Dargan Bend

The day of the March Equinox (the Spring Equinox here in the northern hemisphere) finally arrived last Saturday in our part of the world. Daytime and nighttime are roughly of the same duration anywhere on the earth on that day. From now onward, until our autumnal equinox, the length of the days will be longer than the nights in the northern hemisphere. It feels like we have crossed some threshold in our seasonal expectations. It is all mental.

The temperature was at just about freezing point (32° F) when we started our walk at Dargan Bend, just north of Harpers Ferry, on Sunday. It felt quite cold as we waited for the sun to rise over the ridge behind the parking lot. Meanwhile the sun had already risen over the West Virginia shore of the Potomac. This picture was taken from the boat-ramp to the river at the parking lot.There was a cool breeze that was blowing in our faces as we walked in the long shadows of the tall trees that lined the trail. It actually created a wind-chill. I needed to put on an extra pair of gloves.We headed off north towards Antietam aqueduct.

Thankfully, it warmed up quickly. It was about 60° F by the time we finished our walk. We had worked up a sweat by that time. More than 8 miles of walking was undertaken, and we were actually not feeling too tired. We ended up not making it to the aqueduct, falling short by probably much less than a mile.

I have run past the parking lot for the boat-ramp at Dargan Bend in the past, but have never actually stopped to park a car here. I used to park in one of the parking areas right across from Harpers Ferry, just below Maryland Heights, when I used to visit the area. But these parking areas have now been blocked off for safety reasons. Dargan Bend happened to be one of the two parking spaces closest to Harpers Ferry. Hence the decision to check it out.

The last time I went through this area was in 2016, during my bike ride. It had been an even longer time since I covered this section of the trail on foot. That could have been as far back as 2011. It was nice to experience the resurfacing work that has been done recently to improve the trail.It is smooth all the way to Shepherdstown.

We saw Spring flowers for the first time this year along the canal during this walk. That experience in itself is uplifting to the spirit. There is the expectation of more to come. This particular growth is called Bloodroot.

We walked past an area where the trees were covered by what looked like English Ivy.It felt strange to see all the green here when the rest of the spaces we were walking through were completely brown. It even looked this way in the woods beside the trail!

There was one lock in this section of the towpath. You can actually drive to this location and park there before getting on the trail.

We were lucky to see a hawk’s nest. We located it by tracking a bird that was flying toward a tree with something in its beak. There was probably a young one in the nest.

Also of note in this section are the remains of the old Shinhan Limestone kilns. Apparently, this place used to operate until the 1960s.

This was a magnificent morning walking along the river – as usual!

The Sycamore Trees

I know I have already mentioned this – perhaps too many times – but the sight of the Sycamore trees in winter never ceases to generate a sense of wonder no matter how many times we see them during our walks along the river. Every time we visit the park it is as if we are experiencing the sight of these trees for the first time once again. They are majestic! They catch your attention. These trees tend to dominate the treeline wherever they are present, whether you are looking straight up, or whether you are looking at them along the shorelines of the river. The trees are very distinctive with their white trunks and branches in their upper reaches. The body of the tree looks robust, and the tree itself appears to tower over all others.

I tend to spend a lot of time during our walks looking around for stuff – birds mainly. Last weekend I spent a significant amount of time just trying to enjoy the sight of the Sycamore trees. I do not think I am able to take the kind of pictures that will do them full justice, but I tried anyway.

Textures On The Ice

We had not been able to go out for our weekend walk for three weeks in a row because of the weather and did not feel too good about it. We were determined to try to get out this last weekend in spite of the cold, and in spite of the fact that we had had sleet as precipitation just a few short days earlier.

The temperature was about 18°F when we awoke on Sunday. We decided that we would start our walk a little later in the morning than usual. Thankfully, all the roads on the way to the park had been cleared completely of snow and ice. But the parking lot at Riley’s Lock was a bit of a mess. We managed to find a section of the lot away from the lock house where there was a reduced amount of ice on the ground. The cars in the picture below are parked on ice. To the right side of this picture you can see the temporary bridge over Seneca Creek at the location of the Seneca Aqueduct. The aqueduct itself was badly damaged by major flooding in 1971. (I might have already mentioned in some earlier blog that this is the only aqueduct on the canal where there was a lock located on top of the aqueduct.)

The temperature was still below freezing when we started the walk. But, it was also a bright, sunny, morning. There was no breeze to be felt. Although it took a while for us to warm up, we felt no discomfort after that. Extra layers of covering were shed. We found ourselves in the walking zone once again. We covered our usual distance during the walk in spite of our initial concerns about the conditions. It had reached temperatures just above freezing by the time we finished our walk.

The trail was mostly covered by a sheet of ice,although there were a couple of short sections where the ice had melted to the water-soaked surface because of the sunshine.There were signs that many people had visited this section of this trail before us. The footprints in the snow and ice (in other sections of the trail) provided traction for us later arrivals. If you look carefully, you can see the faint markings of the Yaktrax that Teresa was wearing to provide traction while walking on the ice.

The sky was completely clear that morning. There was not a cloud to be seen.

The water in the canal had frozen,but the river was flowing freely.We even saw people in kayaks at one point during the walk.

The particular circumstances of the day allowed me to take a series of pictures under conditions that were unique and transitory. I just happened to be there at the right moment in time. The conditions were just right – the temperature, the state of the ice on the trail, the light that was falling on the trail, and finally, the simple things in nature that had fallen at the particular spots on the trail at that time without having been stepped on by either a human being or animal before we got there. Here are some of these pictures.

It was a unique opportunity that, thankfully, I did not miss!

The Next Blog

It is in the nature my blogging process that I am often not sure where the inspiration for the next blog will come from. There is definitely a theme that can run through a series of blogs when one is on a quest, or when something is happening. Not today. We have not been to new places on the canal recently, and there is also no new experience from the walks that seems worthy of sharing. The political scene that used to get me worked up in the recent past has gotten to a more tolerable level. We have also not traveled to new places in other parts of the world for over about a year at this point.

I have no interesting articles to point people to today. Also, I have not yet rummaged through my trove of old e-mails to gain some inspiration. There is not much other internal or external inspiration for thought either today. The mind is a blank – the thoughts that sometimes organize themselves in the brain organically to form a complete blog, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle coming together to create a complete picture, are not cooperating. The mind is not quiet enough for any of this to happen. I think I am also distracted because of having to deal with other practical matters. Perhaps, I will just post some pictures from our last weekend on the trail.

It was a cold morning on the towpath as far as we were concerned, but sensitivity to cold is a relative experience. There are some people (including some of those whose blogs I follow) who spend their winter outdoors, looking forward to their activities in the heights of the Rocky mountains in the middle of winter. Such folks might have laughed at us, and considered our reaction to the outside temperatures that morning “wimpy”. And we do not even have to go as far as the Rockies. There are others, even from our part of the world, who perhaps also laugh at our sensitivities – as they get out on their bikes on the roads and trails at these temperatures for recreation. Yes, we saw some of these people last weekend! I do not know how they do it, but I do know that even the little bit of additional airflow created by the forward motion on a bike would, at these temperatures, bring me to a stop quickly. Tears would run, my nose would turn red, and I would lose all sensation on my chin.

But, there we were, delaying our departure to the park to later in the morning since we thought that 24° F was far too cold for us. Not that it got that much warmer later in the morning when we reached the trail – but the sun was at least higher up in the sky. Here are some of the pictures from the outing.

These pictures were taken at the Monocacy Aqueduct. You can see where the Monocacy river meets the Potomac river in the second picture.The following pictures were taken at the parking lot for the Dickerson Conservation Center access point to the trail.These are all good sentiments on the poster, but I cannot see anybody attempting to barbecue at the kind of temperatures we are experiencing these days!

The Trees in Winter

The spirit is often moved while walking along the towpath among the leafless trees of winter on a sunny morning. There is so much character to behold, especially in the upper reaches of the towering sycamores. They are magnificent, and it is beneficial to the soul to take a moment to pause and contemplate this magnificent beauty. The woods can be a place of both mystery and healing.

Out In The Cold

The temperatures have been dropping even further as winter steadily takes hold. It was quite cold outside when we got to Violettes Lock for our walk last Sunday. The thermometer in the car read 24° F. We were determined to walk in spite of the cold.

It had rained earlier in the week. The river was fuller than usual. It is not unusual to see the water flowing freely even at these temperatures. It takes a while for a river to freeze.There is an inlet lock to the canal at this point. There used to be a dam on the river (Dam 2) at this spot on the river that was meant to direct water to the canal. All that remains of the dam is rubble. The water in the river flows as if through rapids in this section. You can barely make out the nature of this flow in the picture above.

Here are some pictures from the walk. There was ice on the trail in places because of the cold. I was surprised to see a few groups of bicyclists out at these temperatures. It can be brutal on the face even at temperatures much higher than this. At least one person was at least wearing googles as an acknowledgement of how cold it was!

This heron was sighted early in the walk.These are the sights of winter.













It had warmed up to just above freezing by the time we were done with the walk. We had also covered a significant enough distance on the trail that our bodies had warmed up sufficiently. That had not been the case the previous weekend – when we had slowed down significantly to do some birding. As you can see from some of the pictures above, there were still opportunities for birding to be had in spite of the distance covered.

Happy New Year to all readers!

The Beginning and End of A Day in December

I found both the sunrise and sunset at our house interesting on this particular December day. It was a pure coincidence that the conditions and timing were right for this to happen.

This was the sunrise from the front of the house. For a moment it seemed as if the sky was going to catch fire. This scene lasted for just an instant. Timing was all!

The sky began to turn purple at sunset. Gone were the blues of the day!This shot of the sunset was taken from the back of the house, barely a minute after the picture above, as the light faded from the sky.

A Morning for the Birds and Planes

We started seeing them soon after we started our walk from Sycamore Landing. They were everywhere. There were so many of them! This was the morning for the birds. And their presence was easily revealed because of the bare branches of the trees and bushes this time of year. There are other Sunday mornings, when we start the walk with my hope of seeing the birds in the woods before they become active and fly away from their nests, and we end up seeing very few of them. This was not that kind of a morning.

The first sets of birds we saw were at the parking lot even before we got on the trail, high up on a tree.In my mind, limited as it is in its capability to understand such things, the birds had nested close to each other on the tree for the night, had just woken up, and were getting ready for the activities of the day. You could see the early morning light hit the upper branches of the trees – to light up the birds, and to perhaps warm them up. I could not identify these birds. They looked like doves from this distance, but I could not confirm this in spite of some research.

We were happy to see that the work on upgrading the trail had already reached Sycamore Landing. They had even filled in the massive potholes that used to exist in the parking lot. We had noticed the previous week that progress on the upgraded trail had reached just north of Rileys Lock, which is the entrance to the towpath just before Sycamore Landing. The work is now complete to a point beyond Sycamore Landing, closer to Edwards Ferry. At this rate they should be able to get the work done by the end of the year. This is great! I can now start my bike rides heading north from Rileys Lock without having to fear the potholes and the puddles of mud. But back to he birds….

The whole area close to Sycamore Landing appeared to have a large concentration of birds. It was noisy. It looked busy. You could hear a lot of movement in some of the bushes beside the trail. They were full of sparrows, but very few of them were clearly visible. The brown branches provided a good camouflage.

A hawk hung around on the upper branches of a tree, most likely keeping an eye out for prey.

We saw this bluejay in the canal bed.

This was a woodpecker that popped up for a short viewing. It might have been a female Downy woodpecker.

This Pileated Woodpecker was high up on a tree. These woodpeckers are much bigger than the others that we usually come across.

I found this female Northern Cardinal in a bush by the trail. There were a few other cardinals that were flying around.

This Eastern Bluebird landed on the pathway in front of us in the later part of the walk towards Edwards Ferry.

I am posting this picture of this sparrow just because I like the way the picture came out!

And then there were the many aircraft that we saw crossing the river. They were flying at a low altitude and heading towards Dulles airport. They were coming in one after another at a very high frequency, to the extent that the noise that they were creating in the background was nearly constant. They seemed to be lining up for landing one after another. This level of air traffic felt unusual, especially for that time of day, and for that day of the week. Most of the aircraft were small to medium size, and seemed to be on domestic flights. I could recognize the United tails. I did recognize a flight from South Korea,and I thought I had seen an Emirates aircraft earlier on when we were driving in. Based on what I noticed that morning, I get the impression that the international carriers have reduced the size of the aircraft that they are deploying for their flights.

The volume of air traffic over our heads had reduced quite significantly by the time we started heading back from Edwards Ferry to Sycamore Landing.

We were thinking to ourselves that any story about a multitude of birds being sighted along the towpath would be incomplete without a picture of our signature bird, the Great Blue Heron. We had seen one in the distance as we were approaching Edwards Ferry. We had tried to keep our eyes on it through the bare branches of the trees as it flew away in front of us – in the distance over the bed of the canal. We had not been able to see it in the location where we thought it had landed. It turned out that it had landed high on a tree top, and we had missed it because we had been looking for it on the canal bed. We had walked past it without noticing it. Fortunately, the birds do not move around too much, and we found it on our way back to Sycamore Landing – high up on a tree!We had seen a Great Blue Heron in the same area during previous walks. This led us to consider the possibility that this was the same heron that we had seen before, and that the bird had somehow claimed this area as its territory. Fact of the matter is that we do not even know if herons are territorial and behave like this.

We saw some other birds during our return to Sycamore Landing. This is a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

I could be wrong, but my searches lead me to believe that the bird in the picture below is a Female Golden-crowned Kinglet. This is a bird I am not very familiar with.

Even though I had considered that possibility earlier in the year that 2020 could be the year of the owls, we did not sight one this Sunday!

I will leave readers with a picture that I took at Edward Ferry that gives you a sense to the wonderful morning we experienced on the trail. The picture is best viewed in its full resolution.

The Old Stones

The thermometer in the car indicated that it was 37° F outside. We had just arrived at the park,at Rileys Lock, and were stepping out of the car for our first Sunday walk along the towpath after returning from Massachusetts. This was the first time we were going to be experiencing these kinds of temperatures along the canal this season. Although we are likely to face colder mornings going forward, I was expecting that this one was going to be a particular mental challenge for me.

This was also the first outing after the return from Massachusetts a week ago. It was an attempt to try to return to some kind of an exercise routine once again after another long break.

I was bundled up more cautiously that usual – with several layers of clothing, two layers of gloves, and extra warm pair of thick fleece socks (donated by Philip). The cold hit me initially when we stepped out of the car, but I got past the “shock” of it very quickly. It did not feel too bad since there was little wind. The only extremity that took extra time to warm up was one of my fingers. Raynaud syndrome made its presence felt selectively!The morning sun was struggling to escape from behind the early morning clouds during the initial part of the walk, creating scenes like this.

One moment it would look like this,and the next moment our surroundings would be lit up brightly.

The brand new surface of the trail was a welcome change from the potholed, and often muddy, dirt track that used to cover this section of the towpath for all of the years that I have been visiting. (I had even complained directly to the NPS a few years ago and received no response!) The towpath is being upgraded in sections. We reached a point during our walk where the new trail came to an end. We saw some work vehicles beside the trail, and saw signs that the trail work was continuing further north in the direction of Edwards Ferry. The trail north of Edwards Ferry has already been repaved.

By the time we finished our walk it was only 39° F, but we felt warm and very, very, comfortable. There were others out in the park who did not seem to have any issue with the cold weather.

I might have even attempted to run in this kind of weather in the kind of attire the person in the picture below was wearing when I was younger!

The title of the blog refers to the stones in the picture below.For some reason, they caught my attention as we were walking by. These stones are part of the canal wall that used to exist just beyond the pond near Seneca Creek. There was more water in this section of the canal than usual that day, probably due to recent rains.

My thoughts drifted towards what these stones represented – the work of human beings from more than a century and a half before. The rocks probably came from the nearby quarry, and were most likely cut at the nearby Seneca Stone Mill. Rocks from this quarry were used in many places, including for locks and lock houses along the canal, and in the construction of buildings in Washington, DC, including the Smithsonian Castle.

The human beings who lived in these parts, the ones who dug up the stones and shaped them, and who built all of these things, including the canal wall we were looking at, had their own lives and stories even if they might not have been famous and well-known. They were probably categorized as “simple” people. They probably had their own daily routines, their struggles, their successes, their good and bad times, and their happy and sad days. They lived and died quietly, and they were hopefully content with their life experiences. They were probably remembered only by their immediate families, and even that, for perhaps only a generation or two. They were people like us.

Transitions

We are in a seasonal transition in our neck of the woods. It is a truth – as true as anything and everything else that is real and factual. There is no way that somebody can refute my statement, right? Winter is around the corner in Maryland.

Unfortunately, facts seem to be more and more difficult for people to accept in today’s world. It is the belief that counts, and a lot of our actions will be based on these beliefs. I could have edited those pictures I am showing you, or even picked pictures out from my collection from a different year, to state something that is untrue. You believe that I will not do that. There is an element of trust involved. You believe that I will not lie to you.

It is a sad thing that active efforts are being made to destroy the trust that people in the US have in their electoral system. When this happens, the truth, and the facts, do not matter. The lies are considered credible. And the lies can become a matter of faith. Living in a virtual world of computers and social media makes this process even easier. Facebook’s algorithms have no means to separate out truth from lies. AI technology is also not necessarily based on starting from truths. Scientific truths have no basis in a virtual world, facts have no foundations there. These days you can argue that the world is flat, that man did not land on the moon, and that a conman won this election – and the algorithms in the computers will say, fine, we do not care if this is true or not, and we will proceed as if this is fact.

All real facts point to the successful and honest conclusion of the election process in the US, a process that was as fair as it could be. Unfortunately, apparently 70% of Republicans, at this time, believe that the election was really won by the candidate who actually lost it – the two-bit huckster, the conman. Unfortunately, this fantasy is also not explicitly repudiated by the people in power who are in a position to state the facts. They are afraid. They are hypocrites who look out only for themselves. People lie, these lies are amplified, and these lies are believed because of the kind of world we live in. The facts have no place here. There is more chaos, uncertainty, and anxiety, in the transition that is taking place in our country because of all of this. This is nuts!