Broken Wings (9/4/2008)

When I was a young lad growing up in Madras I used to enjoy the trips to Kerala for our summer vacations.  It did not take me too long to get bored during my stay in my grandmother’s place once I was there, but the travels on the train were one of the highlights of the summer experience.  The romance of these journeys by train never dimmed.  Arriving at the train station and wading through the crowds, to try to find one’s reserved compartment at the beginning of the journey; trying to sleep on the berths next to the noisy ceiling fans during the night as the train rocked rhythmically and sped on to its destination; trying to wake up at various points in the night so that I could see all the stations that the train stopped at, and perhaps even buy a cup of tea from a lonely chaiwalla on an empty platform; experiencing a sense of the power of the diesel locomotive while listening to its distant horn in the night – these are just some of the many, many, memories that come back to me as I write this.  The train would lurch back as the engine connected to the carriages of the Trivandrum Express at Madras Central Station, the horn would blow just as the train started inching forward into the evening, and from then onwards it was a nonstop adventure until the time we reached our destination.  Perhaps I was the only one sitting in the moving train during the daytime with my head against the iron bars of the open window peering towards the front trying to catch a sight of the engine every time it rounded a curve. Was I the only one trying to count the number of carriages on the train?  I might have been the only kid with the railway timetable for the Southern Railways in hand trying to figure out where the train was supposed to be at that particular time, watching the hundred meter markers by the side of the tracks and trying to figure out the speed of the train, trying to anticipate when exactly one would arrive at the next station.  I most likely was not the only one with my head stuck to the window staring at the passing green fields and coconut groves of the Kerala landscape, watching the local folk go about their the daily activities – magical people living their lives in a faraway enchanted land.

The first train stop in Kerala, after it crossed the Western Ghats, happened to be at a place that used to be called Olavakkot Junction.  (The name of this station has since been changed to Palakkad Junction.) If we were lucky we would break journey at Olavakkot Junction and we would make our way over the back roads to my aunt’s place the little village of Dhoni.  At that time there was nothing more than a few houses and surrounding farms in Dhoni.  But Dhoni was a great place to visit for a vacation. My aunt’s little house with its open front veranda looked out onto wide open spaces and the hills of the Western Ghats.  Up in the distance on the hills to the east you could see the trees and the forest, and if you looked up carefully you could even see the dirt road that led up into the woods.  Towards the front of the house was a bald hill where I probably experienced hiking and rock climbing for the first time.  From the top of the hill, one could survey the surroundings.  Getting to the top was a big achievement for me and I would feel a sense of elation.  In hindsight, I do not think that the hill was really as imposing as it appeared to me a child, but nothing got in the way of my imagination and the spirit of exploration.  I have to imagine that Dhoni these days is not the same as it was when I was growing up.  I am sure that the place has developed quite a bit and that one would be quite disappointed if one were to return, not just because the place has changed, but also because the sense of wonder seems to become more scarce as one becomes older, more jaded, and better trained for living and surviving in this world.

So, here I was many years later, a middle aged dude with internal plumbing problems, driving through the mountain passes on Route 15 north of Williamsport, PA, on our way back from Rochester after dropping Christina off at college, still feeling a little bit of that sense of awe and wonder while observing my surroundings.  It is not as if the hills of the Alleghenies are one of the great wonders of nature, but it still does not seem to take too much for me to be impressed when I out in the natural surroundings.  Hill after hill stretched out in front of me as the lanes of the endless highway weaved a magical path from mountainside to mountainside while leaping over the valleys that lay in between them.  Looking at the hills one wondered what it would feel like to be on top of them.  My instincts told me that I should explore the mountainsides on foot and look down on the valleys, the lakes, the rivers.    So long as it was a new experience in natural surroundings, it had to be interesting.  It occurred to me that perhaps in matters such as this I was still an easily impressionable little kid at heart – a kid occupying the mind of one who is supposed to be an adult.  Why is it that growing up and becoming a responsible person appears to be a somewhat orthogonal process to finding a way to continue to enjoy the simple and innocent things in life.  Something is wrong with the way we are being taught to think in this world.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Weight(less)

Seagulls floating effortlessly over the sands of a beach,
Is this what weightlessness feels like?
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Could weightlessness also be just a sensation created in the mind,
As seen in this photograph of a buttercup floating over a sea of green.
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Although weightlessness is what is being promised from the experience below,
I am not sure that this what the person really feels.
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Into The Morning

It was still dark when I left home at about 6:30am on Sunday morning to head out for the C&O Canal towpath trail at Brunswick, MD.  The morning star and the crescent moon were still visible above the darkened homes, while a faint glow was beginning to show up in the sky just above the  horizon.

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I was about to get back to doing something that I had not been able to do for over a year.   I was heading out to a distant location on the towpath all by myself for a very early morning run.  And I had not been to Brunswick specifically for a much longer time.  And at this point I was actually missing the experience.  The change from my older weekend routine was made so that others could come out with me for walks in the parks on Sunday mornings. It was all for a good cause and a greater good, and something that I was (and still am) happy to be able to do.

It was 29° Fahrenheit when, following my old habits, I drove out to the nearby Starbucks for a breakfast sandwich and coffee.  Surprisingly, they still served the spinach and egg white sandwich that had been my staple in the past.  I picked up my food and drink and headed back to the car.  It was a familiar routine.

In the distance, from the parking lot, one could see the faint outlines of the sunrise.  The colors were beginning to change on the horizon.  I got into my car and on the road to the highway as the diffused light from the sun began the process of gradually replacing the darkness with light.

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The sun was rising behind me as I headed north and west on Interstate 270 towards Frederick.  I had this strange feeling of familiarity, of going back to to an old place in my mind, and it felt good.   I first stopped at the scenic overlook outside of Frederick to observe the colorful sky over the still shaded valley as the sun attempted to climb above the hills behind me.

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Heading west out of Frederick, I continued to enjoy the experience of the sun rising into the heavens – as it lit up the sides of the houses with a golden light, a light that invited people to wake up and pay homage to a new day. I was lost in a pleasantly blissful state of mind when I made a mistake and took a wrong exit from the highway, and got on the road towards Point of Rocks, another location on the towpath.  Feeling quite unperturbed by this unexpected turn of events, I exited this new road at a random intersection with country road whose name I did not even attempt to read, and then proceeded west along this local byway.  After all, how lost could one get with the Potomac river to one side of me and the original highway that I had been traveling on to the other side.  The winding road took me up a hill from which I got an unexpectedly grand view of a broad valley below me partially lit up the sun.  This was the valley through which the Potomac flowed.  I could see a distant water tower, perhaps at Brunswick, my destination by car; and also a hint of my ultimate destination on the trail,  Harpers Ferry, the place where the Shenandoah river joins the Potomac to become a single flow, cutting though and creating a gap in the ridges of the Appalachian mountain range.  It was an unexpected treat, but I could not stop to take pictures on the narrow road.  Before I knew it the road descended the hill and I had found my way back to the road to Brunswick.

Crossing the railroad tracks at the train station at Brunswick the sun appeared to be struggling to rise above the treeline, but the railroad station was lit up in a weird shade of red.

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A coal train stood in the shadows, waiting for clearance to head onward towards Point of Rocks and perhaps the power generating plant at Dickerson.

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The view of the Potomac from the parking lot at the boat ramp below the bridge across the river was gorgeous.

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I made my way from the parking lot on to the towpath and headed west towards Harper’s Ferry.  The cold and brisk air, and the tall misshapen trunks of the leafless trees reaching for the skies all around me, triggered something in the brain.  I was once again in my happy place.

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Before long I heard the lonesome whistle of a freight train from further out west, probably miles away in the area of Harpers Ferry.  I was quite sure it was headed my way.  Within a few minutes the twin engines of the freight train appeared through the trees on my right as the sun lit up the trees beyond the railroad track.

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The sun began to light up the trail as it rose, while my body began to react to the exercise by building up a sweat in spite of the cold.  The numb feeling in the extremities began to vanish.

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After about 3 miles, the lock house at Weverton appeared to my right, still partially in the shadows.

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As I ran through this section of the trail, I peered through the trees on my left, the side of the trail where the river flowed, searching for the remains of the old town of Weverton  that had been washed away by floods in times past.  I did not see anything remarkable. I then passed through a section of the trail that was still completely shaded by the tall hills that rose across the river in Virginia.  The birds were still waiting for the sunrise.  I eventually broke out into an section of the trail lit up by bright sunshine.  The bridge for the highway across the Potomac appeared in front of me in the distance through the trees.

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Approaching Harper’s Ferry, I noticed that the steeple of St. Peters Catholic church was still in the shadows while other parts of the town were beginning to experience the direct rays of the sun.  The Shenandoah river still lay in the shadows of the hills on one side of the town, while the Potomac flowed on its other side in bright sunlight, reflecting the clear blue of the cloudless sky above it.

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As I turned to head back towards Brunswick, the sun had ascended high enough into the sky to be able to light up the entire area, including the trail.  While it was still cold, and I was occasionally passing people who were all bundled up for protection, I was not feeling any of it.  It was time now for me to focus on the “running” aspect of this outing. I needed to try to put my camera away into the backpack and set a more regular pace for the the trip back.

Having not run this kind of distance in quite a while, I was also beginning to feel the effects of the effort on the system.  My heart indicated that it was still fine with the pace I was setting (which for some reason was becoming faster and faster according to my GPS device), but the muscles in my legs were beginning to complain.  “Dude, we need some more oxygen, and why the heck did you leave the water behind in the car?!”  My tracksuit was soaked in sweat. But I was also getting into a rhythm as my feet beat a tattoo on the towpath. I picked up steam heading east.  I was in the zone!

I huffed and puffed my way back into Brunswick where the coal trail was still waiting to depart.

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The tiredness did not matter at this point as the mind was in a very different place from the sore muscles.  I got into my car and was soon heading back home after my Sunday morning visit to the Church of the C&O Canal.  Alleluia anybody?!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Circles

I actually had this theme going at another website of mine.  So it was relatively easy for me to respond to this week’s challenge.  It is a fairly straightforward interpretation of the subject.

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I suppose some of these items are more recognizable than others.

Happy New Year everybody!  I hope none of these pictures has a hypnotic effect!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Gatherings

One is tempted to submit a picture or two of a family gathering in honor of the holiday season for this challenge, but I will stick  with a different and perhaps more conventional interpretation of the theme.

These pictures are from our visit to La Langue de Barbarie near St. Louis in Senegal.

Here is a colony of seagulls.
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Here is a flight of cormorants.
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Finally, here is a squadron of pelicans.
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I submit that these pictures of gatherings of birds fits the theme for the week.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Oops!

I had to dig back in time to find a couple of themes that could perhaps be suitable for this challenge.   It is possible that they may be missing the mark regarding the objective of the challenge.

The C&O canal has had a history of problems dealing with the forces of nature even in its heyday.  The park that remains today where this canal once operated is particularly vulnerable even to this day, especially since there is little money available to the National Park Service (NPS) to maintain its 184.5 mile stretch along the Potomac river.  The aqueducts have suffered damage regularly, and the ones that are still standing are there primarily due to the efforts of volunteer organizations working with the NPS to preserve some of these historic structures.

In 2010 there was a massive snowstorm that hit the Washington DC area and the east coast of the United States called Snowmageddon!  Over the next few weeks the melting snow in the mountains caused massive flooding in the Potomac river and a disaster in the C&O canal park.   Here are a few pictures showing some of the problems caused by the weather.  I am happy to observe that the particular oops! seen below have been addressed over a period of time since that time.

 

In 2012 we visited West Africa and the country of the Republic of Guinea.  We did a lot of traveling while we were there.  It was an adventure of sorts considering the conditions of the roads and the vehicles in use.  In fact the highway that we took from Guinea to Senegal was essentially a dirt track winding through the mountains.  The vehicles on the road were in many cases several decades old, kept running by the ingenuity of the locals.  There was really no public transportation available, which led to amazing scenes of people and material stacked in and on decrepit vehicles traveling on the bad roads.  In any case, the circumstances were ideal for us to witness many oops! moments. Thankfully we were ourselves not involved in any serious incidents.

 

A Walk on a Foggy Morning

The fog began to increase in intensity as we approached the parking lot at Carderock next to the Potomac river and the C&O canal.  The temperature was below freezing as we bundled up and stepped out of the car and on to the trail.  The sun began to rise into the sky through the  trees behind us as we started our walk at a brisk pace, trying to get rid of the cold in our extremities.  The fog began to lift slowly, creating a unique and somewhat surreal lighting over the still waters and in-between the trees.  There was some kind of magic happening!

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The sky had completely cleared up by the time we finished our walk and returned to the parking lot a couple of hours later.