More Flowers Of The Season

We saw more flowers of Spring during our outing on the canal last Sunday. Here are the new ones that caught my eye.

Celandine:

Fleabanes:

Phlox:

Miami Mist:

The real Virginia Waterleaf! (I believe I falsely identified the following as possibly Virginia Waterleaf a few weeks back. The real Virginia Waterleaf grows closer to the ground than the plant we had seen earlier!):

Mayapple:

Star of Bethlehem (different from the Nodding Star of Bethlehem!):

Possibly Sweet Cicily:

and Dames Rocket:

We could see the distinctive Rosa Multiflora plants in some sections of the trail. These will be blooming soon, and, along with the honeysuckle, taking over the sides of the trail before too long!

The manner in which I have approached the presentation of the flowers observed along the canal this year has made me better appreciate, perhaps for the first time, the wide variety of the flora that we have been coming across over the years in our own backyard. This is amazing!

Our exploration last weekend started from Point of Rocks. It has been a while since we came here. There has been enough new development around the area of the towpath that I initially even missed the entrance to the park. I would consider Point of Rocks to be at a somewhat intermediate distance from home, creating the situation where one is not really sure whether to consider it close enough to home when planning Sunday walks when there are time constraints, or far enough from home when we wish to spend more time exploring less-visited and newer spaces. This indeterminate state of affairs is probably one of the reasons that has led to the less frequent visits to this place.

Also to be considered in the context of making excuses for not visiting Point of Rocks is the fact that there are a lot more people visiting this place these days than in the past. The place is actually crowded! I still remember the days when there was almost nothing here. I would see very few people in the parking lot or on the trail. At that time, I had discovered the area from some newly found source of information about the C&O Canal, and I was still in the process of exploring these new spaces for the first time. The parking lot at Point of Rocks used to be a small area of cleared gravel/dirt beside an undeveloped road – on the other side of a narrow wooden bridge over the dry canal bed. (I once wrote about a bird that landed on my car while I was in this parking area. I need to rediscover that e-mail!) In those days, the dirt road actually extended on to the then unmaintained towpath, and ran all the way to the bottom of the Route 15 bridge over the Potomac river. There used to be another undeveloped dirt parking lot under the bridge at that time. All of this has changed. The trail has been resurfaced since then and is no longer accessible to visitor vehicles, and the previous parking area under the bridge is now overgrown with vegetation. The NPS parking lot at Point of Rocks these days is huge. The lot has a paved surface, and there is also a nice boat ramp to the river at one end of it.

A noteworthy element of the experience of coming to Point of Rocks is the sight of the Route 15 bridge across the Potomac in the early morning light. It is always striking. I never fail to take pictures. Here is another example.

We walked all the way to the Catoctin Creek Aqueduct and back.(Can you imagine that this was how the place looked in 2006, many years before they began reconstruction of the aqueduct?!)

There were a lot of gnats in the air at the aqueduct. It is a reminder that summer temperatures are slowly but surely making their way to our neighborhood, although, right now, we do have some days that are still cold enough to require a light jacket or a windbreaker.

Last weekend was the first time we went out to a restaurant after a gap of well over a year. We were expecting to see a light crowd. It was a shock to see the large numbers of people gathered in the shopping area. They were out enjoying the great Spring weather that we were experiencing that day. The restaurants in the neighborhood were all also quite busy. If people had not been wearing their masks, and if the spacing between the occupied tables at the restaurants had not been increased for safety, one would have assumed that this was a normal day in the county without anything amiss. But there is indeed a pandemic still going on! It was a little difficult sometimes to maintain spacing with other people while on the walkways, but, thankfully, most people wore masks. We also sat outdoors at the restaurant. All of this was a little risky, I suppose, but new Centers For Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for people who have been vaccinated suggests that the risk levels are low in these situations. This is not an exact science. We are still learning. One still has to be very careful, especially with mutations of the virus, like the particularly virulent version that seems to be prevalent in India, that are spreading around the world.

We did enjoy our dinner, although there were elements of the experience that felt a little new and unfamiliar to me once again. The interactions with the waiter felt somewhat unnatural. Truth be told, we have gotten so used to ordering food to eat at home, and enjoying the food in the relaxed and quiet atmosphere at home, that the home dining experience feels more natural and easy. One would go to restaurants primarily to enjoy the company of friends. That was what we did on Saturday.

The Music of The Birds, The Flowers, and Spring!

There were dark clouds in the sky, and it was threatening to rain, when we left home for our weekly walk in the park. We even considered carrying something extra to protect ourselves – just in case. Fortunately, the weather predictions by the experts turned out to be right, and the skies actually slowly cleared up over the course of the morning walk.

This was the view as we started our walk from the parking lot at the Monocacy Aqueduct.

This was the weekend of dramatic transformation of the woods.All of a sudden, everything has turned green around us! This was not the way it looked, or felt, even last weekend! What a glorious change! Everything in the woods has sprung to life. The combination of the wetness from the overnight rain and the rising sun attempting to penetrate and slowly vanquish the early morning clouds created some different and unique lighting conditions in these woods.

There were flowers everywhere. Different kinds of plants and flowers dominated different patches in the woods. There were the flowers we had seen in the earlier weeks of Spring, including Gill-over the-round, Periwinkle, Cutleaf Toothwort, Spring Beauty, Dutchmen’s Breeches and especially the Virginia Bluebells that were all over the place. And, then, there were other new flowers to be noticed, and even identified, including:

Violets,Squirrel Corn (which look very similar to Dutchmens Breeches),Nodding Star of Bethlehem,Yellow Violets (I think!),Purple Dead-nettle,and the super-invasive Garlic Mustard.

And the birds were everywhere, in many cases singing the sweet songs of the morning. During our walks, we usually find the birds only in certain sections of the trail. This was not the case last Sunday. Instead, we were entertained by birds everywhere, throughout the walk. We would stop and listen occsasionally, and look up into the branches of the trees to try to locate the source of the sounds. Most often, we would not see the birds. Here is a bird that I managed to spot:I think it may have been a Northern Flicker, but there is no way to be certain under the circumstances. We may be getting better at identifying some of these birds from the sounds they make – including the Northern Cardinal, the Carolina Wren, and the woodpeckers. Incidentally, the woodpeckers seem to make the least musical of sounds. They actually sound quite guttural.

Unfortunately, the conditions also caused a surfeit of millipedes to be present on the trail, and the danger of the regular squashing of these creatures underfoot. I grimaced every time I felt a crunch from my shoes. Thankfully, it was my imagination working overtime most of the time. There were also a lot of earthworms that had come out because of the rain.

We did see this tiny snail,and these unique mushrooms by the side of the trail.

The highlight of this particular outing was walking past the fields of bluebells. They have literally taken over the woods in some sections. There was a section where the trail was lined with these flowers. Unfortunately, my pictures may not serve the purpose of adequately informing the reader of the extraordinary impact of the sight of these flowers on the senses, and the sense of wonder that one feels in the midst of these fields of blue, but one must try!



The heartbeat and rhythm of the woods is unending. It is amazing.

The Visit to Big Pool

This was the song going through my head when I woke up this morning. And I felt like writing….

Springtime is here for sure, and this was more than obvious during our Sunday walk along the canal from the parking area at Fort Frederick State Park. There were newer Spring flowers to be seen all over the place:
Spring Beauty,Grape Hyacinth,Periwinkle,Trout Lily,Dandelions,probably Forsythia, and even a patch of Daffodils, most likely introduced by humans.We were even able to identify the plant that we had seen springing out of the side of the trail two weeks ago near Dargan Bend.They were Virginia Bluebell!

We started the walk rather late yesterday, closer to 11am, after going for the Easter service at the church. Having received our vaccinations, we have an additional degree of comfort/confidence about being in such gathering places. After mass, it was off on a long car ride to the area of Big Pool near Hancock. This section of the canal, next to Fort Frederick, opens out into a huge natural lake, an area where the boats plying the C&O canal in the days of old could even turn around if needed.An active railroad line that used to belong to the Western Maryland Railway, now operated by CSX, runs on the other side of the Pool, away from the towpath. At the western end of the pool, the line crosses over the towpath,and a bridge over the Potomac river, into West Virginia, joining the CSX mainline running on that side. Trains do not use this secondary line through Maryland (which runs to Hagerstown) very often, but we did happen to be there when a couple of them passed through.

The Western Maryland Railway originally used to continue westward on the Maryland side of the river towards Hancock and beyond instead of crossing over into West Virginia. The rails in this section are long gone, and the right-of-way has been converted into the Western Maryland Rail Trail. It is extremely popular with cyclists and walkers.

We had an extremely late lunch on our way back to the car, consuming PB&J sandwiches and apples while sitting on the rocks next to the remains of a spillway from Big Pool. There was a very pleasant and cool breeze blowing in our faces, making up for temperatures that has risen into the sixties by then.It was late in the afternoon by the time we were done, but we were in no hurry to get home. We even took another short walk to get down to the river since we had been unable to do that earlier.We checked out a beaver pond in the state park.It was a long drive home after all of that activity. We were tired!

Here is some more music to close out the blog with.

Peace out, and Happy Easter!

Songs From The Woods

Let me bring you songs from the wood:
To make you feel much better than you could know

Jethro Tull – from Songs From the Wood

The weather report indicated that it was going to rain that morning. But I was determined to make it to the towpath anyway. The irony was that we had had good weather earlier in the week, suitable for outdoor activities, but I had successfully made excuses for not going outdoors and doing my exercise. The weather turned out to be bad on the one day I was going to be making up for my laziness during the week. Rats!

It rained as we drove to Pennyfield Lock last Sunday, and it was raining as we began our walk.The rain was not too heavy, and I kept my camera under a poncho that I was wearing. We were comfortable. And the rain did peter out as the morning progressed – even though the skies continued to look threatening from time to time. The wet weather did nothing to dampen our enthusiasm for the walk.

When we arrived at Pennyfield lock, we were met by a steady background noise, the sound of some kind of an insect it seemed, emanating from the woods all around us. We stopped to listen, but we still could not make out the source of the sound. It seemed to be everywhere. You can listen to these sounds in the background of this recording that I made in a section that also happened to be full of birds. I am thinking of crickets, or maybe cicadas.

There were more Spring flowers to be seen this week along the trail, including the unique Dutchman’s Breeches!We also saw Cutleaf Toothwort, Gill over the Ground, and some small yellow flowers that I did not recognize.

We also encountered a few different birds. There were quite a few Great Blue Herons in this section this morning.The Canada geese were also plentiful. They seem to be somewhat ornery this time of year. I think it is nesting season. They were squawking at each other, and we even witnessed one loud fight going on on the river.We speculated that this was a situation of two males fighting over a female. We had no informed basis for coming to such a conclusion.

We saw a few of the musical Carolina Wren,and the colorful Northern Cardinal.They brightened up the place.

A Barred Owl also made an appearance.I even sighted a couple of Wood Ducks. They are not that common in these parts, and the only time you are likely to see them is in winter.

As usual, there were noisy sparrows in the bushes all over the place. I reacted to their presence by dismissing them, half jokingly, as “just sparrows”. I think it was an unfortunate response, and it happens a lot because we see a lot these birds. The truth of the matter is that they are also amazing creatures like all of the other birds – regardless of how often we get to see them. Perhaps people would tend to respond differently in places where there are fewer of them. I am sure any curious child would find them amazing. Can any of us even claim to be able to fly around effortlessly like these birds? How many of us really understand the phenomenon of bird flight? And yet we take it all for granted….

The lyrics of the song I noted at the beginning of this blog are worth listening to:

Dargan Bend

The day of the March Equinox (the Spring Equinox here in the northern hemisphere) finally arrived last Saturday in our part of the world. Daytime and nighttime are roughly of the same duration anywhere on the earth on that day. From now onward, until our autumnal equinox, the length of the days will be longer than the nights in the northern hemisphere. It feels like we have crossed some threshold in our seasonal expectations. It is all mental.

The temperature was at just about freezing point (32° F) when we started our walk at Dargan Bend, just north of Harpers Ferry, on Sunday. It felt quite cold as we waited for the sun to rise over the ridge behind the parking lot. Meanwhile the sun had already risen over the West Virginia shore of the Potomac. This picture was taken from the boat-ramp to the river at the parking lot.There was a cool breeze that was blowing in our faces as we walked in the long shadows of the tall trees that lined the trail. It actually created a wind-chill. I needed to put on an extra pair of gloves.We headed off north towards Antietam aqueduct.

Thankfully, it warmed up quickly. It was about 60° F by the time we finished our walk. We had worked up a sweat by that time. More than 8 miles of walking was undertaken, and we were actually not feeling too tired. We ended up not making it to the aqueduct, falling short by probably much less than a mile.

I have run past the parking lot for the boat-ramp at Dargan Bend in the past, but have never actually stopped to park a car here. I used to park in one of the parking areas right across from Harpers Ferry, just below Maryland Heights, when I used to visit the area. But these parking areas have now been blocked off for safety reasons. Dargan Bend happened to be one of the two parking spaces closest to Harpers Ferry. Hence the decision to check it out.

The last time I went through this area was in 2016, during my bike ride. It had been an even longer time since I covered this section of the trail on foot. That could have been as far back as 2011. It was nice to experience the resurfacing work that has been done recently to improve the trail.It is smooth all the way to Shepherdstown.

We saw Spring flowers for the first time this year along the canal during this walk. That experience in itself is uplifting to the spirit. There is the expectation of more to come. This particular growth is called Bloodroot.

We walked past an area where the trees were covered by what looked like English Ivy.It felt strange to see all the green here when the rest of the spaces we were walking through were completely brown. It even looked this way in the woods beside the trail!

There was one lock in this section of the towpath. You can actually drive to this location and park there before getting on the trail.

We were lucky to see a hawk’s nest. We located it by tracking a bird that was flying toward a tree with something in its beak. There was probably a young one in the nest.

Also of note in this section are the remains of the old Shinhan Limestone kilns. Apparently, this place used to operate until the 1960s.

This was a magnificent morning walking along the river – as usual!

A Change Is Gonna Come

We were not paying attention to the arrival of Daylight Savings Time last weekend. This led to a later start than we would have liked for our Sunday morning walk. It was a confusing situation – it was later than usual if you considered the time relative to other events planned for the day, but if you considered it in terms of absolute time, compared to the time the previous day (or weekend), it was actually an earlier start than usual because we tried to compensate for the time change by leaving home as quickly as possible. Make sense?! I hate these time-change events, especially when we jump forward in time.

The temperatures in our neck of the woods are generally going up. We had a 70° F day in the middle of the week. I went for a run outside and actually felt hot. But it has cooled since. The gusty winds got our attention as soon as we got out of the car at Sycamore Landing on Sunday. It felt cold in spite of the fact that the temperature was in the 40s. It was going to take a while to warm up!

But, we do know that the change is soon gonna come. We could see it in the shoots of green emerging from the ground in the woods. In a few months we will, once again, be complaining about the heat.

We could see the change that is coming in the growth emerging on the branches of the trees and shrubs beside the trail. Soon, the appearance of the woods is gonna change. It will feel different!

This growth of leaves and flowers on this tree trunk that was submerged in the waters of the canal was surprising.

And I do not remember ever seeing a black rat snake on the trail this early in the season. I wonder if they like the new trail surface.

Even this broken branch of a tree beside the trail reminded me of some kind of newfound life-form – maybe alien!

Hopefully, there is also a good change that is gonna come in the situation with the pandemic in the not too distant future. I get a general sense around these parts that more and more people are able to get their vaccinations these days. I have not felt this optimistic in a while. I am already thinking about being able to visit friends and places in the next few months. But, at the same time, there is also the message out there that we still need to be vigilant. It appears that there is a new wave of coronavirus spread happening in some other parts of the world at this time. We are not out of the woods yet, and truth be told, we will not really be completely out of the woods before herd immunity is established all over the world.

The title of this blog is the name of a song that a friend recently reminded me of.

Here’s hoping for positive changes!

The Sycamore Trees

I know I have already mentioned this – perhaps too many times – but the sight of the Sycamore trees in winter never ceases to generate a sense of wonder no matter how many times we see them during our walks along the river. Every time we visit the park it is as if we are experiencing the sight of these trees for the first time once again. They are majestic! They catch your attention. These trees tend to dominate the treeline wherever they are present, whether you are looking straight up, or whether you are looking at them along the shorelines of the river. The trees are very distinctive with their white trunks and branches in their upper reaches. The body of the tree looks robust, and the tree itself appears to tower over all others.

I tend to spend a lot of time during our walks looking around for stuff – birds mainly. Last weekend I spent a significant amount of time just trying to enjoy the sight of the Sycamore trees. I do not think I am able to take the kind of pictures that will do them full justice, but I tried anyway.

Textures On The Ice

We had not been able to go out for our weekend walk for three weeks in a row because of the weather and did not feel too good about it. We were determined to try to get out this last weekend in spite of the cold, and in spite of the fact that we had had sleet as precipitation just a few short days earlier.

The temperature was about 18°F when we awoke on Sunday. We decided that we would start our walk a little later in the morning than usual. Thankfully, all the roads on the way to the park had been cleared completely of snow and ice. But the parking lot at Riley’s Lock was a bit of a mess. We managed to find a section of the lot away from the lock house where there was a reduced amount of ice on the ground. The cars in the picture below are parked on ice. To the right side of this picture you can see the temporary bridge over Seneca Creek at the location of the Seneca Aqueduct. The aqueduct itself was badly damaged by major flooding in 1971. (I might have already mentioned in some earlier blog that this is the only aqueduct on the canal where there was a lock located on top of the aqueduct.)

The temperature was still below freezing when we started the walk. But, it was also a bright, sunny, morning. There was no breeze to be felt. Although it took a while for us to warm up, we felt no discomfort after that. Extra layers of covering were shed. We found ourselves in the walking zone once again. We covered our usual distance during the walk in spite of our initial concerns about the conditions. It had reached temperatures just above freezing by the time we finished our walk.

The trail was mostly covered by a sheet of ice,although there were a couple of short sections where the ice had melted to the water-soaked surface because of the sunshine.There were signs that many people had visited this section of this trail before us. The footprints in the snow and ice (in other sections of the trail) provided traction for us later arrivals. If you look carefully, you can see the faint markings of the Yaktrax that Teresa was wearing to provide traction while walking on the ice.

The sky was completely clear that morning. There was not a cloud to be seen.

The water in the canal had frozen,but the river was flowing freely.We even saw people in kayaks at one point during the walk.

The particular circumstances of the day allowed me to take a series of pictures under conditions that were unique and transitory. I just happened to be there at the right moment in time. The conditions were just right – the temperature, the state of the ice on the trail, the light that was falling on the trail, and finally, the simple things in nature that had fallen at the particular spots on the trail at that time without having been stepped on by either a human being or animal before we got there. Here are some of these pictures.

It was a unique opportunity that, thankfully, I did not miss!

The Next Blog

It is in the nature my blogging process that I am often not sure where the inspiration for the next blog will come from. There is definitely a theme that can run through a series of blogs when one is on a quest, or when something is happening. Not today. We have not been to new places on the canal recently, and there is also no new experience from the walks that seems worthy of sharing. The political scene that used to get me worked up in the recent past has gotten to a more tolerable level. We have also not traveled to new places in other parts of the world for over about a year at this point.

I have no interesting articles to point people to today. Also, I have not yet rummaged through my trove of old e-mails to gain some inspiration. There is not much other internal or external inspiration for thought either today. The mind is a blank – the thoughts that sometimes organize themselves in the brain organically to form a complete blog, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle coming together to create a complete picture, are not cooperating. The mind is not quiet enough for any of this to happen. I think I am also distracted because of having to deal with other practical matters. Perhaps, I will just post some pictures from our last weekend on the trail.

It was a cold morning on the towpath as far as we were concerned, but sensitivity to cold is a relative experience. There are some people (including some of those whose blogs I follow) who spend their winter outdoors, looking forward to their activities in the heights of the Rocky mountains in the middle of winter. Such folks might have laughed at us, and considered our reaction to the outside temperatures that morning “wimpy”. And we do not even have to go as far as the Rockies. There are others, even from our part of the world, who perhaps also laugh at our sensitivities – as they get out on their bikes on the roads and trails at these temperatures for recreation. Yes, we saw some of these people last weekend! I do not know how they do it, but I do know that even the little bit of additional airflow created by the forward motion on a bike would, at these temperatures, bring me to a stop quickly. Tears would run, my nose would turn red, and I would lose all sensation on my chin.

But, there we were, delaying our departure to the park to later in the morning since we thought that 24° F was far too cold for us. Not that it got that much warmer later in the morning when we reached the trail – but the sun was at least higher up in the sky. Here are some of the pictures from the outing.

These pictures were taken at the Monocacy Aqueduct. You can see where the Monocacy river meets the Potomac river in the second picture.The following pictures were taken at the parking lot for the Dickerson Conservation Center access point to the trail.These are all good sentiments on the poster, but I cannot see anybody attempting to barbecue at the kind of temperatures we are experiencing these days!

Out In The Cold

The temperatures have been dropping even further as winter steadily takes hold. It was quite cold outside when we got to Violettes Lock for our walk last Sunday. The thermometer in the car read 24° F. We were determined to walk in spite of the cold.

It had rained earlier in the week. The river was fuller than usual. It is not unusual to see the water flowing freely even at these temperatures. It takes a while for a river to freeze.There is an inlet lock to the canal at this point. There used to be a dam on the river (Dam 2) at this spot on the river that was meant to direct water to the canal. All that remains of the dam is rubble. The water in the river flows as if through rapids in this section. You can barely make out the nature of this flow in the picture above.

Here are some pictures from the walk. There was ice on the trail in places because of the cold. I was surprised to see a few groups of bicyclists out at these temperatures. It can be brutal on the face even at temperatures much higher than this. At least one person was at least wearing googles as an acknowledgement of how cold it was!

This heron was sighted early in the walk.These are the sights of winter.













It had warmed up to just above freezing by the time we were done with the walk. We had also covered a significant enough distance on the trail that our bodies had warmed up sufficiently. That had not been the case the previous weekend – when we had slowed down significantly to do some birding. As you can see from some of the pictures above, there were still opportunities for birding to be had in spite of the distance covered.

Happy New Year to all readers!