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.

All Aboard The Ship of Fools

The gospel reading last Sunday was about how St. Thomas came to believe in the resurrection of Christ.  He had to see the wounds in the hands of Jesus with his own eyes in order to believe.  It occurred to me that there is a similar dynamic in play in a story of today. The context is the response of some of us in the USA to the coronavirus.  (I know the analogy will not be perfect, and please do not take offense.)  In my modern version of the story, it is a tale of not listening to, or maybe just not accepting, what the scientists and doctors are telling us about the coronavirus.  It appears that some people will accept the facts about the virus only if they personally experience it.  They may have heard about what is happening in other places because of the virus, but since it has not not touched them, or anybody close to them, it is a matter of belief, and they do not appear to believe.   I say this in the context of some of the protests that are going on today against the lock downs.  Some people seem to be taking risks with their lives, and the lives of others, during these protests (or political rallies, depending on your point of view) that no sane person should.  The least that people could do is conduct their protests in a safe and sober manner, and acknowledge that the physical danger is real.  Reasonable people would probably take folks more seriously if they behaved more sensibly.  The protagonist in this whole story is the captain of the ship of fools.  The captain is incompetent and arrogant, to say the least. He is happy to stir up discord, and he does not seem to discourage or condone dangerous behavior.  He has pointed the ship towards the rocks, and I fear for the ship and the lives of the people on it.

In other news, food was prepared at the food bank last Tuesday for over 400 families. It is the highest number I have seen so far during this time of the coronavirus.  It was a tiring but very fulfilling morning doing the work of filling the boxes with food.  There was no time for a lunch break.  But I felt good.  There was plenty of food to give out.  The food bank had to purchase a lot of this food instead of depending on donations.  That may be a sign of the times.  Please support your local food bank!

Here is a picture of some of the boxes of food that were in the process being filled for customers.IMG_20200421_122736416

A ‘Rebel’ Without a Ph.D.| Quanta Magazine

Freeman Dyson is one of the mathematicians about whom I know very little.  I have heard the name many times, but have never really bothered to follow up in the past.  The video in the article, and the article itself, were very informative.  A great mind!  He died in February at the age of 96.

via A Math Puzzle Worthy of Freeman Dyson | Quanta Magazine

Also: Remembering the Unstoppable Freeman Dyson

Another Spring Week in the Time of COVID-19

It was Easter, and we wanted to get back home from our Sunday morning walk along the canal before the live Easter service taking place on the Internet at noon.  I felt a little rushed because of the time constraint.   We ended up walking a little less than what we would have done normally.  The weather was also not ideal, but this was compensated for by the fact that there were a few more, even different, signs of Spring from the previous weekend.  Here are a few pictures.

We see squirrels in the park frequently, and we have sometimes even mistaken the noise that they make to be that of birds.   This particular one was observed just after we left Riley’s Lock.  I don’t think I have ever seen a squirrel carrying a bunch of leaves in its mouth like this.  Perhaps somebody reading this blog has a better idea of what is going on.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe dogwood flowers were out by the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese flowers of Spring in the picture below are called Trillium.  There are other varieties of Trillium, with other colors, but this particular variety dominates the towpath.  I could not remember the name of this flower for the longest time after I first saw it.   I fear that my mind is becoming like a sieve. I have had the hardest time recollecting names of the flowers that I saw last Spring.  I am too dependent on the Internet!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe could hear beautiful music in the air as we approached the Horsepen Branch campsite.  The culprit was this wren sitting on a dead tree stump.  This was as close as I could get to it before it flew away.  What a wonderful bird – entertaining us in the morning!  Puts Pavarotti to shame!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you look carefully at the picture below, you will notice that the ducks’ heads are actually pointed towards the camera.  They are turned around 180° from where they would normally be pointing.  Maybe somebody knows why ducks behave this way.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOf course, Spring would not be complete without the dandelions.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Meanwhile, our world continues its adjustment to the presence of the coronavirus.  Many of us are getting more and more getting restless with the need to stay home bound. Many, many, people are also unable to make a living in the current environment.   Bills need to be paid.  Food needs to be placed on the table.  It becomes harder and harder with time to continue to accept that what we are putting ourselves through makes sense, especially in the context of the common good, but like it or not, that is a fact.  The first responders, health care professionals, and those ensuring our safety, continue to put their lives, and even the lives of their families, at risk.  Politicians are still being politicians, and are using all of this as an excuse to fulfill their own agenda.  People in power are also quite happy to deflect responsibility and play the blame game instead of solving problems.  Chaos, and a lack of will to take charge and do something concrete on a national scale, seems to reign at the highest levels of our government – even as the individual states  struggle without adequate support from above.  In a time of trouble, when you think we would come together, we are falling apart, not just in the country, but as a global community. I fear that this is all going to continue for a while.

Some of us that are more fortunate like to complain about how the coronavirus has impacted our lives. We are actually the lucky ones.  There are others who are really suffering, and are going to continue to suffer for a long time – much more than us.  I might worry about when I will be able to get a haircut, getting my car serviced, being able to meet my friends, or something else, but others have more basic needs that are not being fulfilled today.

I have to note that the last time I went to the food bank, there was not enough food for all the people who needed it that day.  We had to reduce the amount of food for each family from what they would normally have gotten.  I felt a little dispirited when I returned home that day.  I hope that this was a one-time event.  It would be hard to sit by without action if this continues.

The Grim Reaper

It happened a few nights ago.  It was shortly after midnight.  There was a phone call coming through on her mobile phone.  It must be the governor with some urgent message, I muttered groggily, as I stirred from my deep sleep.  It was actually a  phone call from her place of work.  Her colleague had called to pass on the information that one of the other workers at the facility had caught the coronavirus and was in the ICU with COVID-19.

The part of my mind that was awake actually froze.  I had this picture in my mind of the grim reaper paying his visits to the neighborhoods in our county.   Maybe he (always a male!) had found a way to our specific neighborhood, and was hovering around our street (or sitting on the curbside), waiting patiently.  This was the closest we have been to somebody who had actually been diagnosed with COVID-19.  The mind turned somewhat irrational.  There was fear.  I was resigned to not being able to sleep the rest of the night.  Azrael was waiting!  Thankfully, sleep came a few hours later.

I became more rational about the situation in the light of the morning.  I could accept the situation for what it was without feeling fear.  Whatever sequence of events had already been put into play would take place.  We would just have to be more careful.  Whatever will be, will be.  No point worrying about it.  And we are OK so far.

It was last week that the musician John Prine died from COVID-19.  I did not know who John Prine was, but I was curious to learn more about the kind of music that he created.  I was very pleasantly surprised.  It was the kind of music that I would have liked.  I was actually surprised that I had not heard of him before.  He was a folk musician who sang about the life stories of ordinary people.  He sang about the human experience – of love and hate, of suffering, of relationships, of joy, of war, of religion, of addiction, of what he had learnt of the human condition in America.  He had a remarkable gift for words and for poetry.  Each line was effective.  It just flowed out of his very soul. He was a natural.  He served in Vietnam, and worked as a mailman for some time after that, before he started singing.  He was also extremely funny.  You just have to watch some of his live performances on Youtube to know that.  So, I will end this blog with his songs.  It was somewhat difficult to pick a particular one from among the collection of songs I have been listening to the last few days.  So I picked two.  These are performances from more recent times.

In good news, the person with COVID-19 whom I had mentioned at the beginning of this blog is getting better. But the full story of the impact on the facility is still being written.

A Happy and Holy Easter to all of you of the Faith.

At the Food Bank in the Time of COVID-19

I have been volunteering at the food bank once a week after returning, and recovering, from the trip to India.  I have been there on three successive Tuesdays packing food boxes for customers.  There have been changes in the procedures that are being followed every single time I have gone, in order to try to keep people working in the warehouse safe. They have been getting stricter with time.  We have had to be very flexible about working out the kinks in the new processes as they are being created.  The number of boxes that are being delivered to families has also been increasing with each week that passes by.

Guests and volunteers do not have free access to the Manna warehouse anymore.  They are very careful about who is allowed in.  They clean the place out regularly.  I noticed that something had been sprayed over the lockers the last time I was there.  Most likely, it was disinfectant.

The tables on which we pack the boxes of  perishable food for customers have been separated from each other by greater and greater distances each week that I have been there.  This is to try to separate people who are doing their jobs from each other.  They would ideally like to have only one person at each table at any time.  In practice, that is a goal that is very difficult to achieve.  We have also been using disposable gloves to do our work.  We change them as often as needed.  They have guidelines in this regard, but the guidelines are only as good as how well they are followed by the employees and volunteers.  (I put on my regular cloth gloves under the disposable latex gloves yesterday because the latex gloves have a tendency to tear.)  Tables are disinfected each time a batch of boxes is packed and put away.  And finally, this week, we started to wear masks.  That takes some getting used to.  I am still learning. I felt that I could have used my mask in a more effective way yesterday.

I have been gladdened to see the same few employees and volunteers at the food bank again and again during the last three weeks.  The illness is amongst us, and I am always concerned that someone that I have been working with has caught something.  It is easily conceivable that somebody could be carrying the contagion without their knowledge.  That person could even be me.  And, with the ever increasing number of infections that are being reported in our part of the world these days, the probability of the presence of the virus in our midst is not insignificant.  We have to be vigilant.

Be safe.

Beyond Our Species

Even though I know that all of this will go away eventually, with or without my presence, I get more and more discouraged with time as the scourge of the coronavirus continues to keep us in its stranglehold.

Even as we see acts of humanity and kindness, of cooperation, of people coming together, of heroism, in our midst, I find that, as a race, we are extremely discordant in our collective approach to tackling the global issue of the pandemic that has been unleashed on us.  Generally speaking, we are on our own.  Led by the example by the world’s wealthiest nation, we are not interested in a common strategy to minimize the impact of this contagion.  The impact on less well-off people and nations with less resources is not for us to worry about.  And some leaders – some political strongmen – are even taking advantage of the situation carry out other destructive agendas of their own, in other ways, while all of this is going on. Many of our leaders have blood on their hands for sure.

But, as is very obvious to me, life is still also going on outside of our selfishness and incompetence.  I only have to look around my neighborhood.  Spring is here!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe deer seem to enjoy the spring growth that falls to the ground from the maple trees.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe cherry blossom tree in our backyard has blossomed.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe encountered this little snake while walking in the neighborhood.  It appeared to be basking on the pavement. I think that it is a juvenile that has not yet gotten its markings.  (You can see the beginnings of some markings on the face.)   The snake did not seem to know enough to get out of the way of the walkers on the pavement.  I had to gently encourage it to get off the pathway.   Whether one has really helped, one never knows.IMG_20200402_165010731And then, the Sunday walk in the park only served to further confirm to me our own insignificance in the scheme of things.  Life and death can go on in its own way without our interference, and this is very obvious in Spring.  There is no need for human intelligence to get in the way.

You can make out the green beginning to reappear on the trees on the towpath.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Common Starling in the picture below was dancing in front of a hole in the trunk of a tree in a very odd way.    It could have been the location of a nest.   This is the time for many birds to mate.  We saw two bald eagles flying around on the Virginia side of the Potomac.  There could have been a nest in this area.  Then, there was the Canada Goose that had parked itself on the trail.  I was worried that there was a nest close by that the bird was protecting.  Fortunately, the bird was not aggressive, and simply went into canal as we approached.  I had a stick in my hand – just in case!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe early morning reflections in the ever-so-still waters of the canal were uplifting.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOther curious and noisy birds were everywhere.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Virginia Bluebells were in full bloom.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is one of the many different kinds of woodpeckers in the park.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI did not expect to see as many turtles are we did.  This section of the canal contains water that is somewhat warm because of the runoff from the Dickerson Power Plant that is next to it.  That might have been the reason.

These turtles seemed to be lining up to climb to the top of the branch that had fallen in the canal. To the eyes of this human, it looked like they were trying to conquer a peak.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis turtle simply watched me as I took its picture.  Many others slid into the waters at our approach.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe even saw butterflies, including this swallowtail. It is a little early in the season for them.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Spring Beauty flowers had actually opened out to face the sun.  Last week they were all folded up because of the cloudy weather.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALife goes on!

Getting back to the ways of the rest of us residents of this planet, a wise man who shall remain anonymous came up with the following prayer:

Dear God,
Trump and corona at the same time on Earth???
Why???
Let me know if you need advice on timing your challenges for us in the future….
Just saying…..
Peace be with you,
Amen

I think we all have to find our own way to keep the faith.  Humor helps!