Could this be the Year of the Owls

I am not sure what is going on, but, for some reason or the other, we are seeing owls more frequently than ever before on the towpath this year. It had been many years since my last good sighting before we saw the owls last week. And then it happened once again this week. What are the chances!

This time the owl was even closer to us, just next to the trail. We saw it as we were hiking from Dickerson Conservation Center towards Whites Ferry, and then we saw it again, still seated on the same tree, when we were returning. At least, I think it was the same owl. I cannot be sure because there were other owls also present in that neighborhood.

The pictures below are from the first viewing of the owl. It had flown up on to the tree from a fallen branch on the canal bed.If you look carefully, you will notice that the owl’s body was actually facing away from us. You can see the extent to which it was able to turn its head.

These are pictures of the owl taken as we were walking back towards the Dickerson Conservation Center. The owl ended up facing us directly this time. It was making some screeching sounds, and was getting a response from somewhere across the canal.We had reason to believe that their might have been three of the owls hanging around the place. We saw a second one. We guessed the presence of a third one based on the direction from which we were hearing the response to the owl in the picture above.

I hope that the happenings of the last two weekends are an indication of more good things to come as we continue our explorations, both big and small, of the towpath.

When The Old Becomes New Once Again

Some folks know that I have biked literally a few thousand miles in the last few years. While I have done it as a pastime, the primary driver, the primary motivator if you will, has been the occurrence of certain events, certain planned bike rides with my friends, that I needed to train for. Or it has been a case of where I needed to prove something to myself – like the ability to get back on the bike after a major fall during one of the aforementioned rides. Lacking any such motivating forces this year, it has taken me a long time to get back on my bicycle this year. But it did happen finally in spite of all the regular excuses. And I am hoping that this is not the last time I ride a bike this year.

The process of getting back on the bicycle for the first time each year poses its own challenges. Things that you take for granted as a part of a regular schedule can become challenges once again. Where did I leave my bicycling gear last year? Do I have enough shorts, tops, or even gloves, stored away? Where did I put these things? What happened to my favorite gloves? What are the things that I want to carry during a ride, and how will I carry them – a bottle of water, a Clif bar, my keys, my smart phone, etc.. Do I really need my wallet during the ride? Do I carry stuff in the pockets on the back of my shirt, or in the pockets of my shorts, or in the pockets of my camera bag, during the ride? Will I remember to close the zippers for the pockets of my shorts so that stuff does not fall out at some random place while I am riding?  None of this is a habit any more.

What is the state of the bike after all this time? The tires are flat after many months of sitting in the garage. Will they hold the air in once I pump them up? Where did I leave the bicycle pump? Should I not oil the bicycle chain?  I need to find the instructions for doing that.

Is my bicycle helmet alright? Is it where I think I left it last year? Should I have gotten a new helmet? (I already know the answer to that last question, but I am not good at planning ahead.)

How do I get the bike to the trail? I used to throw it into the back of the Prius in the past (as talked about in a paragraph here), but we have now switched the use of the family cars. Is the old bike rack still functional? What adjustments need to be made to attach it to the back of the Honda Civic? Have I attached the rack securely?  Have I attached the bike to the rack securely? As I drive to the trail head, my eyes are shifting to the rear-view mirror more often than usual, to make sure the bike has not disappeared from view somewhere along the way. How the heck did I have the nerve to drive long distances on the highways with a bike tied to the back of the car when I was young? Was I young and stupid? (Don’t answer that last question!)

And then one arrives at the trail head. You take the bike off the rack and check that everything is in order. There are days in the past when I have ridden off without my helmet or gloves. That did not happen on Thursday at Pennyfield Lock.

And then you are biking. It all feels quite effortless. The bike feels too small. But that is the same way I feel every year when I start biking for the first time. But then you get used to it very quickly. It is all coming back. You ease into the routine. There is no reason to hurry. You can see how the muscles feel after many months of disuse. I have no worries. I have done this so many times that it is all going to come back – the rhythm, the zen of the bicycle trail.

And then I am off, and it is hard to stop. If I do, I will lose the magical feeling. I do not even stop for the flowers by the trail. The air is cool, you encounter the occasional human being. At this point, there are some people who are zipping past me with a sense of purpose. There are others making their way at a more leisurely pace. I know that I will eventually join the first group. That is how my mind works.

After a while, you begin to feel the effort of the biking in the muscles. It is time to slow down, perhaps stop for a drink of water, and/or a pee.

The trail transforms itself in different sections – mud and potholes in the first part (smooth), the roughness and unevenness of the differently sized pebbles on the trail in the second part (bumpy), and, finally, the new crushed gravel for the last section of the ride (cushioned) all the way up to Whites Ferry.  The sounds of the wheels change as the surfaces change.  The rhythm becomes new once again – and then you get used to the new rhythm.

I stopped for the turtle I found on the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It had obviously emerged from the waters of the canal.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI did not slow down for the green heron that was flying by me, but the still great blue heron caught my attention.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI stopped and walked back to where it was standing on a branch over the canal. So engrossed was it in looking for fish in the water that it did not move an inch during the whole time.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen it was relaxation time at Whites Ferry before I started biking back to Pennyfield Lock.

The statue of a confederate soldier that used to stand on this pedestal (on private land) at Whites Ferry has been torn down by vandals.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe statue formerly used to stand at the Montgomery County government offices in Rockville. It was donated to the owners of the ferry a few years ago after the political environment in the county shifted. The owners of the ferry did not know what they were getting themselves into. They now want to have nothing to do with the controversy regarding confederate monuments. The even renamed their ferry boat almost immediately.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt used to be called the General Jubal A. EarlyJubal Early was a Confederate General during the civil war.

It was nice to see that the operations at Whites Ferry seemed to be in decent shape despite all of our recent troubles.   The local store at the ferry site looked like it was getting decent foot traffic from the summer visitors who are flocking to the outdoors more than usual during this time of COVID-19. I was completely in the zone by the time I started riding back.  As I expected, I was picking up the pace as I rode.  It seems to be a natural tendency on my part. It was a different state of mind from when I started the ride.  This time, I took a break for a snack and water at Sycamore Landing. I also stopped to take a picture of the flowers I had ignored on the way out. I initially thought these flowers were Dames Rocket, but they have the wrong number of petals. I think these are Wild Sweet William, a kind of phlox.

There was the frog that hopped on to the trail in front of me as I was biking, and then, as I slowed down hoping that it would stop so that I could take its picture, decided that it was going to take a circular route back to the side of the trail that it had come from.  It all happened in an instant.

There were the opportunities for further examination when the butterflies flew past me, and I considered whether to stop and turn my head to see if they had landed somewhere.  The only time I really stopped, the butterfly kept going in the opposite direction that I was biking in, following another bike rider who was headed that way.  It seemed to be able to keep pace with the rider easily.  One other time, the image of a black butterfly with red stripes on both wings imprinted itself in my brain the moment it flew past me, and then the moment was gone.  Someone could tell me that I only imagined that moment, and I would not have anything concrete to offer to counter that assertion.

I got a surprise as I got closer to the end of the ride. I found this snake across the trail.  Although it was much smaller than the version of the snake I had found the previous year on the Capital Crescent Trail, it was not very difficult to recognize the Northern Copperhead, one of only two venomous snakes in Maryland.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe eyes on this snake give me the creeps even now, many days later.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy the time I was done with the ride, I was back in the swing of things.  My overall confidence level was back to normal.  I stopped the GPS device when I got to the car.  I had done over 32 miles in over three hours.  I loaded my bike on the bike rack once again, and drove home the recuperate and recover.

I hope this is not the last ride this year.

The Two Barred Owls

We rarely get a good look at owls on the towpath even though we know that they are around. They are hidden in the trees, and often fly away when they sense our approach. Even if they remain stationary, most of the time they are in a position where you cannot get a clear view of them – either partially hidden behind some branches on a tree, or obscured by the dark foliage. The last time I got a good picture of the barred owl was in 2014.

We came across a pair of barred owls on the towpath last weekend that actually cooperated with us. It is usually very easy to disturb these birds when you pass by. You typically are not aware of their presence until they make a move. But this time, although they had been disturbed, they only moved on to a tree a little further along the trail. I was able to track their flight approximately, and then slowly and quietly walk up to the tree on which they were perched. Fortunately it was close to the trail. What a delightful sight to see – not just one bird, but two of them!





The pictures that I took literally do not present the owls in their best light. The greenery around them has tended to create a greenish tinge for the owls themselves, and I am reluctant to compensate using post-processing. Also, the lighting conditions were not ideal, and my attempt to get a good exposure setting were not the most successful.

Here is a little bit of trivia about owls. Since they cannot move their eyeballs, the only way they can achieve peripheral vision is by turning their heads. A human being can turn its head around only 90° in either direction. An owl can do much better. It can turn its head around 270° in either direction! (This means that if an owl wants to show-off, it can rotate its head 540° from one extreme to the other!) The interesting question to ask it about how the owl achieves this capability. Their vertebrae can manage to support the extreme rotation, and the arteries still function without getting severed. The structure of the neck of an owl happens to be very different from a human’s. There is apparently plenty of spare space within the vertebrae of the owls for the arteries to move in and to be cushioned in. This is not true for humans. Owls also have the ability to pool blood in a reservoir below the head in order to provide a supply when the arteries are twisted. Also, the carotid and vertebral arteries can exchange blood in the worst case when one or the other is blocked. I understand that the features of the owl’s physiology that allows it to move ts head in such a flexible manner are still being studied. Meanwhile, you can find plenty of articles and videos on the subject on the Internet.

Woot a hoot!

The Curious Tale of Rocky Rooster

We began to hear the sounds shortly after we set out on the trail, as we headed north from Sycamore Landing. It was coming from the large farm just next to the berm of the canal. It was a sod farm (whose entrance on River Road one passes if you were to drive on towards Edwards Ferry). As we got closer, we noticed that a massive sprinkler system was in operation, watering a wide swath of the farmland. A massive contraption on wheels lay across the field with the sprinklers connected to its framework.

Further along the trail, shortly after the sounds of the sprinkler system began to fade away behind us, we began to hear a steady and repetitive mechanical sound coming from somewhere beyond the berm of the canal. We were approaching some kind of an engine/motor operating on the farm. It sounded like one of those old tractors. What we were hearing turned out to be a water pump. I also noticed that there was a culvert under the canal at that location. The light bulb went off in my head! The farm was probably drawing water from the river through the culvert, and using the pump to drive the water to the sprinklers. I noticed a little trail leading off from the towpath towards the river just beyond the culvert. I resolved to check out this trail later, to look for a water pipe, on our way back.

We continued our walk towards Edwards Ferry, continuing our explorations and adventures.

We were now heading back towards Sycamore Landing. We had reached the sod farm that we had passed on our way out. I was now listening for the sound of the water pump. We began to hear it in the distance. As we approached the site of the culvert, we were surprised to hear a cock crowing in the woods next to the river. Cock-a-doodle-doo!! It was unexpected. I was quite sure there were no domestic animals or birds in this section. Not knowing any better, I wondered if this could be a wild turkey.

I took the little side trail just before the culvert where the pump was located and walked down to the river. I then started walking along the riverside towards the culvert itself. The others who were following on the side trail behind me informed me that that there was now a rooster following them on the trail. A little alarmed, a went back towards them. Could this blog turn into a tale about the attack of a rabid rooster?!

Yes, indeed, it was a common rooster that had followed us on to the trail.undefinedBut the colorful specimen, although excited, seemed to be quite harmless. It was not frothing at the beak. It seemed to be following us with some purpose, and fortunately that purpose did not seem to include attacking human beings. I could tell by the look in its eye! Maybe it was expecting some food.undefined

Reassured about its intentions, I went back to the task of looking for the water pipe in the culvert. And indeed, there was a pipe running through the culvert.undefinedNot only that, there also seemed to be a different pipe leading out of the river towards the canal not too far from the pipe running through the culvert.undefinedI was left to wonder about the kinds of permits that were required in these parts to draw water from the river for use on a farm. And that was the extent of my curiosity!

Having gotten my pictures, I walked back to where the others were dealing with the rooster. We thought it had escaped from the farm on the other side of the canal. Convinced that the rooster was not going to attack me, I tried to persuade it back on to the side trail, and then back across the towpath.undefinedWith some effort, and using a certain amount of skill that was newfound (and ultimately useless, may I add!), I managed to get the rooster back to the main trail. I could not have done it without the encouragement of the cheering squad.

But that is how far we got in this remarkable rooster rescue effort. We could not convince the rooster to cross the towpath on to the canal bed. We could not convince the rooster to head towards the farm on the other side of the canal. The rooster viewed my efforts to encourage it to move in that direction with extreme suspicion. Or maybe it thought it was just a game, and was mightily amused. In the end, we had to let it be. It went back into the woods it had just appeared from.undefined

We departed the place having failed in this particular project. We could hear the rooster cock-a-doodle-doing at the next person who happened to pass us by, going in the other direction on a bike. That person did not stop. I suspect that the cock-a-doodle-doing did not even register in the person’s brain. I suspect that there are not many other people who get as distracted as we were by strange goings-on in the woods while they are on the towpath! We left the rooster to whatever fate awaited it in the woods. Meanwhile, I am sure that the farmer is missing at least one of his (or her) roosters. And I wonder if the missing rooster will even be noticed!

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Four Locks

We went up to the Four Locks area of the C&O canal last weekend. This is even further away from where we live than Williamsport, our other recent and distant destination. We were being more adventurous than usual. A visit by the young ones was an added incentive.

Since it was going to get hot and humid later in the day, we were resolved to leave early in the morning for our destination. We ended up departing a little later than planned, but not too late for it to become a matter of major concern.

The parking lot for the Four Locks area is located in the boondocks. You take the exit for Clear Spring from Interstate 70. It is in an area of Maryland called Prather’s Neck. Once you get off the highway, you have to travel over local roads for a little while. You have to go through a couple of long tunnels, one under the tracks of the former Western Maryland Railroad (now operated by CSX) out of Hagerstown, and the other under the canal itself. The location of the parking lot at Four Locks is a surprise for newcomers. It shows up unexpectedly with little advance warning.

This area is in the countryside. There are narrow roads that disappear into the woods around Prather’s Neck. They probably turn to dirt roads at some point. Who knows what exists at the end of the roads! I suspect that people used to live here once upon a time. I expect that there are some abandoned homes in the middle of the woods and at the ends of these roads.

The Potomac river meanders its way around Prather’s Neck, while the canal takes a shortcut through the “neck”. The canal changes levels quite significantly and quickly in this section using the four locks for which the area is named. The locks are close to each other. Once you climb out of the Four Locks area, the river reappears beside the trail at a much lower level than the trail itself.

The early start for the walk was a good thing. The morning sunshine was still diffused, and the air was still cool.

This is a picture of Lock 47, the lowest of the four locks.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis lock house, caught in the weak morning light, is available for rent.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is lock 50.  There is a little shanty on the upstream side where the lock keeper could wait in times of inclement weather to greet boats headed downstream.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe headed out in the direction of Fort Frederick. The young ones ran past us on their way out.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe woods were nice and cool this time in the morning.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The river flowed next to us in this section.  The next landmark along the trail was McCoy’s Ferry.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe huge camping area next to river at McCoy’s Ferry was full, perhaps because it was the July 4th weekend.  The campsite looked much bigger than I remembered it to be. You could look down on all the activity from the elevated trail as you went by.  Just beyond the berm of the canal, on the other side of the trail from the campsite, you could make out the trestle bridge for the the railroad partially hidden behind the trees.

The woods were dark and deep beyond McCoy’s Ferry.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe encountered the kids on their way back to Four Locks soon after.   They had decided the shorten their run because of the conditions.

The river is far away from the canal for the section of the trail beyond McCoy’s Ferry. This is also not a very exciting section of the trail this time of year.  There was nothing particularly notable. There were very few flowers to be seen. There seemed to be a lot of rosa plants beside the trail, easily recognizable by the thorny stems, but no flowers. There were a few dying fleabane.  There was a small stand of plants with the flowers you see in the picture below.  I think they may be Basil Balm (Basil Bee Balm, White Bergamot). OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are no historical artifacts that grab your attention here – other than the wide and well defined canal bed itself beside the trail.

We turned back just after we reached the park road to Fort Frederick, stopping at the edge of Big Pool,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAto watch the antics of the little turtle that scooted into the water as soon as I brought up my camera. It tried to disappear under a rock.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The sun was up and making its impact felt over the trail as we returned to Four Locks. It was hot and humid. We were focused on reaching our destination. We picked up the pace as we got going. There was not much dilly-dallying, but I had to take this picture of one of the rabbits that crossed out path that morning.undefined
This one vanished into the bushes at our approach, but stayed close enough to the trail for me to take its picture through the foliage.

Christina and Jesse were waiting for us when we got back. They had spent most of the time in the picnic area next to the parking lot. It seems that this was not the right kind of weather for them to indulge in too much running.

And thus was spent another Sunday morning in the park!

Going to Hell in a Handbasket

I was considering what kind of a title to give this particular blog when the above phrase popped into my head. I promptly set off on a quest to find the origins of the phrase. My search was inconclusive. Apparently, the phrase could have come from either Europe or America. Really? Are they not two completely different places? The Internet fails!

The coronavirus has been with us for a while now. When I first started writing about it, barely three or four months ago, there was a certain sense of novelty about the situation. It impacted the way I wrote about the subject. Even though I knew this situation was going to last a long time, I might have even written about it in a manner that suggested that this was just a temporary issue that would go away. While that is a true statement in an absolute sense, my thought processes at that time perhaps also reflected a subconscious sense of optimism, and a refusal to completely internalize the long road ahead of us in battling the disease. I probably felt this way in spite of the stupidity that one saw going on around us regarding the handing of the disease. One railed against the stupidity, but, really, how bad could it get?! (I had predicted the kind of situation that the US would find itself in with regard to the coronavirus a few weeks ago – there are quarantines between states in the USA already, and the European Union is banning visitors from the US. The surprise is that this situation has developed more quickly than I expected.) Perhaps I had not yet become tired of the routine, and the predictability of the stupidity of the situation, at that time. It now seems to be a time for further mental adjustment. Maybe, the optimist in me would like to think that “This too shall pass”, but I am having a harder time internalizing this thought. Yes, it will pass, but who knows when.

It was in a different context that I had written in the past about how people are becoming less intelligent in the places that have most benefited from technology. Evidence of this is becoming very clear in the current environment in our country. Even the issue of wearing masks to prevent the spread of disease has become a political, and even religious, issue to some! It seems insane! It does not help that some of this kind of thinking is fanned by the person who is supposed to be in charge. Governors of some states are acting stupidly in response to the conman, and this is leading to devastating results. Mask wearing be damned!

So, we soldier on, hoping that somehow the devastation we are wreaking on ourselves will not get too close to us personally, and affect us personally. Other than taking personal responsibility, there is little that one can do.

The visits to the canal are getting a little more nerve-wracking these days. Places are getting more crowded, and some people (a small number) are showing a carelessness about the coronavirus situation. It is either that, or the current situation regarding the handling of the disease, that is finally getting to us. But, all that having been said, being outdoors is good for us. What we have learnt about the nature of the virus so far seems to indicate that even though it can spread from person to person easily, it does not last too long outside of a host. Also, the simple action of wearing a mask seems to reduce risk significantly. I have not yet gotten to the point of wearing a mask while exercising, but I do try to create space and/or turn in the other direction during an outdoor encounter. This is more critical on the narrow trails of Seneca Creek Park where I run once in a while. We take care and hope for the best.

We walked from Pennyfield Lock to Rileys Lock, and back, last weekend. Here are some of the pictures I took of flowers that we saw along the trail.

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Rosa Virginia/Virginia Rose

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Trumpet Vine Flower

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Red Clover

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White Clover

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Daylily

Williamsport, MD, On Father’s Day

The first time I came to Williamsport was in 2006. It was a time when I was extending my travels along the canal further and further away from home. The last time I visited was during the bike ride in 2016, on the penultimate day of the ride. We stopped here for lunch. And then there was the visit last Sunday, on Father’s Day.

I woke up that morning thinking to myself that I wanted to explore some new place along the canal that day. With an early start, we could be back home at a reasonable time. The initial response was one of concern – this was going to be a busy day already because of phone calls that were going to take place on account of it being Fathers Day. We went anyway – to Williamsport, MD. We left home very early, and we were on the trail by 8:15am.

As you can see in the photograph that I took during the visit in 2006 (in this link), the aqueduct at Williamsport was in a state of disrepair at one point. One of the walls that used to line the waterway used by the canal boats was missing. That particular wall had been made of wood, and it had collapsed in 1920 as a boat was passing over the aqueduct. The boat fell into the creek. They managed to separate the mules pulling the boat from the boat itself in time to save them.

The reconstruction of the aqueduct was completed in 2019, and we saw the results for the first time on Sunday. This is how it looks from the parking lot that we used.undefined
The canal used to be watered all the way up to the aqueduct, but not over it. There was an earthen wall across the canal bed just before the aqueduct that held back the water from the aqueduct itself. The canal is now watered over the aqueduct also, to a point beyond it. They now have boats for tourists that can take you on the canal over the aqueduct (although it looked like they had not yet brought the boats out this year). It used to be that you could cross over from the parking lot to the towpath just next to the aqueduct. That has changed. The National Park Service has now fixed the railroad lift bridge that exists close by to provide access instead. The bridge can now move up and down. It has been lifted and set to the upper position (semi-permanently, it seems). You can cross the canal using this bridge, while the boats for tourists can go under it.undefined(The bridge used to be stuck in its lower position in the past as you can see in this picture.)

The watered section of the canal is lined with wild flowers this time of year, including chicory,undefined
thistle,
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and moth mullein.undefined
There are also plenty of small birds flying around in this section. To the right of this section of the towpath is the power plant at Williamsport. I did not take a picture this time, but here is a picture from the past.

Within a short distance, we passed Lock 44 with its lock house.undefined
undefinedI remember being able to go into this lock house when I made a visit a long time ago.

You enter the woods soon after passing the lock.undefined
The watered section of the canal also ends where the woods begin, near the gate seen in the picture above. The next landmark on the trail is the bridge for the highway Interstate 81 over the Potomac river. There is construction work underway on the highway as they increase the number of lanes on the bridge. The towpath is protected by a cover during this time.undefined
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Further along the trail, you pass a railroad bridge over the river that is still being used for freight traffic,undefinedand soon after that you see the remains of another bridge that used to exist in the past. Today, all you see of the second bridge are the remains of the piers running from one side of the Potomac river to the other.

This part of the trail has a different feel from the sections that we usually go to. The woods feel deeper. It could be so because the area is lightly populated compared to the places closer to Washington, DC. The trail is also very wide, and in good shape.undefined
Having started early, we also encountered very few people on the trail initially. But there were many more people on the trail when we were returning – including the bikers.undefined
On our way back, we crossed over the Conococheague Creek Aqueduct and continued our walk for a short distance to the other side of the creek. We proceeded to mile 100 of the towpath.undefined

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The entire trial is 184.5 miles in length.

We walked a little further on the towpath, and then started to make our way back to the parking lot.

The picture below was taken from the aqueduct on our way back.undefinedYou can see where the Conococheague creek and the Potomac river meet, and, if you expand the picture, you can see the difference in the color of the water of the river and the creek. The river was very muddy because of recent rains. The bridge in the picture carries US Route 11 across the Potomac river between Maryland and West Virginia.

This is a picture of Cushwa Basin at Williamsport taken from the trail. The parking lot that provided the closest access to the trail used to be on the left side of the picture. The closest access today is now from the parking lot on the right side of this picture. That parking area is new. The buildings in the picture are a part of the C&O Canal National Park. The building on the right is a museum. It was not open when we visited. The National Park Service is building a new park headquarters in Williamsport at this time. undefined
This is a picture of the Cushwa Basin during the days when it was operational. The basin had place for boats to load and unload without impeding canal traffic. It also allowed boats to turn around.

After returning to the car, we drove over to the parking lot that was closer to the aqueduct itself so that I could examine it more closely. It has an interesting look to it.undefinedThe newly reconstructed side of the aqueduct is actually made of concrete, and it is painted on its inner side to look like wood.

I suspect that the wooden supports on the outer side of the wall are just for show.undefined
Here is a clearer view of the inner section of the aqueduct.undefined
This was the last picture for the day!

Since we had started the walk early, we also finished it quite early in the morning. We still had a long drive to get back home. But we still got back well before noon.

The day turned out to be tiring – as predicted! We actually spent three hours talking to the kids! This was followed by another session talking to some of our friends. For some reason, I had a craving for food from Checkers that evening. (Yeah, my cravings do not necessarily lean towards fine dining!) We drove over to the local franchise after the last chat session and picked up some sandwiches to bring home. They had a sale – two sandwiches for four dollars! It was the cheapest father’s day treat. We watched some TV and went to bed early, quite exhausted. Enjoyed the day!

The Second Space

Regular readers of my blogs will understand what I am referring to in the subject line of this particular one. My previous blog was about how we had spent the morning doing our usual Sunday outdoor activities in the park. These activities tend to free up the mind, and to remind you that there exists another world independent of us human beings out there, a world that can continue to exist without our meddling. You tend to forget your worldly concerns while you are out there in the park.

We had a completely different agenda and experience on Sunday afternoon. We attended a rally and march organized by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. The march was in the Kentlands, a neighborhood community close to us in Gaithersburg. The Kentlands are actually within walking distance, but I was already tired from the morning’s activities. I was in two minds about going. We also had very little time to rest before departing for the rally. We finally ended up driving to a parking lot at a shopping center close to the site of the rally, and walking the rest of the way.

This was the scene early on, as people were gathering. You can see that it was relaxed atmosphere. The crowd was diverse in every sense of the word.

The place began to fill up by the time the event began in earnest and people began to speak. This speech was by Will Jawando, a Councilmember for Montgomery County.

It was crowded by the time we started marching – after the speeches – but it was possible to practice physical distancing. People were generally good about wearing masks.

The march itself was a laid-back affair.

We did a loop within the Kentlands, probably not more than a mile. We were led in the chants by a person at the front of the march. People were quite relaxed. At one point, there was a person who seemed to disapprove of the subject of the march who stood on the side where the people were walking insisting that “Blue Lives Matter”. Luckily, nobody engaged with him. But it was a good moment for me to actually think about how I should respond if somebody said something like this to me. The response would start with, “Yes, all lives matter, but…”.

We marched past the front of Lowe’s, the big-box hardware store in our neighborhood, and noticed that it was all boarded up, to the point that the massive doors in and out of the building were completely covered up. If you did not know any better, you would not have known that there were doors there. This is an indication of the thought process of the people running the store. They were scared, even though the people marching past were a bunch of suburbanites – all ages, genders, and races. And it was in the middle of the day! It felt like ignorance to me at that point. But, having said that, I have to admit that I myself had also been somewhat ignorant about what to expect at the march earlier on. None of the other stores were boarded up. In fact, some of the employees at Chipotle, a restaurant that we marched past, came out of the store to offer people drinks. A notable moment in the middle of the march was when we all stopped for a minute and knelt on the road while the names of the people who had been killed by police action in recent years was announced over the megaphone.

The march ended back where we started. There were a few more speeches made before the rally came to an end. Throughout the event, the organizers handed out snacks and water to people who needed it. Thankfully, the weather was nice the whole time. Of particular note was the fact that the organizers were all young people. Bravo!

There was a light atmosphere to the whole event. There were police cars parked around the venue of the speeches, but at a distance, beyond the crowds, and they had their flashing lights on. The Gaithersburg city police who were standing around the place where the march started – the place where the speeches were given – were in casual-looking uniforms, wearing biking helmets and shorts. They had their bikes with them. They were also unarmed. They did not look menacing as in some other cases that we had witnessed on TV. They also looked relaxed. The Montgomery County Police who were along the route of the march looked professional and serious. They generally kept a distance from the marchers. I wonder how they all felt about the speeches that were being given, speeches that addressed the impact of the bad behavior of their brethren. The head of the police for Gaithersburg chose the opportunity to speak in solidarity with the marchers.

I have to say that while I enjoyed the new experience, I feel that I was not completely drawn into its spirit. I say this because I was not particularly moved by the experience. I did not learn too much either. I did not get worked up and emotional. I did not get much useful information or motivation to engage further. Perhaps, we should have at least been carrying a a couple of banners ourselves, but we were nervous because this was our first time taking part in a rally. Being wimpy comes easily to some of us. I suppose one has to also consider the overall objective of a peaceful demonstration. In our case, I think it was an expression of solidarity of overall purpose. Other people, especially those who are most directly impacted by the injustices, have more in their hearts. They are crying out to be heard.

I will end with a few more pictures.

Between Two Spaces

We were on the trail before 8am on Sunday morning.  The idea was to try to avoid the crowds.  It did not work out that way!  The parking lot at the Monocacy Aqueduct was already full of vehicles by the time we arrived.   Fortunately, there were still a few parking spots available.  And the situation was not as bad as I imagined it would be once we got on the trail, at least for the initial part of the walk.  People had just departed for their various destinations along the trail.

I was able to feel the energy of the forest once we got going.  It was a very cool morning, one that had me wearing a light jacket.  The sun was still not out at that time.  I drank it all in, the confluence of the Monocacy and Potomac rivers, the green canopy of trees beyond, the vibes of the woods.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Indian Flats campsite, just beyond the aqueduct, looked quite full.  I counted five tents.  I had thought that there was a smaller limit for the number of groups allowed at each campsite.  But nobody checks, especially during these times. We encountered a girl hanging out on the trail just beyond the campsite, looking for birds in the trees. She had her binoculars with her.

My eyes wandered towards the tops of the huge Sycamore trees.  Somehow, I had not been paying attention to the majesty of these trees all these years.  They tower over all others.  They dominate the overhead skies.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe uncut grass surrounded the trail,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAalong with the plentiful pawpaw trees.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn a historical note, we had discovered the fruit of the pawpaw a few years ago, and consumed a lot of these fruit at that time.  But the interest in the fruit has subsided since then.  (The flavor of an overripe pawpaw fruit is somewhat overwhelming.) Nevertheless, a proposal was put forth to try to make pawpaw pie this year.  I will have nothing to do with it. 🙂

We even saw Spotted Touch-Me-Not flowers for the first time this season,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand blackberries too.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Early during our walk, we also encountered a person biking in the other direction without a shirt top.  He looked a little flabby and overweight, but he was proceeding quite fast, biking with vigor. The morning was still quite chilly at that point, too chilly to be biking shirtless.  It was a curious sight.  A point was made that certain drugs could put you in a state of mind to be able to do things like this. Who knows?!

The sun popped out from behind the clouds occasionally during our walk, but it remained mostly grey and very cool.  We did encounter a lot more  bikers, and people on foot, running and walking, later in the walk, but we were OK with that for the most part.  Unfortunately there are still some people out there who do not know the etiquette of the trail, which is especially important in the time of COVID-19.  Teresa suggested that I write an opinion piece for The Washington Post on this topic.  Hah!

I do miss the early days of my visits to the canal – when I could come to all of these places and encounter very few people.  Loved the solitude, and the opportunity to let the mind wander away completely along with the body.  But, on the other hand, I am also happy that more people are out in the park actually doing something that is good for their health and general well being.

Other than the occasional human beings, and the birds and the squirrels, there was not much to disturb the peace.  We heard freight trains passing passing by in the distance on a couple of occasions.  There was the sound of a motor boat on the river that caught my attention at least once.

A loud and unfamiliar repetitive sound caught our attention our way back to the parking lot.  It was coming out of the woods.  We guessed that it was an owl.  We heard the same sound again as we were approaching the camp site that we had passed on the way out.  At that point, we stopped to pay more attention.  The bird flew away before I could set up the microphone on my smart phone to record the sound.  Teresa managed to get glimpse of it.  The bird was most likely a barred owl, the only type of owl that I am familiar with in this parts.  The girl from the campsite whom we had seen earlier in the morning doing some bird watching saw us and came over to join us, but it was too late.

The parking lot at the Monocacy Aqueduct was completely full by the time we got back.  Some people who had been waiting in a vehicle drove into the spot we had just occupied as soon as we left.    Looks like I am going to have to get used to these kinds of crowds from now on.

As we were driving towards the Monocacy Aqueduct earlier that morning, my thoughts had been on the major news events of the day having to do with the recent police actions and the protests. Two nights earlier, there had been a new incident in Atlanta where another policeman had shot and killed another black man. That incident was followed up the next night with the burning and destruction of the place when the shooting had taken place. I was still processing new information coming in about all of this since I had been reading the latest updates on the Internet before leaving home. We talked about it a little bit in the car, but left these thoughts behind as we entered the park. But we were to return to these happenings later in the day. I mentioned two spaces in the title of the blog. That is the second Space.

From Spring into Summer

I am resolved to get this blog out expeditiously. If not, my current state of mind, which has to do with the weekly visit to the C&O Canal towpath yesterday, will begin to dissipate quickly. If that happens, the resulting blog could take a darker and perhaps more negative turn. The balance will be lost!

The thermostat indicated that it was 63° F outside when we woke up on Sunday morning.  It felt very nice for a change.  This being the tail end of the Spring season, the temperatures outside are trending towards the hotter side. We have even had some days when the use of the air-conditioner was needed. I was even forced to run indoors on the treadmill instead of outside last week because it was too hot.  This Sunday was not one of those days. We opened up the windows early in the morning to let some cool air in. We left home early for our weekly walk on the canal, to try to get there before the crowds descended, and to also hopefully get to walk under cooler conditions.  It turned into a very nice morning on the trail.

The flowers of Spring are mostly gone. There is thick green vegetation all around, including lots of tall grasses. Some mowing and clearing-out of the spaces next to the trail would be useful, but nobody knows when that can happen. Normal park services have not yet resumed completely.undefined

There were plenty of wild strawberries beside the trail! We talked about whether these could be poisonous. Wild strawberries and mock strawberries look very much alike, and can be distinguished by the color of their flowers. There were no flowers to be seen!undefined

There were different kinds of butterflies flying around. Here are a couple of pictures. A few of these butterflies would hang around you for a little while while you were walking.undefinedundefined

The dragonflies and damselflies have also reappeared.undefinedundefined

There were other, less-familiar, insects around. I suspect that if we had come later in day, we might have even been attacked by the gnats that are plentiful in these parts in summer. And after all, summer is officially only a couple of weeks away.

There were a lot of birds making a lot of noise. We thought we encountered call-and-response situations on at least one or two occasions. But I could not get a single picture of the birds, probably because of the dense foliage. Even the egret whose picture we thought we had gotten a few weeks earlier flew away from us.

The parking lot at Edwards Ferry was full. So was the one at Sycamore Landing when we returned after our walk. According to the C&O Canal Trust, there has been an about 50 percent increase in the number of people coming to the park in recent times. We saw both walkers and runners, bikers, a few dogs (running free), and a couple of horses (with people on them).undefined

There were also people in their boats on the river. Some of them were talking quite loudly. We could hear them all the way from the trail, and you could have clearly made out the details of their conversation if you were so inclined.undefined

All in all, we had a good day out in the park.

There has been a lot going on on the political front in our neck of the woods recently. The news from Washington, DC, is even worse than before. The president has finally built his wall, not on the border, but around his fortress (or bunker), a fortress whose boundaries seem to be ever expanding. We have a tinpot dictator doing his worst. Other, cowardly, politicians have willingly abandoned their responsibilities. The protests taking place in the streets of Washington, DC, and in other cities, still continue. It seems like the youth are not going away. We need to find a way to show solidarity, and to help make positive changes happen.