The Beginning and End of A Day in December

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

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

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

The Man Who Sold The World

This is an album I used to listen to when growing up in Chennai.

It must have been in high school, or during my early days of college, that Dad bought a stereo system for the house. Installed in a central area of the house for all to enjoy, it included a record player, a combined AM/FM receiver and amplifier, and a couple of good sized speakers that were attached to the wall at ear level. I remember the delivery of the system to the house, and one of the people accompanying the equipment telling me about how The Beatles were experimenting with the use of stereo sounds in those days. Soon enough, I was keeping an ear open to try to discern the differing sounds coming from the two speakers for albums like Abbey Road and Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.

There was a HMV record store on Mount Road that I used to go to regularly to check out the new music albums coming in from the west. Good quality recorded music for the home was only available on vinyl at that time. Consumer cassette decks were just coming into vogue, and they did not deliver the same musical quality as a vinyl record. They had a music room within the music store where you could listen to music, to help you decide whether or not to buy a particular album. A lot of the music I bought from the store was unfamiliar to me. I was listening to it for the first time. I really loved spending time looking at the record jackets. I would buy different genres of music. I think I even bought an album of country music once. I think the cost of a LP record was less than Rs. 50 at that time. I was given a certain amount of money that could be spent on music.

While Dad had indulged us (and especially me) by getting us the stereo system, it seemed like he was not particularly fond of its impact. He especially did not like come home from work to the sound of loud music playing on the speakers. You could see it on his face. We did not need to hear a verbal complaint. The volume of the stereo system would be reduced right away. It was not a time for rebellion.

I remember the fact that vinyl records and the temperatures of Chennai did not go well together. Some of the records would warp because of the heat, and you could easily see what was going on while the records were playing. The needle on the record player is supposed to stay in its place while the record is moving, but this would not be the case with a warped record. I devised a means to try to flatten the records. It involved the use of a big and supposedly flat drawing board from one of my Engineering Drawing courses and a pile of heavy books. I would go to the terrace where the sun could beat directly on the surface of the board, and place the vinyl record on the drawing board under the pile of books. The whole apparatus stayed on the terrace through the heat of the day, exposed directly to the sun. The hope was that the vinyl would become more pliant and straighten out in the heat.

I am not sure that this technique actually worked, but I did detect a certain sense of skepticism in my Dad’s response to my efforts, and a mention that perhaps I did not understand the value of money. Anyway, its all good..

I did not know anything about David Bowie before this time. I do not think his music even made it to the mainstream in the common rooms of the hostels that I visited in college. I am not sure what provoked me to buy this particular album. It seemed to have all the musicality of a mainstream album, but it also had an edge to it that one was not used to hearing. There was a sense that the artist was exploring his craft, and trying different things in his music. The songs were all very different from each other. There was no single overall groove to them. If you were listening to the album for the first time, you could be taken by surprise when you moved from one song to another. Even the musical shifts in the middle of a song could catch you by surprise. It felt unconventional for someone like me whose exposure to contemporary western music was limited to what was broadcast on the radio waves in that part of the world. That stuff tended to be “smoother”. Anyway, the music drew me in and stuck in my head (like spiders from Mars😉). Once I got the album, I must have listened to the music endlessly, and I know that even my younger brother was drawn to some of the songs. Later in his career, David Bowie went on to make music that was more in the mainstream, and therefore more “popular”, but this is the album that I will always remember him for.

For some reason or the other, the song The Man Who Sold the World has been playing in my head very recently. Thanks to the Internet, I was able to indulge myself and listen to the album in its entirety on YouTube. Boy, it really took me back! Hope the album can grow on you too! (Hope the album does not get moved from its current Internet location any time soon.)

The Man Who Sold The World

A Morning for the Birds and Planes

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

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

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

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

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

We saw this bluejay in the canal bed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Old Stones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanksgiving in The Time of Thanksgiving and COVID-19

I had told myself that I did not want to do the long drive to Massachusetts once again, so soon after the previous trip. But we ended up heading north for Thanksgiving anyway. The drive turned out OK since I had help with the driving in both directions this time.

Of course, coronavirus was on the mind. Ventilation, masks, physical distancing, etc.. were on the mind. The infection rate has skyrocketed in our country in recent weeks. We had to be careful. Our family group was small enough, and every person had to take responsibility for their own actions.

Conversations, games, daytime naps, walks in the park, including Lucy, cooking,bird watching, etc.., were all part of the informal routine during this vacation, with people free to participate as they desired. No pressure!

We did gather at the table for the significant meals. What you are seeing in the picture below are mostly the remains of the Thanksgiving meal the day after. I neglected to take pictures of the Thanksgiving meal itself, which included an Irish Soda Bread that was demolished in a single sitting.Even Lucy seemed to feel free to do whatever she felt like.



There have been a couple of very specific occasions during the last few weeks when I have strongly felt the spirit of community and sharing in a way that felt somewhat different and unique, yet familiar. When sharing of effort is done with a complete sense of openness, without holding back, without a feeling of being imposed upon, without any expectation of any kind of reward other than the generation of a somewhat vaguely defined feeling of happiness and satisfaction that cannot be quantified, then you are mentally and spiritually in a special place. One could ask, what more does one need other than to experience such a feeling, a feeling that immediately warms the cockles of your heart. The goal of the sharing in some instances is not perfection, but the outcome feels that way.

The first time I felt that way was when I assisted with the preparation of the Thanksgiving meal. I provided only a couple of the many hands that helped in the efforts to prepare the roasted chicken, and to cook the beans.Different people participated in the effort in barely organized fashion. It felt like nobody was specifically in charge of worrying about the outcomes. The sense of responsibility was shared and we stepped into roles organically. But the outcomes were good nevertheless. Somehow things all came together.

I had the same feeling back in Maryland when working at the food bank the week after Thanksgiving. I had an intense sense of commonality of purpose. We, the volunteers, just stepped in to do what was needed to prepare closed boxes of food for distribution – including piling the boxes on pallets for shipping, moving stuff, including the loaded pallets, around, recycling cardboard packaging, cleaning up waste, etc.., instinctively stepping in to help each other as needed. In the end, there was great satisfaction in the outcome, and the sense of a successful team effort. We all felt happy about what had been accomplished. We actually lost count of the number of pallets that we had piled up with boxes. It sounds repetitive, but perfection was not necessarily the goal of our effort, although it felt like this was the result that had been achieved. I have been volunteering for years at this point, and I have felt this way in the past when I am working with the regulars (now my friends) who come in on Tuesday. Perhaps I have even articulated this same thought already in the past, but I was so surprised at how similar it felt to the Thanksgiving experience.

As I might have indicated in earlier blogs, my personality lends itself to trying to plan things in detail in advance, sometimes with a degree of obsessiveness, trying to make sure that all the angles are covered, so that one can anticipate anything that can go amiss. That approach can lend itself well to the professional engineering environment where 100% solutions might be important, where you want to do everything you can to ensure that very little can go wrong. This thought process may not be that relevant in many situations in real life. When you are working with others with a genuine sense of community and commonality of purpose, your approach and goals can tend to be different, and the results can be much more fulfilling, and relevant to the human condition.

The Late Burst of Color

I have been observing the autumnal shedding of the leaves by the crape myrtle tree in our backyard for many years. It happens a little later in the season than for most other trees in our neck of the woods. The burst of colors when it happens is phenomenal. It gets your immediate attention. I do not think I have focused on this phenomenon as an object of photographic record-keeping in the past. I thought I would shares some of these pictures this year.

This is a view of the tree from one of the bedrooms at the peak of the colors.

This is a short sequence of pictures showing the change in the appearance of the tree during this turn of the season.

Here is a picture of the tree taken at sunset. The sky was a shade of purple when I took the picture. The color of the sky changed immediately after that – here one moment, and gone the next!
Soon, it will all be gone.

A Sigh of Relief on Another Beautiful Sunday

We went back to Williamsport last Sunday. It was a beautiful morning – somewhat cold when we started our walk, but above 70° by the time we finished. We walked in the general direction of north and west, towards Dam 5. The river meanders a lot in this section. To be certain of the direction you are facing at any particular moment in time, you have to be paying attention to the direction of the rising sun and/or the shadows being cast across the trail. Beautiful morning!

We finally got to breathe a sigh of relief on Saturday. Four years of complete political chaos, and complete dysfunction in governance, will hopefully come to an end soon. I was going to add that four years of division will also come to an end, but that remains to be seen, given the attitude of the current resident of the White House towards the handling of his loss, and his approach towards the transition that needs to happen. This particular con game of his has finally reached its limit, even as he spews out absurd lies about widespread fraud in the election process. Even while some of us breath a sigh of relief, many are very unhappy. Even as some of us breath this sigh of relief, the cases of coronavirus rise in record numbers. People are also dying in large numbers. There is a lot of work that needs to be done at a national level to save ourselves.

Will end the blog on a happy note with the pictures from our walk.

The first few pictures were taken at the beginning of the walk. A faint mist was visible in the distance over the canal as we crossed the bridge on to the trail.

The skies were clear. The air was still. The reflections on the water were perfect. These are pictures of the Cushwa Basin,and of the Route 11 bridge over the Potomac river,taken as we departed the area of Williamsport.

Further along the trail, we found a place where there were steps that went down to the river.The majesty of the winding river was easy to appreciate from down beside it.

The clear and crisp morning light enhanced our experience of the trail, and our view of all that remains of the Fall foliage in these parts.

We turned to return back to Williamsport at a point where a dirt road led to a parking lot next to canal. Earlier on, I had considered driving to this parking lot, and walking along the towpath from this point onward. Seeing the condition of the road, I am not sure I would use this lot any time soon for that purpose.

I decided to swap lenses on my camera at about this point in the walk, and use the zoom lens for the rest of the trip. As I raised my head from the camera bag which was lying on the ground (over which I was changing the lens), I saw a deer standing on a rocky ledge on the other side of the canal. Why don’t you take my picture to make sure that you have attached the lens to the camera properly?, it seemed to be asking. That is exactly what I did.It is a magical place, this canal of mine!

Towards the end of the walk, we came upon our old reliable friend, the great blue heron. I had to take its picture.

We had to depart Williamsport quickly at the end of the walk because of another appointment that we had closer to home. I did not have time to take the picture of the Conococheague Aqueduct from the level of the creek as I had originally hoped to do. Now I have an excuse for making another visit to Williamsport sooner rather than later!

Getting Outdoors During a Time of High Anxiety

It is a time of reckoning for some of us as Americans. It is safe to say that there has never been a situation like this in the USA in the past. It is also tempting to say that there has never been an election like this in the USA in the past, but I do not know enough about American history to be sure about that. It is definitely true though that we as a country have been sinking into a dark hole the last few years, now accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, and that we might have a chance during the next few days to grab on to something on the side, even as we fall further into the hole, to try to at least stabilize the situation for some period of time. Perhaps we could even attempt to climb out of the hole, but that might be too much to ask for in the short run considering how far we have fallen. There is always hope!

We have seen strategies for winning an election that have never been used to this extent in this country in the past. The electronic media has made it easy for official campaigns to distribute manipulated audio/visual content, content that is designed to deceive, content that supporters of the president lap up. The president himself spews out lies and misinformation. As Steve Bannon once said – “flood the zone with sh*t”. And, sadly, we tend to not see the truth even if it is in front of our faces because we live in our own bubbles. The republican party apparatus has also gone into high gear to try to disenfranchise voters, and to prevent votes from being cast and/or counted. Lawsuits have been filed, and more have been promised. Armed vigilantes try to intimidate voters and people going about their daily business. The US Post office is failing to deliver mail-in votes in a timely fashion. (The person in charge of the post office is a recent political appointee. His actions could lead you to believe that what is happening is deliberate.)

One worries about the possible aftermath of these elections in ways that one never did before.

We had to find relief from our anxieties in other activities. Last week was a bad time for our usual outdoor pursuits. I am still adjusting to the fact that the weather is turning colder slowly but surely. The cloudy and damp conditions killed all of my motivation to try to get out. It was finally the weekend by the time we overcame our reluctance to face the seasonal forces of nature.

We went out to Edwards Ferry on Sunday in spite of the fact that rain was expected later that morning. The weather was still OK at the time we got on the trail. As you can see from this picture of the lock house for Lock 25, there were still patches of clear sky to be seen near Edwards Ferry.

As we started our walk, we could see the rising sun behind us struggling to pierce through the clouds that were coming our way. It was, ultimately, an unsuccessful effort! The skies continued to darken as we walked north towards Whites Ferry. We finished the last couple of miles of the walk in light rain. I had to put away the camera in my backpack at that point. I don’t mind walking in light rain even though it tends to impair my vision somewhat because of the water collecting on my glasses. For that matter, I am not sure that even heavy rain would necessarily stop me on the trail. My friends and I rode our bikes in the pouring rain during our ride last year. It was done deliberately, and it was also fun!

It was somewhat anticlimactic to be on the trail after the autumnal change in foliage. Whatever bright colors there might have been on the trees are almost all gone in these parts. Bare tree trunks are visible everywhere.

The only remaining color in this section of the trail was mostly due to the presence of the pawpaw trees.

There is a certain beauty in foliage that is primarily yellow in color, but I think I might be feeling this beauty more intensely because of its transient nature. After all, I do not talk about the green trees all summer long – or, do I?!

And we got to see some strange looking fruit on the trail for the first time. I would be curious to know if anybody can recognize these.

That’s it for this blog. Tomorrow is election day. I am keeping my fingers crossed!

Autumn In The Year 2020

After all our attempts of the previous weeks, we finally did get to see some decent autumn colors. During a walk to Clopper Lake, we came upon a stand of trees beside the lake where the color was at it peak, or close to it. The light was just right for pictures like this.

We also made a trip to the Catoctin Mountain Park, up north near the town of Thurmont in Maryland, on Saturday. The place was packed with people by the time we got there. We had to park along the main road just outside the park in order to try to get to the visitor center and the trails. (The line of cars parked along this road was even longer by the time we left the park that afternoon.) The trails were also packed with hordes of people, some of whom had come in large groups. That was surprising to see during these times of COVID-19.

Because of the conditions on the ground, we decided to drive into the park instead of taking one of the trails at the visitor center, but still had difficulty finding a place to park within the park itself. The parking lots in there were also full, and there were also a limited number of such lots. The added frustration was that you had to drive away from the road to enter these lots, and then you would find that there was not even one parking spot available! We tried most of the lots. It was frustrating to have to drive through the colorful roads where the colors had just peaked and not have a place to pull over to take pictures. The pictures taken directly from the car (I would stop on the road itself if there was no traffic behind me) were pathetic. Fortunately, we had some luck towards the western end of the park.

In any case, here are some pictures of the park and surrounding areas. It was quite cloudy, and the quality of the pictures are representative of the conditions.



The colors of autumn last only a short time. We will be seeing a lot more brown tree trunks by the end of the week. When looking back at the pictures I have taken recently, I am also reminded that it was still green all around us when I started looking for the autumnal colors just earlier this month. Changes happen quickly during this time of year, and before we know it we will be experiencing the full force of winter.

I saw an interesting episode of American Experience recently. It was called The Gilded Age. This episode is set during the late 19th century. This was the period of time when the USA was being transformed from an agrarian society to an industrial one. This was the period of time when “capitalism” began to be favored in government, and wealth inequality, and power inequality, came into place in a systematic way. It is a fascinating story. It has only gotten worse since then, and one wonders how much further this phenomenon can persist until all hell breaks loose. This is a good episode to watch if you want to understand our history, and where it is we come from as a country. These days, one could be led to believe that the maintenance and furtherance of the capitalist creed is the primary goal and functional requirement of the US government apparatus, and that one should accept this as gospel truth if you were a true citizen of the USA. Know that this is not what the founding fathers were thinking of, or necessarily had in mind, and that such thought process is only a more recent invention being pushed forward by the people in power in order to try to maintain the status quo. Meanwhile, the inequalities only continue to get worse with time.

It Was A Foggy Morning In October

He he he… Perhaps some may mistake the title as a setup for a ghoulish October treat. What strange tale awaits?! Alas, it is only me, your boring neighborhood yakker, with more tales for the bored of mind.

This blog is about yet another bike ride. I thought my biking days for the year had come to an end. But Mother Nature has a mind of her own. She can be idiosyncratic. Thursday turned out to be a warm day, starting at about 60° in the morning. It was an unexpected opportunity for me to go looking for the colors once again, this time on a bike!

But the morning also turned out to be extremely foggy, as you see from my pictures. The fog presented a different kind of opportunity for picture taking, but perhaps not the best for showcasing colors. Nevertheless, it was a somewhat unique combination of conditions that ended up making this one of my slowest solo rides in a very long time. I kept stopping to take pictures! Without further ado, let me show some of them to you.

This is what it looked like as I approached Pennyfield Lock.

This is how it looked as I started the ride.

Here are some pictures taken as I headed south, in the direction of Washington, DC. I left the camera hanging around my neck and was stopping every few minutes to take the pictures. Any runner worth her (or his) salt would have easily covered ground faster than I was doing at this point.








This is where I turned back – Mile 9 on the towpath, the point at which Lock 11 of the canal is located.

These are some of the pictures taken on the way back. The fog was beginning to lift, but it was still cloudy.









The sun finally made its appearance towards the end of the ride shortly after noon. I could glimpse the sunlight as I got close to Pennyfield Lock, at the end of the tunnel of trees that I was riding through.

I enjoyed the ride, but, as you can see, I achieved a mixed level of success in my attempt to find the colors of autumn. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the ride and whatever nature had to offer to me. It was certainly an experience that was unique to this season of Fall.