Snakes In the Morning

Before proceeding further with this blog, I have to make a note related to my previous blog. There was a picture of a bird in that blog that I was not able to identify in a timely manner. I now know that the bird is a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. These birds breed in North America during this time of year and fly to South America during the non-breeding winter season. They are shy birds that apparently stay hidden most of the time. I am very thankful for having had the opportunity to see it! Incidents like this give our outdoor activities that extra zing!

I went for a bike ride last Friday, starting out from Rileys Lock, and heading north. I had not been on the trail too long before I came upon a lady who was stopped on the trail. She stopped me and told me that there was a snake on the trail. A somewhat smaller-sized northern copperhead lay in the middle the trail enjoying the cool of the early morning. In case one is not aware of it, these snakes are venomous and can be deadly.

The young lady wanted to proceed north with her travels, but was very nervous about the reaction the snake might have to her attempt to get by. The two of us stood for a while strategizing about how to get around the snake. I was thinking of riding past it on the bike. While we were standing around, a bald eagle landed on a tree nearby. I could not get a very good picture of the bird.I wonder if the eagle was attracted by the activity on the trail.

I eventually rode past the snake, right in front of it. It might have turned its head to keep an eye on me as I rode by, but I was not too sure. My focus was on my safety! I stopped after had I passed the snake to take a picture of the bald eagle that was still hanging around, but the bird took off before I was ready with the camera. The young woman finally decided that she was not going to risk moving past the snake.She turned to head back towards Rileys Lock.

Having seen one snake this early in the morning, I was prepared to see more of them as the ride progressed. And it happened! The reptile sightings actually took place only towards the end of the ride – on two occasions.

The first time was when a long and thin black rat snake crossed the trail.It was moving fast enough that I my attempt to frame a picture capturing the entire length of the snake in the picture was unsuccessful.

The second time was toward the end of the ride. I saw a big and fat black rat snake beside the trail. I think the snake was getting ready to cross the trail. It turned and quickly slithered back into the grass when I stopped to take the picture.

It was towards the end of the ride, a little bit after I stopped for the second black rat snake, that I realized that my lens cap had fallen off the camera somewhere along the way, probably after I had taken the picture of this last snake. Something like this was bound to happen some day because the Olympus lens caps are, in general, designed very poorly from the point of view of staying attached to the front of the lens. You have to make an extra effort to make sure they are locked into place after you put them back over the lens. They might seem to be securely attached even when they are not. There have been several occasions in this past where the lens caps on my lenses have fallen off, but I had always been fortunate thus far to have been able to find the piece that dropped off. Not this time! I returned home “capless” in spite of my effort to find the lens cap by riding back along the trail – back to the place where I thought I had taken the last picture.

Luckily, it is not too difficult to get a replacement lens cap.

I want to finish the blog with this picture of a swallow taken at Whites Ferry. This was one of many on a wire. I cannot figure out what kind of a swallow this is.

I will post more of these pictures on Pbase eventually.

The Sunflower Gardens Mini-Adventures

We have known for a few years that the State of Maryland manages a few sunflower gardens in the area of McKee Beshers Wildlife Management Area near Sycamore Landing, one of our starting points for Sunday morning walks along the towpath. The exact locations of the gardens can change every year. The primary purpose of the sunflower gardens is to provide food for birds. That having been said, The Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the organization that maintains the area, allows visitors to the many sunflower gardens, including the one next to the parking lot at Sycamore Landing for the C&O Canal.

We went to see the sunflowers for first time this year. This year, all of the gardens other than the one at Sycamore Landing are accessed from parking lots along a rough road called Hunter Quarter Road. Hunter Quarter Road is a diversion from a main road called River Road. It runs parallel to River Road for a short while. River Road itself runs roughly parallel to the Potomac river. It is the road we take to get to both Sycamore Landing and Edwards Ferry. McKee Beshers WMA occupies all of the space between River Road and the C&O Canal park next to the Potomac River. River Road and the towpath are spaced by a distance of roughly a mile. The wildlife management area is broken up into woods, swamps, and plots of land which either lie fallow or are used for growing plants like corn, and even sunflower. I suspect that some of the plots are leased out to people. This being a wildlife management area, there is plenty of wildlife, including a variety of flora and fauna.

Here are some pictures from the outing!

The following pictures are from the first location that we stopped at. The garden had to be accessed via a trail through a wooded area.The sunflower garden itself was next to a cornfield.

The sunflower plants here were growing in the midst of some other tall wild plants.

It was still a little cloudy at that time of the morning. We could see the occasional aircraft flying in the direction of Dulles airport.

The sunflowers were easier to view at the second place that we stopped at.

We saw a lot of goldfinches flying around the sunflower field. They would occasionally land on the sunflower plants, sometimes sitting on top of the plants, and sometimes going down into the leaves of plants themselves. They did not stay in any one place for too long.

Beyond the sunflower garden, we were able to follow the pathway in the direction of the Potomac River, all the way to its end. We then had to walk through a field of fairly mature corn plants to get into the woods next to the canal. It could have been a setting for a Stephen King novel.On the other side of the cornfield, a trail led through woods to the prism of the canal and the towpath on its other side, and then the river just beyond.

We did not see any sunflowers at the final place that we stopped at. The pathway in this area lay next to a swamp. There were plenty of interesting other plants to be seen. These are some of the newer ones.

There were also mallows and bindweed aplenty in this last section.

Here is a picture of a bird I do not recall ever having seen before. It was very cooperative when it came to my taking its picture. I have been unable to identify it so far. Notice the multi-colored beak.

We have been aware of the existence of the McKee Beshers Wildlife Management Area for a long time. I have actually studied a map of the area in the past to figure out if there were places to hike. I had been looking forward to exploring this space for a few years. Now it is done thanks to the sunflower gardens! We might return to the place in the future.

Walk, Bike, and Run

I felt good this morning. I was able to go for a run after a somewhat long break. The last couple of days have been a little cooler than usual, and the temperature was in the 60s when I started out. I thought that I would feel a little sluggish because of the break. That happened to not be the case. I got my mojo going pretty quickly, probably because of the cool temperatures. The running came easy. I was was able to maintain a decent pace throughout the run, and I actually felt wonderfully refreshed the rest of the morning.

We walked from Weverton to Harpers Ferry last Sunday. We were walking a section of this trail for the first time this year. Because of the location closer to Harper Ferry, there was more activity on the trail than one wishes and hopes for. But it was OK. We still had our extended periods of quiet. Here are some pictures from the walk.

The railroad line runs beside the canal all the way to Harpers Ferry.

This is the Route 340 bridge across the Potomac.

The river is very rough downstream of Harpers Ferry. The water is also very low in summer.

Harpers Ferry is across the river in West Virginia at the meeting point of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. The railroad line crosses over the river on the bridges to the right of the picture.

The newer flowers that we saw for the year during this walk include White Campion,

Buttonbush,

Queen Anne Lace (here in its early stage),

flowers that I was unsuccessful in identifying last year too,

Crown Vetch (distinguished from Red Clover because of the nature of the leaves),

Hedge Bindweed,

Wild Sweet William,

Rose of Sharon,

and Asiatic Dayflower.

My bike ride last Wednesday started once again at Pennyfield lock, but this time I headed towards Washington, DC. I rode up to Chain Bridge. It was a typical hot and humid Washington, DC, summer day. I covered more distance this time than I did during my first ride of the year last week. I put in a little more effort than during that first ride – keeping up a decent speed on the trail. There were quite a few people on the trail in spite of the heat. Thankfully, interactions with folks I encountered were generally pleasant, including a conversation with a couple who were in the early stages of an ambitious ride of over 60 miles! I hope they made it.

Here are a couple of pictures from my ride. The first one was taken at Widewater.

You can make out the typical haze of a Washington, DC, summer day in the second picture.

Riding For The First Time This Year

I rode my bicycle last week – for the first time this year. It has been a late start. I was going to start writing about the reason why this has happened, but then realized that I had a late start, for almost the same reasons, last year also. So my mindset in this regard, and the preparation for this first ride, mirror what happened last year. I wrote about it in the first section of this blog.

Truth of the matter is that I had gotten my bike cleaned up for a ride a couple of weeks earlier, but had never gotten around to actually taking the bike to the trail. This year, I am finding that the heat outside is discouraging me more than I expected from my efforts to exercise. I have become better at making excuses. Years are catching up.

There were three distinct stages to the ride last week.

The first stage was getting used to the feeling of being in the saddle once again after a very long time. When I am on a bike, the distances and the scenery pass by more quickly and smoothly than I am used to when on foot. I cannot pay as much attention as I usually do to things beside the trail. Nevertheless, it was difficult to miss the large number of birds at the pond at Riley’s lock. I had to stop to take pictures. There were an unusual number of egrets at this location.

There were also a few Great Blue Herons to be seen all along the trail. We have not seen them for quite a while, and their sight, for some reason, brings a feeling of comfort.

The second part of the ride was when I was transported into a world of happy fantasy, where my mind wandered away into some other space. The act of biking itself became completely instinctive. I even recited a nursery rhyme loudly when I went past a section with a lot of blackbirds. My song for the morning included the words – “I want to fly like an eagle, let my spirit carry me“! And then, there I was, chasing the butterfly, and the bird, and the rabbit, as they showed me the way ahead, each for a short distance – as they fluttered all over the place in the air in front of the moving bike, or skipped along in the grass beside the trail, or hopped for a while on the trail, all while staying in front of me. This was my Alice in Wonderland moment, and there were no magic mushrooms involved.

The last stage of the ride was the slog. This happened primarily because I am not fully in shape. (Thankfully, I had decided to do a shorter ride than I normally would have pushed myself to do.) If I had been in shape, I would have been in the zone by this point. This stage of the ride is usually notable because one can end up speeding without even realizing what is going on. But I had to slow down. I was feeling the effort. There were also a few distractions along the way, including having to deal with the hordes of people who had descended on the trail by this time.

I hope I can keep myself motivated to do more rides this year. The bicycle rack remains mounted on the car.

The Heat of Summer – Once Again!

Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city…
…………..The Lovin’ Spoonful

The temperatures began its rise into the 90s last weekend. Knowing that it was going to get very hot, we started our walk earlier than usual on Sunday. We were on the trail at Swains Lock before 8 O’clock! In spite of the early start, it did not take too long before we began to feel the sweat collecting on our necks and back. It was going to be one of those days!

We walked towards Great Falls. Here is a picture of the tavern at Great Falls.

We continue to see flowers for the first time this year along the towpath. The numbers I am recording are staggering. These include Tall Meadow Rue,

Yarrow,


Trumpet Flower,


Pickerelweed,


Mullein,Thistle,what I believe is Bindweed of some kind,


Black Cohosh,


Day Lily,Basil Bee Balm,

and a couple of flowers that I could not identify.

We also found raspberryand pawpaw fruitalong the trail.

The heat of the summer also brings out the dragonflies and the butterflies. We saw a few skimmers, a zebra swallowtail, and even a Red Admiral and a Crescent butterfly. (I will post some of these and other pictures in my Pbase photo galleries.)

We took a detour on to the River Trail just north of Great Falls on our way back to Swains Lock. It was a delightful experience! We ended up walking on a narrow trail along the side of the river. There were very few people on the trail and we saw a lot of birds. There were so many herons on the other side of the river, with many of them standing on their own individual rocks!I have to believe that there is a park on the other side of the river that is attracting the herons.

We also saw a Indigo Bunting.At first I was not sure about the identity of this bird, being confused by a shaft of light falling on its breast, but I now feel more confident of my conclusion. (Of course, I am not an expert on this matter, and my process for identifying a bird is always subject to verification/confirmation by any knowledgeable birder or ornithologist who happens to come this way!)

Here is the video of the song that I mentioned at the beginning of the blog.

The Cicadas In Full Force

The Cicadas seem to have ramped up their numbers and activity these days. It got so loud one afternoon that we could not even follow the conversations on the TV show that we were watching in the living room with the patio door open. We had to close the door! The trees in the backyard and in the front are full of these creatures. This is how it sounded one afternoon from the deck.

If you look at a capture of the volume levels for the above audio recording (processed using an app called Audacity), it looks like this!There is a real pattern here. They are actually communicating in their own way.

There are dead cicadas all over the ground in the outdoors these days, anywhere you walk. It is difficult to avoid stepping on them. The birds must be having a feast. You can hear the cicadas buzzing in the air, and watch them flying all over the place. You may even get hit by a cicada every once in a while if you are outside for a long time. While there can be a somewhat panicky reaction when this happens, with some frenzied flapping of the hand(s) where you thought the insect made contact with you, they are actually quite harmless!

We continued to experience the presence of the cicadas during for our walk from Edwards Ferry last weekend. Here is a picture of one of them.This is also the time for dragonflies and butterflies. Here are some pictures. We saw a few different kinds of dragonflies, but I had a difficult time getting them in a position where they could be photographed properly. I was successful with this Common Whitetail male.

You can see two Cabbage White butterflies in the picture below.

This is a a Question Mark butterfly. As you can see, I had to be happy with getting a picture from a significant distance away.

The picture below is of a Northern Pearly Eye butterfly on the trail. It might be sitting on the remains of a dead field mouse. That was the conclusion I drew when looking at the rest of what lay around it. Interestingly enough, we saw a couple of dead frogs on on the trail. The sight was surprising enough for me to give a yelp and leap into the air on one occasion to avoid stepping on it.

Here are a few of the newer flowers this year.

This is the flower of what seems to be a somewhat common weed. It is easy to miss because the plant is very small, and I did not realize how common it was until looked around more carefully this year. I have seen it in other, very different, locations. I have also seen it in the past years but have been unsuccessful in identifying it so far. The flower looks like a sombrero to me.This one is called Deptford Pink. It is a real tiny plant.

And this is Chicory. We will be seeing much more of this all around us from now on – as the weather heats up.

I thought these mushrooms on the trail were quite pretty. They were tiny. You may be able to make the size out from the size of the stones around them.

Another week passes by as we quickly head towards the Summer Solstice and the official start of summer in these parts. Outdoor activities, including the barbecues, the lazing around swimming pools, the visits to the beaches, etc.., have already begun since Memorial day. The increased vaccination rates have made it possible for people to gather together in a safer manner than was possible last year.

Unfortunately, there are still many who do not want to be vaccinated in our country. Some do not “believe” in the vaccines. Some talk about their “freedoms”. Perhaps there are also some who still even refuse to acknowledge the reality of the pandemic. It is a pity that people do not understand the concept of living in a society where we all need to pull together and look out for each other. It is also a pity that there are people living in an “advanced nation” who do not even recognize that the science and the technology that was responsible for providing us these vaccines is the same thing that is allowing us to exist and also enjoy our current lifestyles at the current moment in time in the earth’s history. It is especially a pity when people in our country do not realize how fortunate they are to have vaccines freely available. They still do not want the vaccines, even while other countries are suffering because they do not have enough, or any.

Brood X

This is the year of Brood X, a brood of cicadas that emerges from the ground once every 17 years in our part of the world – to mate, lay eggs from which nymphs emerge, and then die, perhaps even before they are able to complete the process. The nymphs that are born drop from the trees where the eggs are laid, burrow into the ground, and they are gone for the next 17 years – to reappear once again and transform into fully grown cicadas. The cicadas are everywhere these days, and they will be gone within the next month or so. They do create a racket! We saw a lot of them last weekend on the trail near Dargan Bend.
This visit to Dargan Bend was a follow-up to a visit earlier this year. At the time of the first visit, all of our surroundings were primarily brown. This time the experience was completely different. It was green all around, although the leaves for the Sycamore seem to emerge a little later than for other trees and plants. It is also already getting warm enough for the gnats to emerge in certain sections of the trail.

We walked south from Dargan Bend, towards Harpers Ferry, the opposite direction to the one we had taken earlier this year. This was a stretch of the trail that we had not explored before.

The flowers of early Spring are gone and we are left with primarily the Rosa Multiflora, Honeysuckle and Fleabane. The American Bladdernut, a plant whose flowers we saw in April, have now fruited.I have not yet been able to identify this one new flower in the picture below. We saw it in at least a couple of places along the trail.The river is quite wide in the section of the trail close to Dargan Bend. This section is just upstream of the remains of Dam 3.We walked past an inlet lock just before remains of Dam 3.In times past, the inlet lock provided a good means providing water to the canal from the water collecting in the river behind the dam. We stepped off the trail in this section to go down to the river itself.This area of the river downstream of Dam 3 is quite rough.You can hear the roar of the river here.

We did not quite reach the bridges at Harpers Ferry, but we could see them in the distance, probably less than a mile away, from the shore of the river just beside the remains of Lock 34.To the left side of the picture above is Maryland Heights. There is a trail to the top of the cliff. We have hiked this trail a few times in the past. It is a good workout! Harpers Ferry is on the right side of the picture.

I have been thinking about the lifetimes of the cicada and what their lives mean in the grand scheme of things. They live underground (on the liquids in the roots of trees) for most of their lives, and they emerge from the ground once in 17 years to produce progeny. And then they die. That’s it! You should read about their strategy for survival as a species once they emerge from the ground. It is quite unique considering that they are consumed in large numbers by other creatures once they emerge above ground. (They are even considered a specialty for consumption by humans in some quarters. If you do an Internet search you can find a few recipes.) Do these creatures have a purpose, or is there simply an evolutionary process (or instinct!) for self propagation and preservation of the species that is in play? Is there some kind of grand plan that includes these creatures? How do human beings fit into all of this?

Trainspotting at Point of Rocks, Maryland (12/12/2004)

I noted last week that I had written an email a long time ago about an encounter with a bird at the Point of Rocks parking lot many years ago. I proceeded to search for the email in my records, discovered it, and posted a blog – only to realize that I had already posted the same email in my blogs in 2015. I did a quick take-down of the duplicate blog! Some might have already noticed a blog that disappeared after having been announced. I messed up!

But, during that search for the forgotten email, I also discovered another email that covered my first ever visit to Point of Rocks. I thought it worthwhile to post this email. My perspectives of distances and the nature of the challenges along the canal and trail have changed with time.
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It was still somewhat dark outside when I left home shortly after 7am in the morning. I have a long way to drive today. I am extending my coverage of the C&O canal by going all the way up to Point of Rocks at Mile 48.2 on the canal. I am leaving the safe confines of Montgomery County and driving up into Frederick County, all the way to the end of Route 28. I am truly venturing into the boondocks and lands unknown. I drive past the fat happy cows (are they Holsteins?) and the horses poking their heads through the picket fences. I drive past the house surrounded by bird feeders at the corner of routes 28 and 85. That is some sight – seemingly broken bird-feeders all over the property! The house looks old and dilapidated.

It is cloudy as I drive. The weather looks gloomy, and not very inviting for a run along the canal. As I approach Point of Rocks after the long drive, I even begin to lose the radio channel that I am listening too. The program today is about civil rights goings-on in the United States in the 50s and 60s. They are playing songs about the company bosses and their union busting activities. The company owners actually resorted to murder in many cases. We are all so greedy in this United States of America. We do not want to pay for the true value of things. Do we really care for the working man? The talk turns to Israel and Palestine, and the recent report of the sufferings of the Palestinians as they try to move around. They are treated as less than human beings at the checkpoints. Even people who are sick, and women who are about to give birth and need to get to a hospital, are not allowed through. People are assaulted. These circumstances cause people to lose their humanity. The DJ came up with a great saying from Martin Luther King about the worst thing that can happen to people – that they become so apathetic and do not do anything to help others. This is what I found when I did a search on quotes by MLK – “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”. Anyway…

Point of Rocks is a railroad junction on the old B&O railroad on the way from Washington DC to Pittsburgh and points north. The railroad crosses the Potomac at Harpers Ferry around mile 60 (all distances from now on are distances on the C&O canal!). There is also a railroad line here that branches off from the main line to Frederick City and Baltimore. I drive into “Smalltown USA”, with its old small houses, some of them abandoned and falling apart. Looks like things have not changed there for while. Point of Rocks has a small, very nicely maintained, commuter train station with lot of parking. Most of the railroad traffic here is probably freight trains, but there are also the commuter trains that stop here. I have to drive across the railroad tracks close to the train station, and over a wooden bridge crossing the canal itself, to get to the parking spaces for the towpath. The parking lot is right under the bridge that takes highway 15 over the Potomac river into Virginia. I hesitate to park here because the parking lot is close to the river level and seems to slope towards the swiftly flowing river. The lot is also quite empty. I do not want to come back and find the car in the middle of the river! I drive back to a spot further up the road where I had seen a couple of vehicles parked on the side of the road and pull up next to them hoping for the best. Things worked out OK except for the fact that I had trouble pulling the car out when I tried to leave – the wheels kept spinning in the mud. Next time I will be more careful. The hood of my car is now covered with brown spots of mud.

The run itself was uneventful. I had to wear my track suit because it was quite chilly. Because the trees were bare, I could see the wide river on the one side and the railroad tracks parallel to the canal on the other side. The tracks paralleled the canal until mile 45, but I did not see any trains. (There is an interesting story about the battle between the B&O Railroad and the C&O canal for the rights to the property next to the river in some places, especially where the cliffs came right up to the river near Point of Rocks.) The trail was quite muddy due to the rain the day before, and in spots I had no choice but to charge through the mud. I could not help noticing that the area was so flat that it was actually hard to find a private place to pee if one needed to. At this point in this tale, I will digress into a lesson on peeing in the woods on a cold winter day. (Those sensitive souls who are offended by this kind of stuff can skip the next paragraph.)

There are some important things to remember about peeing in the wild. The first requirement is that of finding a spot where you will not be observed and you are not exposed. In these parts of the trail, it might just be a matter of looking left and right, since there are not too many people around. Find a protected spot where you do not expose too many bodily parts. This is most important for women, because on a cold day such as today, your butt can freeze. (You do remember that I had a potential story about “Turning the other cheek” last spring, don’t you?). The next few points are for the males. It is important to make sure you know which way the wind is blowing. You do not want to be dancing around trying to avoid the fountain. Third point – make sure your can feel your fingers. If not, you do not necessarily know which way you are pointed. Lastly, make sure that you really are done before you begin reinsertion. On a cold day, far away from home, you do not want any disasters of the wet kind. OK! Lesson is over. Back to our story…

I made my way past two camping grounds, Calico Rocks, and Indian Wells, as I followed the towpath south to the Monocacy River at mile 42.2. It was quite chilly and windy as I rested on the aqueduct. All of a sudden, I could also hear the sounds of the open, unimpeded by noise generated by the constant movement of my feet on the trail. There was this bird that was crying out from the trees in some kind of a pattern. Since I am clueless about bird-sounds, I imagined some mighty bird like an eagle or a hawk calling out. I could hear the rumble of traffic carried long distances because of the absence of foliage on the trees – you really cannot get completely away from civilization. There was somebody at the boat jetty banging on some metal part, disturbing the quiet. Off in the distance, the towers of the PEPCO power plant stood out over the waters.

I made my way back to Point of Rocks without incident. It suddenly felt colder and windier as I started my way back. I had to wear my gloves. Encountered only three or four people on the trail. Went past the overturned port-a-john on the trail at Noland Ferry. (Trust me, you really do not want to know any more about that!) Made it back to the car in good spirits. As I was sitting in the car relaxing with my donut and a cup of coffee, I heard the sound of a train headed into Point of Rocks. It was a train consisting for Amtrak Superliners pulled by an GE AMD-103. Soon after, I heard, and spied, a freight train rolling in. I quickly grabbed my camera, and rushed out of the car (leaving the radio on and the key in the ignition). I sprinted across the bridge over the canal with new-found energy in time to sight the train approaching from my left. The engineer blew the horn loudly, partly because the road crossed the tracks at this point, and probably partly because he sighted this madman rushing towards the tracks! Do not fear! I stopped well short of the tracks, to take my picture and to feel the thunder of the freight train drawn by the three powerful locomotives rolling by. Awesome!

As I was leaving Point of Rocks, I stopped by the train station to take a picture and was pleasantly surprised to see another freight train go by headed in the direction of Frederick and Baltimore. Point of Rocks is really a good place for trainspotting.

Got home by about noon. I have to cook the chicken for the next week. Teresa has a meeting with her small-faith group. I have to go for my music practice today evening.

Life goes on. Catch you later.
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I had an analog camera is those days. Here are scans of a few of the pictures I took that day. The water level in the Potomac, under the Route 15 bridge, looks somewhat high in the picture below.This is a picture of one of my old cars, the Ford Contour, parked in the old parking area that used to exist under the bridge in those days.You can see the tail-end of a freight train passing Point of Rocks station on its way towards Baltimore in the picture below.Just another note that the little house at the corner of Routes 15 and 85 where the bird houses were being sold is long gone. The space has been taken over by the forces of nature!

I used to eat donuts for breakfast regularly when going for my Sunday runs. That has stopped – for reasons that do not need to be expounded upon.

The PEPCO power plant mentioned above is now owned by a company called NRG Energy.

More Flowers Of The Season

We saw more flowers of Spring during our outing on the canal last Sunday. Here are the new ones that caught my eye.

Celandine:

Fleabanes:

Phlox:

Miami Mist:

The real Virginia Waterleaf! (I believe I falsely identified the following as possibly Virginia Waterleaf a few weeks back. The real Virginia Waterleaf grows closer to the ground than the plant we had seen earlier!):

Mayapple:

Star of Bethlehem (different from the Nodding Star of Bethlehem!):

Possibly Sweet Cicily:

and Dames Rocket:

We could see the distinctive Rosa Multiflora plants in some sections of the trail. These will be blooming soon, and, along with the honeysuckle, taking over the sides of the trail before too long!

The manner in which I have approached the presentation of the flowers observed along the canal this year has made me better appreciate, perhaps for the first time, the wide variety of the flora that we have been coming across over the years in our own backyard. This is amazing!

Our exploration last weekend started from Point of Rocks. It has been a while since we came here. There has been enough new development around the area of the towpath that I initially even missed the entrance to the park. I would consider Point of Rocks to be at a somewhat intermediate distance from home, creating the situation where one is not really sure whether to consider it close enough to home when planning Sunday walks when there are time constraints, or far enough from home when we wish to spend more time exploring less-visited and newer spaces. This indeterminate state of affairs is probably one of the reasons that has led to the less frequent visits to this place.

Also to be considered in the context of making excuses for not visiting Point of Rocks is the fact that there are a lot more people visiting this place these days than in the past. The place is actually crowded! I still remember the days when there was almost nothing here. I would see very few people in the parking lot or on the trail. At that time, I had discovered the area from some newly found source of information about the C&O Canal, and I was still in the process of exploring these new spaces for the first time. The parking lot at Point of Rocks used to be a small area of cleared gravel/dirt beside an undeveloped road – on the other side of a narrow wooden bridge over the dry canal bed. (I once wrote about a bird that landed on my car while I was in this parking area. I need to rediscover that e-mail!) In those days, the dirt road actually extended on to the then unmaintained towpath, and ran all the way to the bottom of the Route 15 bridge over the Potomac river. There used to be another undeveloped dirt parking lot under the bridge at that time. All of this has changed. The trail has been resurfaced since then and is no longer accessible to visitor vehicles, and the previous parking area under the bridge is now overgrown with vegetation. The NPS parking lot at Point of Rocks these days is huge. The lot has a paved surface, and there is also a nice boat ramp to the river at one end of it.

A noteworthy element of the experience of coming to Point of Rocks is the sight of the Route 15 bridge across the Potomac in the early morning light. It is always striking. I never fail to take pictures. Here is another example.

We walked all the way to the Catoctin Creek Aqueduct and back.(Can you imagine that this was how the place looked in 2006, many years before they began reconstruction of the aqueduct?!)

There were a lot of gnats in the air at the aqueduct. It is a reminder that summer temperatures are slowly but surely making their way to our neighborhood, although, right now, we do have some days that are still cold enough to require a light jacket or a windbreaker.

Last weekend was the first time we went out to a restaurant after a gap of well over a year. We were expecting to see a light crowd. It was a shock to see the large numbers of people gathered in the shopping area. They were out enjoying the great Spring weather that we were experiencing that day. The restaurants in the neighborhood were all also quite busy. If people had not been wearing their masks, and if the spacing between the occupied tables at the restaurants had not been increased for safety, one would have assumed that this was a normal day in the county without anything amiss. But there is indeed a pandemic still going on! It was a little difficult sometimes to maintain spacing with other people while on the walkways, but, thankfully, most people wore masks. We also sat outdoors at the restaurant. All of this was a little risky, I suppose, but new Centers For Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for people who have been vaccinated suggests that the risk levels are low in these situations. This is not an exact science. We are still learning. One still has to be very careful, especially with mutations of the virus, like the particularly virulent version that seems to be prevalent in India, that are spreading around the world.

We did enjoy our dinner, although there were elements of the experience that felt a little new and unfamiliar to me once again. The interactions with the waiter felt somewhat unnatural. Truth be told, we have gotten so used to ordering food to eat at home, and enjoying the food in the relaxed and quiet atmosphere at home, that the home dining experience feels more natural and easy. One would go to restaurants primarily to enjoy the company of friends. That was what we did on Saturday.

The United States National Arboretum in Springtime

This was our first ever visit to the National Arboretum in Washington, DC. It is hard to imagine that we have not visited this place in all the years that we have lived in the area.

Here is a gallery of some somewhat random visual impressions from the visit. It is the season of the azaleas.

Beside the Azaleas, we noticed an abundance of other flowers of the season. I hesitate to start mentioning names because I have already forgotten many of them!

The massive green fields that we walked through to get from one section of the park to another (and from one kind of garden to another) were full of wild flowers like buttercups, dandelions, and gill-over-the-ground. The Anacostia river that flows past the hills of the park in its eastern section, visible below you through the trees of the woods as one hikes the pathways of the park, is one of the many features that lends to the character of the place.

The arboretum is a very impressive place, and very popular with the denizens of Washington, DC. We will probably be coming back again!