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.

 

Remember, Heal and Reconcile

I had just started making my way back after riding into Washington DC from Pennyfield Lock.  I was stopped in my tracks by this wreath of beautiful roses next to the Potomac river in the Georgetown Waterfront Park.P8290066.jpg The first line on the white ribbon that lay diagonally across the wreath read “Remember, Heal and Reconcile”.  The second line read “400th Year Commemoration 2019”.  I could not figure out what it was all about until today.  And I spent a lot of time this morning trying to get a better grip on this story and really get into it.  You can read an article about it here.   I found this audio clip related to this story also interesting.

Just to give you a high level background, 20 or so slaves arrived from Africa for the first time on an English ship at Jamestown in August 1619.  This notable event was a part of the beginnings of a complete moral disaster that has its impacts even today.  Unfortunately, there are people who still wish to rewrite this piece of history even today.

I also saw this.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn light of the shenanigans going on in government today, and especially at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it was somewhat ironic to see this on the plaque below the sculpture.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd this was posted in the same neighborhood next to the river.P8290048.jpgYuk!

Lest somebody thinks that I am a grouch, I really did enjoy the morning and did have a good ride.  Here are some other pictures from the park.

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View of Rosslyn (in Arlington), and the Key Bridge

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Georgetown Waterfront Park

And here is a picture of Swains Lock taken in the early morn.P8290047.jpgLife goes on!

Backlit Pictures After The Rain

I have not taken any formal classes in photography yet.  Most of what I have learnt comes from trying different techniques over and over again. I also read articles on the Internet whenever I have questions.  The digital medium has made it easier to experiment.  I can react quickly to whatever seems interesting to me using a relatively inexpensive resource (digital bits rather than film), and then I can delete pictures that I am unhappy with with ease.

I know from experience that some unique conditions arise in the woods the morning after it rains.  The moisture rising into the warming air, combined with the early morning sunlight cutting through the gaps in the trees at a narrow angle, creates a neat visual effect that lasts only for a short period of time.

Most conventional photography is done with the light falling directly on the object that one wishes to capture in picture form.  You cannot see the object clearly if it is backlit, when the features that you are interested in are in the shadows.

But backlighting does create other opportunities, opportunities that I have learnt to appreciate from past outings.  So I was prepared for further experiments with backlighting when I went out for a ride on Wednesday morning, the day after some heavy thunderstorms had passed through the area.  Here are some of the results.  As you can imagine, these pictures would look very different if they had been taken from a different angle with respect to the sun.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Universal Law That Aims Time’s Arrow | Quanta Magazine

Even if these are just theories at this point, these are fascinating concepts.  Imagine the possibility that all of the natural processes, of different kinds, of different orders of scale and magnitude, can be defined by similar sets of simple rules at a macro level.   Consider the concept of “The Arrow of Time”, and how it fits in with the fundamental structure of our universe.

via The Universal Law That Aims Time’s Arrow | Quanta Magazine

A Closed Section of the Towpath

I saw this at the website of the National Park Service for the C&O Canal Park after I got home from my bike ride.Screenshot_2019-07-26 Current Park Conditions - Chesapeake Ohio Canal National Historical Park (U S National Park Service)I might have been the only person to ride the section after it was closed.

In fact I had to cross this barrier at Pennyfield Lock to exit the closed section after I was done with my ride.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEarlier on, I had encountered a young girl working for the NPS who belonged to the Student Conservation Association who was taking a count of the number of fallen trees in the closed section.  She said that she had counted 20, and that she had stopped because she had come to an impassable section.  I was able to cross this section by carrying my bike off the trail and back on to it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe section of the trail in the picture below looked beaten up from water flowing over the trail.P7260040.jpgA park ranger had stopped me earlier.  He looked a little upset when he saw me.  He got up from the stump he had been sitting on.  “Did you not see the sign that the trail was closed?”, he asked.  I had been prepared for the encounter.  “I have to get back to my car which is parked at Pennyfield Lock,” I said.  He immediately relented.  He actually smiled.

I had actually encountered an NPS pickup truck with a couple of kids earlier on in the closed section of the trail.  They were backing away from the site of the destruction on the trail, all the way back to Swain’s Lock it seemed. Because of the width of the towpath, there was no place to turn the pickup truck around.  They had told me to be careful, but had made no attempt to stop me.  The kid mentioned that they were not responsible if I hurt myself.

Back at Swain’s lock, as I approached the sign for the blocked trail, I had a decision to make.  I could stay on the trail, or I could try to get to the main road and ride along the road.  Riding along the road would have added a couple of miles to the ride, and it would have also involved riding up and down decent slopes on the side roads to get to the main road.   It would have also been more dangerous because of the traffic on the road.   Besides, I was tired after having ridden more than 30 miles at that point.  It did not take too long for me to decide to stay on the trail and face the consequences of my action if I encountered somebody who objected.

At that point I was returning from a ride all the way out to Fletchers Cove.  The highlight of this ride was the stop to see the swallowtail butterflies feasting in the morning sun on the milkweed growing beside the waters of the canal.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACrossing the damaged section of the trail earlier in the morning on my way out had been an adventure in itself.  I could ride my bike for only short sections at a time.  I had to carry my bike over tree limbs laying across the trail, and walk under fallen branches balanced over me.  I even had to carry my bike off the trail through the woods to get past one section.  Fortunately folks had created a path off the trail in this section.  (The trail must have been blocked for at least a little while at this point in time for this to happen!)  I carried my bike past the park ranger who was sitting in his front-end loader on the trail.  He did not stop me.  Perhaps he remembered me later in the day when I encountered him again, which was why he let me get by that time.

The destruction was extensive.  Trees were fallen all over the place.  The trail had also been washed away in a few sections, as if the canal had overflowed.  I kept going.

When I started the ride earlier that morning, I had met a person who had just finished his bike ride.  He had warned me about the fallen trees, but had apparently gotten through to the other side, where the trail was completely clear.  He did not say anything to discourage me from my plan to ride towards the city.

The strange thing about what I saw on the trail was the localized nature of the damage.  I have a hunch that some kind of twister must have touched down during a storm that had taken place a few days earlier.  The funny thing is that I was not aware of the extent of the storm when it happened even though the trail is not too far from home.  I wondered how things might have looked on the trail when the storm was actually happening.  The power of nature is awesome.

And that is the end of this little tale told backwards!

Hah!

 

The Turning of the Seasons and The Return of Spring

When you think about it, the existence of the seasons on our planet is a pretty amazing phenomenon.  I say this even though we know why it happens.  As most of us are aware, there is a solid scientific explanation for the seasons.

But, even with your knowledge of how things work, you can also look at things from a somewhat different perspective.  Our planet is very, very, far away from its source of energy, the sun, averaging a distance of about 93 million miles in its elliptical orbit. In spite of the distance, just because of the nature of the earth’s axis of rotation with respect to its plane of revolution around the sun, we experience the phenomenon of the seasons.  The variations in the amount of energy from the sunlight falling on the earth at different latitudes at different times of the year leads to localized changes in climate on a tiny speck of dust in the Universe, the earth, even though it is million of miles from the source of the energy, and furthermore the impacts are still quite predictable.  One should stop and think about that. Also consider that in the grand scheme of things, this energy could be considered minuscule, indeed it is an almost insignificant fraction of the total energy being spewed out from the sun.  And this energy is continuously changing because the sun is not static. But even the second-order differences in this small amount of energy at different times of the year at different latitudes are so well defined as to give us the seasons.  All because of the tilt of the earth’s axis!

And this little bit of the energy that the earth receives from the sun is just the right amount to create our lifeforms, and also impact them in different ways in different parts of the world in a manner that we can understand.  Too much or too little of this little tiny bit of the continuously changing energy of the sun and things would be very different.  It is crazy amazing!

As Spring arrives in our parts, the energy from the sun has warmed the ground and revived the latent life that has remained hidden in our vegetation through the winter.  Brown is turning to green.   It may seem to be happening suddenly, but there is actually a process that carries on through the year.  Things happen at a certain pace in keeping with the change in the energy received from the sun.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe energy of the sun brings flowers to life at this time of  year.  Redbuds and dandelions, and a multitude of other flowers of many different kinds, bloom along the towpath.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt this time of year the Spring Beauty can even take over some areas of the woods.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Other lifeforms also seem to be celebrating the return of Spring.  For some reason the turtles in the picture below have shells of different colors even though they are all of the same kind. It looks as if one is wet, one is dry, and the third one is in some state in-between!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe snapping turtle below raises its head from the water, and proceeds to spit out a stream of the water.  I wonder what it was doing under water. I also saw a second snapping turtle with its head underwater for a long time.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd the woods echo with the endless songs of the birds.   The colorful cardinal stands out in the foliage.  Its music follows a repetitive pattern that is not that simple.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The restless tapping of the woodpecker on the dry branch of the tree resounds loudly through the woods.  It is a drummer in a marching band tapping out a rhythm of nature on its instrument, its beak.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd as I walk through the woods, I also receive the gift of the energy in a different way.  I can also feel the change that seems to be being celebrated all around me.  The feeling is palpable.  If I choose to, I can also become one with the remarkable transformation that is taking place around me. And I can immerse myself in the feeling.  I can try to feel our oneness with the other life.  I can try to understand how we are all a part of this Nature.  And I can act accordingly, in a harmonious manner. In a sense, this could be a sacred place of unity.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe are all a part of the same experience of life on earth, an earth that is but a speck of dust in the vastness of the Universe.  Our behaviors on this earth ought to reflect this truth.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Universe in Verse: Astrophysicist Natalie Batalha reads “Renascence” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

via The Universe in Verse: Astrophysicist Natalie Batalha reads “Renascence” by Edna St. Vincent Millay on Vimeo

Context and poem text: brainpickings.org/2018/08/03/the-universe-in-verse-natalie-batalha-edna-st-vincent-millay/