Fields of Gold (9/11/2005)

I wrote this email in 2005. I had just started visiting the C&O canal towpath the previous year,  and was still in the process of regularizing my weekend exercise routine beside the Potomac river.  Some of the places that I visited along the canal were not as familiar to me then as they are now.

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I was up early this morning and headed for Point of Rocks for my morning run. These morning runs have become less frequent with the efforts to get the rest of the family involved in the C&O canal activities. Last weekend Teresa and I biked 16 miles on the trail. (That is certainly an great achievement for a first-timer!) I have biked with Angela on other occasions, and, a couple of times, also run on the trail while the others have biked along. However, as I realized this morning, while getting the family involved is a good thing, you still need your own time to rejuvenate and recuperate. There is nothing like the silence of the woods in the cool of the early morning to sooth your soul and bring your internal temperature back to normal. Come what may, I need to find a way to continue my travels and meditations.

As I was driving towards Point of Rocks this morning, I was struck by the sight of the fields of gold. Yes, the leaves in some of the fields are beginning to turn golden yellow. These fields alternated with the neighboring cornfields where the stocks of corn stood tall, some of them turning brown due to the coming of Fall. It was a sight to see, and I stopped by the roadside to take pictures. It immediately brightened my mood. Lona Alias, my favorite Sunday morning DJ on the radio, provided some reminders of events in the real world, including the anniversary of 9/11, and happenings down in New Orleans. She played some nice songs. If you have not done so already, you should find a way to listen to the song “Louisiana 1927” by Randy Newman. Although it is going to take up some space, I am going to include the words for the entire song here. Hope you don’t mind.

“What has happened down here is the winds have changed
Clouds roll in from the north and it started to rain
Rained real hard and it rained for a real long time
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

The river rose all day
The river rose all night
Some people got lost in the flood
Some people got away alright
The river have busted through clear down to Plaquemines
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangelne

Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tyrin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away

President Coolidge came down in a railroad train
With a little fat man with a note-pad in his hand
The President say, “Little fat man isn’t it a shame what the river has done
To this poor crackers land.”

Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away”

Apparently, the 1927 flooding of Louisiana resulted in widespread death and destruction, and very poor response from the authorities. History is repeating itself. Enough said.

I ran from Point of Rocks to the Monocacy Aqueduct and back today. The morning was cool, portending the coming of Fall. All the people I encountered on the trail were cheery and greeted me with smiles. The kids were packing materials from the campsites that they were vacating after overnight stays, and carrying the stuff to their cars. Other kids rode their bikes in disorderly columns, with adults trying to provide supervision and prevent them from running people over. As I jogged by, one gentleman even wished me well on my efforts to complete the 12 miles. I did not even feel too tired after the run and my muscles did not give out on me during the run. I still feel great!

One incident to note. After I finished the run, I walked up to the railroad tracks to take some pictures. I walked along the tracks with my camera trying to find spots with some interesting shots. When I returned, I observed a vehicle belonging to the Park Police in the parking lot facing my car. I walked by the officer trying to act nonchalant, wondering if I was in some kind of trouble, especially since I had been trespassing on the railroad tracks a couple of minutes back. (Think Al Qaeda!) “Good morning” I said to the policemen. “How is it going?” he responded cheerily. As I opened the driver’s door and got into the car, he got out of his vehicle and started walking towards me, at least that was what I thought. As he got closer, he angled away towards the car besides mine. It was an old beaten-up wreck, parked further away into the woods. He inspected the car carefully and started talking into his radio. He then turned and walked back to his vehicle, taking a glance a me as I sat in the front seat of my car eating a donut as he went by. He then drove away. I wonder if he also checked out my license number in my absence, and if I am now on some kind of a watch list. Of course I am paranoid! Anyway, that was my adventure for day.

Enough for now.
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The above letter was written shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.   This hurricane caused a lot of devastation to the city.  The city never fully recovered to its old self.

You can listen to the song I talk about here.

Here are some pictures taken that day.100_0936100_0937100_0947100_0950100_0956The parking area at Point of Rocks has changed significantly since 2005, the time I first started visiting.  It used to be real rough.  There were just a few spots off a dirt road, and you parked in whatever random space you found.  You could also drive beyond the lot to a space under the bridge carrying US Highway 15 across the Potomac. You could find dicier parking (if the water in the river was not too high) there.  All of this has now been replaced by a real parking lot, and a very big one at that! Also, you cannot drive beyond this lot to the space under the bridge anymore.  The space on the other side of the canal, between the railroad tracks and the main road (MD Route 28),  has also now been converted into a well-maintained park.  And a lot more people visit these days.

A Water Bottle on the Trail

Lo and behold, there stands the water bottle on the trail,
Looking completely out of place, and close enough to see detail,
It was left there on purpose, of that I do assure,
The reason why shall remain a mystery one has to endure.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(With apologies to the purists of poetry.)

The picture was taken during one of our Sunday walks.  The trail has been completely redone in this particular section of the C&O Canal towpath.  The park service is working piece-by-piece on the entire 184.5 miles of trail that exists.  I suspect it will be a few years before it is all done.

The River Runs Brown at Cohill Station (5/19/2014)

It is a strange process of the mind that has gotten me to post this particular blog.  I actually started out wanting to bring Christina’s blog from her Peace Corps days back to life (at least temporarily).  The final blog, before she leaves Guinea, is a classic.  But, then, I thought that the circumstances of my referral to that blog in my original e-mail in 2014 were also interesting enough.  I post my original e-mail in full.  I do this in spite of the fact that we are heading into the season of Winter at this time, and not Summer.  In fact, the temperature outside right now is about 20°F.

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It rained cats and dogs, and squirrels and gerbils, last Thursday.  The wind rattled the blinds of the open window in the bedroom waking me up in the middle of the night from my solitary slumber.  Teresa is in Bangalore with her dad, Angela is in school taking her final exams, and Christina is wandering around the country, taking a break after returning from her Peace Corps adventures. The wind blew hard enough that night that I had to get out of bed to close the open windows. A little bit of water even got into the bathroom through a skylight that was apparently not sealed adequately on the roof.  Our region also experienced a significant amount of flooding and road closures in the aftermath of the storm.  We have been seeing an unusual number of similar storms this Spring.  Is it the impact of global warming?

Since I was alone at home, I decided to head out as far west as I could this Sunday morning in order to extend my coverage of the 184.5 mile C&O canal trail.  Two weeks ago I had started my run at the Cohill Station traiI access point at near mile 130.  Today I started my run from the end of the WMRT at Pearre, MD, near mile 136.  I  managed to get all the way to mile 139 today.  Some day I will get to the end of this trail.  (KJ note – I did get to the end of the trail finally in 2016.)

Very few people live in this part of Maryland these days. The ridges of the Appalachian mountains run north to south, and in these parts they provide natural barriers that cause the Potomac to turn left at the Cacapon mountain and actually flow north for a few miles before the river turns east and south again to head towards the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.   Further to the west lie the Paw Paw bends of the river that cause the it to meander in S-shapes through the hills. I wondered about the processes that caused this section of the river to actually be created.  Was the Potomac formed because of erosion by glaciers during an ice age?  As you make your way to the trailheads on roads off of Interstate 68, you will find yourself traveling along the valley or the crest of the little known Tonoloway ridge . You see abandoned homes along the road.  When you get to your destination, you also notice the many abandoned trailer homes beside the trail.  I wonder if this used to be a poorer part of Maryland.  How did people survive?  Did their source of living vanish due due to changing times?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThree weeks ago one could make out the new leaves of Spring on the trees along the trail.  Today the area looked lush and green.  Change can happen quite quickly!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut the thing that caught my particular attention was the high level of water in the river and the nature of its swift flow.  When there is flooding, the initial impacts are usually felt in the local streams and creeks, but all of this water eventually flows into the rivers, and the river can actually crest a few days later, after the storms have long gone by.  The Potomac only crested in certain sections on Saturday, the day before my run.  The river looked browner than usual.  Imagine the massive quantity of mud that was being swept down the river because of erosion in our backyards, the mud that was causing it to look different.   There is no way to reclaim this sediment and to reverse the process.  Material that was in a certain location at one time is gone forever from that location.  This change is irreversible.  It reminds me that we human beings have difficulty adjusting to change, while in the grand scheme of things irreversible change is inevitable.   To what extent does it make sense to put up a fight?   No other species has done as much as humans to put up a fight, and with knowledge and technology we have brought tremendous sophistication to this endeavor, and quite often we do not care about the secondary consequences.  When does it make sense to accept nature’s reality gracefully without trying to fight it?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe solitude of the trail (and perhaps even the quiet of the empty home) actually soothes the mind.  Such conditions provide moments of clarity that would otherwise not be possible with the constant interactions and distractions of daily life.  The trail is perhaps one of the very few circumstances when I am capable of trying to ponder if there is a bigger picture considering how inconsequential our existence is on the grand scale of things.  The trail provides perspective.  You are aware that everything else that is going on around you is for the most part independent of the human factor.  The world can actually exist without us humans.   Why do some of us think there is an overall purpose that is to benefit our species to the detriment of others?  Why does it seem that the progress of human society appears to be a process of positive feedback that is leading to increasing inequality in almost all dimensions, while the ultimate result is inevitable?  What does a human really need beyond food, clothing and shelter, and what happens when you get beyond that? All things considered, what should I be trying to do?  Should I even spend my time thinking about things like this?  You might actually get some answers that work for you under the right conditions.

So, what about Cohill Station?  It used to be a real railroad station on the Western Maryland Railroad in the old days when the population in this part of Maryland used to be more significant.  Nothing remains at the former site of the station.  Dust to dust!  I wonder how things were for people who used to live along the river, especially when it ran brown.

Things change.

Returning Home at Journey’s End

Heading back after a morning out on the river.

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A man and his dog
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The couple and their dog
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The paddleboarder

These pictures were taken at the location where Seneca Creek meets the Potomac river in Montgomery County in Maryland.  Many people start their travels on the river from the creek.  This is also the location of Riley’s Lock on the C&O Canal.

Ishmael, and the March of Civilization (2/17/2013)

Have any of you read the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn?  Christina had come upon the book in Guinee, and had suggested that we also read it so that we could talk about it.  It is a fascinating book, with a neat premise, but it does take some discipline to get through.  Anyway, why did I bring this up?  It was because my mind wandered into the realm of the absurdness of what our civilization is all about while I was on the trail this morning.  I am not going to get into the book any more, except to say that it explores the concept of takers and leavers. If you have not read the book and the subject intrigues you, please do give it a read and give me your impression..OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut why have I opened up this subject?  Fortunately or unfortunately, this is the sort of thing that happens to me on the trail.  After my body adjusted itself to the the freezing cold of the morning, the mind essentially wandered into this topic.  The initial phase of mental activity is usually a cleansing of all the bad things that happened during the week, during which I allow myself to literally scream at the emptiness around me, where nobody can hear me.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGetting past this phase can take varying amounts of time depending on what actually happened during the week, and then this is replaced by an emptiness of the mind that allows it to wander wherever else it chooses to do so.  So here I am, a mad mind let loose.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnto the subject of this random monologue…    To start with, I think there is no counter-argument to the fact that over the centuries human beings have made significant advancements in many different areas and facets of life.   We have a gained immense knowledge about things around us and even within us.  We are capable of exploration everywhere, from the smallest scale of things, right down to subatomic particles, all the way to the largeness of the universe and the cosmos around us, with limitations placed only by the current technology and the costs of indulging in such explorations.  As humans, we are also capable today doing a lot of things, some of which would have been considered unthinkable even a few years ago.  We tend to take a lot of this for granted today.  For example, flying through the air at great speeds in extremely complicated machines would have been unimaginable even a century ago.  We have instant communications today literally in the palm of our hands, by transmitting invisible waveforms through the air and by even connecting everybody and everything through the Internet.  We explore space using powerful machines and clever technologies that allows devices to operate by themselves on far away planets. Interventions to extend human life that include fixing of all kinds of internal plumbing and even mechanical replacements are commonplace today. Improvements to our capabilities to provide food and nourish human growth have resulted in major extensions to human life.  It is all like magic!

So what happens as a result of all this wonderful capability.  While there is much more to learn and become more aware of of the world around us today, more of the people who have access to all kinds of resources have stopped thinking.  You have the mindlessness of the societies that are supposedly doing well, that are completely self-absorbed, that are immersed in entertainment based pastimes using the new “toys” that the technical advancements have brought, and I will say that people have become dumber and less capable of learning and understanding things, and thinking and surviving.  I was reading the news about the “suffering” of the folks who were on a cruise last week when the they lost power on the ship and the engines gave up, and they had to survive for a few days in this condition before they reached shore.  Oh, the horror!  And I was thinking about the living conditions in a country like Guinee and how those folks (including the Peace Corp Volunteers) would probably look at the complaints of the the well-to-do Americans and laugh.  Who is the better off, who is the happier, who is the person closer to reality?

We have made so many medical and nutritional advancements on earth that life expectancy has increased over time.  But are we going overboard by keeping people alive regardless of circumstances just because the technology allows us to do so?  At what cost do we do this?  Are the people affected really happy about this?  Under what conditions do they live their extended lives?  Populations are also increasing and we are using more and more of the resources around us to keep this up.  We have introduced genetics into the process of food consumption so that we can be more efficient, and pretty soon we will be using this kind of capability in various other ways to extend our lives even further.  We will even mess with our DNA.  At the same time there is immense waste of food on a massive scale, and there is so much inequality that while we are growing stupid super-humans in one part of the world, people are still starving in other parts of it and living by the seat of their pants.  And we are slowly destroying the world we live in while we are about it. Are we even stopping to think about where we are heading?  We talk about progress, but there are consequences for the kind of progress that we are making that are too inconvenient and perhaps even difficult to grasp.

And then when we do not understand things, or we need some sort of justification for what we do, we can look to the supernatural to try and answer our questions and give things “purpose”.  Yes, there has to be a meaning to everything that exists, and everything has been put into place for a reason, and we are the  focus for everything that goes on in the cosmos. Is this not some form of arrogance?

This is all too absurd!

Who are we – takers and leavers?  My hats off to those of you who are actually trying to make a difference in other people’s lives in very direct ways.  To me that is what life should be all about.

And enough of this nonsense for the time being.  Sorry folks to subject you to my madness….OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

kuria

Agkistrodon Contortrix Mokasen

It happened last week as I was biking back from Bethesda on the Capital Crescent Trail.  I had just crossed the trestle bridge over the C&O canal as I descended towards the level of the towpath.

I passed something colorful on the trail.  It was long and had some patterns on it.  I was pretty sure it was a snake.  I got off the bike and pulled out my camera, making sure I had the zoom lens on it.  I confirmed that it was indeed a snake, and it was one that I was seeing for the first time.  That was exciting! The snake was a few feet long, and somewhat “fat” in the middle. It had colorful patterns across its back.  It looked like it had started crossing the trail, but now it lay still as I got closer, clicking away on the camera.  There was nobody else around as I took my pictures.  The reptile did not move.

I managed to get all the pictures I wanted. As I was getting ready to leave, a bicyclist approached, charging down the path towards the location of the snake.  I called out that there was a snake in front of him.  He ignored me completely.  He barely acknowledged me the second time I called out – as he sped past, not even bothering to look at what I was pointing to.  He was focused on a rider who was biking in the opposite direction since my bike was partially blocking the trail further downhill.  He did not really care about the snake.  I think he avoided it just because he was trying to avoid me. The biker going the other way also went by without spotting the snake.  Something that had grabbed my interest was of no significance to them.  We were traveling along the trail with completely different mindsets!

This is what I had spotted.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(The picture above has been cropped.  I did not dare get too close to the snake!)

Soon after all this activity, and perhaps because of it, the snake turned around retreated back to where it had come from.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince this was a snake I was unfamiliar with,  I was eager to upload the pictures to my computer when I got home to take a look at them on a bigger screen.  Some research followed on the Internet. It was leading me to a conclusion (somewhat exciting to me!) that I had seen a somewhat unique reptile.  But I needed confirmation for my finding.  That confirmation came in the form of an e-mail a few days later, including the following information.Identification of snake(The links in the image above are this and this.)

I had indeed had a close encounter with a Northern Copperhead snake, one of only two venomous snakes present in Maryland. (The other one is called a Timber Rattlesnake.)

As with a lot of people, for some reason or another, I do have an inbuilt fear of snakes.  I would like to believe that over the years this fear has become somewhat more rational.  The fear still does exist, but my reaction is not of instant panic.  I try to keep a healthy distance from a snake.  In this case, my caution was justified!

In any case, after events like the one above, one becomes more alert in the woods than usual.  It does not help when there are signs that say that venomous snakes have been seen recently, which was the case when we hiked Sugarloaf Mountain last weekend.  We did not see any snakes during that hike.