Thanks be to Gravity (9/14/2008)

This is a highly edited version of something I wrote many years ago.  These days, I am also more comfortable with adding pictures and links directly to the narrative.  Ain’t technology da bomb!

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If you take the exit to Keep Tryst Road from US Route 340, (it comes up close to Harpers Ferry, just before you cross the bridge over the Potomac from Maryland into Virginia), and then follow the road all the way to the the bottom of a hill, it ends up next to tracks for the CSX railroad.  At this point the road makes a U-turn and heads back up the hill to rejoin Route 340.  This place next to the railroad tracks is where people park their cars to head out on hikes.  The place is called Weverton.  From this location you can follow the Appalachian trail (or the AT as it is fondly known) up to Weverton Cliffs, or you can cross the tracks and head down to the towpath towards either Brunswick or Harpers Ferry.

Weverton used to be real town many years ago.  Very few people live in the area today. Back then an intrepid developer decided that he could harness the power of the waters of the Potomac for energy in order to develop commerce in this area.  The concept did not work and one of the reasons for failure was the regular flooding of the river.  I have read that you can see the remains of the old town of Weverton if you leave the towpath and head towards the river.  I have not been successful in finding these ruins so far.  Weverton is also a switching yard for the railroad, and the location from which a spur line used to branch off towards Hagerstown.  You can still see the remains of the railroad bridge for this spur line under the bridge for Route 340.

I arrived at Weverton early in the morning before the fog had lifted to do a hike to towards Harpers Ferry and Maryland Heights. My timing for the start of the hike was perfect.  As I walked towards the railroad tracks to cross over to the towpath, I sighted the headlights of the freight train through the fog.  It was heading in my direction. IMG_6132At the point where the path crosses the railroad the tracks curve away from you and as  a result you get a head-on view of the approaching train.  I got a lot of pictures of the train in the fog as it switched tracks and approached rapidly. IMG_6134And before I knew it the engineer was blowing the horn to make sure that I did not step on to the tracks,IMG_6136and the train was rushing by shaking the ground under me.IMG_6137It was moving quite fast and even picking up speed as the freight cars thundered by, with the hundreds of metal wheels screeching like a thousand banshees as the rail cars pushed against the rails and struggled to stay on the tracks as they rounded the curve and accelerated at the same time.IMG_6138I stood by just next to the carriages, which seemed to be much bigger and higher than what I imagined them to be when I had seen them from a distance, and felt a rush.  I was screaming but nobody could hear me.

The objective for this trip was to climb Maryland Heights on the Maryland side of the Potomac river next to Harpers Ferry.  From the lookout point on Maryland Heights one gets a nice view of the town of Harpers Ferry.  This hike turned out  to be an unexpected mental challenge for me.  I began to feel tired even as I started up the steep slope from beside the main road.  Perhaps I was really not in good shape.  The early part of the climb was quite strenuous and the last time I had done this was when family had visited from India, when we had walked halfway up the hill.  I walked up slowly, stopping frequently, and stopping by the meadows along the way to enjoy the sight of the many white butterflies fluttering around.IMG_6174It was a humid morning and pretty soon I was sweating quite profusely.  I did not really feel any pain but I was feeling nervous because this was the first time in a while I had pushed myself in this manner since the big event.  I almost turned back at one point.

But in the end I persevered.  I was going to reach my destination one way or the other, whichever destination it happened to be – the Pearly Gates (being the eternal optimist that I am) or the Scenic Overlook over the river!  I made it to the latter destination feeling a sense of achievement.  I spent some time taking pictures of the river and the valley below.IMG_6175IMG_6176IMG_6192 There was a butterfly sitting in the sun on a rock that did not move even as I approached and took close-up pictures of its eyes!  (There are some wonderful experiences waiting out there for you if you are willing to relax and  pay attention to what is going on around you.)IMG_6199IMG_6206I ran all the way down the hill on my way back to the towpath.  I wanted to sing a song – He’ll be running down the mountain when he comes!  It was a nice outing and I got some pictures of some flowers and creatures that I had not seen before. IMG_6155IMG_6157A woodpecker also obliged me by landing on a tree trunk next to the trail and staying put while I took its picture.IMG_6214I also got some nice pictures of the fog.IMG_6145IMG_6162IMG_6163IMG_6165IMG_6169IMG_6171All in all, another excellent outing to the river!

Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley

This was the first place we went to in Death Valley. The crater is located well north of the main gathering place for tourists arriving at the park. We had to get off the main road that runs through the park and drive to a more remote section of the valley.  It was well worth the detour!

Ubehebe Crater was formed by a volcanic explosion, but is was an explosion of steam rather than lava. The explosion was caused by the underground magma meeting up with the groundwater and sending the water upwards as steam.

It was extremely windy when we arrived at the crater, and the occasional gusts of wind had you spread your feet to seek some kind of a balance. You were completely exposed to the elements along the rim and there was nothing to support you!  It was extremely hard going, trudging up the hill on the loose sand (which, on the other hand, seemed to have the benefit of anchoring you and preventing you from getting blown away into the crater) as we climbed along the rim to get a view of Little Hebe crater.   When we got to that point, rather than return to the parking lot directly, and in spite of the challenge of hiking under those conditions, we decided to  complete the loop around Ubehebe crater.  I had to work up my nerve to walk along the edge (which under these conditions appears to be narrower than it really is!).  The wind, and the surface of the trail, which looked loose and a little unstable in some parts, did not help.  But if others could do it, why not not us?   And we did it!

We did not try to descend the bottom of the crater.  It is considered an easy hike going down, but strenuous coming back up.  It was an effort I was not prepared to undertake under the conditions, especially considering that there were other destinations we wanted to get to in the park.

Here are some pictures from Ubehebe Crater.

Against the wind!  This is in the parking lot.  You can see the place we climbed to to view Little Hebe in the distance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEarly view of Ubehebe crater.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABracing against the wind while climbing towards the viewpoint for Little Hebe.  The parking lot that we have climbed from is in the distance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHikers on the far slope who have gone beyond the stop for Little Hebe.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA view of the trail from a lookout.  We had some nice cloud conditions during the hike that lit up different parts of the landscape at different times.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAngela walking back from the far side of Little Hebe.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALittle Hebe from a distance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe parking lot and trails to the bottom can be seen in the distance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA sandy patch of trail that terminated at the edge of the crater!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVegetation on the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATowards the end of the hike.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Atop

As a family that likes to spend time outdoors walking and hiking in the midst of nature, we frequently find ourselves atop different natural formations during many of our outings.  Here are some pictures taken during a  vacation in Scotland.  This first shot is atop a small hillock in Pentland Hills, just outside of Edinburgh.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This cow was observing us from atop another of the hills in the park.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA climb up yet another of the hillsOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfound us atop a peak with a cairn.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe following picture is of us atop Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome of us feel the urge to explore any and all random hilltops that appear within our field of view. So it was that, while we were at Hushinish in the Outer Hebrides, and in the midst of gale force winds and pouring rain, the kids clambered atop a hillock that we sighted in the distance in order to see what lay beyond.  (Can you see them in the picture below?) The effort awarded them an unobstructed view of the Atlantic Ocean through the storm.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd this was the view of the North Sea from atop a cliff near the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse at the northern tip of the Outer Hebrides.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe climbed a hill behind the town of Ullapool on the western coast of mainland Scotland.  It was a long way to the top.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe got a view of Loch Achall (which had been hidden from view so far) from atop the hill.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a picture of Loch Broom and the town of Ullapool from the hilltop.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe picture below includes The Minch, the strait that separates the mainland from the Outer Herbrides.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFinally, here is a picture of us atop a cliff at Durness, along the northern coast of mainland Scotland.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is almost always a thrill when one looks out over the distance from atop natural formations.

Weekly Photo Challenge: A Good Match

The outdoors and us!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe made it to Sugarloaf Mountain once again this weekend and did roughly the same distance on the trails as last weekend.  It was quite cold this time, and quite a change after the balmy weather that we experienced during the previous hike.  Winter has returned!

See other interpretations of the theme here.

A Trip to Sugarloaf Mountain

We are in the middle of winter.  It is the time of year when it is usually quite cold in this part of the world.  But it has been unusually warm during the last few days, with the temperature threatening to reach the upper 70s (Fahrenheit, that is) later on this week.  We hiked up Sugarloaf Mountain, just across the border of Montgomery county in the neighboring Frederick county, last weekend.  It has been a long time since we visited Sugarloaf even though it is quite close to home.  We have been dissuaded by the crowds that are attracted to the location because of its proximity to the high population area of Washington DC and its suburbs.  The crowds are especially overwhelming during the other seasons when families come in large numbers to picnic on the mountainside.  The place is littered with cars, adults, children, and dogs when this happens.  It is not the kind of place one would go to if you were hoping for a little bit of quiet and solitude.  We saw more people than we expected last weekend because of the nice weather,  but we had fortunately gotten to the park early enough to avoid the biggest crowds.

It was a beautiful day for a hike and we ended up walking over 8 miles.  We got to some areas of the park that are less accessible and therefore quieter. Here are some pictures from the hike.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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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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Weekly Photo Challenge: Morning

This is my more conventional submission for the week’s challenge.  Since a majority of my pictures have been taken during my numerous morning outings, I have tons of possible candidates for submission even if I were to eliminate what I would consider “the usual” sunrise pictures.  I have already shared many such pictures. So I tried to be extra careful when picking the ones below.

The picture below tries to capture the mood of a typical morning outing in the woods.  The quiet and the solitude have a healing effect on the mind.

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It is only in the early morning that I can get moody pictures like the ones below through the mist and the fog. (I note that the sun is actually visible in the first two pictures below.)100_2982

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Then, there was this picture that I thought captured a nice mood early in the morning over the waters of the Bay of Islands. I have this feeling of anticipation of what the new day is going to bring, especially to people who are going to use the ferry to start their day.

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Finally there are these pictures taken in the San Francisco Bay area.  The first one is not in black and white.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis last picture (which ought to be viewed in its original size by clicking through) shows the morning cloud cover over San Francisco airport, while the sun, rising in the east (actually south-east), lights up the red and white tower and the departing aircraft .

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