Meditations at Daybreak

It is a good time to find a quiet space for the mind before the hustle and bustle of the busy day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe morning call of the awakening birds greets me as I head for the terrace of the house.  Sunrises in Chennai are a different experience from those that I am used to in my part of the world.  The tones are different, and the colors are more muted. The explosion of light and color that I am used to experiencing as the sun clears the horizon seems to be missing.  But it is a remarkable experience nonetheless.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is too bad that most of us are indoors, either asleep, or preoccupied with getting ready for the hassles of the day, when this phenomenon takes place. I can see myself on a beach or on a mountaintop just soaking it all in. The glory of a sunrise provides a good moment for meditation and contemplation of bigger things, and this is true regardless of where you are in the world.

Super Blood Wolf Moon of January 2019

I had not planned to stay up for this event.  This meant that I was not prepared for taking pictures when it happened.  But Sunday evenings are when I am up a little later than usual because of my weekly chorus practice.  I usually have my dinner after returning while watching some program or the other on the television.  By the time I got ready for bed, it was almost time for the total eclipse.  I got a little curious.

I did not know which side of the sky the moon would be visible on.  I stepped out of the front door not knowing what to expect.  The sky was clear, and the temperature was in the teens (degrees F), with a wind blowing, and I was not wearing my jacket.  It felt really cold!

Almost directly above me was the super blood wolf moon!  I do not recall ever seeing this phenomenon before.  It took my breath away!

I felt the need to try to take a picture of the moon.  Although there had been information that had come my way about techniques to take pictures of the phenomenon, I had not read any of it.  I had lacked the foresight to be prepared.  I grabbed the camera, making sure that the lens that was on it was the one with the maximum zoom capability.  Once back outside the house, I struggled with the camera – with the settings (I needed to lock in the ISO setting to a high value), with the lens’s zoom capability, and with focusing the darned thing on the moon in the poor light.   I had no gloves on.

I managed to snap a few pictures, but the exposure times were too long, and my hands were not that steady! If I had done any planning, I would have figured out ahead of time how to set the camera on a tripod, and have it point upwards in a manner that still allowed me to look at the viewfinder.  As things stood, it was going to take too long to figure out all of that and set up.  The lunar eclipse was already well underway at that point.

I was going in and out of the house in between shots trying to keep myself warm.   I finally managed at least one decent shot after many attempts.  I had to back off from the maximum zoom to allow the camera to focus, and then lean against the front door to keep my hand steady.  This is the shot I got.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe name of the phenomenon derives from the fact that the moon looks big because it is relatively closer to earth (super), because it looks red (blood), and because native Americans call the full moon in January the Wolf moon.

I am quite sure I would gotten a much better shot if I had been better prepared.

The Mountains Are Calling

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Canyonlands National Park, Utah

There is something about the nature of the hills and the mountains that has drawn me to them over the years.  I am not sure how this happened.  My first remembrance of such feelings was when I would visit my aunt and her family in the hills of the Western Ghats in Kerala.  From the front porch of their house, in what was then the little village of Dhoni, one could see a hilltop that was untouched by development.  We, the children that we were, made one or two explorations into the hills, trying to follow the informal trails that other like-minded people had created over time.

Years later, I still feel like reliving that feeling, and that moment in time, but the world has probably changed in the meantime for the people of Dhoni and Palakkad.  Also near my aunt’s house was another forested hilltop which was a part of the forest reserve lands of the State of Kerala.  I never made it there, but it has always been a part of my imagination.  I am not sure exactly what lay there, and what remains now.

It was only as a graduate student that I was finally able to actually respond to the call of the hills.  We were able to drive from the university to the Bear Mountain area in New York State for day hikes.  About four or five miles of hiking and we would be completely exhausted because we were completely out of shape.  But it felt really great, especially relaxing with a bottle or two of beer after the whole effort.

And then there was the downhill skiing that I discovered when in graduate school.  When you are standing on top of the mountain – with the wide open snow-covered slopes lined with evergreens in front of you, with a panoramic view of the landscape all around, with the little chalet that is your destination way, way, down below you, you are in a kind of heaven on earth.  As you prepare to launch yourself off the flat top and on to the slope, you take a measure of the nature of the challenge, and the slope that you are about the conquer. As you start your way down the hill, the exhilaration  increases to the next level.  You have a smile on your face and you are whooping with happiness as you speed downhill (carefully!) – even as the icy cold wind blows across your face and freezes the tears that flow from your eyes.

I ski very rarely these years – there is a chance that the joints will not take the pounding.  But I am absolutely certain that if I were to get to the top of that hill on my skis the feeling of happiness will be renewed instantly, even if it is for a short while.  It would be as if I was experiencing all of the thrill of skiing, and of the mountaintop, once again for the first time.

I was diagnosed with CAD many years ago, and at that time I had to undergo a couple of procedures to address the problem.  A good friend from childhood called me then to chat and cheer me up.  We were talking about possible restrictions on my lifestyle in the future, and he mentioned, somewhat jokingly, that perhaps I would not be able to climb  mountains like the Himalayas in the future.  My response was – why not?!  My response was not based on reality, but even if I do not make it to the Himalayas themselves, there are plenty of other doable challenges all over the world.

Meanwhile, the mountains continue to call.  Every time I see a picture of a mountain, I wonder if there is a way to get to the top.  (And I mean get to the top on foot!  Driving a car to the top of a mountain, however high the mountain may be, is not as much fun!)  And every single time I go to a national park, I get the urge to see and experience that trail in the park that can lead to the top of its highest peak.  Of course, that does not happen most of the time these days due to many reasons.  And even I know the risks of trying to tackle a trail like the Angel’s Landing Trail in Zion National Park.  (I do have a natural fear (perhaps healthy) of narrow open spaces at great heights.  My knees get weak even looking at the pictures!)

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Bright Angel Trail, North Rim, Grand Canyon

But the good thing is that I am still able to hike today. And I can walk a trail, and climb the hills, for miles and miles – to get to the highest destination, that mountain top where my expansive view of the world awaits.

I have to continue to answer the call of the mountaintop until I am physically unable.

In the Cold

We were supposed to do the Feaster Five run on Thanksgiving day, but the temperature turned out to be in the teens (in degrees Fahrenheit), and with the wind it felt like -3 degrees F.  We ended up staying indoors, not even daring to try out the shortened course that the organizers had set up because of the weather.

But one can stay indoors for only so long.  We also had to burn off the calories that were consumed during the Thanksgiving meal.  So, we were out the next day.  The temperature had risen to a balmy 20 degrees, still well below the freezing temperature.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe went to the Weir Hill Reservation.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome of us ran, while the others walked.  We did two loops, each slightly less than two and half miles, around the park.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe survived!

The Fallen Leaves

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA carpet of dead leaves covers the ground, lit up by the bright morning light.  The leaves glow in the warmth of the sun.  There is a beauty in the dying.

Before we know it, the golden leaves will all be swept away.  The winds of winter, even now, renew their strength. They blow our way from the north once again.  Soon we will be scurrying to find shelter from the bone-chilling cold as Old Man Winter reaches out with his icy fingers.

And this will pass eventually.  As Winter fades into Spring, the cycle will start once more. There will be renewal.  All this will happen without a care for what you or I think, and without care for your or my presence…  And so it goes.

Days of Autumn

I wrote an optimistic blog a couple of days ago.  I had seen the sun come out and was ready to bask in its glory.

Alas, it was not to be!  The clouds appeared in the sky soon after I posted the blog, and the weather turned gloomy once again.  All motivation to go out and get some exercise soon faded away.

But the sun did come out once again yesterday.  The bright blue sky stayed that way the whole day.  I could go out for a run, in preparation for the Feaster Five event that one is going to participate in on Thanksgiving.

As I was driving around the neighborhood, I noticed a couple of bright spots in the midst of the drab surroundings.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlthough Fall has generally been a dull affair this year, there are still some isolated flashes of brilliance to be experienced before it is all gone.

And then it turned cold and cloudy once again today.  And now it is raining!  Dang!

These are the days of Autumn.  I suppose that is what one should expect.

Colorado and Utah by Car – Day 14 (To Pikes Peak and back to Denver)

This was the day the adventure finally came to a end and we returned to reality.  No, we are not home yet, but we started the morning in an unknown little mining town in the middle of Colorado, and ended in the bustling city of Denver.  We spent the night in a Hampton Inn hotel in the busy city, and we fly back home today.  The mood has already shifted.

This was the scene outside our hotel room at Red Cliff in the morning.  A light snow had fallen overnight.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOff in the distance, the sun was trying to break through.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOff to the east, the sun lit up the snow-covered evergreens.  This was the direction of Shrine Pass and the road that was not taken.  That may remain a dream.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe headed up the hill and out of town to get back on to US 24.  This road did not seem as narrow as it did to us the previous evening, except at the point where it hit the highway, where they seemed to have had to cut down a little bit of the side of the mountain to create the entrance to the road.  There was an overhang that seemed like it would be nasty for tall vehicles.

Then it was back on US 24 East.  There was more snow around, but the road had been cleared pretty well by that time, and it had stopped snowing. Nevertheless, one had to be extra careful when driving.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe arrived at the town of Leadville and stopped to fill gas.  Next to the town were the Sawatch Range of the Rocky mountains.  Mt. Massive is the closest high peak, over 14,000 feet.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had selected a route that went through Leadville because I had read about this somewhat less known, and perhaps unremarkable to some, town in a book on running.  This is the location of the annual Leadville Trail 100, “The Race Across the Sky”, an ultra-marathon where runners covered 100 miles in the Rocky Mountains.  I do not think I am going to do that any time soon!

The town itself had a western feel to it, a feeling that we have gotten very used to during these travels.  Outside this little cafe you could hear the kind of music that one might have heard in an old western movie, typically in a saloon.  (If I remember correctly this sometimes happened before a gunfight broke out.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI took this picture from the middle of the road.  I was ready for a shootout!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere are more pictures of the town.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then we were out of town, driving further south in the shadow of the Rockies.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe left the snow behind after we left town.  As we drove further south, we saw signs for Mt Harvard, Mt. Yale and Mt. Princeton, all mountains higher than 14,000 feet.  What an elitist bunch of folks, the people who named these mountains!  These are also called the Collegiate mountains.

The road headed south for a long time, and then turned east just beyond Buena Vista, a somewhat sizable town.

Then we were headed east, on a big plain, on a road that ran straight and true for miles and miles.  There were fields beside us with cows and horses, and then we saw some animals that we did not recognize.  I think they were some kind of deer.

We climbed out of plains into parkland area.  The scenery was still beautiful, but not as compelling as what we had experienced in the last few days.  But to somebody who was seeing this after having spent all their lives driving in suburbia, this could also seem remarkable.

We passed a little outpost where I finally stopped to take some pictures of buildings that had a western feel to it.  This was not the best we had seen during our travels, but this was perhaps the last time we would see such buildings during the travels.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was when we entered the town of Ute Pass that we knew that we were back in civilization as we have known it all our lives.  It was a bigger place with a lot of people, a lot of commercial buildings typical of suburbia around us, and names of stores familiar to us.

Shortly out of town, we arrived at the start of Pikes Peak highway.  There were already lines forming to pay the fees and enter.  You have to drive about 20 miles to get to the top.  This picture was taken at mile 10 where we decided to stop for some lunch.  We might have sat at the picnic benches had it not been for the description they had at the place for black bears.  We ate in the car.  You can see the top of Pikes Peak towards the left side of the picture.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe left the forest of evergreens as we climbed.  The trees thinned out and eventually disappeared.

The last phase of the climb involved a lot of short and sharp switchbacks up the bare face of the mountain.  You had to be really careful.  We ended up behind a very slow driver who allowed a convoy of about 20 cars to form behind him.  The directions for driving this road clearly state that one should pull over and let others pass if there are three cars behind them. (I am told that it is not good to called people names in a blog. So I will avoid doing that.) We reached the top of the mountain in this fashion, in a convoy of slow cars.

We were actually a little disappointed when we got there.  There is a wide flat area on top, and the area that we were entering through was blocked off with a lot of construction equipment.  Additionally, there were a lot of cars and people around.  There was a guy who was helping people get parking.

Here is a view of a vista at the top of the mountain (click on the picture, as usual!).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were at a height where breathing could be difficult if you were not prepared.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter stopping in the cafeteria for their world-famous donuts and a cup of hot chocolate, we stepped out behind the gift shop to take in the view.

The pictures below show the place where the cog railroad used to end.  This railroad actually operated until recent times, but is out of commission because there is extensive maintenance work needed, and it is going to be tough to get spare parts and fix something that is not a mainstream product these days.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is a guy who has taken off his shirt.  The temperature was below freezing!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe lake blow is called Crystal Reservoir.  It serves the city of Colorado Springs close by.  We will stop by this lake on the way down the mountain.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can walk the trail down the mountain.  In fact, there are supported bike rides you can do down the mountain on the road.  Can you imagine how hot the brakes are going to be as you proceed downhill!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe made a few stops on the way down.  Here is a picture of the road at one of these spots, of the direction we had come from.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis car looks like it is too close to the edge!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is a picture of the road going down the mountain in one of the steeper sections.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis picture was taken from Crystal reservoir, where we stopped for an extended break.  You can see the building at the top of Pikes peak.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe blue color of the clear water was remarkable.  Pikes Peak is to the left of the picture below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe ripples in the water stopped at some point, and I could take the following picture.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe realized that we had taken much less time to explore Pikes Peak than what we had been led to believe would be needed.  The evening was still early, and we had to figure out what to do next.  We opened up the AAA tour guide book to the pages for Colorado Springs.  It seems like The Garden of the Gods was the topmost on the list of things to see.  That was where we headed.

The GPS device told us to go in one direction to get to the park, whereas the instructions on the city streets gave us a different direction.  We followed street signs.  It was the wrong decision.  Instead of the Visitor Center, we ended up at the Trading Post.  We parked there anyway, thinking that there might be a visitor center hidden somewhere.  It was at this point that an overwhelming sense of tiredness overcame me.  I was running out of energy.  It was time for a Clif bar. We went in to get directions for hiking and were given a map and some somewhat vague directions.  We decided that we wanted to head for the Siamese Twins.

We headed down a trail that seemed to be the right direction.  A park ranger who had been driving on the road next to the trail stopped and gave us us an official trail map of the park (which was different from what we got at the Trading Post).  We had been going in the wrong direction.

We did make it to the Siamese Twins.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is a picture of the Trading Post as we walked back to the parking lot.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had initially wanted to also walk in another section of the park, but I realized that I was too tired.  It must have been all the driving.  We decided to head out to our hotel in Denver right away.

On the way out, we passed the place where we had initially wanted to also walk after seeing the Siamese Twins.  It was actually the more interesting part of the places in the park, with its huge rock formations.  It was the place we would have ended up in if we had stopped at the actual Visitor Center. That is the way it goes.

We joined the traffic heading north on Interstate 25 towards Denver.  It was rush-hour time on a Friday evening, and there was construction on the road.  Welcome back to the trappings of civilization.

We went out for dinner soon after we checked into the hotel.  There was a Thai restaurant within walking distance.  The food was good, except that the chef had probably mixed up the dishes that were supposed to be very spicy, and I got more than I had bargained for.  Some Chang beer from Thailand helped cool things down.

Back at the hotel, I downloaded pictures from the phone to the computer, but that was as far as I got before an overwhelming urge to sleep overtook me.  I conked out the minute my head hit the pillow.