picture. The color of the sky changed immediately after that – here one moment, and gone the next!
Soon, it will all be gone.

Getting Outdoors During a Time of High Anxiety

It is a time of reckoning for some of us as Americans. It is safe to say that there has never been a situation like this in the USA in the past. It is also tempting to say that there has never been an election like this in the USA in the past, but I do not know enough about American history to be sure about that. It is definitely true though that we as a country have been sinking into a dark hole the last few years, now accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, and that we might have a chance during the next few days to grab on to something on the side, even as we fall further into the hole, to try to at least stabilize the situation for some period of time. Perhaps we could even attempt to climb out of the hole, but that might be too much to ask for in the short run considering how far we have fallen. There is always hope!

We have seen strategies for winning an election that have never been used to this extent in this country in the past. The electronic media has made it easy for official campaigns to distribute manipulated audio/visual content, content that is designed to deceive, content that supporters of the president lap up. The president himself spews out lies and misinformation. As Steve Bannon once said – “flood the zone with sh*t”. And, sadly, we tend to not see the truth even if it is in front of our faces because we live in our own bubbles. The republican party apparatus has also gone into high gear to try to disenfranchise voters, and to prevent votes from being cast and/or counted. Lawsuits have been filed, and more have been promised. Armed vigilantes try to intimidate voters and people going about their daily business. The US Post office is failing to deliver mail-in votes in a timely fashion. (The person in charge of the post office is a recent political appointee. His actions could lead you to believe that what is happening is deliberate.)

One worries about the possible aftermath of these elections in ways that one never did before.

We had to find relief from our anxieties in other activities. Last week was a bad time for our usual outdoor pursuits. I am still adjusting to the fact that the weather is turning colder slowly but surely. The cloudy and damp conditions killed all of my motivation to try to get out. It was finally the weekend by the time we overcame our reluctance to face the seasonal forces of nature.

We went out to Edwards Ferry on Sunday in spite of the fact that rain was expected later that morning. The weather was still OK at the time we got on the trail. As you can see from this picture of the lock house for Lock 25, there were still patches of clear sky to be seen near Edwards Ferry.

As we started our walk, we could see the rising sun behind us struggling to pierce through the clouds that were coming our way. It was, ultimately, an unsuccessful effort! The skies continued to darken as we walked north towards Whites Ferry. We finished the last couple of miles of the walk in light rain. I had to put away the camera in my backpack at that point. I don’t mind walking in light rain even though it tends to impair my vision somewhat because of the water collecting on my glasses. For that matter, I am not sure that even heavy rain would necessarily stop me on the trail. My friends and I rode our bikes in the pouring rain during our ride last year. It was done deliberately, and it was also fun!

It was somewhat anticlimactic to be on the trail after the autumnal change in foliage. Whatever bright colors there might have been on the trees are almost all gone in these parts. Bare tree trunks are visible everywhere.

The only remaining color in this section of the trail was mostly due to the presence of the pawpaw trees.

There is a certain beauty in foliage that is primarily yellow in color, but I think I might be feeling this beauty more intensely because of its transient nature. After all, I do not talk about the green trees all summer long – or, do I?!

And we got to see some strange looking fruit on the trail for the first time. I would be curious to know if anybody can recognize these.

That’s it for this blog. Tomorrow is election day. I am keeping my fingers crossed!

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 a 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.