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.
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.
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.
Even though I know that all of this will go away eventually, with or without my presence, I get more and more discouraged with time as the scourge of the coronavirus continues to keep us in its stranglehold.
Even as we see acts of humanity and kindness, of cooperation, of people coming together, of heroism, in our midst, I find that, as a race, we are extremely discordant in our collective approach to tackling the global issue of the pandemic that has been unleashed on us. Generally speaking, we are on our own. Led by the example by the world’s wealthiest nation, we are not interested in a common strategy to minimize the impact of this contagion. The impact on less well-off people and nations with less resources is not for us to worry about. And some leaders – some political strongmen – are even taking advantage of the situation carry out other destructive agendas of their own, in other ways, while all of this is going on. Many of our leaders have blood on their hands for sure.
But, as is very obvious to me, life is still also going on outside of our selfishness and incompetence. I only have to look around my neighborhood. Spring is here!The deer seem to enjoy the spring growth that falls to the ground from the maple trees.The cherry blossom tree in our backyard has blossomed.We encountered this little snake while walking in the neighborhood. It appeared to be basking on the pavement. I think that it is a juvenile that has not yet gotten its markings. (You can see the beginnings of some markings on the face.) The snake did not seem to know enough to get out of the way of the walkers on the pavement. I had to gently encourage it to get off the pathway. Whether one has really helped, one never knows.And then, the Sunday walk in the park only served to further confirm to me our own insignificance in the scheme of things. Life and death can go on in its own way without our interference, and this is very obvious in Spring. There is no need for human intelligence to get in the way.
You can make out the green beginning to reappear on the trees on the towpath.The Common Starling in the picture below was dancing in front of a hole in the trunk of a tree in a very odd way. It could have been the location of a nest. This is the time for many birds to mate. We saw two bald eagles flying around on the Virginia side of the Potomac. There could have been a nest in this area. Then, there was the Canada Goose that had parked itself on the trail. I was worried that there was a nest close by that the bird was protecting. Fortunately, the bird was not aggressive, and simply went into canal as we approached. I had a stick in my hand – just in case!The early morning reflections in the ever-so-still waters of the canal were uplifting.Other curious and noisy birds were everywhere.The Virginia Bluebells were in full bloom.This is one of the many different kinds of woodpeckers in the park.I did not expect to see as many turtles are we did. This section of the canal contains water that is somewhat warm because of the runoff from the Dickerson Power Plant that is next to it. That might have been the reason.
These turtles seemed to be lining up to climb to the top of the branch that had fallen in the canal. To the eyes of this human, it looked like they were trying to conquer a peak.This turtle simply watched me as I took its picture. Many others slid into the waters at our approach.We even saw butterflies, including this swallowtail. It is a little early in the season for them.The Spring Beauty flowers had actually opened out to face the sun. Last week they were all folded up because of the cloudy weather.Life goes on!
Getting back to the ways of the rest of us residents of this planet, a wise man who shall remain anonymous came up with the following prayer:
Dear God, Trump and corona at the same time on Earth??? Why??? Let me know if you need advice on timing your challenges for us in the future…. Just saying….. Peace be with you, Amen
I think we all have to find our own way to keep the faith. Humor helps!
It was only a temporary relief from the worries of our lives, but it was well worth it. It was a reminder that there is a whole different world that exists out there beyond human beings and their existential concerns. It was a stark reminder that the world, and life, will go on even without us. (Thankfully, this time, there seems to be no obvious damage to the other things in nature because of what is happening to us. We are the only ones getting hurt. Hopefully it remains that way.)
For the first time in months, we were able to return to the C&O Canal towpath for our weekend walk. Hopefully we can get back to our old routine from now on. I had not realized how much I missed the place – the undisturbed surroundings, now beginning to turn green with the coming of Spring; the non-stop chatter and music of the birds; the flowers of Spring; the peace; nature itself.
Your earthly cares fade away when you are out there. In spite of the cloudy and somewhat dreary conditions, it was a morning for rejuvenation.
This is the entrance to the trail at Sycamore Landing.I was fortunate to see a bald eagle. Two of these birds flew across the road that led to the boat landing as I was walking down to the river at Edwards Ferry. This particular one landed on one of the trees close by. I managed to approach it quietly through the woods. It was difficult to find a good place to take its picture because of the branches of the trees in-between. The eagle kept its sight on me, and at some point decided that it had had enough of my nosiness.The trail was wide enough for people to cross each other safely.These racemes are a sign every year of the coming of Spring to the towpath.I kept looking around the trail, and into the woods, for interesting things big and small.The wet leaves.The Dutchman’s Breeches.The woodpecker. We saw different kinds of woodpeckers, and so many of them! They stand out because of their colors.
The Mayapple plants. The flowers actually appear under the leaves later in Spring.These are purple dead-nettles, an invasive plant.
Most of us have never experienced anything like this during our lifetimes. But one should also understand that smaller outbreaks of similar nature have been taking place all over the world even in recent times. Fortunately, those were contained. It was only a matter of time.
It has been just a few weeks since the spread of this contagion started.
Already, almost everything that we took for granted in our societal interactions and in our consumer behaviors outside of the house has had to be rethought.
Lifestyles have already changed.
National economies have already been altered.
Some people’s lives have already been shattered – even if they have not fallen ill. People need to eat even when the economy shuts down. It is a matter of survival for the weakest of our lot.
Some of the changes that have happened may be here for the longer term.
And the worst is yet to come…
The people who had a responsibility to anticipate and do something about the spread of this contagion early enough in the process, to try to limit the damage, failed us miserably. They are still failing us.
I have often wondered what would happen in the world if some of the things that we took for granted go away. How would we survive? (What we are experiencing now is not the worst case of something like this happening.) Ironically, being better off as a society does not necessarily mean that we are better prepared to tackle something like this. Events like this might bring out the best in some people, but, as a group, stupidity seems to reign to a greater extent in places where people are more comfortable and well off. When your mind becomes far removed from the basics of surviving, and the less you are interested in understanding how things really work, the more stupid one seems to behave. Perhaps the brain hurts from the effort. A special mention needs to to be made of the President of the richest country in the world, and the behavior of some of the youth of the country. They have no idea what a pandemic means, and how to behave responsibly in these circumstances. And what about the people who do not seem to care for the truth, to the extent that deliberate lies and misinformation spreads, stuff that can make things worse. And then there are the stories of complete incompetence. (I am not really that surprised about this particular case. I have experienced similar frustration with the system in the past.)
Meanwhile, one is overwhelmed with information, information being forwarded from all over the Internet. A lot of it is from well-meaning people. Every vendor that has my e-mail address has also sent me a message on how the contagion has impacted their business and interactions with their customers. A lot of what one is hearing is repetitive. How much of this can you take? How much of it can you absorb? Better to watch some late night comedy shows once in a while.
In the middle of all this, we cannot forget the people who are fighting this disease on the front lines. These are the doctors, the nurses, and the other hospital staff who are taking care of the sick. They are taking a lot of risk, and they are putting in a lot of time already. They are being stretched. And their job is about to get more difficult.
It is going to get worse before things get better. A few us may not be here at the end of it all. All we can do is take care and try to be prepared. And perhaps it is good to remind oneself once in a while that one does not live forever.
The name 30-60-30 was suggested at one point during the later part of this trip. After all, the trip was meant to be a celebration of two 30th birthdays, and one 60th, all taking place in the order noted above. It had been in the works for a while, and it was taking place in spite of fractured elbows that had gotten in the way of another 60th birthday celebration trip. That particular one had gotten cancelled a couple of weeks earlier. This one was a get-together with the kids, and a visit to the National Parks of Yellowstone and the nearby Grand Tetons, after which the two of us were to set off on adventures of our own, extending the trip to visit the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho and then also spend some time in Salt Lake City. During this trip, we were to travel through the states of Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.
It has been a few days since we finished the trip. I have been unsure about how to put this one into the record books. Should it be summarized in one blog? Should it be broken up into a day by day, blow by blow, description? How should I use the hundreds of pictures that I took related to this story? What should I emphasize and where will particular pictures fit in? I have decided on a “hybrid” approach. Only time will tell how this will turn out.
Traveling in this part of the country is mostly about the outdoors. Besides the parks that visitors come to see, this part of the country is occupied by large ranches and farms where cultivation of crops and the raising of animals takes place. The properties are huge, and it takes specialized equipment and vehicles to manage the large spaces. Some ranches have animals grazing in them as far as the eye can see – primarily cows and horses. In many places the landscape is dotted with massive irrigation systems that can water significant chunks of farmland in short time. And then there are the open and rugged lands that are more sparsely occupied.
Yellowstone National Park was a pleasant surprise for me. I was expecting the geyser Old Faithful to be the primary attraction, after which I expected to be done with the park, but I found out that the land that this huge park occupies is truly a wonderland. The Yellowstone Caldera is a massive ancient volcano basin where the volcanic activity has brought the heat and fury of the inner earth very close to its surface. The super-hot magma lies close enough to the crust to have a visible impact all over the park. Steam rises into the air everywhere. There are very few places in the world like this.Hot springs,geysers,fumaroles,mud pits, and all other combinations of phenomena that result from steam, hot water and hot mud rising out of the earth result. The throwing up, churning and/or bubbling of the water, or mud, is continuous as the underground forces are released. The air is filled with fumes with different smells. It is an amazing place.
The cold temperatures that we experienced in the park lent an additional beauty to the scene. Then there is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.This is very much a geologically active area. In one location, steam has erupted from the pavement in a parking lot. You are warned everywhere in the park to keep to the boardwalk. The crust is thin. You do not want to fall into a hole that opens up beneath you. Neither would you want to be there when subterranean forces burst out of the ground.
Yellowstone covers a huge area, and it takes a few days to get around to the different locations. So, if you visit, plan to spend enough time, perhaps a few days. It is one of those places well worth having on your bucket list.
The Grand Tetons are a different experience. The massive, rugged, and majestic massif that rises in a straight line up out of the flat plateau dominate the scene. Geologically, the Teton mountains rise along a fault line. Over a period of millions of years, the land on one side of the fault line was uplifted because the land on the two sides of the fault line pushed against each other. This process ended up raising and exposing really old rock in a relatively new mountain range. Imagine the nature of the forces that are powerful enough to actually create majestic mountains! Geology is fascinating.
The experience of the Grand Teton National Park is mainly about its beauty and the outdoor activities that are possible.
In many sections of both the parks the roads ran along, or crossed, mountain rivers and streams. The main rivers that I noted were the Yellowstone River, a tributary of the Missouri, that flowed to the north through the parks, and the Snake River, a tributary of the Columbia, that flowed to the south through the parks. There are a few large and very pretty lakes whose bright and clear blue color catches your attention immediately on a sunny day.
We arrived at the parks at a time when the weather was much colder than it usually is at this time of the year. We had to be bundled up in layers to stay warm, and there was snow and ice to be tackled on some of the trails. The kids were instrumental in making sure we could navigate some of the more slippery trails without incident and additional damage to elbows. There was some tricky driving involved on a couple of occasions. Driving up and down the winding mountain road through the Teton Pass in the falling snow on a dark night after a long day of driving from Salt Lake City to Jackson Hole was an interesting challenge. Waking up to below zero degrees (Fahrenheit!) temperatures in Island Park in Idaho one morning was a unique experience. We spent two very cold nights in a nice (but somewhat cold) cabin there. Fortunately, it warmed up somewhat – to closer to freezing temperatures – during the day as we drove into the park.
There are many kinds of animals to be seen in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, but we encountered only a few of them, including those in the pictures below.We did spend a lot of time looking for moose, and also hoping that we would not run across bears when we were by ourselves. Only the bears cooperated. A couple of people in the car managed to catch sight of a moose one day, but there was no place to stop for the rest of the folks in the car to get a view. We came back to the same area of the park a few times without success.
The kids left us after our explorations of Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. It was quality time that was well spent, and without their assistance we could not have been able to experience all that we did. After their departure, the two of us headed out further west in our rental car.
Our destination was the Sawtooth National Recreation area. Along the way, we stopped at the Craters of the Moon National Monument. This is a really strange place with bizarre landscape. The remains of ancient lava flows and their aftereffects dominate the area, making the place look like it is of another world.Apparently astronauts come here occasionally to train. There are some caves that have formed in this area, and I managed to crawl in and out of one of these and do some exploration (spelunking?!) without hurting myself. The area of the Craters of the Moon is active from a volcanic perspective. The National Park Service site states “The time between eruptive periods in the Craters of the Moon Lava Field averages 2,000 years and it has been more than 2,000 years since the last eruption.”
The drive past this park took us through the area occupied by the Idaho National Laboratory, a place that I had not known about before. Apparently, this is one of the historical centers of nuclear research in the country. It is still active. There are a few nuclear reactors still in the area, and nuclear waste is also stored here. I suppose the location makes sense considering how sparsely populated this part of Idaho is, and how far it is from major population centers.
We spent the night in a small town called Bellevue in the Sun Valley area of Idaho before heading for the Sawtooth Mountains that lay further to the north. As with our drives earlier on in the trip, this one was spectacular. This was in spite of the fact that the weather did not cooperate too much in the early part of the day. We had to drive through intermittent events of rain and snow fall.Just beyond a mountain pass over Galena mountain, we arrived at the headwaters of the Salmon river, also called the “The River of No Return”. We drove onward to the town of Stanley. The place looked like it was out of a Western Movie, but a more modern version. It felt like the major form of transportation in this part of the world was the pickup truck. The popular fashion statement seemed to involve clothing with camouflage design on it. The Salmon river flows past Stanley on its way north along this section of the road.In general, many of the small towns that we drove through in the countryside during this trip could be considered “cute”. The few commercial buildings in town would mostly be centered around the one main traffic intersection on a main road. There could be the town’s only traffic light at the intersection. There was usually a gas station. The towns that were not too far from the tourist areas would have a few restaurants and drinking holes, and perhaps a motel or two, some of them new and modern. I did notice a Buddhist establishment in at least one town. Young people seem to find jobs in some of these places. Perhaps they keep them alive.
The stop at Shoshone Falls in the town of Twin Falls, Idaho, took place the same evening that we visited the Sawtooth Mountains. It happened because of an encounter we had the previous day at the Craters of the Moon. A fellow visitor had shown us pictures she had taken of the place. The waterfalls are impressive. They are also called the Niagara of the West. The waterfalls happened to be on our way back to Salt Lake City. Not many people visit, although we did see the obligatory busload of Chinese tourists.We spent a significant part of the next day on our way back to Salt Lake City at Antelope Island, located on the Great Salt Lake. Antelope Island hosts a popular state park and is reached by driving over a causeway from the mainland.The island is dedicated to outdoor activities. We were limited in what we could do because of the pre-trip injuries. We did a little bit of hiking on the easier trails. In general, these trails were not that well maintained, nor well marked.
We made it to a beach to check out the salinity of the water.You do get a view of Salt Lake City from a distance from certain viewpoints on the island. The Wasatch mountains dominate the background.I was hoping to see more of the local flora and fauna on the island. That did not happen.
The final day was spent visiting the sights in Salt Lake City. The city is small enough that you can cover it on foot. The main attraction is Temple Square, where you can see the outside of the Mormon Temple, and visit their chapel and Tabernacle. They have visitor centers where you can learn more about Mormonism. It is an interesting experience, and there is no pressure. Salt Lake City is the seat of the Mormon religion.We caught a performance on the organ at the Tabernacle. After a visit to the nearby Utah State Capital Building,we headed back to our hotel. Autumn was very much in the air in Salt Lake City.We went to the Saturday evening service at the Cathedral of the Madeline later on in the day, went out for dinner at a sushi restaurant after that, and finally called it a day.
And that was the end of the vacation and the visit to the four northwest states.
We flew back to Maryland the next morning. (That’s Salt Lake City in the background in the picture above!)
The first of a series of blogs with more details of the trip can be read here.
A friend of mine from high school days passed away very recently. I had visited with him in 2014, the last time I met him. He had been ill even at that time. I wrote this to our classmates then.
I jumped at the opportunity when Srini suggested the trip to the grounds of the Theosophical Society this morning even though I would have to leave home at the unearthly time of 5:15 am to get there early enough.
It is amazing that in spite of having lived in Chennai for so many years I have not been to this wonderful place. The peace and quiet in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city is truly calming. The greenery is wonderful. And there are also enough interesting trails to give you a good workout. There is amazing flora and fauna, and the birds are constantly chirping. Can any of the intrepid botanists in this group identify this flower?
Certain portions of the grounds look as if they are straight out of the set of an Indiana Jones movie. (The picture below reminds me of a Star Wars movie!)We went to the beach and also walked along the beach to the Adyar river estuary. It was a beautiful morning, and people were paying their respects to the rising sun with exercise and meditation routines. We dipped our feet into the waters of the Bay of Bengal.I enjoyed the walk and the exercise, and I recommended to Srini that he try to visit these paths at least once a week so that he could stay in good shape. Maybe other folks in the area would like to give it a try (and perhaps give Srini company in this regard if he would like it).