Chasing the Deer

The scene unfolded during our Sunday morning walk along the C&O Canal.

We were headed back from Swains Lock to Pennyfield Lock along the towpath (the trail).  The canal, which happens to have water flowing in it in these parts, was to our right, and to our left was vegetation and a somewhat sharp drop off to the Potomac river.  The only people on the trail in front of us were a middle aged couple who walking towards us from the distance.

We heard a commotion behind us.  After initially ignoring it, I turned back to see that there were two deer running on the towpath in our direction, being followed by two bicyclists.  One of the deer was bigger than then other, probably a parent.  Even though the deer had seen us, they keep coming, veering neither left or right.  They were scared by the cyclists, and also of what lay on both sides of the trail.

We turned to face the deer.  I feared a possible collision and I moved to protect my broken ribs.  The deer finally stopped not too far from us.  The bigger one then jumped into the trees and bushes on its left, towards the river, and the young one followed.  The bicyclists went by.

As the people coming towards us got closer, the bigger deer crashed out of the bushes beside the river and ran across the trail into the canal.  It swam across to the other side of the canal and climbed up the hill beside the canal.  You could barely see it behind the trees. There was no sign of the smaller deer, but we knew that it was still on the other side of the trail, separated from the deer that was probably its parent.

As the folks approaching us went by, the little deer jumped out of the bushes beside the river in front of them.  It saw the people approaching.  It took off in the opposite direction along the trail, heading back towards where it had originally come from, and away from the other deer.  The folks who are now walking behind the sprinting deer are pantomiming and trying signal to the deer to cross the canal to be with the other one.  The deer is in a panic, neither can it understand human communications.  Go back and get your young one, we ourselves say to the bigger deer who is on the other side of the canal.  Of course, we are not speaking the deer’s language.

We did not wait to see how the drama of the lost deer finally played out.  I would not be surprised if the two deer eventually found each other.  While they might be considered creatures without intelligence by some human beings, animals have capabilities that would surprise many of us.  They are not necessarily limited by the kinds of senses that we human beings normally use.  (Check this out!)

The places that we frequent during the weekends allow us to experience things that may be considered out of the ordinary, things that we do not see during the normal course of the day in our usual surroundings.  It may simply be that the turtles are hanging out on the logs, or the great blue heron are fishing, or that the wren is singing on a tree as you pass by.  You just need to keep your senses open and a different world opens up to you. But our experience last Sunday was unique even by those standards.

Thanks be to Gravity (9/14/2008)

This is a highly edited version of something I wrote many years ago.  These days, I am also more comfortable with adding pictures and links directly to the narrative.  Ain’t technology da bomb!

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If you take the exit to Keep Tryst Road from US Route 340, (it comes up close to Harpers Ferry, just before you cross the bridge over the Potomac from Maryland into Virginia), and then follow the road all the way to the the bottom of a hill, it ends up next to tracks for the CSX railroad.  At this point the road makes a U-turn and heads back up the hill to rejoin Route 340.  This place next to the railroad tracks is where people park their cars to head out on hikes.  The place is called Weverton.  From this location you can follow the Appalachian trail (or the AT as it is fondly known) up to Weverton Cliffs, or you can cross the tracks and head down to the towpath towards either Brunswick or Harpers Ferry.

Weverton used to be real town many years ago.  Very few people live in the area today. Back then an intrepid developer decided that he could harness the power of the waters of the Potomac for energy in order to develop commerce in this area.  The concept did not work and one of the reasons for failure was the regular flooding of the river.  I have read that you can see the remains of the old town of Weverton if you leave the towpath and head towards the river.  I have not been successful in finding these ruins so far.  Weverton is also a switching yard for the railroad, and the location from which a spur line used to branch off towards Hagerstown.  You can still see the remains of the railroad bridge for this spur line under the bridge for Route 340.

I arrived at Weverton early in the morning before the fog had lifted to do a hike to towards Harpers Ferry and Maryland Heights. My timing for the start of the hike was perfect.  As I walked towards the railroad tracks to cross over to the towpath, I sighted the headlights of the freight train through the fog.  It was heading in my direction. IMG_6132At the point where the path crosses the railroad the tracks curve away from you and as  a result you get a head-on view of the approaching train.  I got a lot of pictures of the train in the fog as it switched tracks and approached rapidly. IMG_6134And before I knew it the engineer was blowing the horn to make sure that I did not step on to the tracks,IMG_6136and the train was rushing by shaking the ground under me.IMG_6137It was moving quite fast and even picking up speed as the freight cars thundered by, with the hundreds of metal wheels screeching like a thousand banshees as the rail cars pushed against the rails and struggled to stay on the tracks as they rounded the curve and accelerated at the same time.IMG_6138I stood by just next to the carriages, which seemed to be much bigger and higher than what I imagined them to be when I had seen them from a distance, and felt a rush.  I was screaming but nobody could hear me.

The objective for this trip was to climb Maryland Heights on the Maryland side of the Potomac river next to Harpers Ferry.  From the lookout point on Maryland Heights one gets a nice view of the town of Harpers Ferry.  This hike turned out  to be an unexpected mental challenge for me.  I began to feel tired even as I started up the steep slope from beside the main road.  Perhaps I was really not in good shape.  The early part of the climb was quite strenuous and the last time I had done this was when family had visited from India, when we had walked halfway up the hill.  I walked up slowly, stopping frequently, and stopping by the meadows along the way to enjoy the sight of the many white butterflies fluttering around.IMG_6174It was a humid morning and pretty soon I was sweating quite profusely.  I did not really feel any pain but I was feeling nervous because this was the first time in a while I had pushed myself in this manner since the big event.  I almost turned back at one point.

But in the end I persevered.  I was going to reach my destination one way or the other, whichever destination it happened to be – the Pearly Gates (being the eternal optimist that I am) or the Scenic Overlook over the river!  I made it to the latter destination feeling a sense of achievement.  I spent some time taking pictures of the river and the valley below.IMG_6175IMG_6176IMG_6192 There was a butterfly sitting in the sun on a rock that did not move even as I approached and took close-up pictures of its eyes!  (There are some wonderful experiences waiting out there for you if you are willing to relax and  pay attention to what is going on around you.)IMG_6199IMG_6206I ran all the way down the hill on my way back to the towpath.  I wanted to sing a song – He’ll be running down the mountain when he comes!  It was a nice outing and I got some pictures of some flowers and creatures that I had not seen before. IMG_6155IMG_6157A woodpecker also obliged me by landing on a tree trunk next to the trail and staying put while I took its picture.IMG_6214I also got some nice pictures of the fog.IMG_6145IMG_6162IMG_6163IMG_6165IMG_6169IMG_6171All in all, another excellent outing to the river!

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 Three Amigos

As seen during our walk on the C&O canal towpath this morning.  They were paying particular attention to me, the photographer.  They sometimes plunge into the canal when they see me pull out my camera, but they did cooperate this time!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were plenty of turtles in the waters of the canal today.  The water level was also quite high, probably because of the recent rains.

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!

Morning Sights on the Trail

We were able to go for walks on the C&O canal towpath on both Saturday and Sunday last weekend.  Winter has its own charm when you are in the woods.  The cold is also not a bother unless it is windy. Your body warms up as you exercise.

The woods seem more open in winter because of the bare trees.  You can see things that are not usually visible in summer, including the river beyond the tree trunks, and the birds hidden in the branches of the trees.  The browns and greys of the trees in winter form their own unique patterns along the trail as it disappears into the distance.

We were able to sight this wren hidden away in the branches singing its morning song.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe bikers brightened up the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe great blue heron watched the proceedings from its perch high over the towpath.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Park Service police kept an eye on things.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe robin watched me as I tried to focus the camera on it through the tangled branches.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe left the marked trail and explored the woods by the river, ending up with this view of a culvert under the C&O canal and the towpath trail. This is where the Muddy Branch flows past the canal as it makes its way to the Potomac.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA walk in the woods rejuvenates the spirits!

Our Local Sunday Walk

I thought that a few pictures from our usual morning walk on Sunday would be appropriate for this week’s photo theme.  We walk along the trails in our local parks, more often than not landing up on the C&O Canal towpath by the Potomac River.

We started this weekend’s walk at White’s Ferry.  The mist was still rising from the river when we got there even though it was somewhat late in the morning.  The ferry was operating with a light load.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe saw some giant puffball mushrooms during our walk.  I do not recall having seen these before.  They are apparently edible if consumed before the spores have begun to form.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe walked up to Lock 26 on the towpath to see the historic silver maple tree near the Dickerson Conservation Center.  It is huge! This tree is on the current list of Montgomery County Champion trees.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere are a couple of shots of the woods and the trail.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe got back to Whites Ferry in time to get some sandwiches for lunch at the store by the ferry.  These kinds of places are far away from regular commercial locations and depend on a different kind of clientele to stay in business. They are usually operated by some locals just trying to get a little bit of money.  (I still remember the Schoolhouse Kitchen in Oldtown, MD, operated out of a closed school building, that we ended up at during the KVIITM75 bike ride.)  You can see the bare-bones nature of the operation and  get a sense that they are just getting by.  We sat at a picnic bench and watched the Jubal A. Early in operation.  The sky had cleared up during our walk.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur Sunday walks are something that I look forward to.

The Mules of Great Falls

I have been wandering along the C&O canal for many years and this is the first time I have seen the mules in action.  We came upon the boat ride being offered by the National Park Service on the canal at Great Falls by chance.

The Charles F. Mercer, the boat used for the tour, is a replica of the original canal boats.  It replaced the previous canal boat replica, The Canal Clipper III, which had fallen into a state of disrepair, in 2006. There is some nice information about the boat here.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Incidentally, it looks like excursion boats have been operating on the C&O Canal for a very long time.  There is a document about excursion boats on the C&O canal that has been posted online at this locationThis is the current version of the document.  There are fascinating pictures in the document.  The “Reminiscences about Mules” in Appendix B is very interesting.