A Water Bottle on the Trail

Lo and behold, there stands the water bottle on the trail,
Looking completely out of place, and close enough to see detail,
It was left there on purpose, of that I do assure,
The reason why shall remain a mystery one has to endure.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(With apologies to the purists of poetry.)

The picture was taken during one of our Sunday walks.  The trail has been completely redone in this particular section of the C&O Canal towpath.  The park service is working piece-by-piece on the entire 184.5 miles of trail that exists.  I suspect it will be a few years before it is all done.

A Face from a War

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.

This is the face on one of 19 statues representing a platoon on patrol, on the lookout for the enemy, and for danger lurking around the corner.

I was drawn to the eyes.  They look hollow and haunted to me. I think the artist has successfully captured the sense of weariness and fear in the soldier.

It still goes on.

Along For The Ride

Another Christmas vacation has gone by, another family gathering with siblings and families has happened, this time in Florida.  It was during this occasion that the fact that I was the oldest person in the group hit me a little harder than I expected.  Maybe it was something that somebody said, or something that I noticed in the mirror.  Seniority was not something that I had paid much attention to in past years. But this year something led to a moment of contemplation on the subject.  Perhaps the age threshold that one had reached in September was not as much of a artificial artifact as one tended to consider it.  Many of us are getting along in years, and there are consequences. For some, it happens so slowly that you do not realize it is happening, and then, suddenly, BAM!, there it is!  You take notice of how much you have changed since you last checked – perhaps when you were a youth.  You can no longer play the pretender.  Your mind catches up with your body.

And at this point in life, after having achieved seniority of the senses, and after many other such Christmas vacations with family, I am in such a state of mind that I am there simply to enjoy the company of the family.  I have not planned to do much other than relax.  I do not need any additional “entertainment”.  I just need the time to chill out.  If people plan something that interests me, I can participate.  The others in our group all have it all under control.  I only needed to keep an eye on the liquid refreshment.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was prepared to help where needed, but there hardly seemed to be any need for that.  I did cook dinner one evening.  If somebody had asked, I would have cooked again without feeling any pressure about it.  Heck, if there was not a list of dinners generated ahead of time, I could have even volunteered once again.PC220098.jpg

I want to keep it simple these days.  I just wanted to be able to lounge around, and to be able to do my daily exercise, a routine that I am having great difficulty keeping up with recently.  The over 40 miles of walking and running that I accomplished during the holiday, some of it even under rainy conditions,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA was worth it. I could have spent more time with the others on the beach, but I chose to be lazy, and, as a result, perhaps also a little anti-social.  Its OK, the old man needs his nap time and rest to recover from his exercise routine.

I did catch a sunrise,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAbut missed all the sunsets.  The pool at the back of the house provided the opportunity to chill out. PC280023.jpgOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe listened to music. We even listened to the changing sounds and rhythms emanating from the starlings sitting on the tree beside the pool.PC250278.jpg(This recording is from Youtube.)

We enjoyed our time playing with the young’uns.  The laughter that results from all involved is pure innocence. The older kids have all grown up.  There seems to be a deeper sense to togetherness.  It must be encouraged. Hopefully we can continue to meet during our Christmases so that they continue to get the opportunity to further bond and support each other.PC270146.jpg We celebrated Christmas as usual. We celebrated the usual birthdays. We went to the usual services at church.

Games were played and dinners were consumed.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was the trivia competition (where I was reminded that the number 1 is not a prime number!).   There was the gingerbread making session where the sampling process that was going on as the dough was being prepared had me concerned.  The baking process took care of my concerns.

We went out to a restaurant for dinner only once this year, there being no undue pressure from anybody, or on anybody, (from what I could see) to have to do so.  I think most were content to hang out at home and on the beach.  Perhaps we might even skip eating out the next time and still be happy as a group.PC270002.jpgOn the other hand, it can truthfully be stated that the cooking efforts at home resulted in top-notch dinner fare and many original culinary masterpieces that everybody enjoyed.  Yum!

The family gathering happens these days without my having to do much.  The old man is just along for the ride.PC240178.jpg

Charity

We had just arrived on a very early morning flight.  We were walking across the Atrium of the Domestic Terminal at Atlanta airport with breakfast on our minds.  All of a sudden I noticed that she was no longer walking beside me.  She had stopped to talk to somebody sitting on one of the sofa chairs in the atrium.  I guessed that the person had caught her attention while we were walking by.  I also guessed that the person was asking her for something.  We should just walk by, I was thinking to myself.  You cannot stop to help everybody who tries to get your attention.  But I, of all the people, should have realized that this is the kind of person she is. She helps everybody.

I kept walking for a little bit and then stopped.  The conversation was still going on behind me, and I was getting annoyed.  She had basically left my side without a warning.  We have things to do, I was thinking to myself. In reality, we had a lot time on our hands while waiting for others to arrive.

When she finally finished and walked to where I was waiting for her, I was a little angry.

We sat down for breakfast.  She asked me why I had gotten angry.  I said that you cannot help everybody.

“What did he want?”

“He just wanted some food.”

She reminded me that she was carrying a stash of snacks for the trip.  She had stopped to give some of this to the person who had asked for food.  Sitting at the table while anticipating a special breakfast treat (at an IHOP no less!), I felt a little ashamed of myself.

I immediately realized that my response to her action had been completely inappropriate.  I had been wrong.  I had been selfish.  If you were going to be true to yourself, you have to not just talk the talk, but you have to also walk the walk.  One should try to do better all the time, not just when it suits you.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The River Runs Brown at Cohill Station (5/19/2014)

It is a strange process of the mind that has gotten me to post this particular blog.  I actually started out wanting to bring Christina’s blog from her Peace Corps days back to life (at least temporarily).  The final blog, before she leaves Guinea, is a classic.  But, then, I thought that the circumstances of my referral to that blog in my original e-mail in 2014 were also interesting enough.  I post my original e-mail in full.  I do this in spite of the fact that we are heading into the season of Winter at this time, and not Summer.  In fact, the temperature outside right now is about 20°F.

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It rained cats and dogs, and squirrels and gerbils, last Thursday.  The wind rattled the blinds of the open window in the bedroom waking me up in the middle of the night from my solitary slumber.  Teresa is in Bangalore with her dad, Angela is in school taking her final exams, and Christina is wandering around the country, taking a break after returning from her Peace Corps adventures. The wind blew hard enough that night that I had to get out of bed to close the open windows. A little bit of water even got into the bathroom through a skylight that was apparently not sealed adequately on the roof.  Our region also experienced a significant amount of flooding and road closures in the aftermath of the storm.  We have been seeing an unusual number of similar storms this Spring.  Is it the impact of global warming?

Since I was alone at home, I decided to head out as far west as I could this Sunday morning in order to extend my coverage of the 184.5 mile C&O canal trail.  Two weeks ago I had started my run at the Cohill Station traiI access point at near mile 130.  Today I started my run from the end of the WMRT at Pearre, MD, near mile 136.  I  managed to get all the way to mile 139 today.  Some day I will get to the end of this trail.  (KJ note – I did get to the end of the trail finally in 2016.)

Very few people live in this part of Maryland these days. The ridges of the Appalachian mountains run north to south, and in these parts they provide natural barriers that cause the Potomac to turn left at the Cacapon mountain and actually flow north for a few miles before the river turns east and south again to head towards the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.   Further to the west lie the Paw Paw bends of the river that cause the it to meander in S-shapes through the hills. I wondered about the processes that caused this section of the river to actually be created.  Was the Potomac formed because of erosion by glaciers during an ice age?  As you make your way to the trailheads on roads off of Interstate 68, you will find yourself traveling along the valley or the crest of the little known Tonoloway ridge . You see abandoned homes along the road.  When you get to your destination, you also notice the many abandoned trailer homes beside the trail.  I wonder if this used to be a poorer part of Maryland.  How did people survive?  Did their source of living vanish due due to changing times?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThree weeks ago one could make out the new leaves of Spring on the trees along the trail.  Today the area looked lush and green.  Change can happen quite quickly!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut the thing that caught my particular attention was the high level of water in the river and the nature of its swift flow.  When there is flooding, the initial impacts are usually felt in the local streams and creeks, but all of this water eventually flows into the rivers, and the river can actually crest a few days later, after the storms have long gone by.  The Potomac only crested in certain sections on Saturday, the day before my run.  The river looked browner than usual.  Imagine the massive quantity of mud that was being swept down the river because of erosion in our backyards, the mud that was causing it to look different.   There is no way to reclaim this sediment and to reverse the process.  Material that was in a certain location at one time is gone forever from that location.  This change is irreversible.  It reminds me that we human beings have difficulty adjusting to change, while in the grand scheme of things irreversible change is inevitable.   To what extent does it make sense to put up a fight?   No other species has done as much as humans to put up a fight, and with knowledge and technology we have brought tremendous sophistication to this endeavor, and quite often we do not care about the secondary consequences.  When does it make sense to accept nature’s reality gracefully without trying to fight it?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe solitude of the trail (and perhaps even the quiet of the empty home) actually soothes the mind.  Such conditions provide moments of clarity that would otherwise not be possible with the constant interactions and distractions of daily life.  The trail is perhaps one of the very few circumstances when I am capable of trying to ponder if there is a bigger picture considering how inconsequential our existence is on the grand scale of things.  The trail provides perspective.  You are aware that everything else that is going on around you is for the most part independent of the human factor.  The world can actually exist without us humans.   Why do some of us think there is an overall purpose that is to benefit our species to the detriment of others?  Why does it seem that the progress of human society appears to be a process of positive feedback that is leading to increasing inequality in almost all dimensions, while the ultimate result is inevitable?  What does a human really need beyond food, clothing and shelter, and what happens when you get beyond that? All things considered, what should I be trying to do?  Should I even spend my time thinking about things like this?  You might actually get some answers that work for you under the right conditions.

So, what about Cohill Station?  It used to be a real railroad station on the Western Maryland Railroad in the old days when the population in this part of Maryland used to be more significant.  Nothing remains at the former site of the station.  Dust to dust!  I wonder how things were for people who used to live along the river, especially when it ran brown.

Things change.