A Closed Section of the Towpath

I saw this at the website of the National Park Service for the C&O Canal Park after I got home from my bike ride.Screenshot_2019-07-26 Current Park Conditions - Chesapeake Ohio Canal National Historical Park (U S National Park Service)I might have been the only person to ride the section after it was closed.

In fact I had to cross this barrier at Pennyfield Lock to exit the closed section after I was done with my ride.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEarlier on, I had encountered a young girl working for the NPS who belonged to the Student Conservation Association who was taking a count of the number of fallen trees in the closed section.  She said that she had counted 20, and that she had stopped because she had come to an impassable section.  I was able to cross this section by carrying my bike off the trail and back on to it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe section of the trail in the picture below looked beaten up from water flowing over the trail.P7260040.jpgA park ranger had stopped me earlier.  He looked a little upset when he saw me.  He got up from the stump he had been sitting on.  “Did you not see the sign that the trail was closed?”, he asked.  I had been prepared for the encounter.  “I have to get back to my car which is parked at Pennyfield Lock,” I said.  He immediately relented.  He actually smiled.

I had actually encountered an NPS pickup truck with a couple of kids earlier on in the closed section of the trail.  They were backing away from the site of the destruction on the trail, all the way back to Swain’s Lock it seemed. Because of the width of the towpath, there was no place to turn the pickup truck around.  They had told me to be careful, but had made no attempt to stop me.  The kid mentioned that they were not responsible if I hurt myself.

Back at Swain’s lock, as I approached the sign for the blocked trail, I had a decision to make.  I could stay on the trail, or I could try to get to the main road and ride along the road.  Riding along the road would have added a couple of miles to the ride, and it would have also involved riding up and down decent slopes on the side roads to get to the main road.   It would have also been more dangerous because of the traffic on the road.   Besides, I was tired after having ridden more than 30 miles at that point.  It did not take too long for me to decide to stay on the trail and face the consequences of my action if I encountered somebody who objected.

At that point I was returning from a ride all the way out to Fletchers Cove.  The highlight of this ride was the stop to see the swallowtail butterflies feasting in the morning sun on the milkweed growing beside the waters of the canal.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACrossing the damaged section of the trail earlier in the morning on my way out had been an adventure in itself.  I could ride my bike for only short sections at a time.  I had to carry my bike over tree limbs laying across the trail, and walk under fallen branches balanced over me.  I even had to carry my bike off the trail through the woods to get past one section.  Fortunately folks had created a path off the trail in this section.  (The trail must have been blocked for at least a little while at this point in time for this to happen!)  I carried my bike past the park ranger who was sitting in his front-end loader on the trail.  He did not stop me.  Perhaps he remembered me later in the day when I encountered him again, which was why he let me get by that time.

The destruction was extensive.  Trees were fallen all over the place.  The trail had also been washed away in a few sections, as if the canal had overflowed.  I kept going.

When I started the ride earlier that morning, I had met a person who had just finished his bike ride.  He had warned me about the fallen trees, but had apparently gotten through to the other side, where the trail was completely clear.  He did not say anything to discourage me from my plan to ride towards the city.

The strange thing about what I saw on the trail was the localized nature of the damage.  I have a hunch that some kind of twister must have touched down during a storm that had taken place a few days earlier.  The funny thing is that I was not aware of the extent of the storm when it happened even though the trail is not too far from home.  I wondered how things might have looked on the trail when the storm was actually happening.  The power of nature is awesome.

And that is the end of this little tale told backwards!

Hah!

 

The Passage of Time (10/5/2009)

Not sure if this fits into the weekly category, but since life is a quest for something or the other, I decided to post this old letter from 2009 with a few pictures I took at that time…

img_1612The leaf dropped out of the tree and was caught by the gentle Autumn breeze as it fell from the sky.   I swung my arm lazily as I ran by, as the leaf drifted across the trail.  Amazingly I made contact and the leaf ended up in my hand.  Alright!, I said to myself. At least that is what I thought I was doing.   But these days I am sometimes not sure if I am speaking to myself, or if I have said something out aloud without realizing it.  But it did not matter in this instance since I was all by myself.   I could behave like an happy two year old without having to worry about somebody looking at me in a strange way because I was not “acting my age”.
img_1602img_1652Perhaps, this is one reason I enjoy being out there on the trail.  I can scream out loud with a sense of wonder every time the heavy locomotives of the freight trains power past me.  I can even sing loudly to myself with only the flowers, the birds, and the occasional curious squirrel hanging around to hear the cacophony.  I can drop the burden of “expected” behavior and be myself.  I can take unplanned diversions from the trails into the unmarked woods if I want.  I can follow the butterfly or dragonfly as it flitters from flower to flower, hoping it settles down long enough at one location without flying away at my approach, so that I can take its picture.  (It does require a lot of patience!)  It is truly a healing process to get away from “civilization”.  Maybe I have a stupid smile on my face when I am out in the woods, and this why the few people I encounter seem to respond to me with a pleasant Good Morning.  Maybe they are all as crazy as I am.

The heat of summer is behind us and the cooler days of Autumn have arrived.  There are the cool and crisp Fall mornings – with the clear and bright blue skies, with the occasional fluffy wisps of clouds floating by – looking like light cotton balls that are being gently pulled apart by some unseen hand in the sky.  There are the cold and gloomy mornings, when the clammy feeling penetrates your jacket, and even your skin, when the heavens are filled with dark ominous clouds that block the sun and scurry across the sky, as if in a hurry, eager to get somewhere.
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The leaves are just beginning drop from the trees and there are already a few spots of reds and yellows in our neighborhood and on the trail.  The Frittilary that I saw in large numbers at the beginning of summer in Black Hill park have long since gone, and so have the somewhat rarer Monarchs.  There is still the occasional Tiger Swallowtail to be seen, but other than a few Skippers, this really seems to be the season for the Sulphurs.
img_1587The unidentified dragonflies and damselflies are still around in smaller numbers, occasionally flying around in pairs as if they were indulging in some sort of mating ritual (perhaps they are!), but they will also disappear as surely as the butterflies and the leaves on the trees.

The various types of ducks that I used to observe at Black Hill have long since gone, and I am looking forward to Spring when I hope to see the somewhat rarer migratory species once again.  The Canada Geese that are supposed to be migratory never left, and they dominate the lake and the river these days.   The cardinals are still around, but the robin will only return in spring.  My good friends, the blue heron, can very frequently be seen in certain sections of the canal fishing.  (Yesterday I saw a whole bunch of cormorants perched on some rocks in the middle of the Potomac near Harpers Ferry.  I was even fortunate to capture the picture of a raptor, perhaps it was an eagle or a osprey, diving into the waters of the Potomac to come up with a fish that it had caught!)
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The last flowers of summer can still be seen in the woods of Black Hill and along the towpath – the purple chicory, some white and purple fleabane, some asters, a few goldenrods, and some others that I still cannot identify.  I wish I had more time!img_1597
img_1649img_1668I cannot wait to experience the vast expanses of the fields of Virginia bluebell on the towpath in Spring.

And thus the days, the seasons, and the years go by, and one finds that one has survived to reach the age of 50!  (Teresa had arranged a great surprise Birthday party!  Thanks to John from arranging his trip from Bangalore so that he could spend the evening with us.)  The times seem to rush by in a hurry, and before I knew it, over 20 years of marriage have gone by and the kids have all grown up.   In just a few years the next generation will be ready to take over the reins from us, and eventually we will also be consigned to the dust.  The cycle of life will continue. I have to remind myself constantly that we need to do our best while we are here, and that we also need to make the best of what we have without being greedy.  In tough times I have to try to remember that I am one of the fortunate ones, and that the present will eventually become the past.  In the short time that we have here on Planet Earth, perhaps we can try to leave our mark by doing something positive for others, and we can also try to leave the world in a better shape than we found it.  Maybe, just maybe, this could be The Meaning of Human Life.

Life goes on.   Keep on Truckin…
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The Magic of All Creatures Great and Small

(With apologies to James Herriot..)

I was keeping a steady pace on my bike, slogging out the last few miles of the ride in the shade of a canopy of tall trees, when I happened on a section of the trail with blackbirds.  A song about blackbirds came to my lips immediately, a song not exactly appropriate for the time of day that I was riding,  but it did not matter (except that Sir Paul would probably have disapproved of my enthusiastic efforts).  As I rode into the section blackbirds rose from the trail, and around it, and started flying ahead of me. And the further I rode, the more blackbirds rose from the shrubbery and trees.  Soon the section of the trail in front of me was full of blackbirds all flying away from me over the tree-covered trail.  I felt like I was keeping pace with them.  The volume of my singing increased while the quality decreased and the birds kept rising into the air in front of me.  This probably lasted a few seconds but it felt like a long time to me.  It was like magic!

But there was more magic that I experienced earlier on during the ride.  Summer is the season for dragonflies and butterflies.  The butterflies were everywhere, while the dragonflies seemed to be concentrated in certain areas.  I had to stop by the canal at the Dickerson Conservation Park to take pictures of the plentiful dragonflies and the few butterflies around.  Here is a sample.

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The magic actually happened at the Monocacy Aqueduct as I was pushing my bike on the walkway across the river.  I had nearly crossed the aqueduct when the butterfly landed on the seat of the bike.  It was quite comfortable in spite of the movement of the bike.

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The butterfly then decided to land on the fingers of my right hand and stay there.  I was unable to take a picture since that is the hand I hold the camera in for taking the pictures.  At some point I parked the bike.  I persuaded the butterfly to move to my left hand and tried to take a picture with that hand extended out, but I could not focus because of the nature of the lens on the camera.  So I placed the butterfly on the metal handlebar basket, pulled a different lens out of the camera bag that was in the handlebar basket (without scaring the butterfly away), swapped lenses on the camera (placing the lenses on the ground in the process) while the butterfly continued to sit on the handlebar, convinced the butterfly to come back to my left hand from the handlebar, and finally got the pictures below.  The butterfly did not even try to fly away during the whole process.  It was magic!

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But these were not the only creatures I encountered during the ride.  Here are a few of the pictures I took.

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Yes, that is a bald eagle in one of the pictures, but the picture did not come out well because of the lighting.  I encountered plenty of life on and around the trail during that ride!

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all
Anglican Hymn

Weekly Photo Challenge: Details

This is a broad topic for a challenge because the details of pictures are almost always interesting regardless of the subject matter.  I have seen so many wonderful postings on this topic already.  In spite of the many submissions, one should not get fooled into thinking that capturing the details in a picture is always easy to do.  In fact, this objective requires you to get beyond simply finding the focal point for the picture, to thinking about the depth of focus needed to capture the details across the entirety of the object of interest, and then making sure you have the right set of conditions and parameters for your shot.  This is particularly challenging for closeups. I think I have been fortunate to be able to capture a few such pictures.  You can make the judgement. So here goes!

The first series of pictures is of some pelicans that I was observing during a holiday a few years ago.
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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI liked the spots on this toad in the sunlight.

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I like to get close up to see the details on butterflies, but sometimes it more difficult than you actually think it is because you do not get the depth of focus needed.  Sometimes the butterflies cooperate by presenting a flat surface.
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I like trying to capture the details of the various plants and flowers in their natural surrounding.  Here are a couple of examples that I liked.
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Finally, here are a couple of pictures that are really not the best quality, but I liked the subject matter a lot.
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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEnjoy!