Going to Hell in a Handbasket

I was considering what kind of a title to give this particular blog when the above phrase popped into my head. I promptly set off on a quest to find the origins of the phrase. My search was inconclusive. Apparently, the phrase could have come from either Europe or America. Really? Are they not two completely different places? The Internet fails!

The coronavirus has been with us for a while now. When I first started writing about it, barely three or four months ago, there was a certain sense of novelty about the situation. It impacted the way I wrote about the subject. Even though I knew this situation was going to last a long time, I might have even written about it in a manner that suggested that this was just a temporary issue that would go away. While that is a true statement in an absolute sense, my thought processes at that time perhaps also reflected a subconscious sense of optimism, and a refusal to completely internalize the long road ahead of us in battling the disease. I probably felt this way in spite of the stupidity that one saw going on around us regarding the handing of the disease. One railed against the stupidity, but, really, how bad could it get?! (I had predicted the kind of situation that the US would find itself in with regard to the coronavirus a few weeks ago – there are quarantines between states in the USA already, and the European Union is banning visitors from the US. The surprise is that this situation has developed more quickly than I expected.) Perhaps I had not yet become tired of the routine, and the predictability of the stupidity of the situation, at that time. It now seems to be a time for further mental adjustment. Maybe, the optimist in me would like to think that “This too shall pass”, but I am having a harder time internalizing this thought. Yes, it will pass, but who knows when.

It was in a different context that I had written in the past about how people are becoming less intelligent in the places that have most benefited from technology. Evidence of this is becoming very clear in the current environment in our country. Even the issue of wearing masks to prevent the spread of disease has become a political, and even religious, issue to some! It seems insane! It does not help that some of this kind of thinking is fanned by the person who is supposed to be in charge. Governors of some states are acting stupidly in response to the conman, and this is leading to devastating results. Mask wearing be damned!

So, we soldier on, hoping that somehow the devastation we are wreaking on ourselves will not get too close to us personally, and affect us personally. Other than taking personal responsibility, there is little that one can do.

The visits to the canal are getting a little more nerve-wracking these days. Places are getting more crowded, and some people (a small number) are showing a carelessness about the coronavirus situation. It is either that, or the current situation regarding the handling of the disease, that is finally getting to us. But, all that having been said, being outdoors is good for us. What we have learnt about the nature of the virus so far seems to indicate that even though it can spread from person to person easily, it does not last too long outside of a host. Also, the simple action of wearing a mask seems to reduce risk significantly. I have not yet gotten to the point of wearing a mask while exercising, but I do try to create space and/or turn in the other direction during an outdoor encounter. This is more critical on the narrow trails of Seneca Creek Park where I run once in a while. We take care and hope for the best.

We walked from Pennyfield Lock to Rileys Lock, and back, last weekend. Here are some of the pictures I took of flowers that we saw along the trail.

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Rosa Virginia/Virginia Rose

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Trumpet Vine Flower

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Red Clover

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White Clover

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Daylily

Williamsport, MD, On Father’s Day

The first time I came to Williamsport was in 2006. It was a time when I was extending my travels along the canal further and further away from home. The last time I visited was during the bike ride in 2016, on the penultimate day of the ride. We stopped here for lunch. And then there was the visit last Sunday, on Father’s Day.

I woke up that morning thinking to myself that I wanted to explore some new place along the canal that day. With an early start, we could be back home at a reasonable time. The initial response was one of concern – this was going to be a busy day already because of phone calls that were going to take place on account of it being Fathers Day. We went anyway – to Williamsport, MD. We left home very early, and we were on the trail by 8:15am.

As you can see in the photograph that I took during the visit in 2006 (in this link), the aqueduct at Williamsport was in a state of disrepair at one point. One of the walls that used to line the waterway used by the canal boats was missing. That particular wall had been made of wood, and it had collapsed in 1920 as a boat was passing over the aqueduct. The boat fell into the creek. They managed to separate the mules pulling the boat from the boat itself in time to save them.

The reconstruction of the aqueduct was completed in 2019, and we saw the results for the first time on Sunday. This is how it looks from the parking lot that we used.undefined
The canal used to be watered all the way up to the aqueduct, but not over it. There was an earthen wall across the canal bed just before the aqueduct that held back the water from the aqueduct itself. The canal is now watered over the aqueduct also, to a point beyond it. They now have boats for tourists that can take you on the canal over the aqueduct (although it looked like they had not yet brought the boats out this year). It used to be that you could cross over from the parking lot to the towpath just next to the aqueduct. That has changed. The National Park Service has now fixed the railroad lift bridge that exists close by to provide access instead. The bridge can now move up and down. It has been lifted and set to the upper position (semi-permanently, it seems). You can cross the canal using this bridge, while the boats for tourists can go under it.undefined(The bridge used to be stuck in its lower position in the past as you can see in this picture.)

The watered section of the canal is lined with wild flowers this time of year, including chicory,undefined
thistle,
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and moth mullein.undefined
There are also plenty of small birds flying around in this section. To the right of this section of the towpath is the power plant at Williamsport. I did not take a picture this time, but here is a picture from the past.

Within a short distance, we passed Lock 44 with its lock house.undefined
undefinedI remember being able to go into this lock house when I made a visit a long time ago.

You enter the woods soon after passing the lock.undefined
The watered section of the canal also ends where the woods begin, near the gate seen in the picture above. The next landmark on the trail is the bridge for the highway Interstate 81 over the Potomac river. There is construction work underway on the highway as they increase the number of lanes on the bridge. The towpath is protected by a cover during this time.undefined
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Further along the trail, you pass a railroad bridge over the river that is still being used for freight traffic,undefinedand soon after that you see the remains of another bridge that used to exist in the past. Today, all you see of the second bridge are the remains of the piers running from one side of the Potomac river to the other.

This part of the trail has a different feel from the sections that we usually go to. The woods feel deeper. It could be so because the area is lightly populated compared to the places closer to Washington, DC. The trail is also very wide, and in good shape.undefined
Having started early, we also encountered very few people on the trail initially. But there were many more people on the trail when we were returning – including the bikers.undefined
On our way back, we crossed over the Conococheague Creek Aqueduct and continued our walk for a short distance to the other side of the creek. We proceeded to mile 100 of the towpath.undefined

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The entire trial is 184.5 miles in length.

We walked a little further on the towpath, and then started to make our way back to the parking lot.

The picture below was taken from the aqueduct on our way back.undefinedYou can see where the Conococheague creek and the Potomac river meet, and, if you expand the picture, you can see the difference in the color of the water of the river and the creek. The river was very muddy because of recent rains. The bridge in the picture carries US Route 11 across the Potomac river between Maryland and West Virginia.

This is a picture of Cushwa Basin at Williamsport taken from the trail. The parking lot that provided the closest access to the trail used to be on the left side of the picture. The closest access today is now from the parking lot on the right side of this picture. That parking area is new. The buildings in the picture are a part of the C&O Canal National Park. The building on the right is a museum. It was not open when we visited. The National Park Service is building a new park headquarters in Williamsport at this time. undefined
This is a picture of the Cushwa Basin during the days when it was operational. The basin had place for boats to load and unload without impeding canal traffic. It also allowed boats to turn around.

After returning to the car, we drove over to the parking lot that was closer to the aqueduct itself so that I could examine it more closely. It has an interesting look to it.undefinedThe newly reconstructed side of the aqueduct is actually made of concrete, and it is painted on its inner side to look like wood.

I suspect that the wooden supports on the outer side of the wall are just for show.undefined
Here is a clearer view of the inner section of the aqueduct.undefined
This was the last picture for the day!

Since we had started the walk early, we also finished it quite early in the morning. We still had a long drive to get back home. But we still got back well before noon.

The day turned out to be tiring – as predicted! We actually spent three hours talking to the kids! This was followed by another session talking to some of our friends. For some reason, I had a craving for food from Checkers that evening. (Yeah, my cravings do not necessarily lean towards fine dining!) We drove over to the local franchise after the last chat session and picked up some sandwiches to bring home. They had a sale – two sandwiches for four dollars! It was the cheapest father’s day treat. We watched some TV and went to bed early, quite exhausted. Enjoyed the day!

Between Two Spaces

We were on the trail before 8am on Sunday morning.  The idea was to try to avoid the crowds.  It did not work out that way!  The parking lot at the Monocacy Aqueduct was already full of vehicles by the time we arrived.   Fortunately, there were still a few parking spots available.  And the situation was not as bad as I imagined it would be once we got on the trail, at least for the initial part of the walk.  People had just departed for their various destinations along the trail.

I was able to feel the energy of the forest once we got going.  It was a very cool morning, one that had me wearing a light jacket.  The sun was still not out at that time.  I drank it all in, the confluence of the Monocacy and Potomac rivers, the green canopy of trees beyond, the vibes of the woods.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Indian Flats campsite, just beyond the aqueduct, looked quite full.  I counted five tents.  I had thought that there was a smaller limit for the number of groups allowed at each campsite.  But nobody checks, especially during these times. We encountered a girl hanging out on the trail just beyond the campsite, looking for birds in the trees. She had her binoculars with her.

My eyes wandered towards the tops of the huge Sycamore trees.  Somehow, I had not been paying attention to the majesty of these trees all these years.  They tower over all others.  They dominate the overhead skies.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe uncut grass surrounded the trail,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAalong with the plentiful pawpaw trees.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn a historical note, we had discovered the fruit of the pawpaw a few years ago, and consumed a lot of these fruit at that time.  But the interest in the fruit has subsided since then.  (The flavor of an overripe pawpaw fruit is somewhat overwhelming.) Nevertheless, a proposal was put forth to try to make pawpaw pie this year.  I will have nothing to do with it. 🙂

We even saw Spotted Touch-Me-Not flowers for the first time this season,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand blackberries too.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Early during our walk, we also encountered a person biking in the other direction without a shirt top.  He looked a little flabby and overweight, but he was proceeding quite fast, biking with vigor. The morning was still quite chilly at that point, too chilly to be biking shirtless.  It was a curious sight.  A point was made that certain drugs could put you in a state of mind to be able to do things like this. Who knows?!

The sun popped out from behind the clouds occasionally during our walk, but it remained mostly grey and very cool.  We did encounter a lot more  bikers, and people on foot, running and walking, later in the walk, but we were OK with that for the most part.  Unfortunately there are still some people out there who do not know the etiquette of the trail, which is especially important in the time of COVID-19.  Teresa suggested that I write an opinion piece for The Washington Post on this topic.  Hah!

I do miss the early days of my visits to the canal – when I could come to all of these places and encounter very few people.  Loved the solitude, and the opportunity to let the mind wander away completely along with the body.  But, on the other hand, I am also happy that more people are out in the park actually doing something that is good for their health and general well being.

Other than the occasional human beings, and the birds and the squirrels, there was not much to disturb the peace.  We heard freight trains passing passing by in the distance on a couple of occasions.  There was the sound of a motor boat on the river that caught my attention at least once.

A loud and unfamiliar repetitive sound caught our attention our way back to the parking lot.  It was coming out of the woods.  We guessed that it was an owl.  We heard the same sound again as we were approaching the camp site that we had passed on the way out.  At that point, we stopped to pay more attention.  The bird flew away before I could set up the microphone on my smart phone to record the sound.  Teresa managed to get glimpse of it.  The bird was most likely a barred owl, the only type of owl that I am familiar with in this parts.  The girl from the campsite whom we had seen earlier in the morning doing some bird watching saw us and came over to join us, but it was too late.

The parking lot at the Monocacy Aqueduct was completely full by the time we got back.  Some people who had been waiting in a vehicle drove into the spot we had just occupied as soon as we left.    Looks like I am going to have to get used to these kinds of crowds from now on.

As we were driving towards the Monocacy Aqueduct earlier that morning, my thoughts had been on the major news events of the day having to do with the recent police actions and the protests. Two nights earlier, there had been a new incident in Atlanta where another policeman had shot and killed another black man. That incident was followed up the next night with the burning and destruction of the place when the shooting had taken place. I was still processing new information coming in about all of this since I had been reading the latest updates on the Internet before leaving home. We talked about it a little bit in the car, but left these thoughts behind as we entered the park. But we were to return to these happenings later in the day. I mentioned two spaces in the title of the blog. That is the second Space.

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.

Crossing Little Catoctin Creek

Our trip to the C&O Canal last weekend took us further north than usual.  I was trying to find some newer places to visit.  I was also hoping to avoid crowds.  There are more people on the towpath these days.  This could be for a number of reasons. Perhaps folks are tired of being forced to stay indoors (on account of COVID-19) and need an outlet.  Also, the parking lots along the canal that are closer to Washington, DC, have been closed because they are getting crowded. The crowds there are not practicing proper physical distancing.  Perhaps people have been forced further north as a result.  I also believe that the park has, in general, been getting more popular in recent years.

We had to drive north on Interstate-270, through Frederick, to get to the starting point for our walk, which was the parking lot at Lander Lock.  I had been making that drive on I-270 quite frequently during the weekends in the years gone by, but less so in recent times.   Family outings create their own time constraints, and this parking area was a little further away than usual.  There were more cars than I expected when we arrived there.  There were also more people on the trail than we expected, including a lot of bicyclists.  It was not exactly what we had hoped for.

This is the lock house for Lander Lock. Lander Lock is lock 29 on the canal.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first major water crossing of the walk was at the aqueduct across Catoctin Creek.  You can see the Potomac river in the distance in the picture below (taken from the aqueduct itself).  I did not take pictures of the aqueduct itself this time because  I have taken so many of them in the past (including this one).  In fact, I have traveled along this section of the trail in the times even before the reconstruction of the aqueduct.  Perhaps you can also make out the kayak on the shore of the creek, closer to the river, in the picture.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis section of the trail runs next to the railroad tracks.  The next parking area up north is at Brunswick, which is a big switching yard for CSX freight trains.  This morning was relatively quiet as far as railroad traffic was concerned.  We saw just one freight train go by.  There was more activity at the switching yard itself.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFurther north, we had to go down to the level of the Little Catoctin Creek to proceed further along the trail.  The old bridge that previously carried the trail over the creek had been at the level of the trail itself. It was completely destroyed in a flooding episode in May 2018.   (The original culvert for the creek, letting it flow under the canal itself, had been destroyed even earlier on and replaced by the bridge.  The old bridge had been meant as a temporary solution, but had lasted many years.)  The park service has now built a new bridge at the creek level that serves as a temporary crossing of the creek.  This bridge can only be used when the water level is low.  I do not know the schedule for a more permanent solution.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can see the remains of one of the walls of the original culvert in the picture below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere seemed to be many people in the campground next to the trail at Brunswick.  This must have been on account of it being the Memorial Day weekend.  The lock down situation because of the coronavirus has been eased in most parts of Maryland.  We, unfortunately, live in a county where the cases of COVID-19 have not come down significantly, and we have to follow stricter rules closer to home.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFurther north, the trail runs beside the freight yard.  This canal section, between the trail and the freight yard, happens to have water in it.  We saw this parent duck swimming away from us with its ducklings when it heard us coming, trying to take the little ones away from us to safety.  I suspect that the parent is a breeding female long-tailed duck, but I cannot be sure.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trail was getting even more crowded by the time we started making our way back.  There were families heading out to picnic.  This particular family had picked a spot beside the Catoctin creek.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe crowd on the trail made it a less pleasant experience than usual.  The notion of getting away from the crowd by driving away from the city did not seem to work.  We also ran across more people, mainly bikers, who did not seem to understand common courtesy on the trail. Perhaps an earlier start in the day is called for from now on.

In other news, the platform that I use to write these blogs on is changing its editing tools.  The newer tools have a greater level of sophistication, but there is a learning curve involved, and it is also not clear yet how much of the look of the blog I will be forced to change over time.  This is an unexpected challenge, and a distraction that I wish I did not need to navigate past at this point.  In fact, I am having challenges even editing this blog.  I think the tools themselves are still being debugged. We’ll see how it goes over the long run.

Encounter With An Egret

It happened as we were walking last Sunday from Whites Ferry towards Edwards Ferry.  In the distance, we spotted something distinctly white moving over the water of the canal.  On the trail, in the vicinity of this white figure, was a couple walking their tiny dogs.  They had obviously scared this creature from the bed of the canal.

The white creature was an egret.  It flew straight up onto the branch of a tree on the other side of the canal and settled there.  It stayed there as we approached.  I was able to take pictures as we walked by.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe egret was still there on our way back to Whites Ferry.  This time, the egret was in the canal bed.  Every time we approached it, it would get up and fly off further down the canal.  I have great difficulty taking pictures of flying birds that are closer to me, especially with a zoom lens on the camera.  These might have come out OK.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe bird finally settled down for a long enough time for me to get its picture.  It was a majestic pose that it struck.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was only later, when I looked at the pictures I had taken more carefully, that I noticed the green patch around the eyes.  I looked it up on the Internet.  This kind of egret is called a Great Egret (or Great White Egret).

This was just one encounter from another fine morning on the canal.

I had posted one of the pictures I had taken a few weeks earlier in a family social media group that I am a part of.  It was a picture of the wren singing on a dead tree trunk. An aunt of mine, who is a college English teacher, responded, putting forth the following quote from William Wordsworth.

Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.

I do not know the context of the quote, but I do find it a worthy sentiment.  If such supernatural capability can be attributed to Nature, I would consider myself blessed many times over.

Returning Home at Journey’s End

Heading back after a morning out on the river.

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A man and his dog

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The couple and their dog

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The paddleboarder

These pictures were taken at the location where Seneca Creek meets the Potomac river in Montgomery County in Maryland.  Many people start their travels on the river from the creek.  This is also the location of Riley’s Lock on the C&O Canal.

The Chair

Walking along the Potomac river, between Taylor’s Landing and Dam 4 on the C&O Canal towpath, we came across this somewhat strange sight on the West Virginia side of the river.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWas this chair placed there so that somebody could spend the day fishing, or simply watching the flow of the river?

Was this chair placed there by a kind soul for the benefit of other people – so that they too could enjoy their day and time sitting by the riverside?

Considering that the chair was in a location that seemed to be hard to get to, at a place that you had to drive down a steep dirt road to reach,  at a spot beside the river where the surface seems to be unsuitable for a comfortable walk, is it even possible that the chair was simply swept down the river to land upright in this location and position?P3310030.jpg

You can let your imagination wander, see whatever you wish to see, and make up your own stories, as you walk down the towpath on a Sunday morning.

In the Cold

We were supposed to do the Feaster Five run on Thanksgiving day, but the temperature turned out to be in the teens (in degrees Fahrenheit), and with the wind it felt like -3 degrees F.  We ended up staying indoors, not even daring to try out the shortened course that the organizers had set up because of the weather.

But one can stay indoors for only so long.  We also had to burn off the calories that were consumed during the Thanksgiving meal.  So, we were out the next day.  The temperature had risen to a balmy 20 degrees, still well below the freezing temperature.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe went to the Weir Hill Reservation.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome of us ran, while the others walked.  We did two loops, each slightly less than two and half miles, around the park.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe survived!

Wind and Water

During our walk along the canal last weekend, my attention was drawn to the pattern of reflections that I was seeing on the surface of the water in the canal.

I was first drawn to the lines in the water, and also the wavy patterns formed by the reflection of the tree trunks.  It would be interesting to understand how these regular patterns form.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe intensity of the lines began to diminish with time, which indicated to me that the phenomenon that was causing them was diminishing with time.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe following pattern that I saw soon after that caught me by surprise.  It looked like I was seeing blocks in the water, with clear demarkations between blocks.  It was hard to comprehend the physical forces that were causing this to occur.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe reflections in the following picture are more conventional, and what I expect to see this time of the year when the water is almost calm.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is much to see while taking a walk on a Sunday morning if you keep you eyes and ears open to the beauty of nature.