All Aboard The Ship of Fools

The gospel reading last Sunday was about how St. Thomas came to believe in the resurrection of Christ.  He had to see the wounds in the hands of Jesus with his own eyes in order to believe.  It occurred to me that there is a similar dynamic in play in a story of today. The context is the response of some of us in the USA to the coronavirus.  (I know the analogy will not be perfect, and please do not take offense.)  In my modern version of the story, it is a tale of not listening to, or maybe just not accepting, what the scientists and doctors are telling us about the coronavirus.  It appears that some people will accept the facts about the virus only if they personally experience it.  They may have heard about what is happening in other places because of the virus, but since it has not not touched them, or anybody close to them, it is a matter of belief, and they do not appear to believe.   I say this in the context of some of the protests that are going on today against the lock downs.  Some people seem to be taking risks with their lives, and the lives of others, during these protests (or political rallies, depending on your point of view) that no sane person should.  The least that people could do is conduct their protests in a safe and sober manner, and acknowledge that the physical danger is real.  Reasonable people would probably take folks more seriously if they behaved more sensibly.  The protagonist in this whole story is the captain of the ship of fools.  The captain is incompetent and arrogant, to say the least. He is happy to stir up discord, and he does not seem to discourage or condone dangerous behavior.  He has pointed the ship towards the rocks, and I fear for the ship and the lives of the people on it.

In other news, food was prepared at the food bank last Tuesday for over 400 families. It is the highest number I have seen so far during this time of the coronavirus.  It was a tiring but very fulfilling morning doing the work of filling the boxes with food.  There was no time for a lunch break.  But I felt good.  There was plenty of food to give out.  The food bank had to purchase a lot of this food instead of depending on donations.  That may be a sign of the times.  Please support your local food bank!

Here is a picture of some of the boxes of food that were in the process being filled for customers.IMG_20200421_122736416

Another Spring Week in the Time of COVID-19

It was Easter, and we wanted to get back home from our Sunday morning walk along the canal before the live Easter service taking place on the Internet at noon.  I felt a little rushed because of the time constraint.   We ended up walking a little less than what we would have done normally.  The weather was also not ideal, but this was compensated for by the fact that there were a few more, even different, signs of Spring from the previous weekend.  Here are a few pictures.

We see squirrels in the park frequently, and we have sometimes even mistaken the noise that they make to be that of birds.   This particular one was observed just after we left Riley’s Lock.  I don’t think I have ever seen a squirrel carrying a bunch of leaves in its mouth like this.  Perhaps somebody reading this blog has a better idea of what is going on.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe dogwood flowers were out by the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese flowers of Spring in the picture below are called Trillium.  There are other varieties of Trillium, with other colors, but this particular variety dominates the towpath.  I could not remember the name of this flower for the longest time after I first saw it.   I fear that my mind is becoming like a sieve. I have had the hardest time recollecting names of the flowers that I saw last Spring.  I am too dependent on the Internet!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe could hear beautiful music in the air as we approached the Horsepen Branch campsite.  The culprit was this wren sitting on a dead tree stump.  This was as close as I could get to it before it flew away.  What a wonderful bird – entertaining us in the morning!  Puts Pavarotti to shame!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you look carefully at the picture below, you will notice that the ducks’ heads are actually pointed towards the camera.  They are turned around 180° from where they would normally be pointing.  Maybe somebody knows why ducks behave this way.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOf course, Spring would not be complete without the dandelions.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Meanwhile, our world continues its adjustment to the presence of the coronavirus.  Many of us are getting more and more getting restless with the need to stay home bound. Many, many, people are also unable to make a living in the current environment.   Bills need to be paid.  Food needs to be placed on the table.  It becomes harder and harder with time to continue to accept that what we are putting ourselves through makes sense, especially in the context of the common good, but like it or not, that is a fact.  The first responders, health care professionals, and those ensuring our safety, continue to put their lives, and even the lives of their families, at risk.  Politicians are still being politicians, and are using all of this as an excuse to fulfill their own agenda.  People in power are also quite happy to deflect responsibility and play the blame game instead of solving problems.  Chaos, and a lack of will to take charge and do something concrete on a national scale, seems to reign at the highest levels of our government – even as the individual states  struggle without adequate support from above.  In a time of trouble, when you think we would come together, we are falling apart, not just in the country, but as a global community. I fear that this is all going to continue for a while.

Some of us that are more fortunate like to complain about how the coronavirus has impacted our lives. We are actually the lucky ones.  There are others who are really suffering, and are going to continue to suffer for a long time – much more than us.  I might worry about when I will be able to get a haircut, getting my car serviced, being able to meet my friends, or something else, but others have more basic needs that are not being fulfilled today.

I have to note that the last time I went to the food bank, there was not enough food for all the people who needed it that day.  We had to reduce the amount of food for each family from what they would normally have gotten.  I felt a little dispirited when I returned home that day.  I hope that this was a one-time event.  It would be hard to sit by without action if this continues.

Beyond Our Species

Even though I know that all of this will go away eventually, with or without my presence, I get more and more discouraged with time as the scourge of the coronavirus continues to keep us in its stranglehold.

Even as we see acts of humanity and kindness, of cooperation, of people coming together, of heroism, in our midst, I find that, as a race, we are extremely discordant in our collective approach to tackling the global issue of the pandemic that has been unleashed on us.  Generally speaking, we are on our own.  Led by the example by the world’s wealthiest nation, we are not interested in a common strategy to minimize the impact of this contagion.  The impact on less well-off people and nations with less resources is not for us to worry about.  And some leaders – some political strongmen – are even taking advantage of the situation carry out other destructive agendas of their own, in other ways, while all of this is going on. Many of our leaders have blood on their hands for sure.

But, as is very obvious to me, life is still also going on outside of our selfishness and incompetence.  I only have to look around my neighborhood.  Spring is here!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe deer seem to enjoy the spring growth that falls to the ground from the maple trees.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe cherry blossom tree in our backyard has blossomed.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe encountered this little snake while walking in the neighborhood.  It appeared to be basking on the pavement. I think that it is a juvenile that has not yet gotten its markings.  (You can see the beginnings of some markings on the face.)   The snake did not seem to know enough to get out of the way of the walkers on the pavement.  I had to gently encourage it to get off the pathway.   Whether one has really helped, one never knows.IMG_20200402_165010731And then, the Sunday walk in the park only served to further confirm to me our own insignificance in the scheme of things.  Life and death can go on in its own way without our interference, and this is very obvious in Spring.  There is no need for human intelligence to get in the way.

You can make out the green beginning to reappear on the trees on the towpath.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Common Starling in the picture below was dancing in front of a hole in the trunk of a tree in a very odd way.    It could have been the location of a nest.   This is the time for many birds to mate.  We saw two bald eagles flying around on the Virginia side of the Potomac.  There could have been a nest in this area.  Then, there was the Canada Goose that had parked itself on the trail.  I was worried that there was a nest close by that the bird was protecting.  Fortunately, the bird was not aggressive, and simply went into canal as we approached.  I had a stick in my hand – just in case!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe early morning reflections in the ever-so-still waters of the canal were uplifting.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOther curious and noisy birds were everywhere.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Virginia Bluebells were in full bloom.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is one of the many different kinds of woodpeckers in the park.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI did not expect to see as many turtles are we did.  This section of the canal contains water that is somewhat warm because of the runoff from the Dickerson Power Plant that is next to it.  That might have been the reason.

These turtles seemed to be lining up to climb to the top of the branch that had fallen in the canal. To the eyes of this human, it looked like they were trying to conquer a peak.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis turtle simply watched me as I took its picture.  Many others slid into the waters at our approach.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe even saw butterflies, including this swallowtail. It is a little early in the season for them.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Spring Beauty flowers had actually opened out to face the sun.  Last week they were all folded up because of the cloudy weather.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALife goes on!

Getting back to the ways of the rest of us residents of this planet, a wise man who shall remain anonymous came up with the following prayer:

Dear God,
Trump and corona at the same time on Earth???
Why???
Let me know if you need advice on timing your challenges for us in the future….
Just saying…..
Peace be with you,
Amen

I think we all have to find our own way to keep the faith.  Humor helps!

Busting Out

It was only a temporary relief from the worries of our lives, but it was well worth it.  It was a reminder that there is a whole different world that exists out there beyond human beings and their existential concerns.  It was a stark reminder that the world, and life, will go on even without us.  (Thankfully, this time, there seems to be no obvious damage to the other things in nature because of what is happening to us.  We are the only ones getting hurt.  Hopefully it remains that way.)

For the first time in months,  we were able to return to the C&O Canal towpath for our weekend walk.  Hopefully we can get back to our old routine from now on.  I had not realized how much I missed the place – the undisturbed surroundings, now beginning to turn green with the coming of Spring; the non-stop chatter and music of the birds; the flowers of Spring; the peace; nature itself.

Your earthly cares fade away when you are out there.  In spite of the cloudy and somewhat dreary conditions, it was a morning for rejuvenation.

This is the entrance to the trail at Sycamore Landing.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was fortunate to see a bald eagle.  Two of these birds flew across the road that led to the boat landing as I was walking down to the river at Edwards Ferry.  This particular one landed on one of the trees close by.  I managed to approach it quietly through the woods.  It was difficult to find a good place to take its picture because of the branches of the trees in-between.  The eagle kept its sight on me, and at some point decided that it had had enough of my nosiness.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trail was wide enough for people to cross each other safely.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese racemes are a sign every year of the coming of Spring to the towpath.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI kept looking around the trail, and into the woods, for interesting things big and small.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe wet leaves.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Dutchman’s Breeches.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe woodpecker.  We saw different kinds of woodpeckers, and so many of them!  They stand out because of their colors.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Mayapple plants.  The flowers actually appear under the leaves later in Spring.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese are purple dead-nettles, an invasive plant.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fear of Contagion

Perhaps some saw this coming, but kept their fingers crossed nonetheless, hoping that it would not happen during their lifetimes – a tiny, unknown, virus that would completely disrupt the way they, and everybody else, lives, and perhaps even kill them.  It has happened before.

It is beginning to slow down almost all of the activities that are markers of modern human existence. It is slowing them to a crawl. Travel, trade, tourism, educational institutions, the daily work scene, shopping, worship, sports, dining out, other forms of public entertainment, etc.. And some other parts of the world have already had it worse than us in this regard. People have also already died because of the virus.

At this point we are almost completely at the mercy of the new virus. We do not know the end game. We do not know as much as we need to know about the virus itself.  We may be able to slow it down by modifying our behaviors, but we cannot stop it.  We know that it has the capability to cull the already weak and  vulnerable.  The virus is, at this point, nature’s great equalizer.  It seems to have penetrated all levels of this connected society.  It has not discriminated based on privilege, power, and fame.

The virus shows us how vulnerable we really are as a species.  Even if it were not this new virus that that is causing this challenge to our systems, it could be some other kind of natural disaster, something outside of our control, that can damage and destroy our systems and our comfort on this planet.  Uniquely, this is a disaster that leaves most physical structures untouched.  Everything looks fine when it is not.

Of course, we will survive this, but at some as yet unknown cost.  And then, within just a few short years, we will forget about all of what just happened, and we will regress, and we will behave stupidly once again, even as nations.  That is a given.

The Return

We are back home from our trip to India.  Truth be told, the travel involved, this time, created more of a felling of tiredness and disorder in the brain than I ever felt before. Waiting in the middle of the night at the airport to board the flight, at a time when you are normally in bed – amidst the crowd, the lights, the noise, and the nonstop activity all around you – it all disturbs the mind.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStanding in a long and disorderly line in the middle of the night, a line that was moving slowly, among a crowd of people, many of whom were in the same zombie-like state of mind as myself, waiting to board the massive aircraft, find your seat, and fall asleep, it numbs the mind.  You just want to be done with it.  A few of our fellow-travelers were wearing masks, a sign of these troubled times.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe flights back home were themselves long but unremarkable otherwise.  But, the act of passing through multiple time zones in a short amount of time while regularly forcing the body to behave as if it were experiencing a different time of day than it has become used to – it added to the weariness.

I spent my time on the flights watching movies, taking pictures out the window,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand taking catnaps.

Being pulled over for additional scrutiny at the security checkpoint at the transit airport made things worse.  I went through the process like a automaton, just hoping that it would be over soon.  My boarding pass had apparently been marked for the additional security check at my initial boarding point in Bangalore.

It was raining in Frankfurt by the time our flight departed for Washington, DC.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI spent the early part of this second flight watching a movie and trying to fight off the sleep that hit me at the wrong time, a sleep that could interfere with my attempt to fight of jet-lag after getting back home.  Later on in the flight, I opened the shade beside my seat to find that we were flying over the icy waters of the North Atlantic.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASoon we had reached the eastern shores of Canada.  During this part of the trip, I kept a lookout for the other aircraft that seemed to be flying with us across the ocean.  I could see its contrails just below us for a very long time. The aircraft finally came into view after we finally caught up with it when crossing the Canadian shoreline.  Here is a picture.  At this point, the path of this second aircraft was beginning to diverge from ours.  It was another Lufthansa aircraft, a Boeing 747-400, which was probably headed for Philadelphia. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI will end this blog with a couple of pictures of the sunrise taken in Bangalore.  These pictures were taken on different days from the 12th floor (according to the European and Indian system of counting floors, this would be considered the 11th floor!).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe smoke in the first picture, and the color of the sun in the second one, were interesting. I believe that these could actually be a result of pollution and smog!

Now that I am back home, I have to catch up on a month’s backlog of things to do!  Did I  mention that I am already tired?

Still adjusting in Gaithersburg…

As Seen From a Rooftop in Chennai

The new house in Madipakkam has two floors. Its elevation provides for a different view of the area around the house than I am used to.  Here are some observations from an evening on the terrace.

There are many cellphone towers built on top of buildings in the neighborhood around us.  You can see a worker coming down from the top of this particular tower across the street.  I actually saw him at the top, but was not quick enough with my camera to take his picture while he was there.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe traffic on the main road in front of the house is a disorderly mess.  I am getting better and better at figuring out how to cross roads like this on foot. You will notice that there are two-wheelers on both sides of the white car in this picture.  One of them is parked.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn top of the building in front of the house you can see a few, small, one-room shacks that that have been added on, perhaps illegally.  I suspect that these are rented.  There must be at least four units in the picture below.  These are probably occupied by young people who have come to the city to work.  This is all they can afford under the circumstances, and it is in all likelihood better accommodation than some others on the street.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe little home captured in the picture below sits on top of another building next to the house. It is located next to, and just below, a couple of cellphone towers built on top of the same building.   The clothing hangs out to dry next to the structures.  I hate to think of the radiation that one is exposed to on a continuous basis under the towers.  People living there are probably unaware of this.  Even if they were, the decision to live here might be considered a difficult choice between two bad alternatives – affordable housing vs. long term health.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe occasional bird flew across the sky high above me as I stood on the terrace.  Sometimes it was a group of birds that I observed headed in what looked like a random direction, seemingly with a sense of purpose.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn egret settled down on a coconut tree close to the level of the terrace I was on. It observed the human being pacing back and forth on the terrace for a while and then moved on.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMeanwhile, the the sun began its descent behind the buildings of Madipakkam at the end of yet another Chennai evening.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe cycle will continue.

Chennai Morning

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am back home, visiting my parents once again.  I searched my blogs from the last few years, and realized that I have been making this trip more frequently in recent times.  And I have been posting pictures and writing my impressions about the experience over and over again.  It is a good thing.  The essential, core, feeling that comes with a trip home never seems to change regardless of the circumstances which bring me here, which tends to be different each time.  This time, I am here for my Dad’s 90th birthday celebration, a celebration of a life well lived, and still being lived.  I am happy to be home for the occasion.  Once again.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fields of Gold (9/11/2005)

I wrote this email in 2005. I had just started visiting the C&O canal towpath the previous year,  and was still in the process of regularizing my weekend exercise routine beside the Potomac river.  Some of the places that I visited along the canal were not as familiar to me then as they are now.

*********************************
I was up early this morning and headed for Point of Rocks for my morning run. These morning runs have become less frequent with the efforts to get the rest of the family involved in the C&O canal activities. Last weekend Teresa and I biked 16 miles on the trail. (That is certainly an great achievement for a first-timer!) I have biked with Angela on other occasions, and, a couple of times, also run on the trail while the others have biked along. However, as I realized this morning, while getting the family involved is a good thing, you still need your own time to rejuvenate and recuperate. There is nothing like the silence of the woods in the cool of the early morning to sooth your soul and bring your internal temperature back to normal. Come what may, I need to find a way to continue my travels and meditations.

As I was driving towards Point of Rocks this morning, I was struck by the sight of the fields of gold. Yes, the leaves in some of the fields are beginning to turn golden yellow. These fields alternated with the neighboring cornfields where the stocks of corn stood tall, some of them turning brown due to the coming of Fall. It was a sight to see, and I stopped by the roadside to take pictures. It immediately brightened my mood. Lona Alias, my favorite Sunday morning DJ on the radio, provided some reminders of events in the real world, including the anniversary of 9/11, and happenings down in New Orleans. She played some nice songs. If you have not done so already, you should find a way to listen to the song “Louisiana 1927” by Randy Newman. Although it is going to take up some space, I am going to include the words for the entire song here. Hope you don’t mind.

“What has happened down here is the winds have changed
Clouds roll in from the north and it started to rain
Rained real hard and it rained for a real long time
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

The river rose all day
The river rose all night
Some people got lost in the flood
Some people got away alright
The river have busted through clear down to Plaquemines
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangelne

Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tyrin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away

President Coolidge came down in a railroad train
With a little fat man with a note-pad in his hand
The President say, “Little fat man isn’t it a shame what the river has done
To this poor crackers land.”

Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away”

Apparently, the 1927 flooding of Louisiana resulted in widespread death and destruction, and very poor response from the authorities. History is repeating itself. Enough said.

I ran from Point of Rocks to the Monocacy Aqueduct and back today. The morning was cool, portending the coming of Fall. All the people I encountered on the trail were cheery and greeted me with smiles. The kids were packing materials from the campsites that they were vacating after overnight stays, and carrying the stuff to their cars. Other kids rode their bikes in disorderly columns, with adults trying to provide supervision and prevent them from running people over. As I jogged by, one gentleman even wished me well on my efforts to complete the 12 miles. I did not even feel too tired after the run and my muscles did not give out on me during the run. I still feel great!

One incident to note. After I finished the run, I walked up to the railroad tracks to take some pictures. I walked along the tracks with my camera, trying to find spots with some interesting shots. When I returned, I observed a vehicle belonging to the Park Police in the parking lot facing my car. I walked by the officer trying to act nonchalant, wondering if I was in some kind of trouble, especially since I had been trespassing on the railroad tracks a couple of minutes back. (Think Al Qaeda!) “Good morning” I said to the policemen. “How is it going?” he responded cheerily. As I opened the driver’s door and got into the car, he got out of his vehicle and started walking towards me, at least that was what I thought. As he got closer, he angled away towards the car besides mine. It was an old beaten-up wreck, parked further away into the woods. He inspected the car carefully and started talking into his radio. He then turned and walked back to his vehicle, taking a glance a me as I sat in the front seat of my car eating a donut as he went by. He then drove away. I wonder if he also checked out my license number in my absence, and if I am now on some kind of a watch list. Of course I am paranoid! Anyway, that was my adventure for day.

Enough for now.
**********************************

The above letter was written shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.   This hurricane devastated the city.  It never fully recovered to its old self.

You can listen to the song I talk about here.

Here are some pictures taken that day.100_0936100_0937100_0947100_0950100_0956The parking area at Point of Rocks has changed significantly since 2005, the time I first started visiting.  It used to be real rough.  There were just a few spots off a dirt road, and you parked in whatever random space you found.  You could also drive beyond the lot to a space under the bridge carrying US Highway 15 across the Potomac. You could find dicier parking (if the water in the river was not too high) there.  All of this has now been replaced by a real parking lot, and a very big one at that! Also, you can no longer drive beyond this lot to the space under the bridge.  The space on the other side of the canal, between the railroad tracks and the main road (MD Route 28),  has also now been converted into a well-maintained park.  And a lot more people visit these days.

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.