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!
This storm arrived, once again, on a Sunday – once again disrupting our Sunday walk. For some reason, I felt that this was a prettier storm than the one before. Perhaps it is only a state of mind. I took a few pictures around the house, but, in the end, felt disappointed about them. The weather was warm when compared to the days of the previous storm, and a lot of the snow melted away the same day.
It also happened to be Superbowl Sunday. Not that this mattered too much to me. I have not seen a single American football game this season. I used to watch a lot of sports when I was young, but no more. Arena sports no longer grabs my attention, especially if it is all about overpaid professionals going about their job.
Nevertheless, I had resolved to watch the entire game on Sunday because it is such an American thing to do. I even figured out which team to root for – even though I had no interest in the game. This year there would be no disruptions in the viewing of the game because we were not a a party with other people – which is typically the case on Superbowl Sunday.
The game was fine. There was enough strategy, skill, and technique demonstrated in this game, which, although physically tough and brutal, involves a lot of organization – almost military like, but perhaps with more rules! But I was also surprised by how I felt about all the hype and the additional artificial drama that was a part of the broadcast of the game. In the past I would have accepted it, and maybe even get drawn into it, but now it seemed completely fake and artificial. The ads were particularly stupid. And to build sports personalities into hero figures makes no sense to me. Perhaps the overall experience is like watching gladiators fight in ancient Rome – in a more “civilized” way. (I wonder if they had advertisements during the Roman times in the Colosseum. There must be an Asterix comic book including a panel or two satirizing this concept!)
Nevertheless, having chosen a side to cheer for, I was surprised by how quickly my emotions were manipulated. I began to not just cheer for my team, but also find fault with the other – and with the referees. I was actually “hating”, and I surprised myself with the intensity of this emotion. I was even prone to verbally expressing these emotions. I think it is the animal instinct in all of us that draws us in to something like this in spite of ourselves. I was a part of the audience in a Roman amphitheater! This is what happens in our politics today.
It was snowing steadily when we woke up on Sunday. I had gotten up with the faint hope of still being able to go the river and the towpath for our usual weekend walk. I had actually been thinking about the unique opportunity to get pictures in the park during the snowfall. I gave up the idea quickly, primarily because of the risk of getting stuck in the snow on one of the narrow roads leading to a trailhead. There was no way that these secondary roads were going to be plowed that soon, especially during a snowstorm.
I used to get excited about taking pictures around our home, and even around our neighborhood, when it snowed. For some reason, I did not feel that way this time. Nevertheless, I did try taking a few pictures at home. Most of them did not look interesting to me. All I saw was whiteness. Here are a few of these pictures. At least a couple of these pictures were inspired simply by how I felt when looking at particular objects. They may not mean anything to you.
I am hoping that there will be better opportunities for picture-taking the next time we go to the canal.
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 new day is dawning. The rising sun lights ups the contrails of the aircraft high up in the sky, westward bound, carrying passengers to new places and expectations.
We, in the US, are now on a new path. We cannot know exactly where it will lead us. We cannot predict the future. But the path itself appears to be clear, and we are hopeful that it will take us to a place we want to be – a better place.
I am still feeling the high from the Inauguration of Joe Biden, the new president of the USA. There was almost a spiritual feel to the events of the day. There was optimism. There was a call to our better selves. There was the call for unity. As Amanda Gorman stated, The Hill We Climb is not easy. But the official echo-chamber of lies and fantasies is no more. There is hope for decency. These initial days of the new administration feel very different from the chaos and divisiveness, and the carnage, that came forth from the top the last few years from the very beginning.
I had this habit during the last few years of checking the news fairly regularly, impulsively – looking for the next big outrage that had been perpetuated by the people in charge. It was surely a habit that was not healthy. It will take a few days to stop doing this, but the first couple of days of the new administration have been calming, and that should help. The immediately issued executive orders from the new administration bring back the sense of decency to the way we do things. There is also the sense that the work of the nation is actually being done. And last, but not the least, it is clear that we are taking the pandemic seriously!
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.
The image of a paintbox flashed through my mind one morning last week. I am not sure what triggered a memory of something from my childhood. I suddenly had a vivid remembrance/recollection of my leaning over a piece of paper with a wet paintbrush in hand, bringing my brush to a particular color in the tray that lay in front of me, moving the brush back and forth on the cake of color to allow the material to dissolve and be absorbed on to the brush, and then applying the brush to paper. For some reason the name Camel is associated in my mind with the brand of the paintbox that I would have used. I do not know if this was only in my imagination working overtime, but I do note that there still is a brand of watercolor called Camlin from a company based in India.
I used to really like painting as a kid. I think I even graduated to using tubes of paint at some point, but never beyond painting with water colors. I even got to the point of using brushes in different sizes to help fill in different spaces of the picture being painted more efficiently, and to try to achieve some degree of finesse.
I remember that we had to take drawing classes while in middle school. There was a separate classroom dedicated just to drawing. The person in charge of drawing (called the drawing master) was really good at painting. He also used to play volleyball well. But he was also a terror to the kids. He had a habit of breaking the rulers that he hit the kids on the hands with. I somehow managed to escape his wrath, and went on to appreciate what I got to indulge in while in his class. It is impossible to judge whether I had talent or not, but I did enjoy the process.
It was in 1969, the year when man landed on the moon for the first time, that the school decided to have a painting competition in commemoration of the event. I remember painting an astronaut on the surface of the moon. I remember that all the colors I used were dark. It makes sense, does it not? The other occasion I remember was when I took part in a competition organized by the college students in one of the hostels on campus. I do not know what the theme of the competition was, but I decided that I was going to paint an image of the Virgin Mary in what I pictured stained glass to look like. You see, I imagined this stained glass to consist simply of pieces of glass of different colors, stuck together to form a pattern. It was a brilliant move on my part. All I had to do was create random blocks in different shapes to fill in the space, and simply paint each block with a single color. Finesse did not matter in this regard. What mattered was how close the final result could be taken to represent the person I was trying to paint. It could be considered some form of abstract art. Best of all, I could fake out the details when drawing the face. Faces were my biggest challenge when it came to painting, especially the eyes and nose. (I had even avoided having to draw a face for the picture of the astronaut on the earlier occasion!) In any case, they decided to give me a prize in the category and age group that I was participating in. I do not remember any more details.
It is now years later, far removed from my days of middle school. I have not used a paintbrush since then other than for perhaps helping to paint the walls of a house. More recently, I have considered going to the local arts store to buy a the basic stuff needed to try out watercolor painting once again. But something is also stopping me. Basically, I think that I have become a wimp. I am cautious of even the process of getting started. I am concerned about consequences even if there probably aren’t any. I do not even want to buy something that I may not use after a period of experimentation. It could turn out to be a wasteful endeavor. I am concerned that this is only a temporary and foolish fancy that will eventually go away. (I have much experience with such things.) I am concerned that there are too many other things that I do that will distract me from putting in the effort that I feel is needed. I am lazy enough to not want to take classes. Essentially, I can no longer think like the innocent and carefree 10 year old I once was.
Our travels took us to Manassas last weekend. Manassas is an older town in the neighboring state of Virginia. It may be known for its proximity to the First and Second Battles of Bull Run (also called the battles of Manassas), battles that took place during the Civil War. The city was actually built up around a railroad junction. The Southern Railway tracks used to run through town. Today, it is a commuter railroad station on the VRE on their Manassas Line. Amtrak trains also pass through the town. This is the route of Amtrak’s Crescent train that runs between New York City and New Orleans.
There was a Farmer’s market going on while we were there. There was a band providing entertainment, playing on a stage set up up on the bed of an old, repurposed, Southern Railway flatcar. The town has a small and charming downtown area that we were able to visit and walk through quickly.
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.
(This title shall remain in spite of the fact that the blog talks about events that took place on a day that was not officially a part of Winter. It was, technically speaking, the last day of Autumn. I suspect that this might bother some purists out there, but they can write their own blogs if they are offended!)
We have experienced very little snowfall in our area since the early days of 2019. The few times that it snowed, it warmed up quickly after that – ensuring that the snow did not stay on the ground for too long. While this pattern may also persist this year, the early blast that we received last week did remind us that Mother Nature can be unpredictable. This time the snow stayed on the ground for many days – long enough for us to experience the wonder of winter during our Sunday morning outing. Our visit to the Dickerson Conservation area of the C&O Canal Towpath was a different experience from usual.
The amount of snow that had fallen was not very significant. The trail itself was relatively easy to tackle. But it sure was cold!
There were signs of cross-country skis having been used on the trail.
We even encountered a person on a bicycle. That was unexpected.I am not sure how the brave rider was feeling about his efforts, but he did turn back a short while after we first saw him.
It was a beautiful scene around us.
The deer hid in the woods, and scattered when they saw my camera being pointed at them.
We saw a committee of vultures warming themselves up in the trees in the cold of the early morning. They were all facing the same direction.They looked like priests inviting a congregation to prayer – to give thanks for another fine morning on this Mother Earth.
We did not walk much because of the time spent bird-watching.This little Carolina Wren obliged us near the Dickerson power plant!
Some of us were still feeling the cold in our extremities at the end of this outing. No big deal!
Wishing everybody a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!