From Spring into Summer

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

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

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

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

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

The dragonflies and damselflies have also reappeared.undefinedundefined

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Signs of Winter

Winter does not officially start until later this month, but it certainly did not feel that way today.  It was quite cold this morning, below freezing, when we went out to Rileys Lock for a Sunday walk.  Another sure sign of the coming of winter is the arrival of the kinds of ducks that visit us only during that time of year.  The purchase of the new camera was motivation for me to go out looking for these birds once again after many years. I wanted to try the new equipment out.  Unfortunately, new and improved equipment does not necessarily make one a better photographer.  I got mixed results.  One major problem is that the birds are generally quite skittish and move away when they sense that somebody is around.   Here is what I managed to see and capture.

Ring necked ducks.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABuffleheads.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI believe these are American Wigeons.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd we even got some snow today, for the first time this season.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am looking forward to more experiments with my new camera.

 

The Further Pleasures of Spring On The Towpath

It turns out that the wildflowers that I had posted pictures of from our travels on the C&O canal towpath earlier this Spring were only a fraction of what there was to be seen and enjoyed.  Here are pictures of more flowers taken from our more recent visits.

The Pleasures of Spring on the Towpath

Spring has returned with a vengeance to the C&O Canal towpath.  One’s spirits are lifted at the sight of a trail lined with flowers.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are so many different kinds spring flowers to be seen, some of which I still cannot identify in spite of all the years I have spent on the trail!

Suffice to say that a walk along the canal is the spring time can do wonders for you!

A Trip to Sugarloaf Mountain

We are in the middle of winter.  It is the time of year when it is usually quite cold in this part of the world.  But it has been unusually warm during the last few days, with the temperature threatening to reach the upper 70s (Fahrenheit, that is) later on this week.  We hiked up Sugarloaf Mountain, just across the border of Montgomery county in the neighboring Frederick county, last weekend.  It has been a long time since we visited Sugarloaf even though it is quite close to home.  We have been dissuaded by the crowds that are attracted to the location because of its proximity to the high population area of Washington DC and its suburbs.  The crowds are especially overwhelming during the other seasons when families come in large numbers to picnic on the mountainside.  The place is littered with cars, adults, children, and dogs when this happens.  It is not the kind of place one would go to if you were hoping for a little bit of quiet and solitude.  We saw more people than we expected last weekend because of the nice weather,  but we had fortunately gotten to the park early enough to avoid the biggest crowds.

It was a beautiful day for a hike and we ended up walking over 8 miles.  We got to some areas of the park that are less accessible and therefore quieter. Here are some pictures from the hike.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Chaos in the Fall

Here are some pictures that capture some of the chaotic elements of the season of Fall from the visual perspective.  There is the appearance of the fallen leaves as seen below.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are the branches on the trees (in this case our red maple tree), even as colors change during a span of a couple of days.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFinally, here are a couple of scenes from the woods during the fall process.   In the past I have not thought about these kinds of views as being chaotic, but there is a certain randomness to the elements that contribute to the overall appearance that leads me to conclude that it does meet the definition of such a process.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPerhaps the fact that a particular process appears to be chaotic does not necessarily mean that there is something wrong with it.  Here are other interpretations of chaos.

The Passage of Time (10/5/2009)

Not sure if this fits into the weekly category, but since life is a quest for something or the other, I decided to post this old letter from 2009 with a few pictures I took at that time…

img_1612The leaf dropped out of the tree and was caught by the gentle Autumn breeze as it fell from the sky.   I swung my arm lazily as I ran by, as the leaf drifted across the trail.  Amazingly I made contact and the leaf ended up in my hand.  Alright!, I said to myself. At least that is what I thought I was doing.   But these days I am sometimes not sure if I am speaking to myself, or if I have said something out aloud without realizing it.  But it did not matter in this instance since I was all by myself.   I could behave like an happy two year old without having to worry about somebody looking at me in a strange way because I was not “acting my age”.
img_1602img_1652Perhaps, this is one reason I enjoy being out there on the trail.  I can scream out loud with a sense of wonder every time the heavy locomotives of the freight trains power past me.  I can even sing loudly to myself with only the flowers, the birds, and the occasional curious squirrel hanging around to hear the cacophony.  I can drop the burden of “expected” behavior and be myself.  I can take unplanned diversions from the trails into the unmarked woods if I want.  I can follow the butterfly or dragonfly as it flitters from flower to flower, hoping it settles down long enough at one location without flying away at my approach, so that I can take its picture.  (It does require a lot of patience!)  It is truly a healing process to get away from “civilization”.  Maybe I have a stupid smile on my face when I am out in the woods, and this why the few people I encounter seem to respond to me with a pleasant Good Morning.  Maybe they are all as crazy as I am.

The heat of summer is behind us and the cooler days of Autumn have arrived.  There are the cool and crisp Fall mornings – with the clear and bright blue skies, with the occasional fluffy wisps of clouds floating by – looking like light cotton balls that are being gently pulled apart by some unseen hand in the sky.  There are the cold and gloomy mornings, when the clammy feeling penetrates your jacket, and even your skin, when the heavens are filled with dark ominous clouds that block the sun and scurry across the sky, as if in a hurry, eager to get somewhere.
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The leaves are just beginning drop from the trees and there are already a few spots of reds and yellows in our neighborhood and on the trail.  The Frittilary that I saw in large numbers at the beginning of summer in Black Hill park have long since gone, and so have the somewhat rarer Monarchs.  There is still the occasional Tiger Swallowtail to be seen, but other than a few Skippers, this really seems to be the season for the Sulphurs.
img_1587The unidentified dragonflies and damselflies are still around in smaller numbers, occasionally flying around in pairs as if they were indulging in some sort of mating ritual (perhaps they are!), but they will also disappear as surely as the butterflies and the leaves on the trees.

The various types of ducks that I used to observe at Black Hill have long since gone, and I am looking forward to Spring when I hope to see the somewhat rarer migratory species once again.  The Canada Geese that are supposed to be migratory never left, and they dominate the lake and the river these days.   The cardinals are still around, but the robin will only return in spring.  My good friends, the blue heron, can very frequently be seen in certain sections of the canal fishing.  (Yesterday I saw a whole bunch of cormorants perched on some rocks in the middle of the Potomac near Harpers Ferry.  I was even fortunate to capture the picture of a raptor, perhaps it was an eagle or a osprey, diving into the waters of the Potomac to come up with a fish that it had caught!)
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The last flowers of summer can still be seen in the woods of Black Hill and along the towpath – the purple chicory, some white and purple fleabane, some asters, a few goldenrods, and some others that I still cannot identify.  I wish I had more time!img_1597
img_1649img_1668I cannot wait to experience the vast expanses of the fields of Virginia bluebell on the towpath in Spring.

And thus the days, the seasons, and the years go by, and one finds that one has survived to reach the age of 50!  (Teresa had arranged a great surprise Birthday party!  Thanks to John from arranging his trip from Bangalore so that he could spend the evening with us.)  The times seem to rush by in a hurry, and before I knew it, over 20 years of marriage have gone by and the kids have all grown up.   In just a few years the next generation will be ready to take over the reins from us, and eventually we will also be consigned to the dust.  The cycle of life will continue. I have to remind myself constantly that we need to do our best while we are here, and that we also need to make the best of what we have without being greedy.  In tough times I have to try to remember that I am one of the fortunate ones, and that the present will eventually become the past.  In the short time that we have here on Planet Earth, perhaps we can try to leave our mark by doing something positive for others, and we can also try to leave the world in a better shape than we found it.  Maybe, just maybe, this could be The Meaning of Human Life.

Life goes on.   Keep on Truckin…
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The Kids are Alright – maybe..

Anybody remember this song?

I have put in quite a few miles on my bike on the trail this week.  It occurred to me that, remarkably, I was not feeling bored in spite of the repetitive nature of the rides.  I remembered a blog I had read from a webpage tracking a couple’s hike on the Pacific Crescent Trail.   This particular posting was a guest blog by somebody who was traveling with them for a short stretch. He talks about what the experience of hiking means for him.  I could empathize with some of what he was saying –  about the silence and the thinking that goes on.  You  can cover a lot of ground, both physically and mentally, without even being aware of it.

A couple of days back I was cruising in the cool of the early morning, lost in my own thoughts, on a section of the trail near Carderock.  Between the mind games and the focus on the act of riding (something that has become more automatic these days) I was having a ball.  I was brought back to reality by the sight, out of the corner of my eye, of two older gentlemen who were walking in the other direction.  When you are riding a bike at a decent pace people pass by quickly, but I did notice that one of the guys was smiling  broadly, looking at me, and giving me a thumbs-up sign with both his hands.  He was encouraging me on.  I had to smile back.  Or maybe I was smiling already, and this was his response.  Did I look like I was on a mission and needed encouragement?  Or was he simply happy to wish somebody on the trail.  It does not matter.  He had reached me somehow and raised my spirits even further.   Everything was good!

With the distances I am covering, and with the coming of summer, I am seeing kids everywhere on the trail. There are summer camps and outings, with bike rides, horse rides, boating (tubing/canoeing), fishing, swimming, and other kinds of activities to keep the young ones occupied.  It is great that the natural resources of the area are being taken advantage of so that kids learn about the great outdoors all around rather than getting stuck indoors staring at the screen of some electronic device the whole day.

But with kids on the trail there is an additional element of caution that is required, especially if one is cruising on a cycle.  Sometimes they seem to be completely oblivious to what is going on around them.  Last week I was passing a group of kids and everybody moved out of my way except for one lad who basically got on his bike a started riding straight towards me on the wrong side of the trail.  I had to yell and brake hard.  He finally moved away at the last minute.  Who knows where he mind was at.

Then there was this group of kids on bikes who rode off the trail at Whites Ferry while I was trying to get on to it.  They did not know enough to even get out of my way.  I had to stop and let most of them get through first. Their adult leader apologized once he got them going properly.

A couple of days ago I rode up behind a group of adults and kids on horses.  While most of the horses were well behaved and were keeping to one side of the trail, a couple of them were not cooperating at the back of the line.  They were wandering all over the trail, standing across it to look at me (maybe they were curious) while their riders were trying to talk them into getting back into line.  At one point one of the riders thought that the horses wanted to get in line on the other side of the trail (the wrong side), but that was obviously not their intention. The horses finally cooperated and I was able to pass on the left.  On my way back on the trail, as I approached the same group and started passing them from the front, the little kids on the horses started shouting to me. They told me that the last two horses in line were in training and that I should be careful.  The kids seemed quite concerned about my safety and they were so sweet about it.  I yelled my thanks without slowing down too much.  The kids are alright!

During the last couple of days I have run into more issues with people, both adults and kids, on the trail who do not seem to know what to do when a biker comes by.  Sometimes people are not keeping to their side of the trail and they get very confused when a biker comes up behind them.  I announce myself loudly so that people can move aside, and if at least one person in the group hears me I am usually in good shape.  But sometimes somebody darts across the trail into my way at the last minute and I have to brake hard and yell.  Just yesterday,  a kid almost ran me off the cliff near Anglers Inn.  He apologized while I tried to recover my composure.

But I want to come back to the thought I started this blog with, which is that it does not matter how many times you go over the same territory when hiking or biking.  The experience simply does not get old.   Just yesterday I was riding past a section of the trail that always catches my attention in the early morning light.  As I have done several times in  the past, I stopped once again to take a picture.  Perhaps you have seen this picture before.
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Then there are these other experiences from the ride.
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And, yes, it is hot as heck outside right now.  The folks in the picture below have more determination than I do!
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We will  see what the next week of riding brings.