Beyond Our Species

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!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe deer seem to enjoy the spring growth that falls to the ground from the maple trees.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe cherry blossom tree in our backyard has blossomed.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe 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.IMG_20200402_165010731And 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 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!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe early morning reflections in the ever-so-still waters of the canal were uplifting.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOther curious and noisy birds were everywhere.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Virginia Bluebells were in full bloom.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is one of the many different kinds of woodpeckers in the park.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis turtle simply watched me as I took its picture.  Many others slid into the waters at our approach.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe even saw butterflies, including this swallowtail. It is a little early in the season for them.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Spring Beauty flowers had actually opened out to face the sun.  Last week they were all folded up because of the cloudy weather.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALife 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!

Fields of Gold (9/11/2005)

I wrote this email in 2005. I had just started visiting the C&O canal towpath the previous year,  and was still in the process of regularizing my weekend exercise routine beside the Potomac river.  Some of the places that I visited along the canal were not as familiar to me then as they are now.

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I was up early this morning and headed for Point of Rocks for my morning run. These morning runs have become less frequent with the efforts to get the rest of the family involved in the C&O canal activities. Last weekend Teresa and I biked 16 miles on the trail. (That is certainly an great achievement for a first-timer!) I have biked with Angela on other occasions, and, a couple of times, also run on the trail while the others have biked along. However, as I realized this morning, while getting the family involved is a good thing, you still need your own time to rejuvenate and recuperate. There is nothing like the silence of the woods in the cool of the early morning to sooth your soul and bring your internal temperature back to normal. Come what may, I need to find a way to continue my travels and meditations.

As I was driving towards Point of Rocks this morning, I was struck by the sight of the fields of gold. Yes, the leaves in some of the fields are beginning to turn golden yellow. These fields alternated with the neighboring cornfields where the stocks of corn stood tall, some of them turning brown due to the coming of Fall. It was a sight to see, and I stopped by the roadside to take pictures. It immediately brightened my mood. Lona Alias, my favorite Sunday morning DJ on the radio, provided some reminders of events in the real world, including the anniversary of 9/11, and happenings down in New Orleans. She played some nice songs. If you have not done so already, you should find a way to listen to the song “Louisiana 1927” by Randy Newman. Although it is going to take up some space, I am going to include the words for the entire song here. Hope you don’t mind.

“What has happened down here is the winds have changed
Clouds roll in from the north and it started to rain
Rained real hard and it rained for a real long time
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

The river rose all day
The river rose all night
Some people got lost in the flood
Some people got away alright
The river have busted through clear down to Plaquemines
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangelne

Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tyrin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away

President Coolidge came down in a railroad train
With a little fat man with a note-pad in his hand
The President say, “Little fat man isn’t it a shame what the river has done
To this poor crackers land.”

Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away”

Apparently, the 1927 flooding of Louisiana resulted in widespread death and destruction, and very poor response from the authorities. History is repeating itself. Enough said.

I ran from Point of Rocks to the Monocacy Aqueduct and back today. The morning was cool, portending the coming of Fall. All the people I encountered on the trail were cheery and greeted me with smiles. The kids were packing materials from the campsites that they were vacating after overnight stays, and carrying the stuff to their cars. Other kids rode their bikes in disorderly columns, with adults trying to provide supervision and prevent them from running people over. As I jogged by, one gentleman even wished me well on my efforts to complete the 12 miles. I did not even feel too tired after the run and my muscles did not give out on me during the run. I still feel great!

One incident to note. After I finished the run, I walked up to the railroad tracks to take some pictures. I walked along the tracks with my camera, trying to find spots with some interesting shots. When I returned, I observed a vehicle belonging to the Park Police in the parking lot facing my car. I walked by the officer trying to act nonchalant, wondering if I was in some kind of trouble, especially since I had been trespassing on the railroad tracks a couple of minutes back. (Think Al Qaeda!) “Good morning” I said to the policemen. “How is it going?” he responded cheerily. As I opened the driver’s door and got into the car, he got out of his vehicle and started walking towards me, at least that was what I thought. As he got closer, he angled away towards the car besides mine. It was an old beaten-up wreck, parked further away into the woods. He inspected the car carefully and started talking into his radio. He then turned and walked back to his vehicle, taking a glance a me as I sat in the front seat of my car eating a donut as he went by. He then drove away. I wonder if he also checked out my license number in my absence, and if I am now on some kind of a watch list. Of course I am paranoid! Anyway, that was my adventure for day.

Enough for now.
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The above letter was written shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.   This hurricane devastated the city.  It never fully recovered to its old self.

You can listen to the song I talk about here.

Here are some pictures taken that day.100_0936100_0937100_0947100_0950100_0956The parking area at Point of Rocks has changed significantly since 2005, the time I first started visiting.  It used to be real rough.  There were just a few spots off a dirt road, and you parked in whatever random space you found.  You could also drive beyond the lot to a space under the bridge carrying US Highway 15 across the Potomac. You could find dicier parking (if the water in the river was not too high) there.  All of this has now been replaced by a real parking lot, and a very big one at that! Also, you can no longer drive beyond this lot to the space under the bridge.  The space on the other side of the canal, between the railroad tracks and the main road (MD Route 28),  has also now been converted into a well-maintained park.  And a lot more people visit these days.

The River Runs Brown at Cohill Station (5/19/2014)

It is a strange process of the mind that has gotten me to post this particular blog.  I actually started out wanting to bring Christina’s blog from her Peace Corps days back to life (at least temporarily).  The final blog, before she leaves Guinea, is a classic.  But, then, I thought that the circumstances of my referral to that blog in my original e-mail in 2014 were also interesting enough.  I post my original e-mail in full.  I do this in spite of the fact that we are heading into the season of Winter at this time, and not Summer.  In fact, the temperature outside right now is about 20°F.

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It rained cats and dogs, and squirrels and gerbils, last Thursday.  The wind rattled the blinds of the open window in the bedroom waking me up in the middle of the night from my solitary slumber.  Teresa is in Bangalore with her dad, Angela is in school taking her final exams, and Christina is wandering around the country, taking a break after returning from her Peace Corps adventures. The wind blew hard enough that night that I had to get out of bed to close the open windows. A little bit of water even got into the bathroom through a skylight that was apparently not sealed adequately on the roof.  Our region also experienced a significant amount of flooding and road closures in the aftermath of the storm.  We have been seeing an unusual number of similar storms this Spring.  Is it the impact of global warming?

Since I was alone at home, I decided to head out as far west as I could this Sunday morning in order to extend my coverage of the 184.5 mile C&O canal trail.  Two weeks ago I had started my run at the Cohill Station traiI access point at near mile 130.  Today I started my run from the end of the WMRT at Pearre, MD, near mile 136.  I  managed to get all the way to mile 139 today.  Some day I will get to the end of this trail.  (KJ note – I did get to the end of the trail finally in 2016.)

Very few people live in this part of Maryland these days. The ridges of the Appalachian mountains run north to south, and in these parts they provide natural barriers that cause the Potomac to turn left at the Cacapon mountain and actually flow north for a few miles before the river turns east and south again to head towards the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.   Further to the west lie the Paw Paw bends of the river that cause the it to meander in S-shapes through the hills. I wondered about the processes that caused this section of the river to actually be created.  Was the Potomac formed because of erosion by glaciers during an ice age?  As you make your way to the trailheads on roads off of Interstate 68, you will find yourself traveling along the valley or the crest of the little known Tonoloway ridge . You see abandoned homes along the road.  When you get to your destination, you also notice the many abandoned trailer homes beside the trail.  I wonder if this used to be a poorer part of Maryland.  How did people survive?  Did their source of living vanish due due to changing times?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThree weeks ago one could make out the new leaves of Spring on the trees along the trail.  Today the area looked lush and green.  Change can happen quite quickly!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut the thing that caught my particular attention was the high level of water in the river and the nature of its swift flow.  When there is flooding, the initial impacts are usually felt in the local streams and creeks, but all of this water eventually flows into the rivers, and the river can actually crest a few days later, after the storms have long gone by.  The Potomac only crested in certain sections on Saturday, the day before my run.  The river looked browner than usual.  Imagine the massive quantity of mud that was being swept down the river because of erosion in our backyards, the mud that was causing it to look different.   There is no way to reclaim this sediment and to reverse the process.  Material that was in a certain location at one time is gone forever from that location.  This change is irreversible.  It reminds me that we human beings have difficulty adjusting to change, while in the grand scheme of things irreversible change is inevitable.   To what extent does it make sense to put up a fight?   No other species has done as much as humans to put up a fight, and with knowledge and technology we have brought tremendous sophistication to this endeavor, and quite often we do not care about the secondary consequences.  When does it make sense to accept nature’s reality gracefully without trying to fight it?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe solitude of the trail (and perhaps even the quiet of the empty home) actually soothes the mind.  Such conditions provide moments of clarity that would otherwise not be possible with the constant interactions and distractions of daily life.  The trail is perhaps one of the very few circumstances when I am capable of trying to ponder if there is a bigger picture considering how inconsequential our existence is on the grand scale of things.  The trail provides perspective.  You are aware that everything else that is going on around you is for the most part independent of the human factor.  The world can actually exist without us humans.   Why do some of us think there is an overall purpose that is to benefit our species to the detriment of others?  Why does it seem that the progress of human society appears to be a process of positive feedback that is leading to increasing inequality in almost all dimensions, while the ultimate result is inevitable?  What does a human really need beyond food, clothing and shelter, and what happens when you get beyond that? All things considered, what should I be trying to do?  Should I even spend my time thinking about things like this?  You might actually get some answers that work for you under the right conditions.

So, what about Cohill Station?  It used to be a real railroad station on the Western Maryland Railroad in the old days when the population in this part of Maryland used to be more significant.  Nothing remains at the former site of the station.  Dust to dust!  I wonder how things were for people who used to live along the river, especially when it ran brown.

Things change.

Returning Home at Journey’s End

Heading back after a morning out on the river.

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A man and his dog
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The couple and their dog
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The paddleboarder

These pictures were taken at the location where Seneca Creek meets the Potomac river in Montgomery County in Maryland.  Many people start their travels on the river from the creek.  This is also the location of Riley’s Lock on the C&O Canal.

The Wind and the River

The section of the Mount Vernon Trail between Gravelly Point Park and Roosevelt Island runs in-between the Potomac river and the George Washington Parkway, and provides open and changing views of Washington, DC, on the other side of the river. There are many weeping willow trees to be seen in the meadows beside the trail in this section. Even though they look very nice and distinctive, I have not stopped recently to take pictures of these trees. This is probably because I am usually focused on the final destination by the time I get to the section, which may also be because I tend to take long breaks at Gravelly Point park to watch the aircraft taking off and landing at National Airport just before getting to this section.

But this ride was a little different since I was consciously making an effort to take it easy. The wind was also blowing stiffly from across the river and slowing down my progress.

And then I had this photo opportunity at the bridge where the George Washington Parkway and the Mount Vernon trail cross the Boundary Channel. I was compelled to get off the bike to get a picture of the weeping willows as they faced off against the fierce wind coming off the Potomac river.

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Some day, I will be in an even more relaxed mood as I ride by this section of the trail, and I will ride down to the bench seen in the picture. I will sit at the bench for a while, have a refreshment or two, and soak in the view of the Potomac river and Washington, DC. And it will be a good day for the soul.

PS. You can see the top of the Navy – Merchant Marine Memorial off to the left of this picture. This memorial is a part of the Lady Bird Johnson Park.

The Morning of the Black Rat Snakes

I have been seeing black rat snakes more regularly on the C&O canal towpath ever since I started bicycling there – which is only more recently.  I think I see more snakes when biking just because I cover a lot more distance on the trail than when on foot.  The black rat snake is actually a very common denizen of the woods in these parts.  They are easily recognizable from the color and the white patch underneath.  They can grow quite long.  They are supposed to be quite harmless but I have not tried to find out if this is true!  They get their name because they eat rats and other small creatures.

I had seen only one black rat snake on the trail this year until yesterday, which is somewhat unusual for a biking season.  But that changed yesterday.  There was something about the morning that seemed to bring them out into the open in larger numbers.

I am usually on the lookout for anything black that lies across the trail when I ride.  Many are the times that I have been fooled into thinking that a fallen branch from a tree lying across the trail looked like a snake!  And when you are on a bicycle, the distance between you and the “snake” tends to vanish very quickly. You do not want to ride over the snake.

But I did see a real snake a few miles into the ride yesterday.  At first I could not make out which direction is was headed in.  A closer look revealed that it was beginning to cross the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I think I disturbed it enough that it might have changed its mind about crossing the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI did not have time to take a picture the second time I ran across a snake.  There were two old ladies approaching from the other direction on their bikes, and the black snake was in the middle of the trail.  I stopped and noted that there was a snake in front of them.  They had not noticed it, and they did not understand me the first time I pointed out the snake.  Luckily, they grasped what I was saying in time to avoid riding over the reptile.  I think it was sufficiently disturbed by the traffic all around it.   “You scared the darned thing”, I said to the women as they rode off behind me.  Not very polite…  (In any case, I crossed paths with the women once again on my way back and we exchanged pleasantries.  No issues…)

As if these encounters were not enough, I saw yet another black rat snake by the side of the trail further along in the ride!  This time I stopped for pictures.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn all cases yesterday, the snakes actually stayed quite still while I approached them on the bike, and while I was scrambling around with my camera.  This was in contrast with what happened the one time I saw one of these snakes earlier this year, when it was making haste across the trail to slither away into the grass.

I did not not see any more snakes on the way back from Whites Ferry, which was my destination for the morning.

This is also the week that I am trying to jump start my running routine once again in order to get my regular exercise.  This is the first time after the Pittsburgh to Cumberland bike ride.  The once-a-week bike rides that I have been up to recently have not been doing too much for me.  I either need to bike more or add something different into the mix.

I am learning a few more things about the body in the quest to adapt my exercise routines.  The last time I shifted from biking to running (after my bike ride in 2016), I felt so much discomfort that I thought I was having an episode similar to the ones I had had in 2008 that led to the discovery of CAD.  This year, for the first time, I had a wristwatch that kept a track of the heartbeat while running.  It turned out that my heartbeat went up quite significantly the moment I started jogging, and it went up to a rate much higher than what it is when I am biking.  Pushing the muscles in any part of the body, even the heart, out of its usual comfort zone for the first time in a while is bound to create a reaction of some kind.  Best not to overdo it.  I expect that this discomfort will go away if I stick to the running routine.  In fact, I did not feel it once I had warmed up.  I also found myself quite rusty with regards to the running routine itself, tripping over the roots of trees that lie across the trail in the woods much more frequently than I am used to doing.  It is easy to lose touch with things.