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!

New Days

The new day is dawning. The rising sun lights ups the contrails of the aircraft high up in the sky, westward bound, carrying passengers to new places and expectations.

We, in the US, are now on a new path. We cannot know exactly where it will lead us. We cannot predict the future. But the path itself appears to be clear, and we are hopeful that it will take us to a place we want to be – a better place.

I am still feeling the high from the Inauguration of Joe Biden, the new president of the USA. There was almost a spiritual feel to the events of the day. There was optimism. There was a call to our better selves. There was the call for unity. As Amanda Gorman stated, The Hill We Climb is not easy. But the official echo-chamber of lies and fantasies is no more. There is hope for decency. These initial days of the new administration feel very different from the chaos and divisiveness, and the carnage, that came forth from the top the last few years from the very beginning.

I had this habit during the last few years of checking the news fairly regularly, impulsively – looking for the next big outrage that had been perpetuated by the people in charge. It was surely a habit that was not healthy. It will take a few days to stop doing this, but the first couple of days of the new administration have been calming, and that should help. The immediately issued executive orders from the new administration bring back the sense of decency to the way we do things. There is also the sense that the work of the nation is actually being done. And last, but not the least, it is clear that we are taking the pandemic seriously!

The Trees in Winter

The spirit is often moved while walking along the towpath among the leafless trees of winter on a sunny morning. There is so much character to behold, especially in the upper reaches of the towering sycamores. They are magnificent, and it is beneficial to the soul to take a moment to pause and contemplate this magnificent beauty. The woods can be a place of both mystery and healing.

My Feeling of Relief was Premature

It has been more than a month since the results of the US elections became clear to any sensible person. I noted that I was feeling a sense of relief at that point. It turns out that the feeling was premature. I have spent the morning today reading about, and listening to, the experiences of DC policemen who had felt the wrath of the crowd storming the Capitol Building on January 6th, a wrath set loose by the delusional exhortations of a lying conman, the megalomaniac who had set up residence in the White House for the last four years. This excuse for a human being has managed to take us to an even darker place than before in the short time since the elections. This he has done with the assistance of 147 hypocritical congressmen who have also shown themselves to have no spine. They were willing to not accept reality, to lie in the open about the results of the election, and to damage the democratic process. And they were willing to behave in this manner even at a moment of crisis for the country. Truth of the matter is that our democratic process has only worked in the past because there were people involved who managed to do the right thing when it mattered. The rules and regulations only take you so far.

This is a sad time for us. Hopefully, January 20th can finally be the starting point for better days and healing, including the needed focus on the deadly pandemic whose death toll in the country is sure to exceed over 400,000 souls in the next few days. But we first have to get past January 20th. I hope that we as a country can navigate through the next few days safely.

Water Colors

The image of a paintbox flashed through my mind one morning last week. I am not sure what triggered a memory of something from my childhood. I suddenly had a vivid remembrance/recollection of my leaning over a piece of paper with a wet paintbrush in hand, bringing my brush to a particular color in the tray that lay in front of me, moving the brush back and forth on the cake of color to allow the material to dissolve and be absorbed on to the brush, and then applying the brush to paper. For some reason the name Camel is associated in my mind with the brand of the paintbox that I would have used. I do not know if this was only in my imagination working overtime, but I do note that there still is a brand of watercolor called Camlin from a company based in India.

I used to really like painting as a kid. I think I even graduated to using tubes of paint at some point, but never beyond painting with water colors. I even got to the point of using brushes in different sizes to help fill in different spaces of the picture being painted more efficiently, and to try to achieve some degree of finesse.

I remember that we had to take drawing classes while in middle school. There was a separate classroom dedicated just to drawing. The person in charge of drawing (called the drawing master) was really good at painting. He also used to play volleyball well. But he was also a terror to the kids. He had a habit of breaking the rulers that he hit the kids on the hands with. I somehow managed to escape his wrath, and went on to appreciate what I got to indulge in while in his class. It is impossible to judge whether I had talent or not, but I did enjoy the process.

It was in 1969, the year when man landed on the moon for the first time, that the school decided to have a painting competition in commemoration of the event. I remember painting an astronaut on the surface of the moon. I remember that all the colors I used were dark. It makes sense, does it not? The other occasion I remember was when I took part in a competition organized by the college students in one of the hostels on campus. I do not know what the theme of the competition was, but I decided that I was going to paint an image of the Virgin Mary in what I pictured stained glass to look like. You see, I imagined this stained glass to consist simply of pieces of glass of different colors, stuck together to form a pattern. It was a brilliant move on my part. All I had to do was create random blocks in different shapes to fill in the space, and simply paint each block with a single color. Finesse did not matter in this regard. What mattered was how close the final result could be taken to represent the person I was trying to paint. It could be considered some form of abstract art. Best of all, I could fake out the details when drawing the face. Faces were my biggest challenge when it came to painting, especially the eyes and nose. (I had even avoided having to draw a face for the picture of the astronaut on the earlier occasion!) In any case, they decided to give me a prize in the category and age group that I was participating in. I do not remember any more details.

It is now years later, far removed from my days of middle school. I have not used a paintbrush since then other than for perhaps helping to paint the walls of a house. More recently, I have considered going to the local arts store to buy a the basic stuff needed to try out watercolor painting once again. But something is also stopping me. Basically, I think that I have become a wimp. I am cautious of even the process of getting started. I am concerned about consequences even if there probably aren’t any. I do not even want to buy something that I may not use after a period of experimentation. It could turn out to be a wasteful endeavor. I am concerned that this is only a temporary and foolish fancy that will eventually go away. (I have much experience with such things.) I am concerned that there are too many other things that I do that will distract me from putting in the effort that I feel is needed. I am lazy enough to not want to take classes. Essentially, I can no longer think like the innocent and carefree 10 year old I once was.

Manassas, Virginia

Our travels took us to Manassas last weekend. Manassas is an older town in the neighboring state of Virginia. It may be known for its proximity to the First and Second Battles of Bull Run (also called the battles of Manassas), battles that took place during the Civil War. The city was actually built up around a railroad junction. The Southern Railway tracks used to run through town. Today, it is a commuter railroad station on the VRE on their Manassas Line. Amtrak trains also pass through the town. This is the route of Amtrak’s Crescent train that runs between New York City and New Orleans.

There was a Farmer’s market going on while we were there. There was a band providing entertainment, playing on a stage set up up on the bed of an old, repurposed, Southern Railway flatcar. The town has a small and charming downtown area that we were able to visit and walk through quickly.

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!

A Christmas Story

I had been ambivalent about the whole project. When she had first brought up the idea of delivering food to my parents in Chennai from a restaurant in town that her sister and her husband had ownership in (a first-class restaurant, may I add!), I had told her it probably was not a good idea. There were the logistical issues to consider. First of all, the restaurant was quite far from where my parents lived. Secondly, I had experienced issues when dealing with deliveries to the home while in Chennai. The problems started with something as basic as specifying the address for delivery. (The online maps that the vendors used with their GPS systems did not use the postal address as their basis for locating the house. We had to figure out an addressing scheme that worked with GPS. (My first attempt at placing an order in Chennai with an Amazon ended up with a cancellation – because the delivery person never arrived. That was when I recognized the issue with the “address”. All subsequent orders for delivery that I made involved my standing at the gate of the house and keeping my eyes peeled for the delivery person, sometimes keeping track of his progress on my smartphone.)) I should add that Dad and mom have no idea how to use any of the technology involved in managing a delivery to the home. There was nobody else in town to depend upon to help with this. Any delivery of the food had to be coordinated remotely.

Anyway, she was determined. She decided, on her own, to have a delivery of food made to our home for Christmas. It being a special occasion, I did not object completely in spite of my concerns, and I tried to help. She was going to rope in her sister to help make it happen. The process was going to be managed remotely from Bangalore. I noted my concerns, not the least of which was that I did not want to do anything that would stress out my parents in this whole process. I was told not to worry. I provided as much information as I could so that the house could be identified. I consulted with my brother who had faced similar issues during his own trips to Chennai. I even provided a link to a picture I had taken of the shops in front of our house to help with locating the home. I thought I had covered all the bases. The order was placed. Delivery was going to happen around noontime on Christmas day. I was not involved in any of the organization. I must have continued to express my reservations. I was told not to worry.

The next step was for me to inform my parents that the food was going to be delivered at a particular time, and for them to expect phone calls related to the delivery at around that time, the last phone call being made by the delivery person at the gate to the house. Alas, this is where the plan in its original form began to go awry. I attempted to make a phone call to Chennai the day before Christmas. The phone at home was not working.

My siblings and I were independently in touch with somebody who was planning to visit my parents for Christmas. When I asked, Venkat informed me that he was going to be at our home in Chennai about an hour or so before the food delivery. I asked him to please inform my parents about what was going to happen just in case I could not call home before that. The stage was set.

I continued to try to call Chennai but could not get through.

When we woke up on Christmas day, we retieved a message that had arrived overnight from Bangalore. It said that the person delivering the food in Chennai had not been able to get in touch with my parents after his arrival at the house. Of course, the phone was not working. Nobody was responding to him when he called out from the compound gate(s?). Strangely, he reported that one of the gates was locked from the outside. Suman was on the phone with the delivery person when all of this was happening. She gave him instructions to leave the food at the gate. That was the last thing we heard about the delivery. We had no idea what might have happened to the food. Nobody could get in touch with my parents. My worst fears had been confirmed. This had been Mission Impossible! Again, I was told not to worry. We had tried.

Christmas day went by. I could not get my mind completely off what I was now convinced was a complete disaster. I should have done more to prevent this kind of a situation from happening. So many people had put in so much effort to make this happen, and it had fallen apart. Food had also been wasted.

But, the good thing was that we also had the distractions of Christmas to keep us occupied. We were getting the treat of a dinner cooked by Angela. She had suggested the menu for Christmas dinner, and had offered to cook everything. It was going to be an Indian meal. She had no previous experience with the dishes she was planning to cook. She was going to make them for the first time using recipes from books. She was going to be adventurous. Others assisted in her efforts as needed, but she was in charge. She organized things very precisely leaving very little to chance. She even transcribed the detailed instructions from the recipe books to a notebook that she kept in front of her while cooking in order to make sure that things were done right. The result was amazing!

We also spoke to my siblings and their families in the afternoon on Christmas day. The topic of the attempted food delivery in Chennai came up. We were joking among ourselves that the food had probably ended up feeding some stray dogs, or the rats that hung around the place. I did not want to talk about it any more!

Teresa and I realized much later that evening that we had not passed along one critical piece of information about where the food was supposed to have been delivered in Chennai. There was a second house, newly built and unoccupied, next to the the house where the food was supposed to have been delivered, and we had not even thought about making a mention of this house when giving directions. Perhaps the person had attempted to deliver the food there. Anyway, it was too late to do anything about it. The dogs must have had a good time.

When I woke up the next day, I found a texted message awaiting me from my brother. He had finally gotten through to our parents on the phone. He mentioned that the food package had actually not been lost! The message I had passed on to Venkat had gotten through to my parents. Mom had gone over to the new house to see if there was anything that had been left there. She had done this in spite of the fact that they had not talked to anybody on the phone. The plan had actually worked out somehow!

It was already too late to call and wish my parents a Merry Christmas, but at least they received the Christmas gift on time. All’s well that ends well.

PS. FYI, from our personal experience, the food from Kappa Chakka Kandhari is exceptional and highly recommended!