High on the Trail

Scientists used to believe that a runner’s high was due to the release of endorphins into the system, but it was never proved conclusively.  It appears that while there is an uptick of endorphins in the blood after exercise, there is a barrier to these endorphins being absorbed into the brain.  It might turn out that this state of mind is actually caused by the release of chemicals similar to those released into the body when smoking marijuana!  Nothing has been proved conclusively yet, but if humans were more like mice….

http://www.popsci.com/runners-high-looks-lot-like-smoking-weed-in-brain

Far out man!

The Tree (4/16/2005)

The old treeThe tree had seen many seasons pass by.  Its days as a young sapling were barely a memory. It had lived through many times of change, and survived many years, to grow into a fully formed master of the jungle, multi-branched and majestic in its span, held up by a strong and solid trunk, and fed by its well-spread and efficient roots that picked up nourishment from Mother Earth.

As a young plant growing up the thick woods, there was an element of uncertainty about its ability to survive. There were times when there was a doubt whether it would make it through the season, or even through the day. In those days, it did not have the strength and the knowledge to endure on its own. It was dependent on the creatures that lived around it, it was dependent on the earth and the skies – it was even dependent on the winds that blew through its young and growing branches.

But now it was a mature and strong ruler of its domain. It had seen many things, and gone through many experiences, both good and bad. It had become a wise one. (Of course, it had not traveled far and wide. It was a tree, for heavens sake!) It had known troubles and setbacks, and survived to fight another day. It had seen change, both in itself and in the things around it. It had known both happiness and sadness. It had experienced the beauty of the sunrise and the sunset, it had withstood many a storm that shook its trunk and threatened the very core of its existence. When one of its branches suffered, perhaps from a bolt of lightning, or perhaps from an illness in its leaves, the tree found a way to survive. It could thank its strong roots and its other healthy branches that worked to keep it alive – each branch vibrant with the new leaves of spring, the flowers of summer, the multicolored hues of fall, and the whites of winter. The birds resting on its generous branches, singing happy songs, gave it pleasure. It had learned that the dark and gloomy winter that left it cold and shivering, would eventually be replaced by the rebirth in Spring. It knew that if trouble came to pass, it could survive because it had survived similar troubles in the past. Nothing could bother it. And it wished to be sure that its wisdom was passed along to the young ones.

It wanted to make sure that these young ones, the seeds that grew into saplings, and the saplings that grew into stronger plants, and then into trees, would know how to face the world, and also learn to recognize the gifts provided by the earth. It wished to show them the safe path amidst the dangers that lurked, and it also wished to help them experience all the good things that it had itself experienced. It knew that it had to be patient in its endeavors, and that it would not always be successful. It also knew that there would be a time when it could teach no more. It watched over the seed that had fallen far away, and hoped that it would still be able to learn in spite of its distance – that it would still listen, that it would realize that nothing survives in this world on its own.

It knew that its time would eventually pass, and that its roots would not be able to sustain it forever, but this bothered it little. It had survived to see what it wanted to see, and experience what it wanted to experience, and it had left its legacy behind in the trees and plants that had risen from its seed. It had helped many a creature of the woods, whether it was one that needed protection, or even some food, or whether it was one that just needed a comfortable trunk to rub itself against to remove the itch from its back. It had served its purpose and had left its mark on this earth! It did not matter if it happened to be cut down the next day. It did not matter if a flood washed it away along with its roots during the next thunderstorm. It was content.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Happy Place

This is perhaps the place where I am best able to recover my sense of balance.

This is the place you will find me on most weekends, early on Sunday mornings.

A misty sunrise over the Potomac at Seneca Creek

Great blue heron gliding over the water at Widewater

Brilliant sunlight over the trail near Taylor’s Landing

On the trail beside the dry canal bed near Shepherdstown, WV

Fall morning at Riley’s Lock

Cold misty morning over the Potomac near Glen Echo, MD

Sunrise near Harper’s Ferry on a Winter morning

Trail near Antietam Creek in winter

Sunlight spotlights the trail in Spring

Springtime on the trail closer to Williamsport, MD

Summer time near Pearre, MD

This place is not defined by a single destination or a single moment in time.  It spans many miles and many seasons over many years.

This is the C&O Canal National Park that runs between Washington, DC, and Cumberland, MD, along the Potomac river.

I think this qualifies as one of my happy places.

To find more about this week’s photo challenge, visit this site.

Nobel Prize in Physics given for work done on Neutrinos

Check out this article from the BBC.

Here are a few bullets from the article describing these neutrinos.

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The mysterious neutrino

  • Second most abundant particle in the Universe, after photons of light
  • Means ‘small neutral one’ in Italian; was first proposed by Wolfgang Pauli in 1930
  • Uncharged, and created in nuclear reactions and some radioactive decay chains
  • Shown to have a tiny mass, but hardly interacts with other particles of matter
  • Comes in three flavours, or types, referred to as muon, tau and electron
  • These flavours are able to oscillate – flip from one type to another – during flight

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What is more interesting to me is the process that led to where we are today in terms of the discovery, study, and understanding of these particles.  The first hint of the existence of these particles was due to an anomaly in the math related to radioactive behavior that was observed in the 1930s.  Although the existence of the particle was proposed at that time, there was no proof in this regard. Over the years physicists were able to prove the real existence of these particles through actual observations, and then, over a further period of time, overcome some issues related to a more complete understanding of these particles.  It turns out that once they were able to observe neutrinos, they still could not  get the numbers to agree as to the quantity of these particles.  The physicists who got the Nobel prize were able to discover that these particles were changing flavors continuously, while the early processes for detecting the particles was only seeing one of these flavors.  This discovery was apparently only made in the early 2000s.  It finally all made sense, and apparently the fact that these particles can change flavors during flight also implies that they also have mass, a fact that was not known in the past.

Amazing stuff!  And I am sure that we are not done yet with our proper understanding of these particles.

It is wonderful to see the scientific process lead to discoveries like this that give us a better understanding of the world that we live in.  We still have a long way to go.

It is all about continuing to ask questions, and in persisting in the efforts to get the answers. Articles of faith can often turn out to be problematic.

Altered States of Mind (1/1/2006)

I wrote this to my family on New Year’s Day 2006 after returning from a trip to India. I have added pictures to the narrative.  I hope it was a useful endeavor.

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I woke up at 38000 feet, high over the mountains of the Eastern Taurus range of eastern Turkey.  This is the birthplace of the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers that call to mind the beginnings of civilization. This is the land of Mt. Ararat and Noah’s ark.  I am headed northwest towards the cities of Erzurum, Trabzon, and the Black Sea, skirting Iraq and the trouble spots of Mosul and Kirkuk. The brilliant white peaks stretch all the way to the horizon, seemingly covered with a fresh layer of snow.  Below me is the town of Van, on the banks of the Van Golu, one of the big salt water lakes of Turkey.  It is a bright and beautiful morning, with not a single cloud in the sky to spoil the wonderful landscape that unfolds before my eyes as I lift the shade that covers the window next to seat 46A.  The sun reflects off the silver wing of the giant 747, the shining silver and bright blue on the engine cowling informing me that I am indeed on a British Airways jet.  The white contrails from the port engine closer to the fuselage speed past my window.  We are moving fast, and I am headed home.

This has been a quick and eventful trip to India.  The smell of Chennai welcomed me as I deplaned after the long flight from London. Long unruly lines met me as I proceeded through Immigration.  Chaos enveloped me as I attempted to locate my suitcase on the baggage carousel.  Arriving at Madipakkam in the wee hours of the morning, sleep escaped me.  Finding Mamma sitting on the floor of the kitchen later in the morning on the same day with a bloody gash on her head made it all seem so surreal.  Did I need to wake up?  Thank God the injury was not serious (although it did need stitches).

The rains of the unending monsoons of Chennai come poring down during the KV Alumni meeting day on the 17th of December.  The cricket match with the school kids is rained out with the Alumni team losing more wickets than scoring runs.  We are showing our age.  It feels great to meet people like Josey George after 30 years!  There are many other people to meet and stories to tell.

100_1324100_1326 100_1330The roads into Madipakkam are a mess.  I am bouncing around in a auto-rickshaw late in the evening in the pouring rain after the KV Alumni meeting, with the driver trying to avoid the potholes that make the road.  This is indeed not a road but a collection of holes.  An ordinary American vehicle would not last 100 yards without a broken axle!  You need an SUV. We make it home safely. Am I still dreaming?

Daddy is admitted to St. Isabel’s Hospital in the middle of town for the hernia operation.  I cannot sleep that night because of jet-lag.  It is raining outside.  The light goes on outside the window and I find Mamma headed for the gate in the middle of the night.  This cannot be happening.  It seems that the pump that has been turned on (to remove the water that is flooding our yard because of the rain) is not working.  The blasted pump needs to be primed at 3:30 am in the morning! It takes me a while to figure out the science of this process and get things going.  I must be awake – there is water spurting all over my hand from the pump as I stand in front of it holding a torchlight and spanner in the middle of the dark night.

100_1347Multiple trips are made to and from St. Isabel’s Hospital. The roller coaster that is the approach into Madipakkam from Velachery is navigated by taxi each and every time.  The road sees its share of stranded trucks and other vehicles.  Vehicles maneuver in all directions trying to find a safe path through the water-covered potholes of indeterminate depth.

100_1348I spend hours daydreaming in the taxis, stuck in the traffic jams and at the traffic lights of Chennai City itself.  Perhaps it is the effect of the pollution on the brain.  Maybe it is the mesmerizing effect of the chaos unfolding all around me.  Two wheelers, both human and gasoline powered, squeeze into impossible spaces.  Vehicles drive on all sides of the road.  People risk life and limb in the middle of this mess of traffic.  People go about their lives on the roadsides – I am sure there is a story to tell for each and every one of them.  Somebody should take this opportunity to study the theories of chaos.  Chaos actually works, though perhaps not in the most efficient manner.

Endless hours, most of it uneventful, are spent in the hospital environment, most of the time with a book in hand.  I find time to practice my music in a secluded corner of the building. The lazy breeze plays with the curtains covering the window of the hospital room in which I spend many hours conversing with Daddy.  I play the role of caretaker as Daddy comes out of surgery.  Anxious moments are felt as the doctors deal with the problem of the blockage of urine flow, and when we go down to the ground floor to get the ultrasound tests done.   What will the doctor say?   I have just finished reading Thomas Merton’s “The Seven Storey Mountain”.  Is this all part of the supernatural plan as Merton would lead me to believe?  Is this one of things that I was destined to do?  I also conclude that it is impossible to play the role of a patient in the hospital unless one is suitably humble.  You are put into unusual situations that you would normally not dream of being in.  Your real character shows.  You will suffer more than you need to if you have too much pride.  Between long periods of inactivity I am rushing around trying to get the medicines from the pharmacy, get the hospital bills paid, and get the discharge process completed.  It is an environment that I am not familiar with.  Nobody seems to care, nobody seems to be in a hurry.  I have not woken up from my dream yet.

I get adjusted… The celebrations for our 30 years after graduation from high school takes place at the Gandhinagar Club next to the Adayar river and bridge.

100_1371_closeupThe IIT Madras Silver Jubilee celebration also takes place after couple of days.  I see many faces from the old days, several only recognized after some initial conversation.  Thank God we are wearing badges with our names on them.  What a feeling of nostalgia!  A movie is seen at the Open Air Theatre (OAT) for old times sake – Where Eagles Dare.   I take a long walk covering the IIT campus in the early morning.  Health-conscious joggers do their daily exercises.  The deer wander all over the road unafraid of the humans.  The IIT Madras campus is still beautiful.  We are lucky to have grown up there.

100_1418100_1444The postponed trip to Bangalore to meet Amma and Appacha takes place.  It is good to see them and the rest of the gang.  This trip barely lasts a day.  It is now time to head home.  I am really not that tired in spite of the fact that I am not sure if I am coming or going.   When the doorbell rings I do not know what city or time-zone I am in.  I am keeping up because I am getting a lot of rest between activities.  I come to realize that the Madipakkam environment is really not too bad.  The volume of the street music in the morning has gone down – no more speakers from the temple on the street corner.  I love to walk on the terrace in the evenings, soaking in the street sounds including that of the buses bringing back the masses after their day at work, feeling the cool of the evening breeze coming in from the sea in the east, and listening to the planes heading to and from the airport.  It is time to enjoy the good things in life as they are, and to not get worked up about things that one cannot control.

I am now back in Gaithersburg.  I have survived the long flights and third-world toilets of Heathrow’s Terminal 4.  It is readjustment time once again.  It is cold and cloudy outside most of the time.  I have no motivation to get out and do things.  Just like me, my car also needs a lot of help to get started once again.  It is then back to work on the 3rd.  Give me a few days to get used to the changes.  Pictures will eventually be posted.

Happy New Year!

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http://www.pbase.com/kujoseph/indiadec2005

Flower from our garden in Chennai

Chasing Damselflies over the Potomac

It was cloudy yesterday morning at Pennyfield lock as we set out north towards Riley’s lock.  My old routine of early morning runs along the river on Sunday mornings has changed. I have company these days.  It has become a family affair. My wife and I are by ourselves on some of the Sundays, but on many other Sundays this also turns into a group event with other families joining us, the other families having been convinced that the outdoor activity is indeed a good thing for them.  In order to accommodate the larger group, this event has become a walk rather than a run, and it takes place a little later in the morning than I have gotten used to for many years.  But it is all for a good cause!

The cool of the cloudy morning, the early signs of changing color on the trees, and the dry leaves already on the ground informed us that the Fall season is on its way.

There are still flowers on some of the plants along the trail, but I could see that these would also be soon gone.

There were no herons to be seen on the canal this day, but I did sight an egret in the distance in the middle of the river.  What was it up to? Was it catching fish, or simply enjoying the feeling of standing in the flowing water while listening to the sounds of the river around it.

The waters of the river were low and at some point we decided to go down to the river from the towpath to see how far we could get walking towards the middle of the river by stepping over the exposed rocks.

We encountered plenty of damselflies along the way. (Yes, these exist, and they are not the same as dragonflies.)  Some of us tried to catch them as they hovered around, but they were too quick for us.  I stuck to using my camera.

The water was clear and you could see the fish and other little creatures of the water swimming around.  There were dry leaves already floating in the water, a sure a sign of the start of the Fall season, .

As we walked along the towpath we came upon the squirrel sitting on the branch of a tree chewing on something or the other.  It cooperated long enough for its picture to be taken.

It was a very pleasant walk on a day that also happened to be my birthday. I think this was the appropriate way to celebrate an event like this, and the way to also try to celebrate every day of my life.

Cheers everybody!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Change

It took me just a little while to realize that I had the perfect subject matter for the topic of this week’s challenge.  This is because I have been wandering over the C&O canal towpath over many years taking pictures through all seasons.  Here are some pictures that capture one aspect of change as I have observed it.

The first target for my observations is the Pennyfield lock house.  Here is a picture from early spring.

and here is one from a month later.

Here is the same lock house in winter.

Then take a look a Swains lock on a Fall day,

and then in winter.

Taking a look at the aqueducts of the C&O canal, the Catoctin Aqueduct was destroyed by Hurricane Agnes in 1972.  It was replaced by a temporary bailey bridge for many years.

April 2006Here is what it looked like when they started reconstruction.

and here is what it looks like after the work was complete in 2011.  They did a great job!

I will end with a picture of the bridge near Anglers Inn that was taken in the Fall.

Here is another picture of the same bridge taken in winter.

Feb 2010I find it hard to resist the temptation to dig up more pictures of this wonderful place I visit, but I must stop lest I be accused of obsessive behavior!